Constituent Assembly of Ukraine

Constituent Assembly of Ukraine (Ukrainski Ustanovchi Zbory). Elected legislative body of the Ukrainian people that had the task of establishing a new political system and confirming the constitution of the Ukrainian state after the February Revolution of 1917. The difficulties that the Ukrainian Central Rada encountered in reaching an understanding with the Russian Provisional Government, whose centralist and chauvinist policies opposed Ukraine's full autonomy, gave rise to the idea of a Ukrainian constituent assembly in Ukrainian political circles. In the first of the Universals of the Central Rada, this body had already proclaimed that only the People's Ukrainian Assembly (diet) had the right to approve all laws that would determine the political and social order in Ukraine. During its sixth session the Central Rada recognized on 18–22 August 1917 that ‘only the people of Ukraine can resolve the question of the political order in Ukraine and Ukraine's relation to Russia’ and, hence, that it was imperative to convene a Ukrainian constituent assembly. At this session the groundwork was laid for an electoral system to the constituent assembly and for the convening of that assembly.

The Central Rada's decision to convene a constituent assembly provoked a sharp reaction against the Rada among Russian centralists, particularly among the Kadets, who in protest resigned from the Central Rada. Then, at the end of September, the Russian Social Democratic Workers' party (Mensheviks), the Russian Socialist Revolutionaries, and the Jewish Bund protested against the convening of the constituent assembly, because they viewed this step as an attempt to separate Ukraine from Russia. In the light of this reaction from the national minorities the Little Rada adopted a compromise position that attempted to reconcile the principle of Ukrainian self-determination through the Ukrainian constituent assembly with the principle of the unity of the Russian federated republic, which was to be confirmed by the All-Russian Constituent Assembly. This compromise made possible the election of a commission to design the laws governing the Constituent Assembly of Ukraine. In spite of this the Provisional Government on 30 October 1917 declared that it was ready to take the Central Rada and the General Secretariat of the Central Rada to court for ‘separatism’ in connection with their intention to convene a constituent assembly. In the meantime the Bolsheviks seized power, and on 12 October 1917 the Central Rada passed the fundamental laws on elections to the Constituent Assembly of Ukraine and instructed the Little Rada to confirm the law and to conduct elections.

The Third Universal designated 9 January 1918 as election day and 22 January as the opening day of the constituent assembly. It also pointed out that until the assembly was convened, the power to legislate belonged to the Central Rada. The law on the Constituent Assembly of Ukraine was ratified on 29 November 1917. Its deputies were to be elected by a universal, equal, direct, and secret vote, according to the principle of proportional representation. Individuals of both sexes over 20 years of age had the right to vote and to be elected. Three hundred and one members were to be elected (1 per 100,000 constituents). The electoral commission was headed by M. Moroz.

The regions not occupied by the Bolsheviks in Ukraine elected 171 out of the 301 deputies, and according to the Ukrainian lists over 70 percent of the votes were cast for Ukrainian parties. For this reason the Central Rada decided not to delay matters of great importance, such as the proclamation of Ukraine's independence, until the Constituent Assembly of Ukraine met, and in the fourth of the Universals of the Central Rada on 22 January 1918 it proclaimed that it would govern until the assembly convened and that the elections were to continue. Subsequent events, however, made it impossible to carry out these plans, and the Constituent Assembly of Ukraine never did meet.

Zakon pro vybory do Ustanovchykh Zboriv Ukraïns'koï Narodnoï Respubliky (Kyiv 1917)
Khrystiuk, P. Zamitky i materiialy do istoriï ukraïns'koï revoliutsiï 1917-1920 rr., 2 (Vienna 1921; New York 1969)
Doroshenko, D. Istoriia Ukraïny 1917-1923 rr., 1 (Uzhhorod 1932; New York 1954)
Reshetar Jr., J.S. The Ukrainian Revolution, 1917-1920: A Study in Nationalism (Princeton 1952; repr New York 1972)
Verstiuk, V. (ed.) Ukraïns’ka Tsentral’na Rada: dokumenty i materiialy v dvokh tomakh (Kyiv 1996–7)

Arkadii Zhukovsky

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 1 (1984).]

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