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RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 5, No. 14, 15 April 2003

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


OPPOSITION CHANGES POSITION. It seems that the Ukrainian parliamentary opposition -- the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc -- has already abandoned their unproductive drive to oust President Leonid Kuchma ahead of the end of his second term in the autumn of 2004. It should be remembered that not so long ago, on 9 March, tens of thousands of people at an antipresidential rally in Kyiv demanded early presidential elections. Now, however, the opposition's main concern appears to be about preventing Kuchma from remaining in office beyond his legitimate term -- this possibility is implicitly included in the bill on political reform that Kuchma submitted to the Verkhovna Rada last month (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 11 March 2003).

On 14 April, the leaders of the three above-mentioned opposition parties -- Petro Symonenko, Oleksandr Moroz, and Yuliya Tymoshenko -- and Our Ukraine head Viktor Yushchenko signed a "Memorandum Regarding Political Reform," which modifies their hitherto-pursued goals to some significant extent.

The memorandum proposes that the president, the Verkhovna Rada, and the local-government bodies work until the end of their current terms.

Regarding changes in Ukraine's constitutional system, the memorandum postulates to preserve the unicameral parliament (Kuchma proposed two houses, and a reduction in the number of lawmakers); to give the parliament the right to approve a prime minister (nominated by the president) and all cabinet ministers (nominated by the prime minister); and to give the president the right to dissolve the parliament if it fails to gather for a session within 30 days after its election or form a cabinet within 60 days after the inaugural sitting.

The memorandum also proposes that parliamentary and local elections (except for rural councils) be held under a fully proportional system.

The opposition document's slams Kuchma's proposals of constitutional reform by saying that these proposals "do not meet the interests of society; are conducive to making the presidential power absolute, abolishing the parliamentary system and sprouts of the independent judiciary, and replicating structures and functions of the authorities; and destroy local government." The opposition is convinced that the presidential proposals to change the constitution "are dangerous for society and lead to the usurpation of power by giving a small circle of people the right to make strategic decisions in the country [and] ruin the state integrity."

The four leaders also signed an appeal to Kuchma proposing to hold "public television debates" on constitutional changes in order to clarify "on what positions the president stands and what positions are proposed by us."

It seems that proposals to reform the political system in Ukraine (first voiced by the opposition in 2000 and "appropriated" by Kuchma in 2002) have finally been transmitted to the electorate and found some support there. According to a poll conducted by the Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies earlier this month, 85.2 percent of Ukrainians support the presidential proposal to reduce the number of lawmakers from 450 to 300; 48 percent back the presidential idea to hold presidential and legislative elections in the same year; and 43.7 percent want to give the president the right to dissolve the parliament. It appears that sooner or later Ukraine's constitutional system will have to be modified.

The opposition obviously feels the public urge to reform the political system in the country as a way out of the permanent political crisis, but it is also aware of the danger of extending Kuchma's term in office by supporting his draft bill (while this danger is only dimly, if at all, perceived by the general public). Therefore, the opposition's efforts now seem to be focused on torpedoing the Kuchma-proposed constitutional-reform bill in the parliament and, possibly, delaying "essential" constitutional amendments beyond the end of Kuchma's term, when the presidential election is expected to bring not only a new president but also a change in the political climate and ruling elites. (Jan Maksymiuk)

GOOD NEWS FROM UKRAINE. On 28 January the presidential administration's Department for Information Policy began sending, on a daily basis, "Good News from Ukraine" newspapers to the Ukrainian diaspora. The first issue included a cover letter signed by the head of the department, Serhiy Vasylyev, stating that when used, "Good News" should be cited as the source (i.e., not the presidential administration).

The "news media project," as Vasylyev called it, aims to accomplish three things. Firstly, by its very title the "media project" seeks to counter Ukraine's bad international image. "Good News from Ukraine" is the latest example of Ukraine's elites attempting to undertake various projects to counter this image, all with little success to date. It follows the creation in June 2001 of the Ukrayina Cognita NGO, after Ukraine's international image took a dive during the Kuchmagate scandal.

Secondly, the Department for Information Policy was created after Viktor Medvedchuk became head of the presidential administration in May, and its policies reflect his more aggressive style. The Department for Information Policy has 38 staffers and is one of the largest in the presidential administration (the departments of Foreign Policy and of Economics have 23 and 26, respectively).

