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RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 4, No. 14, 9 April 2002

A Survey of Developments in Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team


MEDIA WATCHDOG FINDS CAMPAIGN COVERAGE BIASED. On 1 April, the European Institute for the Media (EIM), a nonprofit, nongovernmental research institution, published a preliminary report on its monitoring of media coverage during the parliamentary election in Ukraine (a period from 10-31 March). This was the fourth EIM media-monitoring mission in Ukraine. The project was partly funded by the European Commission.

The EIM concluded that on the whole, voters were not well served by the Ukrainian media during the election period, in terms of having access to impartial and balanced information about the parties/blocs involved in the election. Media coverage on the UT-1, Inter, ICTV, and 1+1 television channels in particular was found to be biased in favor of For a United Ukraine and the Social Democratic Party Ukraine-united (SDPU-o), and against the opposition parties. The print media tended to be partisan and not to distinguish between editorial opinion and news coverage. In a positive note, the EIM said the media provided voters with a wide range and large volume of information that could have assisted them in making their political choices.

Some of the EIM findings regarding Ukraine's most-prominent nationwide media outlets (TV channels and newspapers) are reproduced below:

The state broadcaster failed to live up to standards of impartiality and balance provided by the election law. During the three weeks of EIM monitoring, the main state broadcaster devoted nearly 8 1/2 hours of coverage during prime time to the party of power -- For a United Ukraine. The next-most-mentioned party after For a United Ukraine was Winter Crop Generation with just under two hours of coverage. The discrepancy between coverage of For a United Ukraine and other parties was explained by the head of the channel as being a result of having to cover party representatives carrying out their government duties. However, the fact that the party of power received more than four times the amount of coverage devoted to any of the other parties, plus the demonstrably positive tone of that coverage, showed a bias on the part of the state broadcaster. This was a clear breach of the election rules and a continuation of the practices of the state broadcaster in all previous elections monitored by the EIM. Negative coverage on UT-1 was noted in particular toward the Our Ukraine and Yuliya Tymoshenko blocs, both parties in opposition to the government. The party of power also had 52 percent of all news coverage on UT-1, compared to 13 percent for Our Ukraine. The tone of news coverage was also positive toward For a United Ukraine, while coverage of Our Ukraine tended to be negative.

The private broadcaster Inter continued its practices of 1998 and 1999 by devoting the majority of its coverage during the monitored period to the SDPU-o, demonstrating a clear bias in favor of this party. It also devoted a large amount of positive coverage to the For a United Ukraine bloc. Our Ukraine received the second-largest amount of time on the channel, but nearly 80 percent of this time was devoted to negative and critical coverage.

ICTV devoted the most airtime in this period to Winter Crop Generation, closely followed by For a United Ukraine. Coverage of Winter Crop and For a United Ukraine was positive for around 50 percent or more of the time allocated. Opposition parties like Our Ukraine, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and the Socialist Party, tended to receive negative coverage on this channel.

This privately owned channel devoted the most coverage in this period to the opposition party Our Ukraine, followed by the SDPU-o, For a United Ukraine, and the Democratic Union-Democratic Party. However, while the tone toward the For a United Ukraine bloc and the Democratic Union-Democratic Party was assessed as being either positive or neutral, coverage of the Our Ukraine bloc was assessed as more than 50 percent negative in character.

The most frequently mentioned party/bloc on this channel was For a United Ukraine, followed by Our Ukraine. Coverage of the parties was mainly neutral, although small amounts of negative coverage were reported for the Our Ukraine bloc and the Communist Party.

This private television channel devoted the most airtime to Winter Crop, For a United Ukraine, Our Ukraine, and the Greens Party. Apart from news programs, however, most of the party information was paid advertising, although the channel also took sponsorship from the above-mentioned parties for some entertainment programs. The tone was mainly neutral, with the exception that the coverage devoted to Winter Crop tended to be positive in nature.

The state newspaper "Uryadovyy kuryer" demonstrated a clear bias in favor of the For a United Ukraine bloc, which had more than 14 times as much coverage as any of the other parties. The party of power was treated positively, while the small amount of space devoted to the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc was almost all negative. The parliamentary paper "Holos Ukrayiny" had a more fair distribution of information about the parties -- For a United Ukraine was still the most-mentioned party with a large amount of positive coverage, but Our Ukraine and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc came second and third in terms of quantity. Their coverage was mainly neutral. The only party to receive significant criticism in the paper was the Socialist Party.

