Parliament

Parliament. A term commonly used for legislative councils or assemblies. The name parliament and its development are linked with medieval England, where it began its evolution in the 13th century. Whereas at first the parliament fulfilled an advisory or co-operative function, it gradually acquired the independent prerogatives of a legislative entity.

The Ukrainian experience with a parliamentary system was curtailed by several factors. First, the extended periods of Ukrainian statelessness resulted in a scarcity of national institutions. Accordingly, Ukrainians could participate only in foreign councils or assemblies, in which they had no controlling role. They commonly formed a separate caucus or club in those bodies. Second, the legislative assemblies which held jurisdiction over Ukrainian territories usually consisted (until the later 19th century) almost exclusively of representatives of the ruling elite. The nobility of Ukraine took part in the dealings of those bodies, but because in most cases they had assimilated to the norms of the dominant foreign power, they usually did not represent broad Ukrainian interests. Finally, the establishment of Soviet power in Ukraine in the 20th century wholly subverted the principles upon which parliamentary systems are based.

During the Princely era of Ukrainian history the Boyar Council fulfilled to a certain extent the functions of a parliament. It was a particularly influential body in the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia. Under the Grand Duchy of Lithuania the main legislative bodies were the Council of Lords and the Diet (Sejm); the former constituted an upper chamber, and the latter incorporated a wider-ranging representation, albeit by estate (see Estates). Among its participants were Ukrainian princes, magnates, members of the nobility, and the higher clergy, and burghers. After the Union of Lublin in 1569 a single diet served the entire Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It had two houses, a senate that consisted of the highest-ranking civic and ecclesiastical figures and a chamber of deputies made up of representatives of the nobility. Dietines acted as agencies of territorial self-government in the voivodeships. They also elected representatives to the Diet.

During the Hetman state certain parliamentary functions were fulfilled by the Council of Officers, although the General Military Council rendered the extent of its jurisdiction somewhat unclear. Pylyp Orlyk drafted a plan for a Cossack parliament—essentially an expanded Council of Officers with regular sittings—in the Constitution of Bendery in 1710. The plan was never realized. Similarly a late 18th-century plan by Hryhorii A. Poletyka to restore dietines was not realized.

A parliamentary institution was established in the Russian Empire only after the Revolution of 1905. Elected through a curial electoral system, the State Duma possessed limited legislative power. A Ukrainian caucus in the Russian State Duma was active from the sitting of the First Duma in 1906.

In Austria-Hungary a parliamentary system was created only in 1867 (in spite of earlier efforts, during the Revolution of 1848–9 in the Habsburg monarchy). The Reichsrat consisted of an upper house (Herrenhaus) and a lower house (Abgeordnetenhaus). The Herrenhaus was made up of hereditary nobles, social notables, and appointees of the emperor. The Greek Catholic metropolitanate was assured of a seat in the upper house, filled for a period by Oleksander Barvinsky and Ivan Ya. Horbachevsky. The chamber of deputies was initially a forum for the provincial diets; then, from 1873, it was elected on a curial basis and, from 1907, on the basis of universal male suffrage. Single-chamber provincial diets were also elected on a curial electoral system in Galicia and Bukovyna.

During the period of Ukrainian struggle for independence (1917–20) a parliamentary role was played by the Central Rada, the Labor Congress, and the Ukrainian National Rada in Galicia. Plans were established for elections to a representative Constituent Assembly of Ukraine, but they were only partially realized because of the precarious military situation. The Constitution of the Ukrainian National Republic foresaw a one-house parliament. The Labor Congress, although modeled on labor-class principles, expressed approval of a national, democratically elected Ukrainian parliament. Some of the pronouncements of Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky indicate that he foresaw the creation of a Ukrainian Diet as the parliament in the Ukrainian State.

During the interwar period in Poland the two legislative bodies were the Senate and the Sejm, both chosen through open elections. After an initial boycott by Galician politicians of elections under Poland (1922) Ukrainian members established the Ukrainian Parliamentary Representation. Not all Ukrainians, however, joined the club.

Until 1918, Ukrainians in Transcarpathia (such as Adolf Dobriansky, Konstantyn Hrabar, Antin Beskyd) were elected from time to time, by the curial electoral system, to the Hungarian Diet (Orsézaggyűlés). In the years between the two world wars Ukrainians were also represented in the parliamentary institutions of Czechoslovakia and Romania. In 1939–44 Transcarpathian representatives were appointed to the Hungarian legislature. The short lived Diet of Carpatho-Ukraine had one chamber and sat in session only once.

The main legislative body of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was the All-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets (1917–37). Ukrainians were also elected to the corresponding all-Union structure. From 1937 the role of a parliament was played by the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR and its USSR counterpart. In spite of their formal structures the Soviet assemblies functioned not as independent entities that debated and enacted legislation, but as a formal means of approving state plans for the country. They were completely dominated by the Communist Party, which determined nominations for (uncontested) elections and controlled their proceedings. Changes in electoral law in 1989 paved the way for establishing an opposition bloc in the Supreme Soviet (renamed the Supreme Council) and making it a more representative parliamentary forum. Following the 1991 Ukraine’s Declaration of Independence, the Supreme Council of Ukraine has remained the highest legislative body in Ukraine and has assumed many proper functions of a parliament.

The Ukrainian national minorities in the socialist countries of Eastern Europe between 1945 and 1991 had fair representation in regional and federal legislative institutions, especially in Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. The Ukrainian National Council, created in exile in 1947 as a representative body of the political parties of the Ukrainian National Republic, was based on parliamentary principles. (See also Elections, Legislation, Constitution, Constitution of Ukraine, Supreme Council of Ukraine.)

Vasyl Markus

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]




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