The interview was conducted on 27 February by Sergey Lozunko.
Sergey Lozunko: Petro, we find ourselves in a very difficult time, and what is happening in the country is to be the main topic of our conversation. I would like to start with a crucial question: Why did the parliamentary group of the Communist Party keep working in the Rada in these past days? Frankly, many are perplexed. Often I’ve heard the comment that there has been a coup in the country, while Communist MPs have continued voting as though nothing had happened. Why is it like this?
Petro Symonenko: Thank you for this question. I warn you that my answer will not be short. Let us go back to the end of last week: The President ran away, and the Prime Minister disappeared, local authorities and enforcement agencies charged with keeping the law were paralyzed, the country was quickly sinking into chaos. There was violence against dissidents, on the outskirts of Kiev the situation was unclear with the alleged lynching of police employees and interior troops. Besides, there began looting unrelated to politics.
Therefore, the Communists took a responsible and well thought out decision when they decided to continue working in the Parliament. They did everything possible to reduce the suffering of the common people. It would have been very easy for us to shut up shop and leave the Supreme Rada. We stayed, and there is no doubt that the Communists did so for for good reasons.
SL: According to the PCU the state of the country will not return to normality for another ten years. Laws are, we can say, formally adopted, with no one impeding parliamentary activity, and the Rada works. But, at the same time there is much doubt about the legitimacy of all the laws and regulations that are being made. Do you agree?
PS: Most of the voting -however you like to call politics, is legal. But when bloodletting began, at that time it was most important to resolve how to prevent a further escalation of the violence in order to avoid further victims. As such, under these circumstances, it was correct to restore the Constitution of 2004, and the deputies [communists] took responsibility for what happened. However, we did not vote for those bills and resolutions with which we were fundamentally in disagreement, and we did not vote on any new appointments.
SL: Petro, Ukraine is experiencing perhaps it’s most dramatic moment in recent history. I would like to hear your evaluation of what is happening. And what are the chances that the situation will stabilize? In particular, have we now seen the worst of the chaos?
PS: Dramatic is an understatement. What period is more tragic? During the first years of independence, the political battles intensified into a real struggle and bloodshed; there were people who died. The territorial integrity of Ukraine, its very existence as a unified, independent and sovereign state was threatened. And that meant a threat to the welfare, health and lives of millions of people. I’m not even talking about the economic ruin and the absence of social security.
The current events are complex. It is a fact that the protests were attended by hundreds of thousands of people, which speaks of a deep dissatisfaction with the regime of Yanukovych, who ruled the country with ineptitude, deceiving people and without keeping any of his campaign promises.
All of the activities of the previous government were intended to enrich a small group of individuals, the so-called Family. And proof of this is that the president’s son became a multi-millionaire within a year. And this in a context of the total impoverishment of the population. Corruption, bureaucratic arbitrariness, inability to find justice in the courts. All these negative phenomena simply turned into catastrophes. His power was completely bankrupt at the decisive moment, he [the President] did not have anyone to lean on. The police officers who for several months defended the government (capital) district and strictly obeyed the orders they received were betrayed and abandoned. Everyone -the President, the ministers, the Members of Parliament, the “regionals”.
However, I must say that the massive protests were not in the nature of class conflict. In fact, it is a fight between two groups of the same class of exploiter, the bourgeois and the oligarchs. Were the opposition oligarchs better than those of Yanukovich’s Party? Did they exploit the workers less, or get less benefits from the pauperization of the masses?
Simply put, the called “opposition” were clans of oligarchs with foreign partners who pursued their own geopolitical goals and managed to channel the protest into – to finally call things by their proper name -a coup. But in fact, people from both sides died not for their own interests but for the interests of certain oligarchs.
Have we already been through the worst of the chaos and destabilization? No, this is only the beginning.
SL: In Ukraine during the previous days, we have seen the destruction of dozens of monuments to Lenin. When in December last year one of those monuments was destroyed in Kiev, even supporters of the opposition condemned it. Now those calling themselves “Anti-Lenin” are common currency. What does this wave of vandalism mean?
PS: The massive destruction of monuments of Vladimir Lenin, firstly, characterizes the ideology of the forces that were in part on the Maidan and have now seized power in Ukraine. From Lenin monuments they are attacking all monuments, saying that Ukraine has to be purified from the brown plague. For example in Brody [a town in west Ukraine] they demolished a monument to Marshall Kutuzov [liberator and hero of the war against Napoleon]. On February 23, a group of thugs in Fastov came to the town square and trampled on the Banner of Victory [the banner commemorating the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II].
