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Professor Ivan Katchanovski says the elections were a victory for new oligarchic parties and the far right

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ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore.

We’re coming on one year since protest waves and demonstrations known as the Euromaidan began in Ukraine. Since then, the country has seen hundreds of protesters assaulted or murdered, including those during the February sniper massacre of over 100 protesters. It’s seen the overthrow former president Viktor Yanukovych, the annexation of Crimea by Russia, the May 2 massacre of 39 people in Odessa, alongside other atrocities, and rebellions in the Eastern regions, which have left over 3,700 dead and created over 1 million refugees, with violence still ongoing despite the signing of a ceasefire agreement in September of this year.

Now, with the results in from the October 26 parliamentary elections, pro-Western and pro-European parties are set to dominate the Ukrainian parliament with a coalition to form between the Petro Poroshenko Bloc (named after the current Ukrainian president) and the People’s Front, led by current prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. The rebel-controlled areas of Donetsk and Lugansk will hold separate elections on November 2, with Russia saying they will support the outcome, while the Ukrainian central government in Kiev says the voting violates the terms of the ceasefire.

Here to discuss how the elections will affect the situation Ukraine is Ivan Katchanovski. He teaches at the School of Political Studies and the Department of Communication at the University of Ottawa in Canada. He is the author of Cleft Countries: Regional Political Divisions and Cultures in Post-Soviet Ukraine and Moldova and is the coauthor of the Historical Dictionary of Ukraine.

Thanks for joining us, Ivan.


WORONCZUK: So, Ivan, most of the reporting in the mainstream press, at least in the United States, has focused on the outcome of these elections in terms of how it will affect the geopolitical orientation of Ukraine towards the West and towards Europe. But it’s also worth recalling that the current president, Petro Poroshenko, had called for early parliamentary elections and that the purpose of this was actually to purge members of the parliament that were connected to the former president, Yanukovych. Do you think that these elections have achieved that result?

KATCHANOVSKI: I think they achieved this aim to a significant extent. Poroshenko used specific term, revenge of former members of Yanukovych by definition and the Communist Party as a fifth column, and here basically worked to eliminate them from the Ukrainian politics, from the parliament. And the Communist Party is now outside of the parliament. The government wanted to prohibit Communist Party, but they basically achieved this goal with help of elections.

And former Party of Regions still exists Ukraine. They have a new leadership. But they did not run in the elections under their own name. Many of their members and leaders actually run as a part of the Opposition Bloc [incompr.] this Opposition Bloc would be represented in the parliament. It [incompr.] much less [incompr.] actual [incompr.] elections in 2012.

WORONCZUK: So it’s also worth taking note that of all of the political parties that have gained the most in the parliamentary elections, actually had not run in the previous election for Ukrainian Parliament, but one party that had historically been part of the parliament, the Fatherland Party, which is led by, Yulia Tymoshenko, the first female prime minister of Ukraine, as well as that who was called the leader of the Orange Revolution, her party lost 82 seats. What’s the significance of this?

KATCHANOVSKI: I think this is another major development of elections in addition to changes in the main political parties. This is quite typical for Ukrainian elections and for political party system in Ukraine, which is dominated by oligarchic parties, like our former president, Fatherland Party, which was kind of established by Tymoshenko and led by Tymoshenko. She was an oligarchy since 1990s. Poroshenko’s bloc is also oligarchic party, representing interests of Poroshenko and his associates. And I think similar situations would be with many other put political parties in Ukraine, which often change their orientation, ideology, communication, political alliances, and their views on many major issues, and even their names.

But I think in the case of Fatherland, a major split took place before the elections. And former associates of Tymoshenko from her party and from the allied party Front Zmin, led by Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, they’ve established their own political party called the People’s Front and they sealed very big support in these elections. They sealed 22 percent support, a similar percentage as the party led by Petro Poroshenko.

WORONCZUK: So if most of these parties are dominated by members of the oligarchic class and they just seem to pop to a different party or shift to a different party or new parties, do these elections represent any significant change in the character of the ruling elite in the parliament?

KATCHANOVSKI: Yes, I think they basically consolidated control over the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian politics by a new set of political organizations and a new set of oligarchs. And these new oligarchs, which receive very big support, in addition to Poroshenko, such oligarchs include Ihor Kolomoyskyi, who is governor of Dnipropetrovsk region. But also he provided significant backing and financial support to political parties which are now represented in the parliament. And he also has various representatives in the parliament from different political parties. So [there’s (?)] also now a big faction of separatists of Kolomoyskyi in the parliament in addition to basically faction of Petro Poroshenko. And there also individual candidates who received support in or won election races in majoritarian districts, and they also often are rich businessmen or associated with oligarchs. So I think this was also victory for oligarchic political parties in Ukraine, but in addition [incompr.] performance by far-right political parties, specifically the Radical Party, but also Svoboda, which received significant support even if it was not represented in the parliament on the party list.