The private "Fakty" newspaper devoted by far the most space to Winter Crop. Coverage of Winter Crop Generation and For a United Ukraine was positive, while significant amounts of coverage of the opposition Our Ukraine and Yuliya Tymoshenko blocs were almost all critical. "Kievskii telegraf" devoted the most space to Our Ukraine and For a United Ukraine. The paper demonstrated a clear bias in the tone of its coverage in favor of the pro-government For United Ukraine and against the opposition Our Ukraine bloc.

"Kievskie vedemosti" devoted the most coverage to the SDPU-o and Our Ukraine in order to praise the qualities of the SDPU-o and criticize those of Our Ukraine. "Den" also devoted the most coverage to the SDPU-o in order to praise it. For a United Ukraine also received a large amount of coverage, although the tone was mainly neutral. The opposition Our Ukraine and Yuliya Tymoshenko blocs were singled out for criticism.

"Silski visti" supported the Socialists, devoting by far the majority of its election coverage to this one party. Unity was well treated in the newspaper and For a United Ukraine was also mentioned, but normally in order to criticize it.

Private and pro-Our Ukraine

"Ukrayina moloda" devoted most of its coverage to Our Ukraine, which it covered mainly in a positive light. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc was also covered positively, while the For a United Ukraine bloc received criticism in the paper.

"Dzerkalo tyzhnya" devoted most of its coverage in the three weeks of monitoring to a mix of parties: For a United Ukraine, the Socialist Party, the SDPU-o, the Communist Party, and Our Ukraine. Of these, most were treated neutrally, apart from the Communist Party, which received more than 70 percent negative coverage.

'ANTINATIONALIST' CAMPAIGN TO DISCREDIT OUR UKRAINE. The "party of power," represented by the election bloc For a United Ukraine (ZYU), recognized that it had little opportunity of winning votes in Ukrainophone western and central Ukraine in the 31 March parliamentary ballot. Therefore, in the same manner as in the 1994 presidential elections, President Leonid Kuchma sought to make a last stand in the more Sovietized and Russophone Donbas and other eastern Ukrainian oblasts. In Kuchma's 1994 campaign, Russian speakers were warned of the dangers of "Ukrainianization" if the incumbent, President Leonid Kravchuk, was returned to power.

In 2002, the authorities returned to traditional methods of mobilizing eastern Ukrainians by denouncing their opponents as "nationalists." Not surprisingly, the main target of this "anti-nationalist" campaign was Our Ukraine. On 28 February, fake Our Ukraine posters were placed in Kharkiv with headlines reading "Glory to Ukraine! Glory to Its Heroes!" The posters depicted Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko in a long line of nationalist leaders from Hetman Ivan Mazepa, who led a revolt against Russia in 1709, through to Symon Petlyura and Stepan Bandera, nationalist leaders in the 1910s and 1940s, respectively, to the former dissident and head of Rukh, Vyacheslav Chornovil.

ZYU's attempt to blacken Our Ukraine as a "nationalist" formation was assisted by Russian newspapers and television, which are still widely read and viewed in eastern Ukraine. Russian officials and Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin openly interfered in the elections by indirectly calling upon Ukrainians not to vote for Our Ukraine because it was "anti-Russian," i.e., "nationalist" in traditional Soviet parlance. The Ukrainian newspaper "Zerkalo nedeli/Dzerkalo tyzhnya" concluded that the executive, Kuchma's entourage, and Russian elites worked together "to produce an allergic reaction in people in Russian-speaking regions to Yushchenko and his supporters."

In early March, Ukrainian and Russian news agencies reported that the Ivano-Frankivsk city council had voted to recognize members of the Waffen SS Galicia Division as "freedom fighters" and thereby grant them pension rights. The Russian media played a major role in disseminating this false information, which was later reported by the Western media and condemned by Jewish organizations.

The issue became further clouded because the Social Democratic Party Ukraine-united (SDPU-o), fearing that it was going to lose votes in western Ukraine to the Our Ukraine bloc, tried to gain votes by playing the nationalist card. The SDPU-o argued that its leader, Viktor Medvedchuk, was the son of a repressed member of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), and claimed that it had prepared a draft law to rehabilitate the OUN and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). The SDPU-o's populism was evident during Medvedchuk's election campaign visit to Crimea on 15 March where he categorically rejected suggestions that the SDPU-o sought to rehabilitate the OUN and UPA.

