©2002 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


DONETSK PROSECUTOR APPEALS VEREDYUK'S ACQUITTAL. The Prosecutor-General's Office in Donetsk has appealed to the Ukrainian Supreme Court the recent acquittal of Yuriy Veredyuk, who was charged with the murder of Ihor Aleksandrov, the director of TOR TV. The Ukrainian Interior Ministry is convinced that Veredyuk was involved in Aleksandrov's murder, but the victim's family disagrees with that opinion. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 20-26 May)

TO ERR OR NOT TO AIR? The Kyiv and YuTAR television and radio companies and the Kontinent radio station -- whose broadcast license applications were denied by the Ukrainian Television and Radio Broadcast Council -- accused the council of violating the law. In response, council Directors Boris Kholod and Viktor Leshik claimed that the companies had been in breach of broadcast regulations. According to Leshik, TV and radio companies have filed nearly 30 suits against the council. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 20-26 May)

RADIO STATION TOLD TO BREAK TIES TO RFE/RL. The Ukrainian TV and Radio Broadcast Council has ordered the Dovira radio station to drop its relationship with RFE/RL. Dovira Director Serhiy Sai-Bodnar said that the station has a license valid until 2007. The Broadcast Council then issued a warning to the station for relaying Russkoe Radio programs; Dovira plans to contest this warning in court because it has not relayed Russkoe Radio programs. Sai-Bodnar believes that official pressure on the Dovira radio station is due to the fact that it relays RFE/RL programs. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 20-26 May)

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT INVITES NATO FOR JOINT MILITARY EXERCISES. On 1 June, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka visited a training ground at Barysau where the "Berezina-2002" military exercises were taking place, Belarusian media reported. Speaking to foreign military attaches, Lukashenka said Belarus will hold military exercises every year. "If you wish to participate in such exercises to any extent, we are ready to invite appropriate units, observers, participants, anybody you'll like -- beginning with the United States and ending with our closest neighbors -- to take part in them," Lukashenka pledged. "[We are ready to invite] not only the countries that are signatories to the CIS Collective Security Treaty, not only CIS countries, but also representatives of NATO, including the United States. If you wish, you are welcome," he added. Lukashenka said Belarus will "most likely" conduct joint military exercises this winter with unspecified NATO troops in the Chernobyl-affected areas in Belarus. JM

UN SECRETARY-GENERAL PRAISES UKRAINE'S MOVE TO JOIN NATO... UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 2 June praised Ukraine's decision to seek NATO membership as a positive step toward regional security, AP reported. "It is important that Ukraine is making these attempts to get closer to the rest of Europe," Annan said at Kyiv's airport at the beginning of his first visit to Ukraine. "Today, all European nations are striving to share common values -- values of democracy, human rights, and governance based on the rule of law -- and Ukraine is becoming an important part of that movement, and I'm pleased about that," Annan added. JM

...AS CENTRAL EUROPEAN PRESIDENTS REPORTEDLY ALSO DO. Meeting at an informal summit in Slovenia on 1 June, the presidents of 14 Central European countries hailed Ukraine's decision to seek NATO membership, Ukrainian media reported, quoting President Leonid Kuchma. "They accepted this decision as a long-awaited one," UNIAN quoted Kuchma as saying following the summit. JM

NEW PROPOSAL TO SHARE COMMITTEES SURFACES IN UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT. An unspecified "initiative working group" has proposed a new distribution of the posts of parliamentary committee heads and their deputies among caucuses in the Verkhovna Rada, UNIAN and Interfax reported on 2 June. According to this proposal, the Verkhovna Rada should constitute 28 committees and one "monitoring commission." United Ukraine is being offered the leadership of 13 committees, Our Ukraine seven, the Communist Party four, the Social Democratic Party two, the Socialist Party and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc one each, and nonaffiliated deputies one. Last week, the "nonpresidential four" -- Our Ukraine, the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc -- failed to agree on distributing the posts of committee heads solely among themselves (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2002). JM

UKRAINE'S TOP TV EXECUTIVE FOUND DEAD. Prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into the suicide death of Ukrainian National Television Company deputy chief Andriy Feshchenko on suspicion that he was forced to take his own life, Ukrainian media reported. Feshchenko was found dead on 31 May inside his jeep on a street in Kyiv. Police also found a hunting rifle and a note from Feshchenko in the car, but the content of the note -- which has not been released -- prompted prosecutors to start looking for suspects who might have forced Feshchenko to commit suicide. JM

TIRASPOL ACCUSES ROMANIA OF VIOLATING ITS AIRSPACE. On 1 June, military authorities in the breakaway Transdniester region claimed that two Romanian helicopters had violated the self-proclaimed republic's airspace, Flux reported. According to an ITAR-TASS report, the military authorities reported the unauthorized low-altitude flights of two Romanian helicopters over Russian arms depots on 31 May in the Kolbasna region and interpreted them as "spy" flights. The Romanian Interior Ministry dismissed the charges the same day, arguing that the two helicopters were flying from Bucharest to St. Petersburg, via Chisinau and Kyiv, for scheduled repairs in Russia. The release said all authorizations were obtained from Chisinau and that the allocated flight route was respected. ZsM

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka met on 24 April with a group of authors who are writing new textbooks on literature, history, and social sciences. The Belarusian leader ordered them to be ready with draft versions of these textbooks by September 2003. He did not miss the opportunity to publicly instruct the authors what texts they are expected to produce.

