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Ukraine Lifts Three-Year Ban on Communists

October 19, 1994|MARY MYCIO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

KIEV, Ukraine — After more than three years on the ash heap of history, Soviet-style communism won a second chance Tuesday when the new Ukrainian Parliament lifted the ban on the old Communist Party. Hard-line lawmakers hugged each other and applauded as the measure passed by a vote of 201-105. Their leader, Petro Simonenko, hailed the vote as a "victory for legality and democracy in Ukraine."

But reformers charged that the Communists' resurrection was really prompted by their very capitalist desire to reclaim millions of dollars' worth of former Communist Party property that was nationalized in the wake of the failed 1991 coup by hard-liners in Moscow.

Despite the three-year ban, a Communist Party was formed in Ukraine last year. Although it officially repudiated any connection to the Soviet party, nearly all of its 132,000 members are drawn from the 3 million Ukrainians who held party cards when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Victor Shishkin, formerly Ukraine's chief prosecutor, opposed lifting the ban and warned that the vote "lays the legal groundwork for the Communists to raise the property issue in court."

The value of any leftover party cash has long since been eaten away by inflation. The high stakes are in real estate: thousands of buildings that once housed the ubiquitous party committees that ruled every aspect of Soviet life.

Today, most have been taken over by government offices. But one former party building in Kiev now houses the U.S. Embassy, while the massive Central Committee edifice has become headquarters for President Leonid Kuchma's administration.

Although the embassy is probably safe, observers say that if the Communists manage to reclaim only part of their former holdings, they could still become the richest and thus the most powerful political force in the country. Even if they fail, Tuesday's display of the opposition's political muscle could portend a battle with Kuchma over market reforms.

"Kuchma won't be able to count on Parliament's political support on many economic issues," Shishkin said.

Communists hold 94 of the 394 seats in Parliament, making them the largest bloc in a politically fragmented legislature.

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