The most vociferous condemnations of the discussions on the rehabilitation of the OUN and UPA and the alleged Ivano-Frankivsk city decree were by Russian media outlets, which quoted outraged Russian officials from the State Duma and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Russian media and officials portrayed these moves as the program of "national radicals" who dominated Our Ukraine. In reality, as Ivano-Frankivsk Mayor Zinoviy Shkutyak said, the council had only debated the issue, not adopted any decision. In his view, the reaction proved that this was "an attempt by certain political forces to influence the election process in Ukraine." This view was backed by "Zerkalo nedeli/Dzerkalo tyzhnya," which concluded that the Russian media portrayal of the entire affair was "largely inaccurate and designed to falsely portray the front-running Our Ukraine as Nazi supporters."

Suspicions were also aroused that this was an attempt to sully Our Ukraine when the Ivano-Frankivsk city councilor who proposed the motion to rehabilitate the Galicia Division was found to be a member of the SDPU-o. Our Ukraine distanced itself from the controversy surrounding the Galicia Division by referring to Yushchenko's father's service in World War II in the Soviet Army. Nevertheless, the damage may have already been done to Our Ukraine among eastern Ukrainian voters.

The assassination of Mykola Shkriblyak, Ivano-Frankivsk's deputy governor and head of the oblast organization of the SDPU-o, just two days before election day again raised suspicions. Shkriblyak was a candidate in election district No. 90 where Our Ukraine candidate Roman Zvarych was his main opponent. District No. 90 is the former constituency of Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists (KUN) leader Slava Stetsko (KUN is a member of the Our Ukraine election bloc). ZYU openly linked the assassination of Shkriblyak to the atmosphere created by the alleged campaign to rehabilitate the Galicia Division.

The assassination had all the hallmarks of the "attempted assassination" of Progressive Socialist Party leader Nataliya Vitrenko in the 1999 presidential elections in Krivyy Rih in an attempt to discredit Kuchma's main threat, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz. In the 2002 elections, the main threat to the authorities had changed to Our Ukraine.

Zvarych took up Ukrainian citizenship after renouncing his U.S. citizenship in the mid-1990s and was elected to the outgoing parliament as a member of Rukh. On 6 March, the ICTV channel controlled by Labor Ukraine, a member of ZYU, had already labeled Zvarych as a "national radical" who planned reprisals if Our Ukraine won the elections.

Targeting Shkriblyak, therefore, had two purposes: it further blackened Our Ukraine as a "nationalist" formation while contributing to the officially inspired anti-American campaign by pointing to Zvarych, like Yushchenko, as having American connections. The SDPU-o-controlled 1+1 and Inter television channels implicated Zvarych and the U.S. Embassy in the assassination attempt by citing reports from the SDPU-o newspaper "Kievskie vedomosti." The SDPU-o-controlled media also alleged that the U.S. Embassy had pressured Shkriblyak to withdraw his candidacy earlier in March.

The claim by SDPU-o leader Medvedchuk that the assassination was meant to remove the probable victor in constituency No. 90 is unlikely, as the SDPU-o obtained merely 2.5 percent of the vote in the region compared to Our Ukraine's 72 percent. Zvarych won the seat with 61 percent of the vote. Although it can never be ruled out that Shkriblyak's murder was business-related, there will remain suspicions that he was simply a patsy to discredit Our Ukraine. Ukrainians have a saying: "Beat your own so that foreigners are afraid."

"The [2004] presidential election is all the time hovering over the Cabinet of Ministers...Therefore, it is not the time yet for the presidential administration to replace [current Premier Anatoliy] Kinakh. Kinakh will most likely continue his work until the presidential campaign is activated; after that, his function will be given to a [presidential] contestant. The Cabinet of Ministers should then play a decisive role in the fate of [President Leonid Kuchma's] successor and work as the central political staff for his promotion. The post of premier is the most advantageous from the viewpoint of [Kuchma's] successor, who should demonstrate his capabilities in this function. The post of parliamentary speaker is not enough. Only the premier can attract nationwide attention." -- "Politychna dumka" Editor in Chief Oleksandr Derhachov in an interview with the "ForUm" website on 5 March.

