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Ukraine Expert Predicts "Hot Autumn"

(Washington, DC--August 23, 2002) On the eve of the eleventh anniversary of Ukrainian independence, Dr. Nadia Diuk, Director for Central Europe and Eurasia at the National Endowment for Democracy, told an RFE/RL audience today that--facing a systemic political crisis following its recent parliamentary elections--Ukraine faces a "hot autumn" as parliamentarians call for massive street demonstrations on September 16.

In discussing Ukraine's need to find solutions to three fundamental challenges facing it in 1991--the consolidation of statehood, transformation of the economy, and the establishment of political democracy--Diuk noted that Ukraine surprised many contemporary observers by "successfully" dealing with several major threats to its sovereignty. These included Russia's attempts to re-claim Crimea--laid to rest with the 1997 Russian-Ukrainian border agreement--and the integration of a badly divided multi-ethnic population. Diuk also cited the 1997 NATO-Ukrainian Charter as evidence of Western acceptance of Ukraine's political importance.

In the economic arena the opposite occurred. Independent Ukraine's prospects to develop a prosperous economy initially were rated as excellent, given its wealth of natural resources and highly developed Soviet-era economy. However, Ukraine's choice of "slow" reform--while less disruptive than the "shock therapy" chosen by Poland and, to an extent, Russia--"opened the door," in Diuk's opinion, to large-scale corruption that continues to be a drag on the Ukrainian economy today.

Political democracy in Ukraine, according to Diuk, seemed a real possibility in 1991 with its ratification of independence by national referendum, and "Rukh" leader Vyacheslav Chornovil's success in garnering 20 percent of the vote in Ukraine's first post-Soviet presidential election. Diuk also said that, while media independence may have reached its high point in 1994 and has declined ever since, non-governmental organizations (NGOs)--first established in the early 1990's--are becoming stronger and less open to government influence. However, because the country continues to maintain a Soviet-style top-down political structure, Ukraine's executive branch has consolidated its authority through President Leonid Kuchma's right to make some 2,000 senior appointments at both the national and regional level, according to Diuk. Ukraine's dozens of weak political parties tend to be based on personalities--in Ukraine's case, the country's many business magnates, or oligarchs--rather than with ideologies or political platforms.

The parliamentary elections held this past March highlighted many of independent Ukraine's strengths and weaknesses--Diuk said that early publicity by NGOs of exit polling data on election night probably kept the authorities from engaging in massive vote fraud. Yet, Diuk added, when it came to the allocation of parliamentary seats, the pro-Kuchma "For a United Ukraine" party used its ties to the executive branch to effectively control the parliament in spite of its relatively weak showing at the polls.