ISSUE 1-2009
Lubos Vesely
Ростислав Павленко Игорь Яковенко Юрий Дракохруст
Владимир Дмитренко
Виктор Коган-Ясный Pavel Venzera
Вацлав Рамбоусек
Сергей Танев Наталья Ярцева

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the articles and/or discussions are those of the respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views or positions of the publisher.

By Pavel Venzera | Researcher in Politics, the Czech Republic | Issue 1, 2009

            The landslide victory of Oleh Tyahnybok’s nationalist Freedom Party (Svoboda)[1] in the elections for the Ternopil regional council puts an uncomfortable question before Ukraine, as to whether this electoral result is a foretaste of further success of this party in the next general election, or whether this was merely a vocal protest by one of the regions traumatized by crisis.  

            At first glance, the results of the election of March 16, 2009 could signal a simple relationship between the dire economic situation of the country and the low results of the governmental parties, i.e., Yulia Tymoshenko’s Bloc, and the Our Ukraine–People's Self-Defense Bloc. Voters simply used the regional election to send a message to the government that they are not satisfied with it.

            This has happened in the Czech Republic in 2008, for instance, when voters, dissatisfied with the coalition government, brought into power in every region the opposition Social Democrats. The situation in Ukraine, however, is rather different from that in the Czech Republic, and the causes of such radical change of electoral preferences are both deeper and more diverse in nature. Moreover, they indicate the possibility of major changes in the Ukrainian political scene.

Attempt of Yulia Tymoshenko’s Bloc to Cancel the Elections

            What is most striking about the Ternopil election is the defeat of Yulia Tymoshenko’s Bloc (in Ukrainian known by the acronym BYuT), the main representatives of the current Ukrainian government. Paradoxically, it was BYuT that had called early elections for the Ternopil regional council, when its MP, Serhyi Podgornyi, together with two colleagues from the fraction Our Ukraine–People's Self-Defense Bloc, submitted a draft of their „Постанови про призначення позачергових виборів депутатів Тернопільської обласної ради.“ („Resolution of the Announcement of Unscheduled Elections of the Members of the Ternopil Regional Council”) The draft was endorsed on December 18, 2008 by the Supreme Council, as were other proposals for various local elections, passing with a landslide majority of 391 votes.

            However, by comparison with the results of the previous local or general elections, pre-election polls in December 2008 did not look favorable for BYuT. Given the notorious political acumen of Ukraine’s number one populist and leader of the Bloc, Yulia Tymoshenko, it might have been expected that the actual result would not be so bad. The elections were planned for March 15, 2009, and would hopefully bring the ruling party a fair result and thus cause people to forget the fiasco that BYuT suffered in the early elections for Mayor of Kyiv (2008), which was in fact also incited by the party.

            Further events in the Ternopil Region went for the worse for BYuT. As is evident from the table below, its preferences not only did not grow, but in fact suffered a sharp decline. BYuT headquarters probably panicked and decided to cancel the election, although the official argument ran that one could not further radicalize an already precarious situation in the region.   

The development of electoral preferences and results in the elections for the Ternopil Regional Council (2006, 2009)


United Center

Party of Regions


Ukr. National Party[2]

Our Ukraine


            The Supreme Council, however, does not have a mandate to do anything of the sort. Therefore the idea emerged to use the popular maneuver lying in repeal of the resolution which had called for the election. It was thus technically not the election that was called off, but merely the resolution to hold an election, and all was as it should be. That is, at least as far as Ukrainian innovators in sphere of law. Thus was born draft of another resolution wondrously titled „Про визнання такою, що втратила чинність, Постанови Верховної Ради України Про призначення позачергових виборів депутатів Тернопільської обласної ради” (On the Loss of Validity of the Resolution of the Supreme Council on the Announcement of Unscheduled Elections of Members of the Ternopil Regional Council.”) Among its authors is the signature of the chairman of the parliamentary faction of BYuT, Ivan Kyrylenko. He was seconded by the new head of the faction of Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defence Bloc, which collaborates with BYuT, Mykola Martynenko.