"Within the framework of the existing legislation, it is possible to form only a pro-presidential government [in Ukraine]." -- Political analyst Bohdan Sikora in an interview with the "ForUm" website on 5 March.

"RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" is prepared by Jan Maksymiuk on the basis of a variety of sources including reporting by "RFE/RL Newsline" and RFE/RL's broadcast services. It is distributed every Tuesday.

UKRAINE CUTS KEY INTEREST RATE (3 APRIL) The Ukrainian central bank cut a key interest rate from 11.5 percent to 10 percent, effective 4 April, Reuters reported. The bank also reduced reserve requirements for commercial banks to boost lending. The Ukrainian National Bank made its last refinancing rate cut in March, lowering the rate from 12.5 percent. A bank spokeswoman told Reuters that from 10 April, commercial banks will not have to set aside funds in reserve to cover long-term hryvnia deposits made by individuals and companies. The requirement for short-term individual deposits will be cut from 6 percent to 2 percent, while the same requirement for companies will drop to 6 percent from 12 percent. Commercial banks currently lend at an average interest rate of 30 percent. Government officials frequently complain that the high cost of borrowing makes it difficult for companies to attract loans to modernize obsolete Soviet-era equipment. The government expects gross domestic product to grow by about 6 percent this year. (JMR)

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT, LUKOIL BOSS DISCUSS PRIVATIZATION. Alyaksandr Lukashenka met on 8 April with LUKoil chief Vagit Alekperov to discuss LUKoil's possible participation in the privatization of Belarusian petrochemical enterprises, Belarusian media reported. Lukashenka told Alekperov that the privatization "is not something extremely important to us," adding that Belarus is taking this step "to be ahead of our rivals who work in the Baltic republics and Ukraine." He added that Belarus needs privatization "in order not to waste budget money on supporting enterprises during their modernization, but to spend it on social security." Lukashenka stressed that he personally will be in charge of Belarus's privatization process. "[I warn you] against repeating the story of a known Russian company which, while not knowing Belarus's legislation, tried to make a deal with people who have no final say in the privatization of Belarusian enterprises," he said. JM

UKRAINIAN ELECTION SAID TO BE VALID IN SINGLE-MANDATE CONSTITUENCIES. The Central Election Commission (CEC) on 8 April announced that the 31 March parliamentary election was valid in all single-mandate constituencies, Interfax reported. The CEC viewed 24 complaints regarding the election in those constituencies but found no reason to invalidate the ballot. Simultaneously, the CEC annulled the official protocol of district election commission No. 191 (a constituency in Khmelnytskyy Oblast) and ordered the commission to review the protocols from all polling stations in the constituency in order to remove discrepancies in reported election results. JM

LARGE-SCALE WEAPONS THEFT REPORTED AT UKRAINIAN ARSENAL. Inter Television reported on 8 April that an organized criminal group has committed an unprecedented theft of weapons from a military arsenal. The location of the arsenal -- which reportedly stores "hundreds of thousands of firearms and millions of cartridges, mines, and grenades" -- was not named. The gang managed to steal a total of 190 firearms, 44 RPG-26 missile launchers, some 18,000 cartridges, some 70 kilograms of TNT, and various smoke grenades. Police reportedly recovered 90 percent of the stolen arms. "They are young people," Inter quoted a military prosecutor as saying about the gang. "The eldest is 33 years old. The gang was organized by a 23-year-old civilian. His brother temporarily served in the unit [guarding the arsenal] until November." JM

Independent Ukraine's third parliamentary elections were observed by an unprecedented number of foreign observers. The Western contingent included a core OSCE expert staff in Kyiv together with 26 long-term observers (LTOs) who were dispatched throughout Ukraine on 1 March. Each LTO group consisted of two people to cover between 1-3 oblasts depending on population density.

On 29 March, 600 short-term observers from the OSCE joined the LTOs to monitor the vote on election day. In addition, the Western contingent included observers from the parliamentary assemblies of the Council of Europe and the OSCE along with counterparts from the European Parliament.

The Eastern contingent of observers were from the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (CIS IPA) who arrived a few days prior to election day. The majority of the CIS IPA observers were from Russia with smaller numbers from other CIS member states. Although these were the third parliamentary elections in independent Ukraine, this was the first occasion in which observers from the CIS IPA were present.

