Constitution of the Ukrainian National Republic

Constitution of the Ukrainian National Republic. Fundamental law of the Ukrainian National Republic (UNR), adopted on 29 April 1918. It was influenced to a large extent by previous legislative acts of the Ukrainian Central Rada and had an important impact on future legislation and the government structure of the UNR. Before its adoption the Universals of the Central Rada and certain laws—the law of 8 December 1917 on legislative procedure, the law on elections to the Constituent Assembly of Ukraine, the law of 22 December 1917 on the Ukrainian State Bank and the Main Treasury of the UNR, the laws of 15 and 30 December 1917 on the judicial system, the law of 21 January 1918 on the national-personal autonomy, the law of 1 March 1918 on the emblem of the republic, the law of 2–4 March 1918 on citizenship, etc—had the force of a constitution.

Most of these acts were collected in the constitution, which was prepared by a special commission and adopted by the Central Rada at its last session on 29 April 1918, the day of Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky's coup. The constitution had 83 articles and eight sections.

The constitution asserted that the Ukrainian National Republic was a ‘sovereign, independent, and free state,’ in which the people of Ukraine held sovereign power and exercised it through the National Assembly (Vsenarodni Zbory). The constitution did not specify the borders of Ukraine, but pointed out that its territory was indivisible. The citizens of the republic, regardless of sex or nationality, were guaranteed basic civil and political rights. The supreme legislative authority in the republic was to be the National Assembly, which would issue laws and form the higher agencies of the government and judiciary. The constitution set down the procedures of election to the National Assembly, the structure of the assembly, legislative process, and the powers of the highest government authorities. The chairman (president) of the National Assembly was to represent the republic externally. The Council of National Ministers of the Ukrainian National Republic was to be the highest administrative authority in the republic. It was to be named by the chairman of the National Assembly in consultation with the council of the Assembly Elders (Rada Starshyn Zboriv) and confirmed by the National Assembly. The Council of National Ministers was to be responsible to the assembly, which had the right to express non-confidence in the council or in particular ministers. The supreme agency of the judiciary was to be the General Court of the UNR, which would consist of a college of judges elected for five years by the National Assembly. The constitution affirmed the independence of the judiciary from the executive and legislative powers. The law of the Central Rada on the national autonomy of national minorities in Ukraine formed a separate section in the constitution. At the end of the constitution were provisions for the temporary suspension of civil rights in times of emergency.

The constitution left a number of important constitutional questions to be solved by future legislation. Proposals for constitutional changes were to be decided by the usual legislative process, with the provision that they had to be adopted by three-fifths of the deputies present and by the new National Assembly after the next election.

In general, the constitution asserted the principle of parliamentary democracy, with the legislative power outweighing the executive power. It favored decentralization and self-government and dealt with the problem of national minorities in a liberal manner.

The Constitution of the Ukrainian National Republic turned out to have merely a moral-political significance, for Pavlo Skoropadsky's coup on the day of its adoption prevented it from being implemented. Skoropadsky's declaration of his assumption of power and the proclamation on 29 April 1918 of a temporary structure of Ukraine abolished the constitution of the UNR. However, some of its provisions inspired the legislation of the UNR under the Directory of the Ukrainian National Republic.

Matvii Stakhiv

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

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