The department was reportedly implicated in the release of "temnyky" (instructions to television stations on what to cover and ignore) in the summer-fall of 2002. Vasylyev attempted to counter criticism of growing censorship voiced within Ukraine and in the Council of Europe by organizing weekly surveys of the Ukrainian media showing how free it was in its criticism of the executive. These surveys were then sent to the Council of Europe's Hanne Severinsen. Vasylyev stopped producing these surveys after Severinsen publicly ridiculed them in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Thirdly, the aim is to influence the Ukrainian diaspora through its media outlets. The thinking behind the "media project" and the tactics used are similar to those in the Soviet era when Tovarystvo Ukrayiny (Society for Cultural Relations with Ukrainians Abroad) published a weekly newspaper in English and Ukrainian entitled "News from Ukraine/Visti z Ukrayiny," which was unavailable inside Ukraine. Tovarystvo Ukrayiny had limited appeal except with Ukrainian communist groups in the U.S. and Canada. "News from Ukraine/Visti z Ukrayiny" specialized in publishing attacks on Ukrainian nationalist emigres as well as accusations of their involvement in war crimes during World War II.

Will the presidential administration be more successful in influencing the Ukrainian diaspora than Tovarystvo Ukrayiny? Unlike when "News from Ukraine/Visti z Ukrayiny" was published, "Good News from Ukraine" is appearing during the age of the Internet. Many different news sources on Ukraine are now available and most newspapers in Ukraine also appear on the web. "Good News from Ukraine" therefore has much competition from other, far better sources of information.

Why is "Good News from Ukraine" only sent to diaspora publications? Presumably because Western media outlets, just like the Council of Europe, would find the style and tone of information produced by the presidential administration unusable. There is also an assumption that diaspora organizations remain influential within the Western media and governments, something which is highly questionable.

"Good News from Ukraine" is also highly biased towards issues beloved by the Ukrainian diaspora. These include a heavy dose of articles devoted to language, culture, nationalist movements in the 1940s (the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, OUN, and Ukrainian Insurgent Army, UPA), and steps taken by President Kuchma in honor of nationalist events or historical figures.Marco Levytsky, editor of Canada's largest Ukrainian newspaper, the biweekly, Edmonton-based "Ukrainian News/Ukrayinski Visti," finds it suspicious that "Good News from Ukraine" is so heavily slated towards the news that the diaspora so wants to read. As Levytsky asks, "If the presidential administration feels so favorably about OUN-UPA, why don't they rehabilitate them on the national level, and why don't they send these stories to newspapers in eastern Ukraine, which is where the most education about OUN-UPA is needed?" "Good News from Ukraine" published a telegram dated 13 March and sent to the family of Yaroslava Stetsko, head of the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, who died the day before. Yet, neither Kuchma nor Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych attended her funeral three days later.

"Good News from Ukraine" is unlikely to be used by editors from the younger generation and those who edit non-party newspapers, such as "Ukrainian News/Ukrayinski Visti." It will, however, be favorably received by newspapers linked to the OUN-b (Stepan Bandera) or OUN-m (Andriy Melnyk) and where editors belong to the older generation. This reflects similar divisions in Ukraine that have existed within the national-democratic camp between nationalist derzhavnyky (statists) and reformist anticommunist oppositionists since 1992. The division still plagues Viktor Yushcheko's Our Ukraine, preventing it from fully moving into the opposition camp. Derzhavnyky place Ukrainian statehood above all else and see criticism of the president as destabilization of this statehood.

Only three months after "Good News from Ukraine" began to be issued, the World Congress of Ukrainians (WCU), led by OUN-b member Askold Lozynsky, issued an appeal "To Ukrainian National Central Representations in the Diaspora." This followed debates on the pages of "The Ukrainian Weekly," North America's large English-language newspaper, over how to respond to problems in Ukraine and whether criticism merely worsened Ukraine's image. The debates included letters from Lozynsky, former editor of New York's OUN-b "Natsyonalna Trybuna" newspaper Ihor Dlaboha, former head of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service Roman Kupchinsky, and others.

The WCU statement asked the diaspora organizations and media to "work towards a just and enlightened treatment of Ukraine." The WCU see Ukraine as "collateral damage" after 11 September 2001, when the U.S. allowed Russia to increase its influence over Ukraine. The WCU has been a strong critic of the "amoral" Bush administration in what it sees as its double standards towards Ukraine and in its Iraq policy. These views within the nationalist wing of the Ukrainian diaspora reflect the suspicion that Russia is behind the Kuchmagate scandal.