With close to 1,000 international observers there was clearly an opportunity for observers from both the West and the East to take stock of Ukraine's election process and its progress, if any, toward democratization. Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Dolgov said in early February that, "We would like the election to confirm the democratic development of Ukraine."

The Ukrainian authorities understood that neither the OSCE, the Council of Europe, nor the European Parliament would whitewash election irregularities or ignore Ukraine's failings to abide by its international commitments to uphold human rights -- that was to be the CIS IPA's role. The only puzzling question was why the OSCE felt it had to assist CIS observers with logistics in their task of pretending to observe the elections.

Not surprisingly, the OSCE and the CIS IPA reached completely opposite conclusions about the conduct of the ballot, just as they did during the Belarusian presidential elections in September 2001. The OSCE said that election had "fundamental flaws," and the U.S. State Department called it a "facade." Meanwhile, the CIS IPA concluded that the Belarusian election was "free and fair." When this discrepancy was brought to the attention of a member of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in Kyiv, his response was: "Oh well, that's pluralism."

CIS Executive Secretary Yurii Yarov concluded that his observers witnessed only "insignificant violations" of the election law during the Ukrainian parliamentary poll, adding that the elections "may without any doubt be described as democratic." He said CIS observers had not registered any incidents of "administrative pressure," and believed that television airtime "was provided in a democratic fashion for representatives of all parties."

These conclusions are completely at odds with those of most of the blocs and parties that took part in the elections, Ukrainian civic groups who monitored the election, and even with the findings of the traditionally diplomatic OSCE. Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko spoke of the use of "Stalinist tactics," while a member of Our Ukraine and leader of one of the two wings of Rukh, Yurii Kostenko, accused the authorities of using "totalitarian pressure" against voters.

In addition, the use of "administrative resources" by For a United Ukraine (ZYU) was brazen, open, and massive. In the words of U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker, "The government of Ukraine did not move in a proactive manner to ensure a level playing field for all political parties... We are particularly disappointed that officials did not take steps to curb the widespread and open abuse of authority, including the use of government positions and facilities, to the unfair advantage of certain parties."

The Voters Committee of Ukraine reported that the election was the worse of the three parliamentary ballots in Ukraine since 1992. The OSCE interim report noted that "most media failed to provide an impartial and fair coverage of the campaign." State TV-1 provided disproportionate coverage to ZYU, and Our Ukraine obtained only negative coverage on all three main television channels. Meanwhile, the Social Democratic Party Ukraine-united (SDPU-o) massively overspent on television advertising promoting "The Year of Social Democracy in Ukraine" on the 1+1 and Inter television channels it controls.

The impartiality of Russian observers and the CIS IPA in general is also open to question in light of senior Russian officials' clear preference that Ukrainians should not vote for the "anti-Russian" Our Ukraine. As Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin explained, "We support those who are in favor of deepening Ukraine's ties to Russia." Such statements should not be seen as interference in Ukraine's election campaign, argued Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko, while at the same time saying, "We cannot support those who are against Russian-Ukrainian integration."

After the election results were announced, the Russian presidential administration welcomed the success of the ZYU, the Communists, and the SDPU-o. State Duma members said Russia can rely on those parties because of "their friendly feelings toward Russia." It is impossible to imagine Western member states of the OSCE or the Council of Europe so openly interfering in an election process they are sent to impartially observe, especially as OSCE observers are instructed to refrain from any comment until after the election day.

In addition, it is not clear on what basis the CIS conclusion about Ukraine's elections was made. Some OSCE observers privately reported that some of their CIS colleagues filled in reports on polling stations without actually having visited them.

While British Helsinki Human Rights Group trustee John Laughland recently commented in "The Guardian" that Western election monitoring is "so corrupted by political bias that it would be better to abandon it," on the whole the monitoring efforts of organizations like the OSCE has a much more positive than negative impact on such elections. Election infringements would have been far more prevalent in Ukraine without an OSCE mission in place. This is not the case with CIS observers, whose only role is to provide glowing reports of "democratic progress" within states whose leaders are friendly to Russia. Taras Kuzio was an OSCE long-term observer of the Ukrainian parliamentary elections and is a research associate at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.