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OUSTED UKRAINIAN PREMIER TO REMAIN IN CARETAKER POST... Following a no-confidence vote on the government last week, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has signed a decree on dismissing the government of Viktor Yushchenko and on leaving him as a caretaker premier until a new cabinet is formed, Interfax reported. Yushchenko, who previously announced that he will not act in a caretaker post, changed his mind and said on 27 April that he will remain in the cabinet "for the time being," adding at the time that Kuchma has promised to find a candidate for the post of prime minister within the next three to four days. JM
...AND TO SEEK BROAD REFORMIST COALITION... Yushchenko has announced that following his ouster he will not head any organization opposing President Kuchma. At the same time, he has pledged to hold consultations within the next two weeks in order to create a broad coalition of reformist forces in Ukraine. "The premier will not join the forces that are for destruction, that is, for destroying somebody," Yushchenko spokeswoman Natalya Zarudna said on 27 April, commenting on rumors that Yushchenko may head the Forum of National Salvation or the "For the Truth" civic alliance. Later the same day, Yushchenko met with activists of the six parties that voted against his ouster in the parliament: the Ukrainian Popular Rukh, the Popular Rukh of Ukraine, the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, the Sobor Party, the Fatherland Party, and the Reforms and Order Party. Interfax reported that the sides agreed to begin talks on the creation of an electoral bloc in parliamentary elections next year. JM
...WHILE PRESIDENT PLEDGES NO CHANGES TO REFORMIST COURSE. President Kuchma told the government on 27 April that he disagrees with the parliament's decision to oust Yushchenko, but is forced to accept his dismissal. Kuchma said Yushchenko's cabinet has achieved positive results, adding that "it is vitally important today to develop and deepen [the results]." Kuchma pledged to continue the previous course in both domestic and foreign policies. "There cannot even be any mention of abandoning the policy of reforms," he noted. JM
UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION TO LAUNCH REFERENDUM ON KUCHMA'S IMPEACHMENT. Former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko announced on 27 April a civic initiative to launch a national referendum on President Kuchma's impeachment. She said the initiative group has already formed a national headquarters to push for a referendum on Kuchma's ouster in accordance with Article 109 of the Ukrainian Constitution. "We will follow the procedure laid down in the constitution of Ukraine and the laws of Ukraine," she noted. Tymoshenko added that, according to the "most pessimistic scenario," the anti-Kuchma opposition needs 263 days to collect the 3 million signatures required to hold the referendum. Tymoshenko said she is convinced that Yushchenko will become Ukraine's next president. JM
BULGARIA STOPS UKRAINIAN PLANE LOADED WITH ARMS. Bulgarian officials are holding a Ukrainian jumbo airplane carrying 30 tons of arms bound for the east African country of Eritrea, which is under a UN embargo on military supplies, AFP reported. The plane, which was flying from an unnamed airport in the Czech Republic, landed in the eastern Bulgarian city of Burgas to refuel. It reportedly is loaded with Kalashnikov submachine guns and other ammunition and weapons. The plane is reportedly owned by the Ukrainian company Volare. PB
...AND FINDS POSSIBLE BUYER -- IN UKRAINE. Vladimir Rabinovich, the head of the All-Ukraine Jewish Congress, has confirmed that he will seek to acquire NTV shares held by Gusinsky's Media-MOST group, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 24 April. In other media moves, Interfax reported the same day that negotiations are taking place to sell the controlling share of stock in Ekho Moskvy to the staff of that radio station. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April)
CABINET ASKS KUCHMA TO FIRE STATE BROADCASTING CHIEF. All ministers have signed a petition by Premier Victor Yushchenko to President Kuchma to change the management at the National Television and Radio Company of Ukraine (NTRCU), the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported on 24 April, quoting Yushchenko's spokeswoman, Natalya Zarudna. Zarudna said all members of the government agree that NTRCU chief Vadym Dolhanov is in fact working against the president since state television often gives air-time to critics of the government. Zarudna added that state television does not fulfill its main function of providing objective information. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April)
Fifteen years ago an accident at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine spread radiation across a broad swath of the USSR and Eastern Europe and then forced the Soviet leadership to open the way for glasnost and the ultimate demise of communism in Europe.
On 26 April 1986, a test at the Chornobyl nuclear plant went badly wrong, an explosion occurred and a massive amount of radiation was released into the atmosphere. The initial Soviet response was first to deny that there had been any problems at the plant and then to insist that Soviet nuclear engineers were in complete control of the situation.
Had the reactor been located further from the Soviet borders with the West and had the radiation plume not passed over Scandinavia, the Soviet government might have been able to get away with such denials -- just as Moscow often had succeeded in doing with earlier disasters.
But once Swedish scientists monitored the radiation cloud, radio and television stations in Eastern and Western Europe began to report that an accident had taken place. And Soviet citizens quickly learned what had in fact happened, some from crossborder Polish television broadcasts and others from international radio broadcasters.
Mikhail Gorbachev, who had become general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union only 13 months earlier, was faced with a crisis. If he followed the standard Soviet protocol on such matters, he would not only lose face at home and abroad as a reformer but also risk losing his power base within the Soviet leadership.
Confronted with this choice, Gorbachev first equivocated and then signaled that he was willing to allow the Soviet media to report more accurately on what had happened. Soviet newspapers, radio stations, and television networks began to tell Ukrainians, Russians, and Belarusians more of the story, and Gorbachev sought to use this new openness, which he eventually labeled "glasnost," as a means to win popular support and defeat his political enemies.
For the first time, Soviet citizens were hearing more or less accurate information about a disaster in their country not just from foreign radio "voices" but also from their own media. That did not lessen their fears about the consequences of the Chornobyl accident, but it did mean that they now looked to their domestic media as a source of news.
Gorbachev's own hesitations and statements then and later make it clear that he did not recognize what he had begun or where it would lead. Once the Soviet media implicitly -- and in some cases explicitly -- acknowledged that Soviet outlets had not told the truth in the past about Chornobyl and nuclear power, Soviet citizens and a growing number of Soviet journalists began demanding for a fuller accounting on other issues as well.
Over the next five years, this process accelerated, forcing Gorbachev and the Soviet government to confront ever more controversial questions about the rule of the communist party and Soviet nationality policies.
And, as Soviet claims were shown to be hollow and false, ever more citizens of the USSR turned away not only from the system as a whole but from Gorbachev -- the man who had allowed these revelations to occur. That shift contributed to the collapse of communism, the demise of the Soviet Union, and the difficult period of transition away from a totalitarian system toward democracy and freedom.
The Chornobyl accident in the first instance called attention to the incredible dangers inherent in the use of atomic power, and many people in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia are still suffering from exposure to radiation.
But at the same time, the aftermath of that accident highlighted the incredible power of a more open press to change people's minds and ultimately to change the course of history.