Yushchenko versus Tymoshenko: Why Ukraine's National Democrats Are Divided

By Kuzio, Taras | Demokratizatsiya, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview
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Yushchenko versus Tymoshenko: Why Ukraine's National Democrats Are Divided


Kuzio, Taras, Demokratizatsiya


Abstract: Ukraine's national democrats are divided into pragmatic and ideologically-driven wings resting on their support for different policies towards national communists in the early 1990s and transition winners (i.e. oligarchs) from the late 1990s. Pragmatic national democrats, led by Viktor Yushchenko, supported grand coalitions between Our Ukraine and centrist members of the establishment, such as the Party of Regions, gave lukewarm support to anti-presidential movements in the mn up to the Orange Revolution, and preferred roundtables to street protests. Ideologically-driven national democrats, led by Yuliya Tymoshenko, opposed grand coalitions, were at the center of anti-regime movements during the Orange Revolution, and opposed round-table talks with the authorities.

This article provides the first analysis of the long-term conflict between the two key national democratic leaders, Viktor Yushchenko and Yuliya Tymoshenko, which was one of the factors that dominated Yushchenko's presidency. This conflict is of fundamental importance to Ukrainian politics because it defined the evolution of post-Orange Revolution politics and led to the election of Viktor Yanukovych as president in 2010. This article analyzes the relationship between the national democrats and the Ukrainian establishment, particularly focusing on how the national democrats related to Ukraine's sovereign (national) communists in the early 1990s and the small group of winners who became super-wealthy oligarchs in Ukraine's partial transition. Differences in defining this relationship have made Ukraine's center-right, commonly referred to as national democrats, a divided political force since 1992. Yushchenko led the pragmatic wing within the national democratic part of the political spectrum, while Tymoshenko led the ideologically-driven wing.

The divisions that Yushchenko and Tymoshenko symbolize appeared immediately after Ukraine gained its independence. As early as February 1992, the Ukrainian Popular Movement for Restructuring (Rukh), which had played a strong role in the independence movement, split at its congress into two wings. One, led by former dissident Vyacheslav Chornovil, took control of Rukh and placed it into "constructive opposition" to President Leonid Kravchuk and the communists, who were at that stage still not organized into political parties. Another wing, led by cultural icons of the Soviet Ukrainian establishment Ivan Drach and Dmytro Pavlychko and former dissidents Mykhaylo and Bohdan Horyn, supported cooperation with Kravchuk and established a breakaway Confederation of National Democratic Forces (KNDS). This same division--whether to oppose the authorities or cooperate with them has continued to divide national democrats from the late 1990s in their attitudes toward centrist political forces and their oligarch supporters. Ukraine's transition to a market economy was accompanied by the emergence of winners, a class of oligarchs and businesspersons who arose from the Soviet Ukrainian nomenklatura and 1990s Noveau Riche ("New Ukrainians"). Given the overall low level of trust in Ukraine's political institutions and politicians, there was little popular backing for this new economic group. (1)

Policies on how to deal with the communists and oligarchs have divided the two wings of the national democrats. The pragmatic national democrats' preference has been to prioritize defense of the Ukrainian establishment and the new "national bourgeoisie" (the "winners") against anti-oligarch populist outsiders by negotiating grand coalitions between Our Ukraine and eastern Ukrainian centrist parties. Most national democrats are first and foremost derzhavnyky (statists) and therefore prefer to be in loyal opposition to the authorities because they believe radical opposition could destroy the fragile Ukrainian state. Lucan Way has argued that loyal, "opposition through cooptation" is commonplace in post-communist Europe.

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