"There should be no nationalism," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying. "One should take into account that we are not only mild-mannered people but also -- and I want to stress this as our great virtue -- an absolutely internationalist nation. What does nationalism have to do with this? We are now suffering because of nationalism. It needs to be taken into account, it's a conceptual thing."

After Belarus declared independence in 1991, new textbooks were written for schools in an effort to disengage the country from its Soviet intellectual legacy in which the central historiographical tenet asserted that Belarus first came into being only after the October Revolution of 1917 (in the form of the Belarusian SSR) and existed primarily thanks to the benevolent patronage of its "elder brother," Russia.

On the other hand, independent Belarus' history textbooks tried to link the historical succession of the present-day Republic of Belarus to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (which was, in terms of territory, the largest state in late-medieval and Renaissance Europe) and the medieval Principality of Polatsk. The idea behind this was to offer a positive set of Belarusian national values and historical myths as well as to instill students with the conviction that they may take pride in both their longstanding national history and the freshly acquired statehood.

When Lukashenka took over in 1994 with his frantic drive toward merging with Russia, the new historiographical outlook promoting the independent state and nation building proved to be a major obstacle for him. Therefore, it is no wonder that the referendum organized by Lukashenka in 1995, in addition to the main question about the people's stance on merging with Russia, also included a question regarding the abolition of the symbols of Belarusian independence -- the white/red/white flag and the historical national emblem (Pahonya) dating back to the times of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania -- and another one about giving Russian the status of official language along with Belarusian.

These proposals were overwhelmingly endorsed by Belarusians in what is generally believed to have been a fair plebiscite, if we disregard the fact that the promoters of Belarus' destiny as not quite identical with that of Russia were not given any chance to publicize their point of view in the state media before the vote. The symbols of the freshly acquired Belarusian independence and the imminent prospect of making the Belarusian language a full-fledged means of communication in the country fell victim to the powerfully advertised delusion that it was possible to turn back history and resurrect the "good times" of the Soviet Union.

Along with his indefatigable push to eliminate political opposition and consolidate control over socioeconomic life, Lukashenka has continued to unrelentingly fight what he calls "nationalism" in Belarus. "Nationalism" for Lukashenka means primarily attempts by some opposition political parties and NGOs to apply affirmative action to the Belarusian language and to de-Sovietize and de-Russianize public life in the country. Lukashenka -- who, despite all his intellectual narrowness, edgy temperament, and antics in the international arena, is generally credited with possessing an uncommon political instinct -- appears to perceive the development of Belarusian "nationalism" as a major threat to his rule.

Being an "absolutely internationalist nation" for Belarusians in the Republic of Belarus means essentially the same as in the former USSR -- they have to remain primarily Soviet (Eurasian, anti-European) in worldview and Russian in speech and culture. In other words, what was effective in providing the ideological cohesion of Belarusian society in the Soviet era is thought by Lukashenka to be good in ensuring his unperturbed authoritarian rule under Kremlin patronage today. Lukashenka seems to have no problems in perpetuating this "internationalist" mental attitude among older generations of Belarusians who remain unalterably nostalgic for their Soviet past. As for younger generations, rewriting textbooks to fit such an "internationalist" vision of the Belarusian nation seems to be one of Lukashenka's far-reaching measures to prevent the "virus of nationalism" from undercutting his regime.

An obvious conclusion from this is the theory that building a European-type democracy in Belarus is strongly connected with providing support for the promotion of Belarusian national identity as distinct from the Russian one and for the Belarusian indigenous culture as distinct from the Soviet one. Such a task has been bitterly neglected by both Belarusian opposition parties and NGOs as well as their Western sponsors, who apparently believed that it was possible to develop a civil society in Belarus without taking into account factors related to the building and consolidation of Belarusians' national consciousness.

Such a belief with regard to Belarus is especially puzzling as one inspects the patterns of postcommunist transition in Belarus' neighbors -- Poland, Lithuania, or Ukraine. In all of these countries, the "nationalist factor" -- the will to break away from the Soviet suppression of the development of national (nationalist) aspirations -- seemed to play no less of a role in the transition process than the "economic factor" -- the will to transform the inefficient socialist economy model. It also cannot be overlooked that the traditionally strong "nationalist" countries -- such as Poland or Lithuania -- are now nearly meeting Western standards of democracy. Ukraine, where civil-society institutions are not much stronger than in Belarus, also seems to be sheltered from sliding into the "Eurasian political fold" by its "stronghold of nationalism" in Galicia and other western regions.

It is no wonder that Belarus' "nationalism" is the weakest among the former Soviet republics. Unlike Ukrainians, Belarusians have had no sponsor of their national identity in the past. Western Ukraine has benefited, in terms of nation building, from the Austro-Hungarian rule in the 19th century. As for Belarus, there was no such sponsor -- both Poland and Russia viewed Belarusian lands as their fiefdom and tried to Polonize or Russianize their inhabitants. The fact that the Belarusian national identity has survived until today is a miracle in itself.

It seems that in the face of a prolonged unsuccessful effort to build a "non-nationalist" civil society in Belarus, it is time to admit at last that Belarus' return to Europe should be assisted through comprehensive support for initiatives oriented toward the building of Belarusian national identity. Such a view of today's Belarusian affairs implies, in particular, that printing a Belarusian-language book or newspaper in Minsk or another Belarusian city is no less important that organizing an anti-Lukashenka rally.