            By a barter which cost the Foreign Minister, Volodymyr Ohryzko his seat, BYuT obtain support for the calling of the resolution from the Party of Regions (apart from the dismissal of the minister, this party received the additional bonus in form of a good result in the Ternopil elections). On March 3, 2009, the resolution was cancelled by 292 votes. This was twelve days before the election, and then things began to happen. Each of the interested parties started to file complaints to various courts of law, demanding that the election either go ahead or be abolished completely. In the end, the war of court decrees was won by those in favor of holding elections, which were only allowed to actually happen on March 14, in the evening.[7] All BYuT managed to do at this point was to ask its adherents to boycott the election. Moreover, they did not even succeed in crossing out the Bloc from the ballots, so that in fact BYuT took part in the election.

            This BYuT attempt to cancel an election that appeared inconvenient for the party due to poll ratings is a serious warning for the future, for what has been tried at the regional level could very well be put into practice on a higher level; if this or that political body feels that they would have trouble getting into Parliament or getting their candidate elected as President.

            Moreover, since early 2009, there have been debates in Ukraine about the possibility to solve conflicts in Ukrainian politics by force which could be a step taken by one of the political players in an attempt to stay in power.[8] The reality of this threat was brought home most unpleasantly with the raid by the Ukrainian Security Service on the seat of the state-owned company Naftohaz. After the raid which was conducted by the Alpha Special Unit the police then arrived; under the direction of the Minister of Interior whose relations with the President, who in turn controls the Ukrainian Security Service, are by no means harmonious.

            In the middle of this, the first deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Turchynov voiced an appeal, in his capacity as former head of the Ukrainian Security Service and addressed to the officers of the Service, that „they do not have the duty to carry out criminal orders of corrupt functionaries who manage the Service on the orders of the President, or coordinate its activities.” [9]   

BYuT Reactions to the Lost Election

            The apprehensions and fears of the BYuT functionaries came true, and after double triumph in the general election, where in the previous one BYuT won in the Ternopil region; a total majority of more than half of the votes (see table), followed a sharp downfall as the party received only 8,1% of the votes.


Results of the Elections for the Supreme Council in the Ternopil Region and Ukraine in General           (2006,  2007)


United Center

Party of Regions


Ukr. People’s Party

Our Ukraine


            The defeat of BYuT is emphasized by a relatively high turnout of voters (over 50% of the electorate), which confirms that even the appeal of a boycott to the election was ineffective. In addition, the respected Committee of Voters of Ukraine stated in its assessment report that the election was fair and that there was no breach of election law.[12]

            On the other hand, among those who were critical of the election results was the Head of Parliament, Volodymyr Lytvyn, who saw it as an ominous augury for the future: “If society accepts what has happened in Ternopil, than it is abundantly clear that we do not need to hold elections at all… if people placidly accept an evident fraud, they are tempting those who orchestrate such fraud in order to throw the country into a practice of electoral fraud.”[13]

            Representatives of BYuT also had a different take on the situation, launching above all on a critique of the head of the regional secretariat, Viktor Baloha, who is regarded in this Bloc as the main organizer of affairs surrounding the Ternopil election,[14] eventually filing a complaint with the court. Whether BYuT succeeds in persuading the judge to cancel the electoral result or not, it is evident that what happened in the Ternopil Region indicates, or in some cases confirms, new trends in Ukrainian politics. BYuT should realize several points:

a)      Firstly, that the appeal of Yulia Tymoshenko has pretty much fizzled out. BYuT did not manage to learn a lesson from the failed electoral campaign for Mayor of Kiev, when the party head, in the belief that her powers were unlimited, set her heart on imposing Kiev the absolutely unacceptable figure of Oleksandr Turchynov. This time she attempted to cancel an election, and for the second time, she got a due answer;

b)      It is time to stop thinking that one can persuade voters that black equals white. Yulia Tymoshenko is an adept populist, which on the one hand has brought her much success up until now, but on the other hand this type of politics drives her into a dead end, as she cannot use her popularity to tell the nation what the real situation of Ukraine is. Such step could strip her of the aura of an infallible politician who is leading the nation towards a brighter future. At first, the Prime Minister denied there was any crisis at all; then she did admit it but already in March 2009 she announced the light at the end of the tunnel. Yet everyday reality tells Ukrainians that the very opposite is the truth, and they are gradually losing faith in their fair-weathered idol;

c)      It is time to stop thinking that one can explain to voters anything for one’s own political gain. The strategic coalition with the Party of Regions or the Communists which helps to suppress the views of the smaller coalition partner or to directly undermine the power of the President; the attitude towards the Russia-Georgia conflict; the lack of transparency in negotiations with Russia – all these are only some of the moments that Tymoshenko´s political rivals have learned to use against her.

