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U.S. AT OSCE: FREE PRESS 'MAIN SUPPORT OF DEMOCRACY.' Speaking at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Permanent Council on 10 October, Ambassador Steven Miniker, the head of the U.S. OSCE delegation, said that a free press is the main support of democracy, since it informs citizens of a wide range of views on vital issues. He cited the role of the press in exposing governmental abuses, including criminal acts by officials, and again urged that a special OSCE conference be held on corruption and on media access to public information. Despite "alarming trends," on a positive note Miniker referred to the granting of licenses to three independent radio stations in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan's official declaration that it has ended censorship. In regard to Kazakhstan, however, Miniker repeated his alarm at "the escalated campaign of attacks on independent media outlets." He noted the "almost total lack of freedom of expression in Turkmenistan, and he repeated concern over official censorship of the media in Ukraine and expressed hope that the government of Azerbaijan would amend its broadcasting laws. Miniker also noted Russian President Vladimir Putin's decree annulling former President Boris Yeltsin's 1991 decree which accredited RFE/RL in Moscow. While expressing his understanding that the official purpose of the Putin's decree was to "provide all foreign bureaus with equal legal status," Miniker said it was "unclear what the practical effects" of Putin's decree would be. According to Miniker, "it is important to continue uninterrupted RFE/RL broadcasts" because they provide "a valuable service to the citizens of Russia." CC

PRESIDENT PLEDGES EXTRA FUNDS FOR HISTORICAL MOVIE. Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 10 October promised to allocate an additional 400 million Belarusian rubles ($214,000) early next year for the shooting of a historical epic movie called "Anastasiya of Slutsk," Belapan reported, quoting the presidential press service. Lukashenka made this pledge during his visit to the film set in response to director Yury Yelkhau's request for more funding. The movie's original budget was equal to 1.4 billion Belarusian rubles. According to scanty historical accounts, Anastasiya of Slutsk was a duchess who played a major role in defending the town of Slutsk (south of Minsk) from an invasion of Crimean Tatars in the 16th century. Lukashenka reportedly said the picture should be "a genuine Belarusian film" showing the true history, culture, and mentality of the ancestors of present-day Belarusians. Slutsk in the 16th century was in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a vast multiethnic state comprising the whole area of today's Belarus as well as large chunks of Ukraine and Lithuania. The official written language of the duchy was Ruthenian, a Slavic language closely related to modern Belarusian and Ukrainian. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October)


THREE HUNDRED JOURNALISTS PROTEST GOVERNMENT CENSORSHIP. A moment of truth arrived for many Ukrainian journalists after they faced increased censorship when they tried to cover nationwide protests on 16 September -- the second anniversary of the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. On 5 October, they formed the first independent journalists' trade union, mobilized by their realization that, regardless of their political views, they are all subject to government-imposed censorship. Four well-known Ukrainian journalists -- Yuliya Mostovaya, deputy editor in chief of the paper "Dzerkalo Tyzhnia"; Yevhen Hlibovitskyy, senior correspondent at 1+1 TV; Andriy Shevchenko, former news anchor at Novy Kanal TV; and Roman Skrypin, anchor and editor at STB TV -- spoke at RFE/RL on 11 October. They noted that 300 reporters from throughout Ukraine have joined this new trade union not due to political or economic motives, but because they believe they can no longer practice their profession under present conditions in Ukraine. The four speakers highlighted various aspects of the ongoing government campaign to "manage the media" in Ukraine. Mostovaya described a basic government censorship technique, known as " temnyk," whereby reporters are issued written orders on how to treat -- or ignore -- political and business topics of the day. Major media outlets are merely sideline businesses for a few oligarchs who are economically and politically dependent on President Leonid Kuchma, according to Hlibovitskyy. Skrypin observed that "censorship is a strangling snake," noting that managers simply order reporters not to run news items if they have received telephone calls from Kuchma's office. Watching Ukrainian television is boring, observed Shevchenko, since TV channels usually feature very similar politically vetted commentaries and often even run the same video footage. In the face of pervasive government influence over the media in Ukraine, the speakers noted the importance of international broadcasting which reaches a well-informed and politically active audience. Shevchenko observed that not long ago, when a bus driver switched on RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, passengers were visibly startled at the new information they were receiving about their own country. CC

KUCHMA WILLING TO 'INVESTIGATE' CENSORSHIP CHARGES. On 8 October, President Kuchma announced that he is "prepared to investigate together with journalists" charges of censorship, the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES) reported. If censorship cases are discovered, Kuchma said, then a way of struggling against it "must be found" even in relation to most Ukrainian media which is privately owned. Journalists responded that they are prepared to supply Kuchma with relevant examples of political censorship, according to CJES. Two days later, the parliamentary Freedom of Speech and Information Committee began to prepare hearings on political censorship to be held in December. Parliamentary Chairman Volodymur Lytvyn declared that information on media ownership in Ukraine must be made public. CC

OPPOSITION DEMONSTRATION SENTENCES PRESIDENT TO 'PUBLIC CONDEMNATION'... Some 20,000 demonstrators took part in a "people's tribunal" on President Leonid Kuchma in Kyiv on 12 October, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. The unauthorized antipresidential rally on Kyiv's European Square was organized by the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Communist Party, and the Socialist Party. Participants in the rally "sentenced" President Kuchma in a mock trial to "the highest form of people's punishment -- public condemnation" for a number of alleged crimes, including the issuance of threats to journalists. Following the rally, opposition representatives passed to the Prosecutor-General's Office their demand to bring Kuchma to court trial. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October)

