By Nancy Popson

Today there is a danger in Ukraine of the victory of a leftist candidate in the presidential elections, said Vitaliy Kononov, President of the Green Party of Ukraine and candidate for the presidential race in October, at a Kennan Institute lecture on 8 June 1999. He attributed this possibility to the nostalgic attitude of the elderly who respect the old order and so-called "socialist discipline." The Green Party is therefore oriented toward the youth of Ukraine, which Kononov called "the future of our country" and "the force of tomorrow."

The Green Party, which according to Kononov claims some 50,000 members in every oblast of Ukraine, seeks to build ecologically sound industry by responding to global ecological problems through the opening of new markets and production that have an ecological dimension. He noted that although Ukraine currently is searching for its place in the New World Order, it can find a stable place in the international division of labor by using its rich resources--its territory, population, and educated work force.

The Green Party grew out of the non-governmental organization (NGO) Zeleniy Svit (Green World), which was created in the late 1980s. Kononov explained that they still work closely with Zeleniy Svit, although the NGO focuses on environmental concerns while the Green Party is involved in the political sphere. Kononov remarked that it is very difficult to operate NGOs in Ukraine, as there is still no legislation covering their activities and regulation.

Kononov attributes the Greens' victory in the 1998 parliamentary elections to the degree of concern of the populace for clean environment and continued development despite the deep social and economic crisis. He noted that the Greens' base of support was the younger generation, the intelligentsia, and certain ethnic minorities (in particular the Jewish population). Youth were attracted to the untraditional, western-style campaign conducted by Kononov's party and their pro-western slogans.

Kononov noted that with their victory have come claims that it is unethical for ecologists to be in politics and that the ranks of Ukraine's Greens include too many businessmen whose agendas may contradict the party's ideology. Kononov countered these notions, remarking that through politics ecologists can have an ever-increasing impact on the social and economic development of the country. As for businessmen in the Party, he responded that it is extremely important to have young entrepreneurs in the party in order to convince them to follow policies of environmentally-friendly investment, production, and trade.

Kononov also remarked on the Greens' reaction to the current state of world affairs. According to him, a new world order is being shaped that is characterized by use of warfare as a strategy of conflict resolution. He noted that both Operation Desert Storm and the NATO bombing of Kosovo illustrate this trend. Although the Green Party did not condemn the NATO actions over Kosovo like their German counterparts, their position is that any use of force will result in human victims, and therefore cannot be supported. Kononov argued that such problems must be solved in a peaceful manner. He also remarked that NATO actions have caused Ukraine to suffer economic and trade losses and have given the leftist forces in Ukraine ammunition to use in their campaign against the West.

Kononov feels that Ukraine's future should be with Europe rather than with NATO. Although the young and middle-aged generations support NATO, the older generation who lived in what they felt was a superpower will never come to terms with that organization. Kononov explained that the Greens support a position of neutrality as stated in the Constitution.

Kononov then turned his attention to the presidential elections, which he feels will be different from the parliamentary race in which the Greens did so well in 1998. He explained that there is a visible juxtaposition of two types of groups: political parties and financial oligarchies. Because of the weakly developed party system in Ukraine, Kononov claimed that candidates representing political parties rather than oligarchies are at a disadvantage.

In assessing the other politicians who have been registered as running for the position, Kononov explained that the requirement for each potential candidate to collect one million signatures--at least 30,000 of which must come from at least eighteen different oblasts--will significantly narrow the race. He noted that a coalition supporting one leftist candidate is still possible. However, the ambitions of each candidate on the left side of the spectrum may make it difficult for such an accord to be reached.

Kononov concluded that despite remaining problems, the elections will be another step forward towards the further democratization of Ukraine. The national elections in 1991, 1994, and 1998 and the mayoral elections in Kyiv in 1999 show that the electorate in Ukraine is growing increasingly mature, he said. Voter behavior, election procedures, political awareness in general, and institutional mechanisms such as the Central Election Commission are taking shape. The 1999 presidential elections will only further these trends and promote a more consolidated democracy in Ukraine.