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MOSCOW WOOS UKRAINIANS IN RUSSIA. In his opening remarks to a congress of ethnic Ukrainians living in Russia, presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin said in Moscow on 9 December that President Putin's administration is interesting in creating a "Ukrainian lobby" from the more than 4 million ethnic Ukrainians living in Russia, ORT and NTV reported. Deputy Prime Ministers Viktor Khristenko and Valentina Matvienko, and Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi, who are all ethnic Ukrainians, sent greetings to the congress. In addition, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Seminozhenko told the audience that "the way of Ukraine into Europe goes through Moscow," and that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has announced that 2002 will be the "Year of Russia in Ukraine." VY
TATAR OFFICIALS PROTEST CENSUS PLAN. On 3 December, Tatarstan's legislature adopted an appeal to the Russian State Duma protesting plans to divide Tatars into six ethnic groups in the 2002 census, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 7 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2001). Deputies said such a move would reduce the overall number of Tatars to a fraction of the 7 million reported in the 1989 census. During the discussion, one Tatar legislator said that in Ulyanovsk he watched videotaped appeals to Tatars telling them that they are "Bulgars" rather than "Tatars." Meanwhile, RFE/RL's Crimean correspondent reported on 5 December that Crimean Tatars are being divided into three ethnic groups -- Nogais, Crimeans, and Crimean Tatars -- in the Ukrainian census scheduled for 5-15 December. JAC
END NOTE: FORMER UKRAINIAN, BELARUSIAN LEADERS SPEAK ON DISSOLUTION OF USSR
UKRAINE NOT TO CONDUCT MAJOR PRIVATIZATIONS BEFORE PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION. Premier Anatoliy Kinakh has announced that the government will not offer strategic enterprises for privatization in the first quarter of 2002. Inter television commented on 9 December that Kinakh's announcement makes pointless allegations that privatization revenues may be used for election purposes in the 31 March 2002 parliamentary ballot. Kinakh explained that the government's decision was due to the upcoming ballot and a global economic downturn. "During election-related political campaigns, as is the case now in Ukraine, investors take a wait-and-see attitude. They wait for election results. Given the slump on the global market and the lack of investor interest due to the high risks involved in elections, nobody will think we are clever if we offer a great number of strategically important enterprises for privatization. In this situation, all those enterprises would be sold for a song," Kinakh said. JM
ANTICORRUPTION FORUM EMERGES IN UKRAINE. A number of NGOs and government officials on 10 December set up a nationwide anticorruption forum, New Channel television reported. Party of Regions leader and State Tax Administration chief Mykola Azarov -- who was an initiator of the forum -- said the country needs to fight corruption at all levels of power and establish public control over corrupt groups. According to Azarov, the forum can initiate a code of good practice for bureaucrats, expose officials' corrupt actions, and help establish closer contacts between Ukraine and Western anticorruption organizations. JM
WORLD BANK APPROVES $100 MILLION FOR UKRAINE. The World Bank on 9 December decided to disburse $100 million to Ukraine, Interfax reported. The sum is the second part of the first tranche of the bank's $750 million adjustment loan. Ukraine received the first tranche of $150 million in September. According to the bank, its adjustment loan provides substantial support for the government's program of reforms, which may result in 8 percent economic growth in Ukraine this year. JM
POLISH PROSECUTOR SAYS TESTIMONY IN LEPPER'S CASE NOT CREDIBLE. Prosecutor Zygmunt Kapusta on 8 December said the evidence provided by Bogdan Gasinski, a witness in the case of bribery allegations presented by Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper in the parliament on 29 November (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 4 December 2001), is "improbable and not very credible," PAP reported. Gasinski, Lepper's key witness to alleged corruption practices by five prominent Polish politicians, was questioned by prosecutors earlier on 8 December. Later the same day, Lepper made public some documents that he passed to the prosecution to support his allegations. They implicate Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski and former Warsaw Mayor Pawel Piskorski in taking bribes. Both Szmajdzinski and Piskorski have previously denied Lepper's allegations. JM