d)      The king is made by his entourage. It is a specific feature of Ukrainian political parties that they are non ideological groupings cowering behind their leaders. In the case of BYuT, this is even more striking than with other parties. We can discover among members of Tymoshenko´s crew a lot of persons with political career which would disqualify them in any country West of the Ukrainian border. Likewise businessmen connected with party are not people which past would be without stain. Situation in another parties is not better but it is particulary Yulia Tymoshenko who loudly states that her team is the purest and the best;[15]

e)      The Prime Minister’s policies regarding personnel hardly command respect or positive responses from the population, as her policies are too reminiscent of the Soviet Era. One day a loyal comrade, a favorite son or daughter of the nation, and the next day an outcast or weakling. In the last months, this was the helter-skelter trajectory of Finance Minister Viktor Pinzenyk, and the Director of Customs, Valeri Khoroshovskiy, all because the Prime Minister was not happy with their independence of views;

f)       When the popularity of Yulia Tymoshenko runs even lower, voters will start to see more clearly that their once popular leader preaches water while drinking wine. Former questions will be asked, once again, but this time with a more serious impact as to where the money for her outfits, lavish house and lifestyle derive from; when according to her declaration of property she is only marginally middle class. And other questions may be asked, as well, and above all regarding the Prime Minister’s past.

 Oleh Tyahnybok is Coming[16]

            And he has been on the rise for quite some time now. However; now, he has arrived in the most resolute manner. Tyahnybok’s Freedom Party (Svoboda) has taken part in two general elections; thus far, (2006, 2007), and results show that not only does it win increasingly more adherents but also expands its influence although so far only in West and Central Ukraine.

Results of the Freedom Party in the general elections of 2006, 2007[17]


Ivano- Frankivsk

0.36/ 91, 321
0.76/178, 660

            Oleh Tyahnybok himself explained the victory of his Freedom Party in the Ternopil election by several factors: a highly active election campaign, voter fatigue regarding the current state of Ukrainian politics, confrontation between several groups in the Orange camp, and in the case of BYuT, also due to Tymoshenko’s courting of Moscow.[18] Oleh Tyahnybok regards the election results as proof of the fact that Ukrainian society is ready for the nationalists entering parliament: “The victory in the Ternopil election, and moreover such a landslide victory, opens the way to parliament. In this election we have once and for all destroyed the myth that nationalists and the Freedom Party cannot get into the parliament.”[19]He also believes that the political map of Ukraine is slowly beginning to change: “Those who were reluctant to vote for us as they feared that their votes would go to the score of someone else have probably already lost any such fear. Also, the Ternopil election dispelled the myth that the political forces active at present will stay in power forever. The political map of Ukraine will now start to seriously change.”[20]

            The conclusions from the leader of the Freedom Party are not far from reality and if the political climate in Ukraine does not change for the better, and such an option seems very unlikely indeed, then Oleh Tyahnybok has a real chance to get into parliament. Not one but several factors may help him into the Supreme Council:

 a)      The Ukrainians are fed up with the political situation in the country to an unusual degree, and they will look for new options in the next election at the expense of established” parties, and therefore new or thus far not very prominent political groupings may benefit from this situation. Few doubt at this moment that the political group of the former head of parliament Arseniy Yatseniyuk will make it into Parliament and moreover he can play a significant role in the result of the presidential election. For the more radical and nationalist voters in Western Ukraine, Tyahnybok’s Freedom Party would be a viable option;

b)     The economic crisis, or rather the bad handling of it by the current government, leads to a loss of faith in leading politicians. Tyahnybok does not offer recipes for solving the crisis, instead pointing out those who are in power, and creating the impression that all would be well with Ukraine if the country got rid of them. This could work with a great part of the electorate;

c)      The role of the Zhirinovsky phenomenon. In terms of its modern history, Ukrainian society copies, with some delay, the evolution of that of Russia. What might happen in this case would be similar to the Russian general election of 1993, when Vladimir Zhirinovsky won by a landslide; in the next election Oleh Tyahnybok may win the votes of those who go to cast their ballot against all the parties in power, or those who do not usually go to vote and will this time just in order to show the politicians what they think of them by voting for Tyahnybok.

