Ukraines Jews calm after apparent Communist win

MOSCOW — Ukrainian Jews are reacting calmly to the preliminary results of last week's parliamentary elections that predict a victory for the Communist Party.

Although official returns of the elections are not expected to be announced until later this month, it is already clear that the Communist Party and its left-wing allies will form the biggest bloc in the new Parliament, with 180 out of 450 seats.

Experts and Jewish officials say that the Communists' good showing does not mean Ukraine will return to the Soviet past.

But one Jewish official, Iosif Zisels, chairman of the Va'ad of Ukraine, the country's oldest Jewish umbrella group, said he fears that the weakness of the pro-reform forces in the new Parliament could further hinder President Leonid Kuchma's economic reforms.

Despite the large gains made by the anti-reform forces, Kuchma pledged to continue with the country's reform program and he vowed not to let the former Soviet republic return to its Communist past.

Commentators have interpreted the leftward swing as a vote against the poor economic conditions of Ukraine's 52 million residents.

"People voted not for something but rather against the current difficult situation," said Zisels.

According to the preliminary results, eight of the 30 parties competing in the elections surpassed the 4 percent threshold for parliamentary representation.

The Communists won about 25 percent of the vote and can count on the support of two smaller leftist parties. The moderate nationalist Rukh Party and other rightist deputies will have 50 to 60 seats in the Rada, as the parliament is known.

Centrist groups earned about 100 to 110 parliamentary seats. About 100 independent candidates also won seats.

Twenty Jews apparently earned seats in Parliament — a five-fold increase from the current number.

Among those who will represent Ukraine's 600,000 Jews are the country's former prime minister and current member of Parliament, Yefim Zvyagilsky, and businessman Grigory Surkis, who owns the nation's most popular soccer team.

Anti-Semitism played a role in the election campaign. However, several Jewish candidates whose opponents were prominent in using anti-Semitic rhetoric nonetheless emerged victorious in the campaign.