Unfortunately, such acts of barbarism are not receiving any adequate response from the representatives of the new government, or by the official representatives of the EU and the U.S., who have inspired and supported the call of Euro-Maidan in Ukraine. The Nazis demolished statues of Lenin when they occupied the territory of the Soviet Union, and that is what their ideological followers are doing today.
For us it is a clear demonstration of how they are willing to impose a Nazi ideology to maintain order throughout the country.
It is quite obvious that such actions have nothing to do with European values, nor democracy, nor with the elementary notions of human morality.
No one consulted the residents of the communities with the statues on whether to destroy them or not. It is clear that they wanted to show who was boss. And all this was done in the name of preserving the integrity of the country. But how can these actions contribute to the preservation of unity, when -and forgive the expression -they spit in the faces of millions of Ukrainian citizens? It is a provocation in act and word.
Surely you have realized that what was unthinkable until recently around the country, as evidenced by the protests provoked even among supporters of Maidan [against the destruction of the monument to Lenin in Kiev], has become routine. That’s what is dangerous! It’s scary.
I want to emphasize that what has been done to the Lenin monuments in Ukraine will not succeed. Because the shipyards and aircraft factories, the metallurgical and engineering industries are also monuments to Lenin, all that was created by Lenin’s Soviet state. It is his legacy to those workers, peasants and working intellectuals thanks to whom there still exists a Ukraine.
But despite all that, what inspires my confidence and hope in the people, is that they have not lost their sense of humour. An example, in the Metro station “Theatre” in Kiev where they dismantled a mural depicting Ilyich, someone had written, then why not remove the Metro itself as “a legacy of the totalitarian era”.
I don’t think that the destruction of the monuments to Lenin will improve the lives of people, will not increase wages and pensions, corruption persists, and social justice cannot be restored. But the mutual hostility between different regions and between citizens grows, that is for sure.
The massive destruction of monuments cannot do anything for those who did this, or for the new government, or for Ukraine as a whole. As for Lenin, he is a world figure. It is a vain attempt to erase the memory of Lenin, and even more, to destroy his ideas. That is simply impossible.
SL: You cannot say that the country is silent. The destruction of the monuments is a protest, but people are absolutely helpless and expect the worst, buying their needs and afraid to leave the house at night, it is a fact.
PS: It is bitter but there is reason. Our fellow citizens are beginning to get used to things for which a normal person, it seems, would always feel disgust and aversion. Ukraine is resigned to the fact that anyone (without having any clear authority) can easily stop someone, and search for or steal anything. The country has become accustomed to the fact that someone can get into peoples’ apartments to steal or burn. If the current orgy is not stopped, we may slip into the abyss of fear and terror.
SL: Have you suffered assaults?
PS: Yes, but not at home, although that is symptomatic. Today it was the headquarters of the Communists -tomorrow they can go anywhere and do the same. The Maidan slogans proclaimed to the four winds democracy and defense of European values, however it is the reign of chaos, looting and banditry!
You know that the headquarters of the Central Committee of the Communist Party was attacked. The attacks took place on Sunday and Monday. Now the building is damaged, and computers and documents destroyed. And it was only thanks to the residents of the building, supporters of the PCU, to whom we are grateful, that there was not a major fire in the building.
At this point, as one of my party comrades said, Ukrainian democracy is a mask with a garrote in hand. Although the looters and bandits -who are independent of the parties and organizations who participated in the Maidan -are really anti-Maidan. And the attitude toward them should be fitting.
SL: In the Rada no Deputies of the Party of Regions [Yanukovych] remained, however all Communist deputies did. Will you stay in the parliament? Do you have the intention to participate in the new government?
PS: Our party has announced that we are in the opposition. We did not have any intention of voting for new appointments and we did not. At the same time I have to say that if the bills were presented to fulfill our program, the PCU will definitely support them with their votes.
For example, there was a vote to pass a law on bringing into the public domain the residence Mezhyhiria [Yanukovych’s luxurious residence] and Communists voted for it unanimously. Therefore, we communist have offered several times to return to the people all that the Ukrainian oligarchs stole from the people.
SL: Petro, you speak with confidence, but you know better than anyone that they are considering banning the PCU. In Parliament political groups have prepared the amendment. What are the chances that such initiatives become a reality?
PS: In the present circumstances, it cannot be ruled out. The adoption of such decisions is unconstitutional, and then to talk of democracy, political pluralism, and the triumph of European principles, is ridiculous. This prohibition will not be anything other than a way to political violence and a way to try to establish the ideological unanimity of the country.
The Communist Party, as we know, has already been banned before. Then they had to admit that they acted outside the legal framework. I declare, clearly and unequivocally, that the Communist Party may be banned. Communist ideals of course not!