...AS JOURNALIST COVERING PROTEST BEATEN 'ACCIDENTALLY'... The 12 October demonstration took place without incident apart from a reportedly accidental beating of a journalist, Oleh Zavada, by plainclothes police officers. Zavada inadvertently bumped into an officer who was taking photographs, prompting other police officers to beat him. A lawmaker prevented Zavada's detention, and the journalist was subsequently hospitalized with symptoms of a concussion. ("RFE/RL Poland, Belarus and Ukraine Report" 15 October)

...AND JUDGE OPENS CRIMINAL CASE AGAINST KUCHMA. Kyiv Court of Appeals Judge Yuriy Vasylenko has opened a criminal case against President Kuchma in connection with charges by opposition lawmakers that he violated 11 articles of the Criminal Code, including the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported on 15 October. Vasylenko said he made his decision on the basis of an appeal by lawmakers, documents from the ad hoc parliamentary commission set up to investigate the murder of Gongadze, and evidence included in the secret audio recordings made by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October)

LESYA GONGADZE'S LAWYER DETAINED. After Heorhiy Gongadze's mother, Lesya, sent a complaint to Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Pyskun that her previous charges against President Kuchma and other Ukrainian officials had not been considered "in accordance with regulations," her lawyer Ondriy Fedur was detained on 12 October. According to the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, Fedur's car was seized by the tax police on suspicions of forgery, but the lawyer attributes the action to his suit against Pyskun. CC

CASE AGAINST REPORTER IN DONETSK REOPENED. According to the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations on 13 October, the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office has reopened a criminal case against Donetsk-based reporter Volodymyr Boyko which had been closed in August. The charges have been brought by the state tax administration, but Boyko regards the case as part of Donetsk "clan politics." CC

SOLANA SLAMS KYIV FOR 'PLAYING WITH THE RULES.' "Europe won't be stable and secure if Ukraine is not stable and secure," AP quoted EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana as saying at a two-day conference held in Warsaw on EU-Ukrainian relations. Solana said his main concern is that Ukraine is not making progress on its democratic path. He called for allowing freedom of the media and eliminating murky links between politics and business. "Ukraine is not playing by the rules but playing with the rules. We would like one day to embrace your country, but we have to know what country you are," Solana said. "But at this time I have to tell you this is impossible," he added. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October)

NEWSPAPER ALLEGES KUCHMA HELPED FINANCE PUTIN'S 2000 CAMPAIGN. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma allegedly provided $50 million to $60 million dollars to help finance President Putin's 2000 election campaign, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 October. The daily's report is based on the controversial tapes that former Kuchma bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko claims to have recorded in Kuchma's office between November 1999 and September 2000. The Kuchma administration has repeatedly denied that the tapes are authentic. The newspaper printed what it alleges to be a transcript of a conversation between Kuchma and two officials that was recorded on 15 July 2000. "Before the elections we paid Russia at Putin's request, I don't know, about $50 million or $60 million," Kuchma is quoted as saying. The transcript also says the money was allegedly laundered through Itera, a controversial offshore company tied to Russian natural-gas giant Gazprom. RC

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES 2003 DRAFT BUDGET ON FIRST READING... The Verkhovna Rada on 17 October passed the first reading of a surplus-budget bill for 2003, Ukrainian media reported. The bill calls for revenues of 55.2 billion hryvnyas ($10.4 billion) and expenditures of 53.3 billion hryvnyas. The bill was supported by lawmakers from pro-presidential caucuses and Our Ukraine, while the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc did not participate in the vote. JM

...AND FORMS COMMISSION TO PROBE ALLEGED ARMS DEALS WITH IRAQ. The same day, 221 lawmakers -- well above the required 150 -- endorsed a resolution creating a 12-member temporary commission to investigate whether Ukraine illegally sold arms to Iraq, UNIAN reported. The resolution did not specifically mention President Leonid Kuchma, whom the U.S. State Department accused last month of authorizing the sale of a Kolchuga radar system to Iraq. The commission is headed by deputy Borys Andresyuk from the Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o). JM

PRESIDENTIAL AIDE TO SPEAK WITH YUSHCHENKO ABOUT STANDOFF IN UKRAINE? Presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk, who also heads the SDPU-o, has told journalists that his party is prepared to enter a dialogue with Our Ukraine regarding the current political crisis, UNIAN reported on 17 October. Medvedchuk was responding to Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko, who said following the "Ukraine in Europe" conference in Warsaw (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 17 October 2002) that Our Ukraine could sit at a negotiating table with the SDPU-o. "Medvedchuk is a Ukrainian reality. He is a fact, pardon my saying so," UNIAN quoted Yushchenko as saying on 16 October. Medvedchuk said he has "only one personal request" to Yushchenko and explained that he wants Yushchenko to withdraw his signature under the opposition's 16 September resolution calling on President Kuchma to resign (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 17 September 2002). It is not clear from the UNIAN report whether Medvedchuk considers this withdrawal a necessary condition for entering talks with Our Ukraine. JM