d)     The role of the Russian card. Vladimir Putin would probably not sleep at night if he went to bed without making at least one derogatory remark about Ukraine and perhaps he does not even realize what a favor he is doing the country in this case; for even in the east of Ukraine, the numbers of those who are indignant at the constant attacks on Ukraine; at the constant naming of names; and calling Ukrainians thieves are growing. Oleh Tyahnybok will not stand a chance in the South or East of Ukraine, even in the next election, but he has a chance in other parts of the country particularly if he succeeds in persuading the voters, as he does now, that Tymoshenko plays into Moscow’s hands;

e)      Tyahnybok broaches issues that none of the leading politicians do andthese issues nonetheless find their audience. The seemingly absurd demand of reclaiming nuclear status for Ukraine has more than a few adherents believing that Russia would have to treat Ukraine differently if Ukraine had nuclear weapons. The proponents of the breaking away from Ukraine’s communist past and a radical cleansing of Ukrainian society; as such, support Tyahnybok’s idea of lustration. A considerable section of Ukrainian society, in the west of the country, is in favor of Tyahnybok’s idea of granting Ukrainians the status of a main nation”.

 Possible Pitfalls of the Ambitions of the Freedom Party

            After the Ternopil election, Tyahnybok’s stock has risen sharply. This could also help him in securing financial backing, though he has so far shown no lack of this. His financial backing has in fact been the subject of much speculation. There are rumors of money coming from the Party of Regions, in the hope of draining the votes of the Orange coalition by funding the Freedom Party. In relation to the Ternopil election, there appeared voices that stated for the same reason that Freedom was being backed by those supporting the President, who saw the party as an opportunity to taking votes from Yulia Tymoshenko.[21]

            The financing of the Freedom Party will become an issue for Tyahnybok’s political rivals, who will try to prove that Freedom is only a technical project on the part of some of the major parties, who are merely trying to weaken their opponents. This tactic was successfully used by Yulia Tymoshenko in the last election, when she managed to persuade voters not to vote for smaller parties, as those votes would only be lost.

            The Freedom Party focused a large part of its election campaign on accusing BYuT of betraying the national interest, and this apparently worked. During the general election; however, Oleh Tyahnybok will have to face the fact that for BYuT he will be one of the main targets of its negative propaganda and this will be by no means an easy position. On the other hand, it will be interesting to follow the clash of two similar styles in politics which will meet head on during the next election campaign.

            During the presidential campaign, Oleh Tyahnybok will naturally not stand the smallest chance against Yulia Tymoshenko, but nonetheless he might take some of her votes, Above all, he can do some work in terms of discrediting her.

            Paradoxically, the Ternopil election victory may prove to be an obstacle to securing a successful result in the general election. The region is truly in no fit shape, but the Freedom Party will have to show that they are capable of improving the situation, and this will be far from easy. If they fail, this will naturally provide a very compelling argument against Oleh Tyahnybok. For this reason one should take seriously his words that he does not rule out the possibility that they will remain in the opposition until they manage to negotiate a viable coalition in the region.[22]  

            Given his openly nationalist views,[23] the Freedom Party has a relatively clearly defined field of activity. To put it bluntly, there is no place for the Freedom Party behind the Dnieper River. If the Freedom Party wishes to get into Parliament, they have to capitalize to the maximum on their potential in the regions of the West and Central Ukraine. This was what Yuri Kostenko’s Ukrainian National Bloc tried to do earlier but failed. It is therefore impossible to rule out that Freedom Party might attempt to form a pre-election bloc. A springboard for such a bloc could be a coalition in the Ternopil regional government. In fact, Kostenko had already invited Tyahnybok earlier to join his bloc of right-wing forces.[24] 

 Crisis and Change for the Better?