WORONCZUK: Well, but it doesn’t seem like some of those far right wing parties, like Svoboda or the Right Sector, will even have that much influence. From what I understand, Svoboda just passed the necessary amount to be able to enter into parliament, and as I understand, Right Sector didn’t even make it into the parliament.

KATCHANOVSKI: [incompr.] Svoboda actually–according to the latest data that I saw, Svoboda would fail to enter the parliament under their party list, because they received about 4 and 7 percent of national vote, which would be lower compared to the actual vote of 5 percent. But several of Svoboda members were elected to the parliament in majoritarian districts. And the same applies to the Right Sector. Right Sector received about 2 percent of the popular vote [incompr.] would be represented as political /pæk/ in the parliament. But its leader, Yarosh, and also some of its members, other members, were elected to the parliament in the regional districts, since they would have representation of these parties in the Ukrainian parliament. But in addition to this, there was also party called the Radical Party, which is led by Lyashko. And this party’s a combination of different ideological [stems (?)], but it has very strong far-right component. Some of its members who were elected to the parliament in recent elections or in the last elections include a leader of neo-Nazi Social National Party of Ukraine, and also some of the former leader of the Ukrainian [incompr.]

WORONCZUK: Do you expect them to cooperate closely with this coalition that’s forming between the Petro Poroshenko Bloc and the People’s Front? Or do you expect it to be more antagonistic?

KATCHANOVSKI: I think it’s difficult to say now definitely, because Ukrainian politics is–how do you say?–is often based on kind of backsided deals and not very transparent. But latest information that I have is that both Poroshenko Bloc and People’s Front, led by Yatsenyuk, they suggested that they would be open to Radical Party joining their coalition. So it’s possible that the Radical Party would also join the government, even. So it’s, again, difficult to tell if they would reach such a deal.

WORONCZUK: Okay. And as I mentioned earlier, we’re coming on about one year since the Euromaidan protests really took off. Do you see the new parliament as representing the interests or representing the interests of the Euromaidan protesters?

KATCHANOVSKI: I think most of the political parties which won the elections actually represented former opposition and former Maidan protesters. And these include political parties, specifically Poroshenko’s Bloc, which includes also UDAR members, UDAR political party, led by Klitschko. There were also other political parties, like Fatherland, which is now represented by both Fatherland and by the People’s Front. Other political parties include the far right and also far-right organizations like the Right Sector and the Social National Assembly, which were able to elect their representatives to the parliament in individual races. So they would achieve such a representation.

I think this is basically big victory for the Maidan forces. But I think this is actually not a very positive development, because actually, in terms of politics, this means that the opposition is very weak now and there are–the current government basically just consolidated its control over Ukrainian politics and [it tries to (?)] eliminate opposition or any possible challenges from the former opposition or any new opposition that might emerge. And, actually, they came to power. Also it necessary to remember that they came to power not as a result of democratic elections, but as a result of violent overthrow of the former democratically elected government of Viktor Yanukovych, even though it was very corrupt government and it was involved in various human rights violations–specifically, trying to disperse protesters against Yanukovych government last year when the Euromaidan started.

Actually, the evidence that I have and which I collected and which I analyzed for my research paper actually shows that this was a violent overthrow of the government and actually is that this evidence that such overthrow was achieved with help of so-called snipers massacre. And this snipers massacre was organized, according to the evidence that they have, by the Right Sector, or there was involvement of the Right Sector and certain other elements of the Maidan opposition, very likely from some of the oligarchic parties or some other parties which are now represented in the parliament. So they basically just consolidated their victory.

But if you go back to the Maidan, even though it was very–a popular movement against the government of Viktor Yanukovych, the Euromaidan achieved its victory not as a result of a peaceful protest; it actually was able to overthrow Yanukovych as a result of violence. So this was actually against police and, later, violence against demonstrators or protesters actually from the Maidan side itself.

WORONCZUK: Okay, Ivan, we’ll hold part one of the conversation here for now.

So join us for our next interview on the Ukrainian parliamentary elections with Ivan Katchanovski on The Real News Network.


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Ivan Katchanovski teaches at the School of Political Studies and the
Department of Communication at the University of Ottawa in Canada
He received his Ph.D. from the School of Policy, Government, and
International Affairs at George Mason University. He previously held
research and teaching positions at Harvard University, the State
University of New York at Potsdam, and the University of Toronto.