Also, we are not alone. The news that there are bills to ban the Communist Party caused an uproar everywhere, I emphasize all the left parties in Europe. China and Vietnam received the news with anger. And above all the Communist Parties of the fraternal republics of the former Soviet Union who were the first to respond.
SL: Are you preparing laws on transparency?
PS: The adoption of this law, which we have presented, we believe is necessary for a comprehensive anti-corruption campaign. I’m afraid you only have the parliamentary group of the Communist Party supporting it.
SL: Some think that, even if it is symbolic, the triumph of this “revolution” will improve the situation of workers, and make steps towards the restoration of social justice. Do you not hope so?
PS: Of course not. The leaders of the Maidan play and continue playing with social slogans. And after the victory, they began organizing trips to see the capture of the haunts of their opponents for people to see, in my opinion the extremely distasteful, luxury of these dwellings. But why not invite people to their own homes, so they can see clearly that they are not like those?
No one suggested that initiative, especially since no one offered to “pay a visit” directly to the oligarchs, and everyone understands why.
After all, I repeat, they are not about to change the existing system, they are trying to loot the country and keep it for its “beneficiaries”. These people, I’m sorry but that is how it is, have created a decoy showing the estates of the past rulers to distract attention from the real causes of the crisis and its results.
Note, that suits the new oligarchs. None of the leaders of the “revolution” offer a fair way out of the economic impasse: the nationalization of the property of the oligarchs, to translate what was given to their businesses into decent salaries, pensions and scholarships and for the development of an infrastructure that is in complete decay.
To solve the problems that face the new government though a loan from the IMF, whose terms depend on the next reform for international capital, will mean, for common people, a significant hardening of their circumstances: a rise in prices and tariffs and a freezing of social benefits, pensions and salaries. And this is a direct result of the “revolution”, since it is expected that the financial assistance of Russia will end, given the circumstances.
And again, when they cancelled the unpopular medical reform, they did not abolish the retirement age, which is an real outrage? ! Because the opposition joined the damn “Regionals” [Regions Party of Yanukovych] to pass these laws!
SL: I cannot ask whether the Party can predict the near future, but you what are the goals and tactics of the Communist Party [facing the current situation]?
PS: To continue our work. We will not abandon our ordinary citizens, and everyone knows it. Here we have talked about the persecution and attacks on the regional offices of the Party Central Committee. Vandals, who take pride in calling themselves “self-defenders”, but are still only a few “hundreds”. But these people actually come from the Maidan? After all, not all had anti-communist slogans. No, were are thugs sent by those who want to subjugate the entire political life of the country.
Against the Party of Regions it was easy because they themselves got rid of him. But the Communists, as you said with good reason, we retain our unity, and we will not break up. It was for this reason that they began a wild campaign [of persecution]. Note that it all happened about the same time: the attack on the Central Committee, the regional committees, raids in our homes. And then they took up the campaign in the media. For example, I was “seen” at a hotel in Moscow. My response to those who try to discredit me is blunt: I was here, in Ukraine, meeting with party members on the ground.
However, for me, slander is not new and is not a surprise. Understand that during the previous election campaign, the opposition misrepresented us on social issues and appropriated the slogans of the Communist Party. Since the Communists are genuine defenders of the people and will not stop their policies, that is by why they are against the party and are behind its organized persecution. As a result, these scoundrels and behind them the oligarchs are forming these bands and organizing terror, under the pretext of the Maidan.
SL: Petr Nikolaevich, what you would like to say to your comrades and sympathizers?
PS: First I want to thank everyone who has kept their faith in their ideals, who have not faltered and have surrendered neither the party nor the voters. Under these circumstances, the most important task is to preserve the structure of the Party and that means vigilance to keep from succumbing to provocations. It is important to use every opportunity to explain the essence of what happens to workers, and the dangerous consequences for ordinary citizens: a sharp deterioration in the economic situation, rising unemployment and debts on wages and pensions, increased prices and tariffs, and rampant crime.
As for the direction of the party and the parliamentary group, we will do everything possible to ensure, in these difficult conditions, the protection of the interests of workers, to keep the party, to defend Ukraine and to avoid a civil war.
SL: Our newspaper is read by many supporters of Maidan. Maybe you can find a few words for them?
PS: First I would ask supporters not to forget Maidan and why they took to the streets and under what slogans they protested: Against arbitrariness. Against chaos. Against violence. In favor of democracy. In favor of the rule of law. For the strict and rigorous compliance with the Constitution. For the full political rights. To obtain the civil rights that were taken away. To enjoy human rights. Thus, the common efforts of the country should go in that direction, not allowing them to lead us to the new situation of chaos and violence.