...CRITICIZES ANTI-HUNGARIAN POSTURES AND STATUS LAW ALIKE. Wiersma expressed disappointment at the low 26 percent turnout in the first round of the 1 December regional elections and said he hopes the 15 December second round will see more Slovaks casting their ballots, TASR reported. He said some politicians are calling on Slovakians to vote only "for Slovaks" in the runoffs for regional head, and called those appeals "unacceptable." He emphasized that "[ethnic] Hungarians are also citizens of Slovakia, and have the right to be elected." He also expressed "concern" about the Hungarian Status Law and said Hungary should consult neighboring Slovakia and Romania on the law's implementation as of 1 January 2002. The EU, Wiersma said, will monitor that implementation. He also said it will be important for Slovakia to secure its border with Ukraine. He spoke after meeting Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Figel. MS
TRANSDNIESTER'S SMIRNOV ELECTED FOR THIRD 'PRESIDENTIAL' TERM. Preliminary results from the 9 December "presidential" elections in the Transdniester indicate that separatist leader Igor Smirnov has won more than 80 percent of the votes, Infotag and Reuters reported on 10 December, citing Central Electoral Commission Chairman Piotr Denisenko. Voter turnout was 64 percent, making the ballot valid, ITARTASS reported after the closing of the polling stations. While the Russian agency said Romanian observers were present alongside observers from the Russian State Duma and the Ukrainian parliament, Romanian radio mentioned only the presence of Russian and Ukrainian observers. The OSCE did not send observers, heeding an appeal by Moldovan authorities. Parliamentary deputy Aleksandr Radchenko polled 4.1 percent of the vote, and Tom Zenovich, the dismissed former head of the Bendery/Tighina administration, took 5.7 percent. MS
FORMER UKRAINIAN, BELARUSIAN LEADERS SPEAK ON DISSOLUTION OF USSR
Ten years ago, on 8 December 1991, Belarus's Supreme Soviet Chairman Stanislau Shushkevich, Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk, and Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a document stating that "the Soviet Union as a geopolitical reality [and] a subject of international law has ceased to exist." The document simultaneously announced the creation of a new entity in the post-USSR territory -- the Commonwealth of Independent States. The document -- now widely known as the Belavezha Agreement -- was signed in a government villa in Viskuli in Belarus's Belavezha Forest, which is Europe's only primeval wooded area. On 25 December 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the USSR, stepped down, delivering a coup de grace for the 69-year-old superpower that was vilified for posterity by U.S. President Ronald Reagan as the "Evil Empire."
Commenting on that momentous event to a number of media outlets last week, both Shushkevich and Kravchuk admitted that they did not expect any historic act to take place during their meeting with Yeltsin in Viskuli on 7-8 December 1991.
"Nothing had been done [in advance], all was written down on the spot [in Viskuli]," Shushkevich told the Minsk-based "Nasha svaboda" on 7 December. "In any case, if something had been prepared beforehand, I didn't know about that. Of course, there were some prepared documents, but not for the agreement [on the dissolution of the USSR]. The talks between the government delegations concerned economic issues."
In the Kyiv-based "Fakty" on 7 December, Kravchuk added an interesting detail to the meeting in the Belavezha Forest. "After we considered everything in the evening of 7 December in Belavezha, Yeltsin ordered his team to draft a document -- a statement or declaration. We had not yet decided on a name for the document. Yeltsin's aides wrote that document and left it for a woman to type it up in the morning (we had only one typist in the Belavezha Forest). Since her office was already locked, they slid the document into the office through a slit under the door. But in the morning the typist said: 'I haven't found anything.' There was no document! It turned out that a cleaning woman, who came to the office earlier, saw some papers on the floor and swept them away. Korzhakov [first deputy chief of Russia's Main Protection Directorate] was sent to look for the missing document.... Frankly speaking, I didn't know then that the draft agreement was lost. I was told about that only recently by [former Russian Foreign Minister] Andrei Kozyrev."
Kravchuk dismissed the rumors circulating especially among postSoviet communists that Yeltsin was talked into signing the Belavezha Agreement after he had too much to drink. "We came to the forest on 7 December in the evening. We had a dinner. During the dinner -- yes! -- there was Belavezha vodka [Belarus's fine herbal vodka] there. I drank it, too. I don't know what Yeltsin was doing after we parted. But on 8 December in the morning, when we met to work on the document, Yeltsin was as sober as a judge. I don't exaggerate! He was in good form, vigorous, he had ideas.... All of us [present there] saw him and everybody can confirm that Yeltsin and all of us were fully aware [of what we were doing]."
