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END NOTE: CAN GLASNOST SAVE PRESIDENT KUCHMA AND HIS REGIME? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
OUR UKRAINE SLAMS AUTHORITIES FOR DESTABILIZING COUNTRY... Our Ukraine on 29 August publicized an open letter to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, warning him against a "systemic crisis of the authority that has hit all spheres of social life," Ukrainian media reported. According to Viktor Yushchenko's bloc, "actions by the authorities are threatening Ukraine's national interests, national security, the independence of the state, and are provoking civic confrontation." Our Ukraine reiterated its charge that the presidential administration created an "artificial majority" in the parliament by pressuring deputies in order "to give the parliamentary leadership to outsiders of the election race." "One has the impression that the parliament, the government, and the media have been leased to the head of the presidential administration [Viktor Medvedchuk] and his oligarchic clan," the letter noted. Our Ukraine also complained that the opposition has no access to the state-run media. According to the bloc, "the situation in the state has been heading toward unpredictability and uncontrollability." JM
...AND URGES KUCHMA TO REMOVE 'THREATS TO UKRAINE'S DEMOCRACY AND STATEHOOD'... Our Ukraine called on President Kuchma to make a choice between "democracy and dictatorship" and take urgent measures "to remove threats to Ukraine's democracy and statehood." In particular, the bloc demands that a democratic parliamentary majority be created around Our Ukraine and a coalition government be formed by this majority. Our Ukraine also postulates that the authorities secure equal access to the state media for all political forces, stop political persecution, and strengthen Ukraine's integration into "European and trans-Atlantic structures," while simultaneously abandoning talk of Ukraine's accession to the Eurasian Economic Union. "The inability of the authorities to stop the country's slide toward a social and economic catastrophe and the continuation of the policy oriented toward curbing democracy and constitutional civil rights and freedoms will force us to call on voters to stand in defense of democracy, national interests, and the independence of the Ukrainian state," the letter warned. JM
...AS YUSHCHENKO COMPARES CURRENT REGIME TO STALIN'S. Yushchenko told journalists on 29 August that Ukraine is witnessing "how state institutions resort to the methods of a dictatorship," Reuters reported. Yushchenko was commenting on his meeting with Kuchma earlier the same day, where he handed the president Our Ukraine's open letter. "My colleagues have been subjected to political persecution to make them change their faction, betray their political views, and obediently join a majority formed by the presidential administration," Yushchenko noted, adding that "we need to abolish this kind of 1937 regime." JM
TRANSDNIESTER THREATENS TO PULL OUT OF CHISINAU NEGOTIATIONS. The Transdniester delegation at the ongoing negotiations in Chisinau on the draft settlement proposed by the OSCE said on 29 August that it might withdraw from the negotiation process, Infotag reported. In a statement handed to the three mediators (Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE), the separatists said that the "economic blockade imposed by Moldova" on the export of goods from the Transdniester since 1 September 2001 has caused losses of $100 million. They said they will agree to continue negotiating only if the blockade is lifted. An unidentified member of the Moldovan delegation said the demand was "ultimatum-like" and defied the accord to resume negotiations without preliminary conditions. He said a group of experts has been set up to examine the issue and make recommendations by 1 October. The negotiations were to continue on 30 August at the Ukrainian Embassy in Chisinau. MS
CAN GLASNOST SAVE PRESIDENT KUCHMA AND HIS REGIME?
Incumbent Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma faces three insurmountable problems in the 2004 presidential campaign that de facto begins next month and heralds the approach to the post-Kuchma era. (The Ukrainian Constitution precludes him running for a third presidential term).
First, Kuchma is finding it impossible to arrange a transfer of power to a chosen successor along the lines of that from Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin in Russia in 1999-2000. Kuchma has no oligarch ally who has any public support. Worse still, anybody whom he anointed as his successor would automatically be discredited. Ukrainian polls in the last two years have consistently placed Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko and Communist Party (KPU) leader Pyotr Symonenko in the second round of a presidential election with Yushchenko winning.
Who then will provide Kuchma with immunity from prosecution and protection for his family's business empire? And who will protect other oligarchs from a bona fide campaign against corruption if Yushchenko becomes president? Head of the Writers Union and Our Ukraine deputy Volodymyr Yavorivskyy believes that this is a life-or-death struggle for those such as the Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o), led by presidential administration head Viktor Medvedchuk, who are accused of being the most corrupt oligarchic clan.
