Leonid Makarovych Kravchuk (born 1934) was president of the Ukraine (1991-1994), the first ever to be elected by direct popular vote and the first president of this newly independent country. Economic pressures led to his defeat in the presidential election of 1994.
Leonid Kravchuk was born January 10, 1934, in the village of Velykyi Zhytyn, in the Rivne district into a peasant family. His father died at the front in 1944, during World War II. His mother worked on a collective farm until retirement.
Kravchuk completed the Rivne Cooperative Technical School and in 1958 graduated with a diploma from the economics department of Kiev State University. From 1958 to 1960 he taught courses in political economy at the Chernivtsi Financial Technical School.
In 1960 he began his career in the Communist Party of Ukraine, and for 30 years he climbed the party ladder. His first step was appointment as a lecturer in the political education branch of the Chernivtsi Party organization. He later became head of its Department of Agitation and Propaganda. The party organization sent him to study at the Academy of Social Sciences of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in Moscow, and in 1970 he obtained the degree of candidate of sciences. From 1970 to 1989 he worked in Kiev in the apparatus of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine, first as head of the sector for the continuing education of party cadres and later as head of the Department of Agitation and Propaganda. From 1989 to 1990 he served as secretary responsible for ideology in the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine, and in June 1990 he was made a member of the Politburo and briefly served as second secretary of the organization. In August 1991, in reaction to the (failed) coup in Moscow, Leonid Kravchuk resigned from Communist Party membership.
When the process of perestroika began in the U.S.S.R., Leonid Kravchuk occupied an important post in the ideological section of the party. During this period he became famous for his participation in open debates with the leading opposition organization-the People's Movement (widely known as Rukh). Due to this popularity and his active support of the democratization of Ukrainian society, he was regarded as a person representing new political thinking. In 1989 he was elected a member of the Supreme Rada of Ukraine (the parliament) from the electoral district of lampilsk, Vinnytsia region. In 1989-1990 Leonid Kravchuk's main activity concentrated on the problem of reforming the Communist Party. He argued the necessity to create an independent Ukrainian party organization and to transform it into a democratic political party of the parliamentary type. His views did not receive the support of the dominant Communist leadership.
Of his transformation from Communist to nationalist in 1989, Kravchuk has said," I have not come from being a Communist to being a nationalist, but to be more precise, from being a Communist to a democrat. I express the interests of not only Ukrainians but also the interests of Russians, of Jews, of Bulgarians, Hungarians and Rumanians who live in the land of the Ukraine."
It was through his activities in Ukraine's Parliament that Leonid Kravchuk emerged as the country's most prominent politician. In July 1990 he was elected as head (speaker) of the Supreme Rada. In that position he demonstrated his skills as a politician of compromise. From 1990 to 1991 Ukraine experienced political and social turmoil: there were numerous strikes and demonstrations accompanying popular demands for democratization and independence. Kravchuk's ability to forge a consensus was instrumental in ensuring a peaceful transition. Ukraine proclaimed independence, the Communist Party of Ukraine was outlawed, and the first measures aimed at democratization and economic reform were made while Kravchuk headed parliament.
During the presidential elections of December 1, 1991, in which six candidates ran for office, moderation and the ability to compromise were important factors contributing to Leonid Kravchuk's decisive victory. He obtained 61.6 percent of votes, which represented some 20 million voters (out of a total population of 52 million). In his inaugural address to parliament on Dec. 5, 1991, Kravchuk declared, "Only a free citizenry can create a free state."
The record of Kravchuk's years as president was a mixed one. He proved to be best when confronting the difficult task of state-building. Within a matter of months Ukraine gained international recognition, and all the major institutions of a modern state were created (from an independent armed force to a central bank). He forged ties with other eastern European states and resisted Russia's claims on the Crimea. However, he proved unable to deal with the serious economic and social difficulties, and his administration's record on economic reform in particular was found wanting. By the end of 1993 his popular rating was at its lowest, and Ukraine's Parliament, at the same time as setting new legislative elections for April 1994, set new presidential elections for July 26, 1994. Leonid Kravchuk stood for reelection, but was defeated by Leonid Kuchma (born 1939), a former manufacturer of missiles.
Despite his defeat for reelection, Leonid Kravchuk's place in history is secure: he played a decisive role in Ukraine's road to independence and democratic reform. He and his wife, Antonina, a professor of economics at Taras Shevchenko State University in Kiev, have one son.
Foreign Policy (Fall 1995) examines Ukraine's economic stability in "Eurasia Letter: Ukraine's Turnaround" by Anders Aslund. The Ukrainian Weekly (Feb. 12, 1995) looks at Kravchuk post-presidency in "Elder Statesman Leonid Kravchuk addresses Ukrainian Canadians."□