©2001 RFE/RL, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

With the kind permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, InfoUkes Inc. has been given rights to electronically re-print these articles on our web site. Visit the RFE/RL Ukrainian Service page for more information. Also visit the RFE/RL home page for news stories on other Eastern European and FSU countries.

Return to Main RFE News Page
InfoUkes Home Page

ukraine-related news stories from RFE


ANTI-PRESIDENTIAL PROTESTS OVER MISSED JOURNALIST RESUME IN KYIV. Following the holiday break, several hundred people gathered in front of the parliamentary building in Kyiv on 10 January to demand the resignation of President Leonid Kuchma and Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko, Interfax reported. The picketers blame Kuchma for ordering the kidnapping of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze and Potebenko of impeding the investigation of Gongadze's disappearance. Some 100 people staged a pro-Kuchma picket at the same time. Meanwhile, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko told the parliament that the authorities organized demonstrations "of support to the regime" throughout the country on 10 January. According to Symonenko, the authorities resorted to compelled "children, students, and budget sector employees" to attend those demonstrations. JM


On 3 January, the Russian Foreign Ministry again raised the question of the status of the Russian language in Ukraine, an issue that has bedeviled bilateral relations since Leonid Kuchma's re-election for a second term as president in November 1999. The Russian Foreign Ministry claimed that the Ukrainian State Committee for Information Policy, Television and Radio Broadcasting (Derzhkominform), led by long time leading Rukh member and writer Ivan Drach, is insisting that all television and radio in Ukraine be aired only in the Ukrainian language. Two days later, Derzhkominform issued a counter statement that its intention has never been to totally remove Russian from Ukraine's media.

At issue is Derzhkominform's insistence on implementation of Article 9 of the law "On Television Broadcasting," which states that programs broadcast throughout Ukraine be only in the state language (Ukrainian). The exception to this is in regions where national minorities "live compactly." Derzhkominform has submitted changes to the law to the Ukrainian parliament (Rada) that define what "compactly" means and whether that designation can be applied to a linguistic group (i.e. Russophones), as opposed to only national minorities (Russians are only in a majority in the Crimea).

Derzhkominform's insistence that all-Ukrainian programs be broadcast only in Ukrainian is supported by the National Council for TV and Radio (Natsrada), Derzhkominform's joint executive-parliamentary oversight body which is headed by a Kuchma appointee. The policies of Derzhkominform are, moreover, enthusiastically endorsed by center-right Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko and his government, in particular by Mykola Zhulynsky, Deputy Prime Minister with responsibility for the Humanities and Director of the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Ukrainian Language. Zhulynsky is also Chairman of the Council for Language Policy attached to the president which is helping the National Orthography Commission to return to 1920s Ukrainian language rules that were replaced in the 1930s by Josef Stalin to make Russian and Ukrainian closer in style and syntax.

In February 2000, the State Committee for Information Policy and the State Committee for TV and Radio were amalgamated into Derzhkominform, and Drach was appointed its new head. Natsrada has been dominated by three parliamentarians from pro-Kuchma oligarch factions and one anti-Kuchma representative since the left lost control of parliament in early 2000. Yuriy Pokalchuk, a well known writer and former member of Rukh, represents the United Social Democrats on Natsrada.

In October 2000, Derzhkominform issued a warning to newspapers from Russia registered in Ukraine, such as "Komsomolskaya Pravda v Ukraine," to abide by their registration documents; that is, publish material on Ukraine, open offices in Ukraine and use some Ukrainian language in their editions sold in Ukraine. Another complaint rested upon advertising revenues which Ukraine is losing because Ukrainian and Western companies located in Ukraine prefer to place their adverts in Russian newspapers sold in Ukraine, rather than Ukrainian ones, as they then reach both the Ukrainian and Russian markets.

Also in October, the Natsrada issued a warning to Ukrainian TV and radio stations that they must obtain a license if they wished to re-transmit programs from Russia. Yet, Natsrada had stopped giving out licenses on the eve of the Ukrainian presidential elections in October 1999. The Russian Foreign Ministry's complaints were based on the fear that TV and radio programs from Russia would no longer be available in Ukraine (the Russian Foreign Ministry purposefully ignored the large number of Russian-language TV and radio programs produced in Ukraine). Under Ukrainian law, 50 per cent of programs on TV and radio in Ukraine should be in Ukrainian, a point that is only now being enforced by Natsrada.

Derzhkominform refused to register "Kommersant-Ukraina" and forbid further newspapers from Russia registering in Ukraine. Beginning in January 2001, all medicines sold in Ukraine have to have instructions only in Ukrainian. Derzhkominform also sent a draft law to the Rada calling for modifications to the legislation on media that define henceforth Ukrainian newspapers as only those written and published in Ukraine.

President Kuchma's draft law in June cutting taxes on Ukrainian-language publications was adopted by parliament on 15 September. At the large book bazaar in Kyiv's Petrivka region, 80 percent of books on sale are from Russia, a reflection of this unfair competition. In 1999 18 million books were published in Ukraine, while 25 million were imported from Russia. In November Kuchma also issued a decree providing financial assistance to Ukrainian book publishing.

These moves by Derzhkominform and Natsrada are likely to be supported by Ukraine's parliament and executive because of the catastrophic decline in newspapers published in Ukraine since 1995, when Russia removed all taxes on Russian publications, thereby giving them a big financial edge over those published in Ukraine. Newspapers from Russia circulated in Ukraine and elsewhere in the former USSR are also subsidized by the Russian state budget, meaning they are cheaper to buy. Of the top thirteen newspapers in Ukraine according to print runs, five are from Russia ("IzvestiyaUkraina," "Trud (Ukraina)," "Komsomolskaya Pravda v Ukraine," "Argumenty i Fakty v Ukraine" and "Moskovskii Komsomolets v Ukraine." Of the remaining seven national newspapers published in Ukraine, only three are in Ukrainian, two are in Russian and another three have separate Russian and Ukrainian editions.

Kuchma's support for these moves against the Russian media, which are backed by the pro-presidential oligarchs, are not due to any patriotic support for the Ukrainian language. Kuchma has been a strong opponent of independent media in Ukraine, which he has been accused of undermining. Printed media from Russia are more independent and beyond his control and therefore their removal from Ukraine would be in his interest, particularly as they have been extensively reporting on the "Kuchmagate" scandal since November. Thus, the cultural-linguistic concerns of the national democrats coincide with the financial and authoritarian demands of Kuchma and the centrist oligarchs.