Second, Kuchma's recent actions suggest that he is no longer indifferent to increasing public hostility about widespread public hostility to his administration. In a poll released on the 11th anniversary of independence, the Ukrainian Center for Economic and Political Studies (UTsEPD) found that 92 percent of Ukrainians feel that they have no influence over the authorities. The same number believe human rights are routinely infringed upon and 80 percent feel their standard of living has worsened since 1990, while 72 percent want him to resign and 52 percent would support his impeachment.
For the first time ever, four opposition groups -- Our Ukraine, KPU, the Socialists, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc -- are coordinating mass protests calling for early presidential elections on 16 September, the second anniversary of opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze's abduction. The UTsEPD poll found that 43 percent of Ukrainians supported the protest.
Third, as the opposition has long argued, a serious crisis of power exists in Ukraine and there is very low public trust in state institutions. Kuchma and his oligarchic allies have little public support and live completely separate lives from the population, there is a lack of public accountability and transparency, and they attempt to stay in power through undemocratic methods. As oligarch and former presidential adviser Oleksandr Volkov pointed out in "Den" on 21 May, the presidency is ideologically amorphous and therefore unable to explain to the public what its policies are. One of Kuchma's answers is to reintroduce a Soviet-style policy that beginning this year his State of the Nation Address to parliament is studied in all educational institutions.
Kuchma is accused of changing the outcome of the March 2002 parliamentary elections when four opposition groups won 58 percent of the vote, compared to only 18 percent obtained by the SDPU-o, and For a United Ukraine (ZYU). Other parties who lost the elections, the Winter Crop Generation party and the Christian Democratic Party, have been promoted by Kuchma into the presidential administration and together with the SDPU-o and factions that have grown out of ZYU continue to run the government. Thus, it is not surprising that 59 percent of Ukrainians, according to the UTsEPD poll, do not believe that the March elections were democratic while 51 percent do not believe the forthcoming 2004 elections will be any improvement.
Kuchma has resorted to former CPSU Central Committee General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost in a doomed attempt to overcome these three problems and win back public confidence. As Kuchma admitted in an interview in "Den" on 2 August normal societies have a high level of trust in the authorities. "It is no secret that such trust today is lacking," he admitted. In effect, Kuchma's policy of glasnost is a tacit admission that pro-presidential groups lost the parliamentary elections.
The "new Kuchma" now expresses concern for his citizens. Kuchma interrupted his holiday following the Lviv air-show disaster on 27 July that killed 74 people and he demanded the arrest of military officers "guilty" of that catastrophe. Coal-mine directors deemed guilty of negligence leading to 13 accidents that have killed 187 miners this year alone are also being targeted.
Presidential decrees issued on 1 and 20 August outlined new steps to make Ukraine's political system more transparent and reorganized the presidential administration. Although these decrees are portrayed as major steps in political reform, they are no different from three earlier attempts last year that ended up being largely ignored by Ukraine's bureaucrats and the presidentially appointed state administration.
In his Independence Day speech, Kuchma came out in favor of transforming Ukraine into a parliamentary-presidential republic, a demand that most opposition groups have long supported and pro-presidential blocs in the elections opposed. Kuchma recently described parliament as a "center for the country's destabilization." Kuchma also backed opposition calls for an election law that is fully proportional, something he vetoed five times last year because he claimed society was insufficiently "mature" and parties "inadequately developed."
Kuchma has successfully created an artificial pro-presidential "parliamentary majority" of 228 through bribery and by blackmailing businessmen who can now appoint a new government and safely introduce his political reforms. Such a policy would sideline the opposition by wooing the "constructive opposition" Our Ukraine from opposition protests and discrediting them in the eyes of the population, while branding the "radical opposition," whom he already accuses of existing only due to "black funds," as a destabilizing factor and stripping Tymoshenko of her immunity from prosecution.
Although the aim of this new policy of glasnost is to regain public support, it may also undermine the foundations of the regime built up by Kuchma since 1994. The new policies are the first signs that Kuchma is desperately searching for a way out of a predicament that he has himself created as he approaches the end of his term in office.
