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RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 4, No. 38, 8 October 2002

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


JOURNALISTS STAND AGAINST POLITICAL CENSORSHIP. The absence of the freedom of expression is a painful problem in postcommunist Ukraine. In recent years, Ukraine's executive authorities have been regularly mentioned among the top regimes "honored" with the title of "enemy of the press."

The ongoing political crisis, activities of the antipresidential opposition, and the new turn in the "Kuchmagate" scandal associated with Ukraine's alleged sale of radar systems to Iraq have exacerbated the problem of the freedom of expression in the country.

The chronicle of events that triggered the "information crisis" and generated a new wave of public debates on the freedom of expression in Ukraine can be reconstructed as follows.

At the beginning of September, the chairman of the parliamentary Committee for the Freedom of Expression and Information, Mykola Tomenko, publicized secret instructions by the presidential administration regarding the news coverage on main national television channels controlled by pro-presidential business clans.

The secret media regulations appear to be a regular practice known to many Ukrainian journalists as the "temnyk," a jargon word that refers to secret orientation of journalists by the authorities as regards the presentation of news topics. In his open letter to the country's leadership, Tomenko directly connected the activation of the "temnyk policy" with the appointment in June of Viktor Medvedchuk as the head of the presidential staff.

On 23 September, on the eve of a major antipresidential rally in Kyiv, opposition leaders occupied the UT-1 television headquarters in a futile attempt to present their position to Ukrainian viewers. Official media outlets subsequently portrayed this desperate effort by the opposition to gain an opportunity to speak freely as "political extremism" and a "criminal action by political outsiders."

On 1 October, journalists of the independent news agency UNIAN accused its new executive director, Vasyl Yurychko, of censoring their work and refusing to run any reports that could be construed as portraying President Leonid Kuchma unfavorably. The conflict was settled when Yurychko and the disobedient journalists signed a declaration in which the supervisor promised not to interfere with their work.

On 3 October, the journalists' growing resistance to the official media policy resulted in composing a "Manifesto of Ukrainian Journalists Against Political Censorship." The manifesto, which is open for signing by any journalist in Ukraine, was prepared by some 60 representatives of various media outlets.

The signatories of the manifesto say they "welcome the tendency that, under circumstances of the growing political censorship in Ukraine, journalists are switching from individual protests to collective actions of solidarity." The manifesto declares the readiness of Ukrainian journalists to organize a countrywide strike and to stand for the rights of those colleagues who were fired from their jobs for political reasons.

The significance of this document can hardly be overestimated. For the first time in Ukraine's modern history, the vicious circle of narrow corporate interests of journalists belonging to different media groups has been broken.

The history of post-Soviet media -- in particular, the example of Russia's NTV television, which many observers claim was suppressed by the authorities last year for political reasons -- shows that the lack of professional solidarity among post-Soviet journalists is a major factor that makes the fight for the freedom of expression in post-Soviet countries a very problematic task.

Another impeding factor is the peculiar post-Soviet way of pursuing businesses that, in order to be successful, have to maintain political loyalty to the authorities (or pretend to do so). That is why, as a rule with rare exceptions, even private post-Soviet media outlets have not yet constituted themselves as really independent information businesses. They have largely become mouthpieces for publicizing the propagandist justification of the political and economic domination of governing clans. And quite often, these clans own or control major media outlets. In such a case, journalists become hostages to the clans' "editorial policy." It is not surprising that in Ukraine this policy is pro-presidential.

Andriy Tychyna, a journalist at the nationwide 1+1 television network (controlled by the Viktor Medvedchuk-Hryhoriy Surkis clan) admits that "the news coverage [in Ukraine] is ceasing to be a reflection of real sociopolitical events but is becoming a generator of some virtual reality," "Zerkalo nedeli" reported on 28 September.

Can the Ukrainian media sphere transform itself from the tool of oligarchic control over public opinion into a social institution that could be sensitive to public interests? The recent protest actions by Ukrainian journalists seem to be making an important contribution to such a transformation. (Viktor Stepanenko)

"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, RUSSIA MOVE FORWARD ON NATURAL-GAS COOPERATION. At a meeting on the sidelines of the CIS summit in Chisinau on 7 October, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Ukrainian Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh discussed progress on the formation of a joint natural-gas transportation consortium, ITAR-TASS and other news agencies reported. Kasyanov told reporters that Gazprom and Ukraine's Naftohaz will submit their proposals for the participation of foreign companies in the project by the end of the year, after which "the proposals will be discussed by the heads of government, and concrete decisions will be made." Kinakh hailed the bilateral agreement on strategic cooperation in the natural-gas sector signed on 7 October and said that decisions about the management and financial arrangements of the consortium will be made at a later date. Under the agreement, the consortium will be based in Kyiv and registered in Ukraine. Decisions regarding the participation of foreign companies will be made jointly, and the agreement will remain in effect for at least 30 years. RC

PRO-PRESIDENTIAL MAJORITY EMERGES IN UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT... Verkhovna Rada speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn on 8 October formally announced the creation of a 231-member majority in the 449-strong legislature, UNIAN reported. The majority reportedly consists of lawmakers of the pro-presidential groups -- Labor Ukraine-Party Entrepreneurs (42 deputies), Ukraine's Regions (37), the Social Democratic Party-united (37), Democratic Initiatives (20), Power of the People (18), European Choice (18), Popular Democratic Party (17), Ukraine's Agrarians (16), People's Choice (13), and United Ukraine (seven) -- and six deputies who left opposition caucuses. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc was abandoned for the majority by three legislators, the Communist Party by two, and Our Ukraine by one. JM

...BUT FAILS TO VOTE EFFECTIVELY FROM THE VERY START. In its first practical test, the newly created majority failed to include on the agenda the issue of creating an ad hoc parliamentary commission to investigate the allegations that Ukraine may have illegally sold radar systems to Iraq. The motion was supported by 225 deputies in the first vote and by 213 in the second (226 votes were necessary to approve the motion). The caucuses that boycotted the votes -- Our Ukraine, the Communist Party, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and the Socialist Party -- reacted to the results with applause, UNIAN reported. JM

FORMER POLISH COMMANDER TO FACE COURT MARTIAL. Colonel Ryszard Chwastek, the former commander of the 12th Mechanized Division (which is part of the NATO corps in Szczecin), will be court-martialed on charges of refusing to obey an order, PAP reported on 7 October. Military prosecutors have accused Chwastek of refusing to call off a press conference on 6 August, which he was ordered to do by the commander of the First Mechanized Corps in Bydgoszcz. During that press conference Chwastek accused the top brass of violating the law, creating a structural and organizational "mess" in the armed forces, and preparing changes to military structures in a secretive manner (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 13 August 2002). JM

PREMIER SAYS ROMANIA MIGHT ASK WORLD COURT TO RULE ON DISPUTE WITH UKRAINE. Prime Minister Nastase said on 7 October that Romania might ask the UN International Court of Justice (ICJ) to rule on the country's dispute with Ukraine over the delimitation of their border in the vicinity of Serpents Island in the Black Sea as well as control over several islets in the Danube River estuary, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Nastase spoke after meeting in Bucharest with ICJ President Mohamed Bedjaoui. Last month, President Ion Iliescu agreed with his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma during a visit to Kyiv that, in line with the provisions of the 1997 basic treaty between their countries, experts representing the two sides would try to reach an agreement by 1 June 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 2002). The 1997 treaty includes an option for asking the ICJ to rule on the matter in the event that the sides fail to reach agreement. MS