In a similar pattern to recent claims of double standards by the presidential administration, the WCU statement also says, "Unfortunately, Ukraine has been singled out as one of the most corrupt and abusive countries in the world," but that the West also has its fair share of similar problems. With such a similar political culture, "Good News from Ukraine" may therefore be relatively more successful than what Tovarystvo Ukrayiny ever hoped to achieve.

"This is no threat to the freedom of expression in Ukraine. But this will simply teach many people to correctly and politely behave in their posts. This will teach many people to choose words. This will instill good manners in many people, in the event they were not taught them in childhood, at school, or at the educational institutions where they studied journalism. Possibly, many people will be forced to eventually educate themselves in law. Before they start talking idly, they will have to think about vocabulary." -- Serhiy Vasylyev, head of the Ukrainian presidential administration's Department for Information Policy, commenting to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on 11 April on the recent opening of a number of criminal cases against media outlets for allegedly defaming the president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2003).

"Whom are you trying to scare, beggar? I'll repeat here to all such shits: I said once that if I could help better without my head than with it in the struggle for my country, Ukraine without Kuchma, I would take it, my head, and bring it to them on Bankova Street [the presidential office in Kyiv]. Choke on it, you greedy dogs! But choke on it up to the full, final, irrevocable death of your damned regime, which has deprived people for many years to come of the political, economic, moral, and spiritual benefits that independence offered to them. They own the country, rule the country, hold the country outside of any civilized norms whatsoever, and we cannot cope with them and deliver the country from them, because we too frequently cover our fear of the regime with the need to act only within the framework of civilized norms." -- Journalist Tetyana Korobova, responding to Vasylyev in the 14-20 April issue of "Hrani," the Kyiv-based weekly linked to the Socialist Party.

"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.

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION ABANDONS CAMPAIGN TO OUST PRESIDENT. The leaders of Our Ukraine, the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc signed a joint memorandum on 14 April presenting their vision for political reform in the country, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. The memorandum proposes that the president, the Verkhovna Rada, and local-government bodies work until the end of their current terms. The document also advocates preserving the country's unicameral parliamentary system, giving parliament the authority to approve prime ministers (nominated by the president) and all cabinet ministers (nominated by the premier), and giving the president the power to dissolve parliament if lawmakers fail to gather for a session within 30 days after elections or if they cannot form a cabinet within 60 days after the inaugural session. The memorandum -- signed by party leaders Viktor Yushchenko, Petro Symonenko. Oleksandr Moroz, and Yuliya Tymoshenko -- appears to be an opposition reaction to a purported attempt to extend President Leonid Kuchma's term via a bill on political reform submitted to the Verkhovna Rada last month (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 15 April 2003). JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKERS MAY BE TAKEN TO COURT WITHOUT PARLIAMENTARY APPROVAL. The Ukrainian Constitutional Court ruled on 14 April that Verkhovna Rada deputies may be held accountable for administrative offenses without prior approval from parliament if the related pretrial or post-trial processes do not involve detention or arrest, Interfax reported. The decision effectively allows authorities to skirt guarantees of parliamentary immunity in such cases. Rulings by the Constitutional Court are binding on the entire territory of Ukraine and are not subject to appeal. JM

MOLDOVA GETS 'FRIENDLY SIGNAL' FROM EU. EU foreign ministers, meeting in Luxembourg on 14 April to discuss the organization's relations with its future neighbors after enlargement, agreed there is a need to cast the EU's "area of peace, prosperity, and security" as far beyond its borders as possible, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Although no general agreement was reached on what might be offered to the EU's new neighbors, EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said, "It is natural that the question of EU membership is always a topic whenever our ties with Moldova and Ukraine are discussed, and it is true that the door cannot remain closed in the long term." This seems to be a reversal of the position expressed by European Commission President Romano Prodi, who has repeatedly ruled out membership of those countries in the foreseeable future. Verheugen cautioned both Moldova and Ukraine, however, that "greater clarity" needs to be achieved in the short term on how the EU can "credibly and consistently" improve its relations with those countries. EU Foreign Policy Coordinator Javier Solana said the EU should involve itself more in attempts to solve the Transdniester crisis. MS