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END NOTE: UKRAINE'S INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM 10 YEARS ON
UKRAINIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY'S REGIONAL OFFICE PLEDGES PROTECTION TO JOURNALISTS. "Holos Ukrayiny" reported on 1 December that the Interior Ministry's directorate in Cherkasy Oblast has taken "unprecedented measures" to protect local journalists. According to the Cherkasy police department, every editorial board and every local correspondent working for a national paper "will permanently be protected by the heads of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry's directorate in Cherkasy Oblast, the chief of the ministry's special services, and the ministry's district and city directors." Thirty-six journalists in Cherkasy have already received protective aerosol gasses from lawenforcement agencies, while the police department is pledging to issue permits that would allow members of the media to carry guns that fire rubber bullets. JM
NTV-UKRAINE TO START IN JANUARY 2002. Ukrainian media mogul Vadym Rabynovych has announced that a new television company, NTV-Ukraine, will go on air in January 2002, Interfax reported on 30 November. Rabynovych said 90 percent of the company's staff will be made up of Ukrainians and 10 percent of Russians. "The new channel will be an information channel, the policy of [Russia's] NTV will be preserved, this is the main thing. We will select topics together when we do the news. We consider ourselves the junior partner of the Russian [NTV television]," Rabynovych said. Rabynovych also said NTV-Ukraine will be bilingual, but added: "Making a new television program, we know that 99 percent of Ukraine's people want to watch Russian channels and read Russian newspapers." JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT HAILS 1991 INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM AS HISTORIC EVENT. Leonid Kuchma said the 1 December 1991 referendum in which more than 90 percent of Ukrainians supported the country's independence was "a historic event not only for Ukraine but also the world," Interfax reported. "If there had been no referendum, there would have been no independence," was a comment from independent Ukraine's first president, Leonid Kravchuk, who was elected to his post by some 62 percent of voters on the referendum day (see "End Note" below). JM
KUCHMA'S AIDE CONFIRMS HE WILL HEAD ELECTION BLOC. Presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn on 1 December said he will head the For a United Ukraine election bloc, Interfax reported. Rumors and announcements that Lytvyn will lead the pro-presidential For a United Ukraine in the 31 March 2002 parliamentary election have been reported in Ukrainian media for several weeks (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, Ukraine Report," 27 November 2001). Asked why he was so slow in confirming his decision, Lytvyn said: "I have been reading the press [where everybody seemed to know] what I was thinking while I actually did not." President Kuchma said the same day that Lytvyn's main task in the parliamentary election campaign is to ensure the creation of a progovernment majority in the new parliament. JM
UKRAINE'S INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM 10 YEARS ON
On 1 December 1991, the fate of the USSR was sealed when 90.3 percent of Ukrainians voted in favor of confirming the declaration of independence from the USSR adopted by the Ukrainian parliament on 24 August. The failure of the badly organized hard-line putsch on 19 August irrevocably weakened unelected Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. At the same time, it bolstered the importance within the collapsing Soviet state of the Russian Federation and its president, Boris Yeltsin.
The Russian Federation was the only republic of the USSR that failed to declare independence between August and December 1991. Right up until the fateful meeting at the Belavezha Forest hunting lodge in Belarus on 7-8 December between the presidents of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, Russia continued to support the transformation of the USSR into a confederate Union of Sovereign States (USS). The meeting at Belavezha Forest led to the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the jubilee summit of which was celebrated in Moscow last week.
As the second-largest Soviet republic, Ukraine's 1 December referendum on independence pushed Russia to reluctantly accept that the "renewed federal" USSR and confederate USS options were dead in the water. Leonid Kravchuk, the wily high-ranking Ukrainian communist who shifted to the national cause in 1990, was elected president on the same day as the referendum. The national democrats and Rukh initially opposed the idea of a referendum because they feared that it would not obtain the constitutionally required two-thirds support, especially in Russified Eastern Ukraine. But the referendum went ahead and obtained majority support in every oblast of Ukraine, even in the Crimea, although there it received its lowest support.
The referendum was important psychologically because it annulled the outcome of the March 1991 all-Union referendum on preserving a "renewed federation" and gave legitimacy to the Ukrainian state. The preamble of the June 1996 Ukrainian Constitution refers to the August and December 1991 declaration and referendum as "guiding" the Ukrainian state.
