Crowds greet Communist leaders in Mykolayiv Oblast on July 19. The banner tells "Return the country to the people," one of the slogans the Communist Party of Ukraine uses in its election campaign ahead of parliamentary vote on Oct. 28.
Ukraine’s oldest and, to many, odious Communist Party is once again on the rise.
A recent poll conducted by Kyiv International Institute of Sociology shows support for communists at 10 percent. If that translates into votes, the Communist Party could add to their 26-seat faction in the 450-seat legislature after the votes are counted in the Oct. 28 parliamentary election.
The party is also more visible, recently launching an advertising campaign that recycles some of their Soviet-era slogans about social justice and the vices of capitalism.
However, the populist rhetoric shows the wide gap between the communists’ public statements and their private lifestyles.
‘A tax for the rich’
Taking from the rich and giving to the poor is a key slogan. They say they favor luxury taxes, yet recently refused to vote in favor a luxury tax draft law proposed by the government. Instead, the Communists criticized the government’s bill as unworkable and said their version is more comprehensive.
However, the tax would hit billionaires and millionaires, and some of these could well be Communists, something the party’s members don’t want to mention.
The Ukrainska Pravda news website exposed Yuriy Gaydayev, lawmaker in the Communist Party faction, who was photographed last December using an expensive Porsche Cayenne, a vehicle that sells for at least $100,000.
With only Hr 140,000 income in 2006, Gaydayev – who served as health minister in the 1990s – could hardly afford such car. The deputy said that his wife, who has been in business for the last 15 years, owns it.
The longtime head of Ukraine’s Communist Party and another luxury-car lover, Petro Symonenko, is known for his affection to Swiss watches worth tens of thousands of dollars.
Although proclaiming antagonism to wealth, he also lives in three-story house in an elite residential area outside of Kyiv, estimated to be worth $1.5 million. Symonenko, who has never been in business and has failed to make his income declaration public, said the house belongs to his son.
The luxury tax is one of Symonenko’s favorite topics for public speeches at campaign rallies, though he strangely fails to portray himself as a possible target of such legislation.
“Their slogans are rather populist, not concrete, amorphous – a call for struggle with the oligarchs, and returning to the Soviet past,” said Olexiy Haran, political science professor at Kyiv Mohyla Academy. “Communists continue their game … They cooperate [with the authorities] and their representatives hold leading posts, although they criticize the authorities.”
Haran says communists know which way the wind blows, which is why they talk about introducing, for example, a luxury tax. “If members of Party of Regions talk about luxury taxation that means there is no threat to them,” he explained.
Communists say their use of old slogans shows they are consistent.
“I don’t think that holding certain, repeated and consistent views is bad. Quite the contrary, communists are not false to themselves,” Oleksandr Holub, a lawmaker in the Communist Party faction, told the Kyiv Post.
Holub says his party introduces legislation to support its agenda, but lacks enough backing to get the measures passed by parliament.
‘The corrupt belong in prison’
This recent communist slogan closely resembles the 2004 Orange Revolution rhetoric of ex-President Viktor Yushchenko, who repeatedly said that “bandits belong to prison,” but who failed miserably in his five-year term.
Like Yushchenko and his team, communists have not only failed to bring criminals to justice, they have allegedly been involved in various corruption scandals.
According to the Chesno (Honest) civic movement, which aims to make election process more transparent, at least a half-dozen lawmakers in the Communist Party faction in the parliament are suspected of having bribed voters ahead of the Oct. 28 election, among other infractions.
Among them is Communist Party lawmaker Oleksandr Tkachenko, who at the beginning of 2000s served as head of the State Procurement Chamber, which is long accused of bid rigging. Tkachenko dismissed the allegations.
‘Wealthy bandits robbed the country’
Although campaigning on rhetoric that the rich have stolen from the poor to become richer and avoid justice, Ukrainian communists again show a disconnect with reality.
Having been in the parliament for the last 20 years, longer than any other faction, the Communist Party has rarely voted in favor of anti-corruption legislation. To the contrary, they have voted for laws that fuel corruption.
Among such recent examples is the fact that Communist Party faction unanimously voted on July 4 in favor of a controversial bill on state procurement, which further reduces competition and oversight of billions of dollars in annual state purchases.
Besides, in November 2010, communists supported President Viktor Yanukovych’s choice of Viktor Pshonka as general prosecutor of Ukraine. In the last two years, the prosecutor’s office has not succeeded much in cracking down on corruption or prosecuting heinous crimes, but rather for persecuting opposition politicians in dubious cases.
The communists seem to be fine with that.