            As far back as 2004, Andres Aslund, a specialist in Eastern Europe, called the Orange Revolution “a revolt of the millionaires against the billionaires.”[25] Back then, in the heady days of the revolution, such a characterization seemed like a heresy. However, Andres Aslund was more than vindicated. In December 2004, civil society had succeeded in averting the threat of the Kuchma regime to cement its power by electing Viktor Yanukovich as the new President of Ukraine. However, it failed to prevent putting into power people who were never able to point Ukraine towards true democracy or a real market economy. Since the arrival of the Orange forces to power, the country has gone from one crisis to another, until arriving at the stage where its permanent political crisis coincides with a worldwide economic crisis. Ukraine has by now sunk into a truly serious state of affairs which the current establishment cannot deal with, mired as it is in political infighting.           

            To add to this deep disillusionment of Ukrainian society with the results that the country’s government is producing the situation is gradually creating an environment ripe for radical change. This change could take on alternate forms: from barricades in the streets  to a peaceful solution tool known as the ballot. If Ukrainians have enough patience, the last option could come into effect, and Ukraine could face at least a partial change in its political spectrum. Already, Arseniy Yatseniyuk personifies the hope of new people in politics, people who not compromised by the miasma of the 1990s, which fatefully marked both past and present government structures. 

            The crisis could provide a new chance for Ukrainian society, but whether Oleh Tyahnyubok personifies this new opportunity remains an open question. If unhappy voters indeed give him a strong position in Parliament, this could bring about more problems than benefits. Doubtless this would also further polarize relations between Eastern and Western Ukiraine, and his radical nationalism would probably also cause Ukraine problems abroad, and not only regarding Russia. Still, no matter which way the situation develops, one must reckon with Tyahnybok, and this is also one of the sad results of the revolt of the millionaires against the billionaires.


[1] Full name of Tyahnybok´s party is Всеукраїнське об’єднання „Свобода” (All-Ukrainian Organization Svoboda).

[2] Ukranian People’s Party was represented in regional election 2006 by bloc called Ukrainian National Bloc of Kostenko and Plyushch.

[3] Poll results by Rating Agency. The polls cover the views of people determined to take part in the election. For a poll for December 2008, see: 

[4] There are different figures which is possible to find. Differences oscilate between 1-2%. Figures published by Regional election comission are used in the table.

[5] After the Ternopil Regional Council election held in March 2006 or Svoboda neither Party of region were not represented in the Ternopil regional council.

[6] Unified Center did not yet exist at this time.

[7] For more detail on this, see Перебіг виборів до тернопільської обласної ради аналіз громадянської мережі Опора. 

[8] ВЕДЕРНИКОВА, И., Силовой вариант: реальная угроза или пиар-технология? Зеркало недели, № 10,21 марта 2009.

[10] The first figure shows the result in the Ternopil Region, the second indicates the overall result in Ukraine.

[11] The party took part in the elections within the bloc Our Ukraine-People’s Self Defence Party.

[12] On the other hand, it  is necessary to remark that head of this Committee Ihor Popov was shortly after Ternopil election appointed deputy of head of presidential administration which was commented like possible reward for Ternopil election.

[14] Ternopil always voted for freedom, independence and democracy. It would never vote for the likes of Baloba, either now or in the future.

[15] Interesting mixture composed by former komsomolets, people doing their careers in civil service during Kuchma´s period and businessmen raising their capital in dark period of Ukrainian capitalism is depicted in book Rudenko, S., Vsya Yulina rat. Okruzheniye Yulii Tymoshenko. Kyiv 2007. Of course, there are not all persons because since publishing of the book new people became members of team (e.g. Andriy Portnov) and another were forced to go (Victor Pynzenyk). Up to date information not only about ByuT´s politicians is possible to get on    

[16] Personal site of O. Ťjahnybok: Biography: Political views see: Tyahnybok: Nationalist, fearful of Russia, favors NATO.

[17] The first figure shows result in percent and second place reached by Svoboda among another parties.

[23] Oleh Tyahnybok says about himself: “I am not a democrat. I am an Ukrainian nationalist.” For more details on Tyahnyboki’s notion of nationalism, see:


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