On the 10th anniversary of the signing of the declaration of independence on 24 August, 6,000 military and security forces and 300 pieces of military equipment paraded through downtown Kyiv. A giant obelisk bearing the inscription "Glory to Ukraine" was unveiled in the same spot where Kyiv's largest statue of Lenin had stood until 1991. A gala concert and the third World Congress of Ukrainians also took place on the same date.
These festivities failed to hide the somber mood on the 10th anniversary, as domestic and foreign commentators discussed the last decade in terms of "lost opportunities." Opinion polls on the anniversary found that two-thirds of Ukrainians would again vote for independence, but that one-third would oppose it. This third of Ukrainians, according to a June poll, would support Ukraine's unification with Russia and are probably the same who in a January poll identified themselves as belonging to the "Soviet people." This twothirds /one-third division has remained consistent throughout the 1990s.
Ukrainian-language use overall has increased over the past decade, not at the expense of Russian, but by Ukrainians becoming more bilingual outside the Donbas and Crimea, where Russian dominates, and Western Ukraine, where Ukrainian does. Russian has been squeezed out only in Galicia. Ukrainian-language education has made tremendous strides outside the Donbas and the Crimea, especially in kindergartens and schools, and less so in higher education. In the print and broadcast media and book publishing though, use of the Ukrainian-language has declined proportionately to Russian. President Leonid Kuchma made clear in his anniversary speech that Ukrainian will remain the only state language.
The two-thirds of the Ukrainian population who support independence do not necessarily hold a positive view of what transpired over the last decade, but rather consider that the alternative (a return to the USSR) would be far worse. An August poll found that 69.3 percent of Ukrainians believe the economic situation has worsened in the last decade. The collapse of GDP by one-half until last year's growth, the high rates of hidden unemployment, large wage arrears, and worsening health services have together served to discourage families from having children. Male life expectancy has fallen and the population has plummeted by 3 million. Some 80.5 percent believe crime has increased, and 79.8 that corruption has risen. Annual capital flight is estimated at $3 billion.
At an gala concert held in commemoration of the anniversary of the 24 August confirmation of the declaration of independence, President Kuchma claimed that he has "demonstrated to Ukrainian society and the entire world my dedication to the lawful, generally accepted democratic principles of resolving problems." But the nongovernmental organization Freedom House's authoritative annual "Nations in Transit" survey for 2001 shows an alarming trend in Ukraine's democratic regression (and that of other CIS states) since 1997, when the survey began. According to the August poll, 44.1 percent of Ukrainians believe that democracy in Ukraine is even worse than in the former USSR. Only 6.6 percent hold a positive view of the last decade, while a striking 61.4 percent feel a sense of shame for Ukraine.
Although Ukraine has many democratic trappings, it still remains very Soviet. Its leaders feel they have no need to take responsibility for their actions or have any duty toward their citizens and electors. A personality cult has steadily grown, in which portraits of President Kuchma adorn every official office, medals and honorary doctorates are handed out to the faithful, books by Kuchma authored by ghost writers are published, and delegates to congresses are hand-picked.
These policies have both contributed to, and fail to conceal, Kuchma's growing unpopularity. As he admitted in his anniversary address on 24 August: "There is still much to be done to strengthen the public's confidence in the authorities." If this was a difficult task prior to the "Kuchmagate" crisis that erupted in November 2000, it now seems Herculean. When Kuchma told the World Congress of Ukrainians that he had nothing to do with the death of Heorhiy Gongadze, the opposition journalist found dead in November 2000, he was heckled with cries of "Shame!" and "Kuchma Out!" Kuchma left the podium before Levko Lukyanenko, a former dissident who spent three decades in the Gulag and is now a member of the Yuliya Tymoshenko opposition election bloc, gave an impromptu speech that called for the president's resignation.
Ten years on, there is no question that Ukraine will remain an independent state. Its borders are recognized by all of its neighbors, a post-Soviet constitution is in place, and the illegality of Soviet passports since 1998 all testify that there is no going back to the USSR. But, if Ukraine is not going backward, it continues to remain unclear where the country is in fact going, both domestically and internationally, or whether it is standing still while others are moving forward.
14 December: President Putin to visit Kharkhiv, Ukraine