Peasant Party of Ukraine

Peasant Party of Ukraine (Селянська партія України or СельПУ; Selianska partiia Ukrainy or SelPU; sometimes incorrectly referred to as the Agrarian Party, thus being confused with an entirely different entity, the Agrarian Party of Ukraine). Formed on the basis of its parliamentary caucus at a founding conference in Kherson in January 1992, and consisting primarily of agriculturalists, the SelPU was officially registered as national party no. 214 with the Ministry of Justice in March of that year. Its first congress was held in December 1993 in Kyiv, where the party program was refined and Serhii Dovhan, a state farm director, was elected leader.

In the 1994 elections to the Supreme Council of Ukraine the party managed to elect 18 deputies, but its caucus grew to 52 by the end of the year with the adhesion of hitherto ‘independents.’ The party was severely weakened in the Supreme Council and the Ukrainian electorate by its split in 1995. Thereafter it contested elections as the junior partner in a bloc with the Socialist Party of Ukraine (SPU). After the year 2000, the party disappeared from the Ukrainian parliamentary and political scene as its number of elected deputies fell below the threshold for forming a recognized fraction.

In the Soviet era, management of the agricultural sector was in the hands of the collective farm chairmen and state farm directors who supplied the state with food and received in return benefits in financial as well as material form. Loyal to the Communist Party, they supported state-run agriculture, opposed its commercialization, and defended their positions. Dissolution of the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU) in 1991 opened an opportunity for these officials to cement their place in the unfolding political order along traditional lines of authority.

The real driving force in the creation of the SelPU was Oleksandr Tkachenko, a Soviet-era CPU apparatchik who had served in 1985–92 as minister of agriculture. After his retirement, he joined the SelPU which at the time of its founding had 65,000 members and considerable influence on the rural population. Tkachenko was investigated for embezzlement, but was exonerated although not everyone was convinced of his innocence. In 1995, 25 members of the SelPU caucus who supported the presidential platform broke away to form the Agrarians for Reform fraction, leaving behind 28 caucus members. In 1998, the SPU-SelPU electoral alliance (‘Za pravdu, za narod, za Ukrainu’) won 29 seats, of which 11 were Peasant Party members, on the proportional-ballot side, and 6 on the single-member-district side, of which two were Peasant Party members. Following these elections, a backroom deal installed Tkachenko as speaker of the Supreme Council of Ukraine instead of Oleksandr Moroz, the SPU leader, a rival for the presidency against Leonid Kuchma. Tkachenko’s speakership was notable only for the primacy of personal interests in his decisions and rulings. In the Supreme Council, the two parties were combined in a single fraction called Left Centre. In the 1999 presidential election, Tkachenko was selected as his party’s candidate but withdrew in favor of the Communist Party of Ukraine candidate, its leader Petro Symonenko.

The party’s program as originally disseminated supported a social-market and social-democratic orientation, as well as multi-party political system. It endorsed the idea of socioeconomic development based on recognition of various forms of management and gradual progress towards a market economy and international economic ties, but with the aim of constructing a society based on social justice. It also approved the rental of farmland while categorically opposing its sale or purchase. The party urged a revision of the remuneration of farm workers and of government policies regarding the improvement of village life, the protection of domestic producers, and halting the widening of the inequality gap in society in general.

The SelPU effectively ceased to exist in February 2000 when Dovhan and several colleagues created the Solidarity caucus within the Supreme Council of Ukraine. It had in fact, like so many other Ukrainian parties, been the personal political vehicle of one man—in this case, Oleksandr Tkachenko.

Bohdan Harasymiw

[This article was written in 2023.]

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