STAVROPOL COURT ORDERS PAPER TO APOLOGIZE. In Stavropol, a court ruled in a case brought by V. Lukashonok, chairman of the city's Chernobyl cleaners' organization and member of the city duma, against the city paper "Zhizn." Earlier this year, the paper had published an article alleging that Lukashonok had embezzled 50,000 rubles. The court ordered the paper to publish a refutation, and told the paper's founder to compensate moral damages. A libel suit has been opened against the author of the article. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Russia Weekly Report," 19-25 August)
PRESIDENT ORDERS PRIME MINISTER TO CHECK PUBLIC ACCESS TO UNCLASSIFIED INFORMATION. President Leonid Kuchma told Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh to set up in central and local executive agencies directorates or divisions in charge of relations with the media and the public. He told the cabinet to find to what extent unclassified information is available to citizens. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 19-25 August)
CRIMEAN OFFICIALS TO ASK KYIV TO SOFTEN STAND ON UKRAINIAN-LANGUAGE BROADCASTING. City authorities in Sevastopol, Crimea, intend to ask the State Information Policy Committee to let "the region's information space develop in light of its ethnic specifics." They are concerned by the National Broadcast Council's ruling that television stations have one year to put in place programming only in the Ukrainian language. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 19-25 August)
KYIV OFFICIALS CONCERNED ABOUT MAYOR'S MEDIA IMAGE. On 22 August, the Kyiv city administration made a statement accusing unnamed "committed" media of working to discredit city authorities, particularly Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko. ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 19-25 August)
LVIV OFFICIALS URGE REPRINTING OF CENTRAL PRESS ITEMS. The Lviv Oblast administration's Press and Information Directorate sent editors of district newspapers a letter signed by directorate head Oksana Boikovich asking them to have their papers reprint numerous articles published in central newspapers that had aroused "significant public interest." ("Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations CIS Weekly Report," 19-25 August)
CALL-IN RADIO PROGRAM TO INCREASE HIV/AIDS AWARENESS. Radio stations in six Ukrainian cities have launched a one-month series of call-in radio programs to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS, following a training program organized by Internews-Ukraine in early August. The project will enable radio listeners in Odesa, Donetsk, Lviv, Ternopil, Kremenchuk, and Kirovohrad to call in to their local stations to receive accurate information on HIV/AIDS from local NGOs, health officials, and local authorities, according to Internews. The programs are designed to increase public understanding of the risks of HIV infection, while increasing tolerance at the community level towards those infected and affected by the virus. For more, contact Pavlo Novikov at firstname.lastname@example.org or see http://www.internews.kiev.ua.
THE COURT BATTLE FOR THE FUTURE OF UKRAINIAN TELEVISION
Ukraine's most popular independent TV station is fighting to stay on the air. 1+1 Television features a mix of entertainment and serious public affairs programming. It is also the country's only private national Ukrainian-language TV station. On 4 September, 1+1 TV will go to the Supreme Economic Court to attempt to reverse a lower court ruling. Kyiv's Economic Appeals Court ruled on 16 July that another TV company, AITI, is legally entitled to Studio 1+1's broadcast license, even though AITI lost its license a few years ago because it could not produce enough programming to fill its airtime.
This promises to be a lengthy legal battle with important implications for licensing procedures and foreign media ownership in Ukraine. Unlike similar struggles four years ago which took place behind closed doors, at least the Studio 1+1 battle is taking place before the courts and is being discussed in the media.
The current fight for 1+1 TV's license is part of a controversial relicensing of Ukraine's broadcast sector. The government regulatory agency, the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting, has been accused of numerous irregularities. Parliament passed a no-confidence vote on the outgoing council's activities on 4 July, reported the daily "Ukrayinska Pravda" on 19 July. Many TV and radio stations' licenses expired as of 2000, and the council has revoked a number of licenses under dubious circumstances. One such still-contested case is Radio Kontinent, which lost its license in 2001. The station aired some foreign broadcasts, including BBC and Deutsche Welle. More recently, on 20 June, the National Council ordered Kyiv's transmitting center to cut off the broadcast signal of Kyiv's oldest independent-minded local TV station, UTAR, which had just won a court case to keep its license, according to the European Media Institute.