Kravchuk underscored the impact of Ukraine's independence referendum on the adoption of the Belavezha Agreement. A week earlier, on 1 December 1991, more than 90 percent of Ukrainians supported the country's independence in a referendum. The same day, Kravchuk was elected as the first president of independent Ukraine with some 63 percent of the vote.
"I said there: Ukraine voted for independence and elected me as president. So, may I have a position different from that of the people? [It would be] ridiculous. Therefore, I am obliged to act as the people willed.... In other words, the 1 December referendum had a historic importance. If there had been no Ukrainian referendum, the Belavezha Forest meeting would have produced no result," Kravchuk said.
After the agreement was signed, Yeltsin telephoned U.S. President George Bush and told him what had happened. And then Shushkevich briefed Gorbachev.
"He [Gorbachev] inquired in a very haughty manner, 'Have you considered how the world will react?' I said Yeltsin was on the phone to Bush and he had taken it well," Shushkevich told Reuters.
Today, Shushkevich assesses the Belavezha Agreement as historic not only for Belarus and Ukraine, but also for Russia itself. Until that day, Russia -- which was automatically associated or even identified with the Soviet Union -- did not exist as a separate political entity.
"The Belavezha Agreement has an all-important, historic significance in terms of our sovereignty. For the first time in the past 200 years, Russia recognized Belarus's independence, as well as that of Ukraine. This is what the Belavezha Agreement meant to me and Kravchuk. But we also recognized the independence of Russia -- her independence from the Soviet Union. So here you have the [whole] meaning of the Belavezha Agreement," Shushkevich told "Nasha svaboda."
PREMIER MAKES DOCUMENTS ON ANTONESCU'S WAR CRIMES PUBLIC. Premier Adrian Nastase said during a teleconference with Romania's prefects on 27 November that the role of wartime Nazi ally Marshal Ion Antonescu in Romanian history must "be treated with responsibility," Romanian media reported the next day. Nastase, who was criticized in several media outlets for having pledged during his recent U.S. visit that the cult of Antonescu will be curbed, showed the prefects the transcript of a government meeting of November 1941, when Antonescu asked whether his orders to execute 200 Jews for every Romanian soldier killed as a result of an explosion at the occupying Romanian army's headquarters in Odessa had been carried out. He also showed the prefects the reply of Transdniester Governor Gheorghe Alexianu, who said the Jews had been shot or hanged from lampposts, and a letter revoking the order for mass executions one month later when it turned out that the attack had been organized by the NKVD. Historians estimate the number of Jews killed following the incident in Odessa to be as high as 20,000, and the number of Romanian and Ukrainian Jews killed during the Holocaust in territories occupied by the Romanian army at between 120,00 and 410,000. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November)
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 law-enforcement agencies, while the police department is pledging to issue permits that would allow members of the media to carry guns that fire rubber bullets. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December)
KUCHMA AIDE: PRESS KNEW 'WHAT I WAS THINKING.' 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. 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 pro-government majority in the new parliament. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December)
PARLIAMENT ENDORSES ANTIPIRACY BILL... The parliament on 29 November voted by 227 to 115 to pass on first reading a governmentsponsored bill aimed at combating the piracy of compact discs, Interfax reported. In particular, the bill provides for issuing licenses to domestic producers and exporters/importers of CDs and imposes fines on those producing CDs without licenses. The U.S. has repeatedly threatened economic sanctions against Ukraine for its failure to protect copyrights in the sphere of CD production and sales. The Ukrainian government estimates that the country may lose at least $400 million annually if such sanctions are imposed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November)
...WHILE PIRATE 'HARRY POTTER' SELLS FOR $2 PER COPY. Video copies of the wildly popular "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" are on sale in Ukraine since 28 November for a little more than $2 a tape, dpa reported on 29 November. The film appears to have been recorded using a video camera at a pre-premiere screening and rerecorded with a voice-over in Russian. Sound quality is scratchy and silhouettes of an apparently U.S. movie audience are visible at the end of the film. Traders said the tape has found some buyers but that Ukrainian consumers seemed to prefer action features or cartoons. Ukrainian pirate traders appeared to be distributing the films via networks of street traders, many literally operating "underground" in full view at entrances to metro stations in large cities. Most laterelease films and CDs are available at similar stands for between one-tenth and one-twentieth of their Western retail price. Traders of pirated goods in Ukraine typically avoid prosecution by bribing police or making fake certificates on their products. ("RFE/RL Business Watch," 4 December)
NTV-UKRAINE TO START IN JANUARY 2002. Ukrainian media mogul Vadym Rabynovych has announced that a new television company, NTVUkraine, 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 NTVUkraine 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." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December)
For some time, there have been discussions about the need to organize an international commission to investigate Heorhiy Gongadze's murder on 16 September 2000. The first public efforts -- spearheaded by the Paris-based NGO Reporters Without Borders -- to involve international organizations in investigations of Gongadze's murder date to the summer of 2001. In the face of unrelenting pressure from Gongadze's family and colleagues -- and after mass street protests -- Ukrainian law enforcement agencies finally asked for foreign assistance. First, the Ukrainian government turned to the Russian Federation and then the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Such assistance, in all probability, has provided the only concrete facts in the investigation. For example, the DNA tests conducted by the FBI in May finally identified the headless corpse as being that of Gongadze.
