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  • Politics After CommunismUkraine-A View From Within
  • Serhiy Holovaty (bio)

More than a year and a half ago, the people of Ukraine finally won their independence from Moscow. Ukrainians at last achieved what they had dreamed about for centuries—statehood and the right to self-government in their native land, Ukraine. The final legal and political threshold was crossed on 1 December 1991, when the people of Ukraine confirmed in a popular referendum their desire for total independence.

Ukraine is thus one of the last countries in Europe to undertake the building of its nation-state. The processes going on in today's Ukraine are very similar to those that took place in the Netherlands in the sixteenth century, in England in the seventeenth century, in France in the eighteenth century, in Italy in the nineteenth century, and in Central and Eastern Europe earlier in the twentieth century. Ukraine, within a minimally short time frame, is repeating the cycle of European development that has persisted for several centuries.

Ukrainian history, as a whole, is a paradoxical combination of antagonistic phenonaena. Ukraine today is a country with a tradition-minded and largely rural populace that is living and working in the shadow of nuclear plants and missiles.

Having attained their independence, Ukrainians now face the task of building their nation-state. The central question is what type of nation-state Ukraine should be: authoritarian, totalitarian, or democratic? Another [End Page 110] key question is whether an independent nation-state can bring prosperity along with freedom. Ukraine's first year of independence has shown that real democracy will not be attained until far into the future. Prosperity and high living standards are an even more remote goal.

The nature of the victory won by the democratic forces in Ukraine following the failed Soviet coup in August 1991 has been well described by John Morrison, who notes that "the door to independence swung open with only a small push from Kiev, where the local communist elite saw it as a means to defend the political status quo against the destabilizing influence of a triumphalist Russian democratic movement."1 Today Ukraine remains, as it was before its proclamation of independence, a reserve for communists. This is why there is a real fear among Ukraine's democratic forces that the benefits of independence, so easily obtained, might just as easily be lost if the political winds shift in Russia.

In August 1991, there was an extraordinary unanimity among both "national democrats" and communists in parliament in relation to the question of Ukrainian independence. The "national democrats" have now achieved their goal of an independent state. Yet the communist nomenklatura, having satisfied this demand of the "democrats," have nonetheless maintained themselves in power. Previously, the idea of an independent Ukraine had been alien to the communists, but they embraced the idea virtually overnight and now hold it "very close to their hearts," not to mention their pockets.

The independence declared on 24 August 1991 has not given any power to the democratic forces, nor even forced the nomenklatura to launch any real reforms, as has happened in Russia. For on the same day that Ukrainians approved the referendum on independence, they also elected as president Leonid Kravchuk, the former leader and chief ideologist of the Communist Party of Ukraine.

The failure of the coup d'état in Moscow resulted in a death sentence for the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Ukrainian Communist leaders, after sitting on the fence during the coup, grasped at the idea of political independence for Ukraine as an oxygen mask to revive their own political fortunes. That is why the proclamation of Ukrainian independence came so easily. The Communist-dominated Presidium of the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet, headed by Kravchuk, outlawed the Communist Party of Ukraine on 30 August 1991. Yet today the same Presidium of the Verkhovna Rada (parliament), now dominated by former Communists and headed by one of the most prominent Ukrainian hardliners, is very close to legalizing the Communist Party as precipitously as it once had banned it.

The birth of an independent Ukraine brought an end to the existence of an organized and cohesive democratic opposition in...


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