Right and left rumble in Rada
Feb. 10, 2000, 1 a.m. | Ukraine
— by Katya Gorchinskaya
Together again in the Rada, majority and minority settle their differences
et in the same place at the same time on Feb. 8 - but the divided deputies appeared as far apart as ever.
While the majority - presided over by their new speaker - held a session and voted on several issues, the minority leftists thumped their desks and shouted 'shame' at their rightist colleagues.
Some majority deputies had had an early start that day - several deputies said 76 majority deputies had stormed the session hall at 7:10 a.m., seizing the session hall's presidium. Nineteen leftist deputies - on a hunger strike in the hall for seven days and sworn to defend the presidium - put up a brief fight, during which two of them were injured, according to one of the leftists, Volodymyr Marchenko, who is deputy head of the Progressive Socialist Party.
Witnesses to the majority's dawn raid said several of the attacking deputies had torn their suits.
'I couldn't believe it was happening in Ukraine, in our parliament,' Marchenko said later.
Representatives of the majority said they had attacked the presidium early in the morning to avoid any unpleasant incidents when the Rada's new speaker arrived at 10 a.m. - and to make sure none of the press would witness the fighting.
'We wanted to avoid any problems,' said Oleksandr Yemets, a member of Reform-Congress faction.
However, a member of the Progressive Socialist Party filmed the attack, and the video footage was shown by at least two local TV channels on the evening of Feb. 8, much to the annoyance of the attackers.
As the majority had hoped, the new Rada speaker, Ivan Pliushch, and his two deputies were able to approach the presidium unimpeded by leftists, their seats being guarded by several dozen majority deputies.
But other visitors to the Rada that day had a more difficult time gaining access to the session hall.
Diplomats from at least five countries were prevented from entering parliament, while for much of the day journalists were not even allowed into parliament's lobby and the corridors surrounding the session hall where the press usually conduct interviews with deputies.
Although foreign diplomats are legally entitled to attend parliamentary sessions, Rada guards said they had received verbal instructions from parliament officials not to let them in.
Representatives of the majority denied knowledge of the guards' instructions, but said what was going on in parliament was none of the diplomats' business anyway.
'I don't know who is responsible for this order, but I think that there are situations in parliament that we should solve without the diplomatic corps - these are our internal affairs,' said ex-president Leonid Kravchuk, the parliamentary majority's coordinator.
The rest of the day at parliament went relatively peacefully. To a background of desk thumping and more shouts of 'shame' from the leftists, the majority debated some draft laws. Deputies seemed weary of the conflict, and proposals from a few majority deputies to evict the loudest desk-thumping leftists from the session hall were ignored.
Instead, the majority voted to amend parliament's Rules of Procedure, making all votes open and resolving that in the future, voting on draft laws should be conducted only on Thursdays. They also passed resolutions legally defining the status of the majority and minority parliamentary groupings and granting each its own secretariat.
The lawmakers also voted to set up a cross-faction commission to examine the legitimacy of majority deputy resolutions passed outside the parliament building.
'If [the commission] decides the law was violated, we'll vote on these resolutions again,' Kravchuk promised.