While in Western countries citizens complain about the withdrawal of democratic rights in the wake of the Corona crisis, Ukraine is concerned with nothing less than the loss of the last remaining achievement, agricultural land, which belongs to seven million small farmers and the state. President Volodymir Selensky used the provisions of the corona quarantine, under which demonstrations are prohibited, to whip through a land law in the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, that corresponds to the interests of the large Ukrainian agricultural Holdings and after a Referendum also allows the sale of agricultural land to foreign oligarchs.
259 out of 450 Rada deputies voted for the new land law at an extraordinary session of Parliament on Tuesday night. Selensky had urged the adoption of the law. It thus follows a demand by the IMF, which made the payment of the next loans of eight billion euros conditional on the adoption of a new land law. On Tuesday night, the vote was held in an extraordinary session after a year of debate on the law. The population was not included in the debate. Protests from various social organizations and also from nationalists were ignored. Selensky justified the adoption of the land law on the grounds that Ukraine would be in danger of bankruptcy if the IMF loan did not come.
Smallholders are passed over
According to the land law, the moratorium on the sale of agricultural land, introduced in 2001, will be lifted in June 2021. By 2024, no more than one hundred hectares may be sold to a person with Ukrainian citizenship. From 2024, 10,000 hectares can then be sold to a person or company.
The biggest scandal of the new law is the creeping expropriation of seven million smallholders. These are former workers of collective farms, who were allocated four hectares of Land when the collective farms were privatised.
Ukraine has an area of more than 60 million hectares. 28 million hectares belong to the former kolkhoz workers or their children.1 ten million hectares belong to the state. These figures include Crimea and Donbass.
75 percent of the former kolkhoz workers have leased their land to large Agro-Holdings. After the new land law, the tenants – mostly large agricultural holdings, officials, and Mafia structures have a preferential right to purchase the leased land. If the tenant does not want to buy the land, he can hand over his right to the purchase to another interested party. The actual owner of the land has no right of objection.
Agro-Holdings currently pay small farmers a pitifully low rent of only 47 dollars per hectare. In Poland, the lease fee for one hectare is 235 euros.
In a survey conducted by the Institute of Agricultural Economics in 2017, only ten percent of small farmers were willing to sell their land. The reason is simple. The soil ensures the survival of its owners, especially in economically difficult times.
Because of the real power of the tenants, it is foreseeable that there will be no auctions when selling the land, the Ukrainian internet portal says Strana.ua. and with the payment of the purchased land, the new land barons would take their time.
From servant to Traitor of the people
It was not clear how many deputies of the party, “servants of the people,” would vote for the land law. Selensky has lost support in his party in recent months.
226 votes were needed to pass the law. But only 206 Deputies of” servants of the people " voted for the law. Two voted against. 35 “servants of the people” did not vote.
But the weakened Selensky party came to the aid of pro-Western parliamentary groups and groups of Deputies, 23 members of former President Petro Poroshenko’s “European Solidarity” Party, 13 members of rock singer Sviatoslav Wakarchuk’s “Golos” party, 12 members of the “trust” group of Deputies and five non-attached members.
The “opposition platform – for life” and the party “Fatherland” of Yulia Tymoshenko voted against the law. Both parties want to challenge the new land law before the constitutional court. The opposition platform stated that the parliament’s rules of procedure had been violated. At least 226 deputies out of a total of 450 should have participated in the debate of the law. But there were only 126 members in the chamber. Moreover, it was not permissible for the law to be passed during an extraordinary session.
Igor Kolomoiski does not get back
The IMF had made a further condition for the disbursement of a new loan. The Monetary Fund called for a law on bank restructuring, which makes it impossible for oligarch and Selensky promoter Igor Kolomoiski to get back his Privat Bank, which was nationalized in 2016. This law was also passed by the Rada.
The nationalization of Privat Bank was carried out by the then President Petro Poroshenko, who saw Kolomoiski as an economic and political competitor. The nationalization of Privat Bank was justified by the fact that Kolomoiski, together with a business partner, had transferred five billion dollars of Privat Bank to self-founded shell companies in tax havens.
Whether Selensky survives his march through the Ukrainian parliament politically is not certain. Selenski, who campaigned against corruption and oligarchs, betrayed his voters. After the end of the quarantine period, there could be extra-parliamentary protests. With such a development, the ruling party “servants of the people” party would continue to lose cohesion, making new parliamentary elections possible.