The court ruling against 1+1 TV is particularly puzzling since it is a very successful private TV company. Since 1997, it has been broadcasting on Ukraine's Channel 2 (one of only four national TV channels). 1+1's popularity has grown steadily, because it provides Hollywood films, soap operas, sporting events as well as objective and interesting news programs, commentary, and information-talk shows. Up until the March 2002 parliamentary election campaign, 1+1 news and information programs were rated first or second in terms of quality and scope.
1+1 is one TV station that has major foreign non-Russian capital. Although media ownership is difficult to document, it is well-known that Russian companies now have effective control of most private TV stations in Ukraine, including, New Channel, Inter, and STB. Since Central European Media Enterprises Ltd (CME) owns a significant portion of 1+1, it is an exception to this trend. This parent company, set up by American businessman Ronald Lauder, has shares in TV and radio stations throughout Eastern Europe.
Foreign ownership of media is controversial in Ukraine, since legislation limits foreign capital in any media outlet to 30 percent. This law was passed in the early 1990s when Ukraine was disengaging from the centralized Soviet information infrastructure, and struggling to gain control of the airwaves on its territory. Russia inherited the USSR-wide TV Channel 1 and continued to broadcast throughout the former Soviet Union until the new countries established ownership and control of that channel on their territories. However, by the late 1990s most major new TV companies in Ukraine had managed to circumvent the legislation by registering shares to local partners. For example, STB was privatized in 1996, and soon afterwards 70 percent of the station's investment reportedly came from Russian sources. The highly respected New Channel is reported to be owned by Russian banks. Some reports claim that CME owns over 30 percent of 1+1, while on 26 August, ukraine.ru reported that CME controls 30 percent of the shares with the remaining 70 percent owned by 1+1 General Director Oleksandr Rodniansky. In a surprising move in April 2002, Rodniansky assumed the position of general producer with the Russian television station STS, although he claims this new responsibility will not effect his commitment to 1+1.
How television stations obtain broadcast licenses is another controversial issue in Ukraine. From the outset, 1+1 TV has faced allegations of bribery and unethical political maneuvers. The controversy dates back to 1997 when Perekhid Media, a Ukrainian-American joint-venture TV company -- which was a competitor for the Channel 2 license -- accused 1+1 and CME of using illegal methods to obtain the broadcast license. After failing to achieve recourse in Ukrainian courts, in April 1997 Perekhid Media filed a complaint with the Supreme Court of New York County citing tortious interference by Lauder and CME, according to the CME 1997 Quarterly Report. On 12 June 2001, "The New York Times" reported that Lauder and CME were under investigation in the U.S. for alleged violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for allegedly paying at least $1 million in bribes to Ukrainian officials to obtain the Channel 2 license.
Vadym Rabinovych is a mysterious figure in the 1+1 versus AITI saga. He was one of the first partners of 1+1 and is widely believed to have eased the way to obtain its license in 1996. After being declared persona non grata in Ukraine, Rabinovych emigrated to Israel. He returned to Ukraine -- as owner of 1+1's rival, the AITI TV company. In fact, the two television stations have been clashing in the courts for several years over whether 1+1 obtained its license to broadcast on Channel 2 in a legal fashion. AITI first filed suit against 1+1 in 2000, but in April 2001 Ukraine's Supreme Arbitration Court dismissed the case. AITI then took the case to a lower court, the Arbitration Court of Kyiv which ruled against 1+1 in February 2002, during the parliamentary election campaign.
Respected Ukrainian journalist Yuliya Mostova outlined a number of possible behind-the-scenes scenarios for the 1+1 versus AITI drama. Perhaps the battle between two TV companies is being manipulated by a third party who may want to buy 1+1 after its purchase price falls due to the scandal. (1+1 documents show that although the company is still profitable, its overall revenues decreased by 10 percent last year). Perhaps the struggle for control of the popular 1+1 is part of the pre-presidential election jockeying among Ukraine's power brokers. (Ukraine's presidential elections are scheduled for 2004).
Should 1+1 go off the air, Ukrainians will look elsewhere for TV programs. In many parts of the country, 1+1 was the only source of high-quality Ukrainian-language programs, so viewers will have to switch to Russian or Russian-language stations. This would lead to a decline in advertising revenue for Ukrainian TV stations, further reduction of quality, and greater dependence on Russian television, reported "Dzerkalo Tyzhnia." on 26 July. Finally, this would contribute to further ownership concentration of Ukraine's television sector in Russian hands.