Judge withdraws from Ukraine Communist trial because cops raided his office

On Feb. 18, Valerii Kuzmenko , the main judge presiding over the trial of the Communist Party of Ukraine, resigned after complaining that prosecution officials had raided his office and walked off with computers and documents, thereby fatally compromising the integrity of the judicial process.  Shortly after, all other judges involved in the trial also withdrew.  How the trial, which is designed to make the Communist Party illegal, will now proceed, is not yet known. 

The  Communist Party of Ukraine received 13.18 percent of the vote in the 2012 elections to the Ukrainian Congress, or Verkhovna Rada, which gave it 32 of the body’s 445 seats.

Most of the Communist seats were from the Eastern regions of Ukraine, including Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts (provinces) in the highly industrialized Donbas area that borders on Russia’s Rostov province, and from the region of the Black Sea port city of Odessa. The Communist Party was also strong in the Crimea, now annexed to Russia. The party is also strongest in Russian speaking areas of the East. 

So when the government of President Victor Yanukovych of the Party of the Regions was overthrown in the Maidan protests in February of 2014, it was clear that the Communist Party was in for a rough time.

The Communist Party had been critical of both Yanukovych and his opponents, for corruption and for having temporized with Ukraine’s ultra-right fascist and neo-Nazi movements.  After the Maiden events, The Communist Party had taken a position that to settle differences between Eastern and Western Ukraine, and between Ukrainian and Russian speakers in this vast country of 44 million inhabitants, there should be a move to a federated system with regional autonomy and a new government structure with much greater power to the legislature. 

However, the Communist Party opposed, and opposes, the breakup of the country, the basis for its prosecution.

The main issue that got the Kiev “Maidan” protests going was that of international economic relations. Yanukovych had been negotiating for the inclusion of Ukraine in a relationship with the European Union, to lead perhaps to full membership. However, Ukraine is the poorest country in Europe despite its rich agricultural resources and valuable mining and industrial operations in the Eastern part of the country, with a per capita gross domestic product lower than that of El Salvador.  Therefore when Russian President Vladimir Putin offered Yanukovych what appeared to him to be a better deal, Yanukovych withdrew from the European Union project. It cannot have escaped Yanukovych’s notice that the European Union and the related Euro currency group was not doing very well for the poorer member countries, such as Greece, Portugal, Italy and Ireland, who were being forced to accept drastic austerity measures in order to stay in the Union.   

However, Ukrainian nationalists of various kinds, including neo-Nazi and fascist groups whose bases are in the Galizia region in the far West of the country, also have an extreme anti-Russian ideology, and part of their desire to become “part of Europe” is related to this. Easterners have both cultural and economic links to Russia, which buys much of what their factories produce. 

So when the new post-Maiden government began to put out its program, many in the East began to resist control from Kiev.  Among their fears was that native Russian speakers would be deprived of their language rights. Another  was that one of the most violent forces in the Maidan uprising and also in the new power structure include admirers of Stepan Bandera, an extreme nationalist and fascist who collaborated with Nazi Germany in World War II. Two political forces in modern-day Ukraine, the Svoboda Party and the Right Sector, admire Bandera and are known for violent thuggish attacks on their opponents as well as prominent displaying Nazi and fascist symbols; several of these people were given important positions in Yatsenyuk’s government. 

So in the spring of 2014, there were plebiscites in the Eastern areas in which the idea of either autonomy or outright independence for the East was strongly voiced. The new government of right-winger Arseny Yatsenyuk decided to crush this movement, which it labeled as separatist, by military force.  So when the Kiev government sent in troops to suppress the autonomist movement in the East, they met with strong resistance and were thrown back in many cases.  Kiev became more and more reliant on the forces of self-organized fighting groups such as the Aidar and Azov battalions, which contain many neo-Nazis, fascists and other extremists.

These elements have launched violent attacks against Ukrainian Communists and others they despise, which have led to many deaths and injuries, including at least two score burned to death in a horrific attack in Odessa last May.

Last fall, the Kiev government successfully moved to drive the Communist Party out of the Rada.  Soon after, the Kiev government announced it was prosecuting the Party with a view to making illegal not only its overt political activities, but also “communist ideology” in general.  The trial was to have started last year, but was delayed.  In addition to the trial of the Communist Party, individual party members, and leaders are being tried for allegedly promoting “separatism.”

Meanwhile, due to recent defeats of its troops in the East, the Kiev regime is being forced to accept much of the program which the communists promoted a year ago, including a high degree of autonomy for the Donbas region.

The United States has continued to claim that the revolt of ‘Eastern Ukraine is nothing more than “Russian aggression” and is followed in this by our corporate press.

Photo: Right-wing lawmakers (blue jackets) attack Communist members of the Ukrainian parliament in a 2014 session of that body.  |  Vladimir Strumkovsky/AP


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.