Such successful cooperation with international experts should have prompted Ukrainian authorities to seek additional assistance. But the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General apparently feared unexpected results from such investigations. Ukrainian authorities did not want to open up the Gongadze case files to international experts -- especially since Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma was suspected of complicity in Gongadze's murder. As a result, in late spring, Ukrainian cooperation with international experts ended and Ukrainian law enforcement agencies continue to ignore the requests of his family, who also have legal claims. The Ukrainian authorities ignore -- or conveniently forget -- their own laws: a victim's family has the right to have detailed information on case materials, to write appeals, and to present evidence relevant to the case.
The failure of the Ukrainian government to counter serious charges of high-level crime and corruption has also resulted in more lethal attacks on Ukrainian journalists. In Donetsk, Ihor Aleksandrov, director of the local television station TOR, was savagely attacked and died on 7 July. This time, the police attempted to show how efficient they were and proclaimed that the crime had been solved by announcing that Aleksandrov had been "killed by mistake." In an open letter, Aleksandrov's son Oleksiy rejected this claim. A commission of investigative journalists working with Reporters Without Borders has supported Oleksiy's views. And later in July, the publisher of the Lugansk newspaper "21st Century," Oleh Breus, was killed. (For updates on the situation of Ukrainian journalists, see http://www.imi.com.ua)
The systematic violation of human rights and freedom of the press -- along with the Ukrainian government -- has impelled the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to examine the situation in Ukraine. In the spring of this year, PACE threatened to expel Ukraine, which has been a PACE member since 1995. On 27 September, the Council of Europe adopted a resolution drafted by PACE deputy Hanne Severinsen:
"The Assembly condemns the aggression against, intimidation, and even murder of journalists, members of parliament, and opposition politicians in Ukraine. It calls on the Ukrainian authorities to ensure the rule of law, to conduct their media policy in a way which will convincingly demonstrate respect of the freedom of expression in the country, and to improve the legal framework of the media and the safety and working conditions of journalists.
"In particular, the Assembly urges the authorities concerned to: 1) accelerate and complete the investigations of the disappearance and murder of Mr. Heorhiy Gongadze, or initiate -- if necessary -- a new independent investigation in this matter, with the help of international experts; 2) to conduct a full, transparent, and impartial investigation of the murder of Mr. Ihor Aleksandrov and in other cases of journalists who have died in dubious circumstances."
Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on the Freedom of the Media Freimut Duve in September wrote to Walter Schwimmer, the Council of Europe secretary-general, to express his support for an independent international commission on the Gongadze case -- as has the U.S. OSCE delegation. In this way, international organizations are trying to find new ways of cooperating to solve major criminal cases.
On 30 November the Rapporteur Group for Democratic Stability -- which reports to the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers on issues of democracy -- heard a report from the Ukrainian delegation on the Ukrainian police investigation into the Gongadze case. Thanks largely to the Belgian PACE delegation, the Rapporteur Group has decided to keep under review the issue of establishing an independent investigative commission. But, according to Reporters Without Borders, new objections have been raised to this commission on the grounds that member states are unlikely to offer the necessary assistance of investigators.
On 11 December, the PACE monitoring commttee will discuss Ukrainian compliance with its Council of Europe obligations. An important meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe will take place in January to vote on whether or not to form an international commission to investigate the Gongadze case. Consensus of all Council of Europe members is required. It remains an open question whether Ukraine will provide real assistance to the commission's investigations.