Revolution Comes to Ukraine
time in November 2000 (reports vary on the exact day) a decapitated
body was found in the Ukrainian town of Tarashcha, about fifty
miles outside of the capital, Kiev. The body was badly mutilated.
Its skin had been burned off with acid in many places, including
the hands and fingers, making fingerprint identification impossible.
Forensic examiners in Tarashcha quickly issued a death certificate
identifying the body as that of Georgi Gongadze, a journalist
who had disappeared in mid-September.
body was taken to Kiev, where authorities put it under lock and
key, denying even Gongadze’s relatives access to the corpse. Without
further tests, the authorities in Kiev refused to identify the
body as that of Gongadze, as the Tarashcha officials had done.
this point, rumors had already been circulating for a few weeks
that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma had ordered Gongadze’s
elimination in retribution for critical articles the journalist
had published on the Internet. Suddenly, an online newspaper called
Ukrainska Pravda was internationally famous as a maverick
publication that had dared to speak out against Kuchma and the
endemic corruption of Ukraine. Gongadze had become a martyr and
the focus of demonstrations in cities around the republic. Kuchma
denied any wrongdoing from the beginning, claiming he’d never
even heard of the missing journalist.
November 28th, 2000, former Ukrainian Speaker of Parliament
and Socialist Party (SPU) leader Alexander Moroz suddenly announced
that he possessed a series of audio recordings of Kuchma and some
of his cronies discussing ways of killing Gongadze. He said he
had received the tapes from a former member of Kuchma’s security
detail, now in hiding abroad, who had made the recordings by hiding
digital equipment under a couch in Kuchma’s office. When the content
of the tapes was publicized, Kuchma admitted his voice was on
the tapes but insisted the pieces of conversation pertaining to
Gongadze were the product of manipulation and editing. He still
claimed never to have known of Gongadze.
than two weeks after Moroz’s revelations, three members of the
Ukrainian parliament left the country for an undisclosed destination
to meet the ex-security service (SBU) officer who claimed to have
made the recordings. They returned to Ukraine with a videotaped
interview of 34-year-old SBU Maj. Nikolai Melnichenko, who said
he had made the tapes to put a stop to the criminal activities
of the regime. He also said he had quit the SBU at the beginning
of November (at the exact time most press reports say the headless
corpse was found in Tarashcha), fleeing the country soon thereafter.
January 10th, 2001, Ukrainian Procurator-General Mikhail
Potebenko reported to the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) that a DNA
test by his office and Russian experts showed with a "99.66%
probability" that the decapitated corpse was Gongadze’s.
Due to the extent of decay, however, he refused to state "categorically"
that it was the journalist’s body, and called for further tests.
Potebenko also told the Rada that it was impossible to establish
the authenticity of the cassette recordings, which he said had
been doctored and edited in places.
REVOLUTION GETS ROLLING
this time, Kuchma was feeling the heat. Western media were regularly
reporting that anti-Kuchma demonstrations in Ukrainian cities
were attracting 5,000-10,000. A "Ukraine Without Kuchma"
movement was making a lot of noise, led by leaders of various
right-nationalist parties united with Moroz’s SPU. Western governments
and multilateral organizations expressed their "concern"
over the Gongadze case and freedom of speech in Ukraine generally.
Kuchma looked increasingly agitated in TV appearances, meanwhile,
and what he had initially dismissed as a provocation led by a
few politically marginal people seemed to be rapidly snowballing
into a full-scale Western campaign to get rid of him.
February 28th, the Vienna-based International Press
Institute (IPI) released a report on the Melnichenko tapes. The
IPI said that while it was difficult to believe that the hundreds
of hours of conversation on the tapes could have been produced
by editing or doctoring, the same could not be said for the approximately
25 minutes of the recordings pertaining to the Gongadze case.
This portion, said IPI, could conceivably have been manipulated
or doctored by a "potential aggressor." In other words,
the result was inconclusive.
anti-Kuchma campaign barely flinched. A "Tent City"
set up on Kiev’s main drag, Khreshchatik, had become a focus of
attention for Western leaders over the course of some weeks. US
congressmen came to Ukraine and somehow failed to notice that
most of the attention the Tent City had attracted was in the form
of disgust at the hygiene problem it was creating. Siding with
the assorted drunken skinheads and their panhandling little siblings,
they called on the Ukrainian authorities to leave the Tent City
March 1st, US billionaire currency speculator George
Soros – who had been active in funding NGOs in Ukraine since before
the Soviet breakup – published an opinion in the Financial
Times calling for Kuchma to step down.
Mr. Kuchma cares about Ukraine’s survival as an independent
democratic state, he must take responsibility for his actions
and hand over duties to the prime minister, the constitutionally
designated successor, pending the results of the investigation.
The west must take a clear position, denouncing Mr. Kuchma’s
behavior and his actions. There is no way for the international
community to continue to do business with Mr. Kuchma until
an impartial investigation has been completed and those responsible
are held to account.
the same day, a twenty-minute sweep operation by Kiev police removed
the Tent City in response to a municipal court order. No serious
injuries were reported among the 42 arrests, although Western
media were at pains to portray the action as police brutality.
US Ambassador Carlos Pascuale appeared on Ukrainian TV (allegedly
tightly controlled by the dictatorial Kuchma’s allies) to express
his concern over the police action, and released a previously
prepared statement by President Bush, urging Kuchma to adhere
to "the rule of law" and the goal of "Euro-Atlantic"
integration. US State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher called
on Ukrainian leaders to "observe their international commitment
to freedom of assembly," and for Kuchma to obey his country’s
constitution. European Union Foreign Minister Anna Lindh said
the EU was "very worried about developments regarding political
freedom, media freedom and the specific case of the disappeared
journalist." Ukrainian opposition figures were shown on television
denouncing the tyrannical regime, and former Justice Minister
Sergei Golovaty – one of the three MPs who had traveled abroad
to interview Melnichenko – even declared that "practically,
martial law exists" in Ukraine.
the morning of March 9th, the "Ukraine Without
Kuchma" movement planned to block the president when he came
to lay flowers at the foot of the Taras Shevchenko monument in
Shevchenko Park, in honor of the Ukrainian poet’s birthday. When
the big day came, the revolutionaries were late. At 9:30 am, there
were about 2,000 people in front of the Shevchenko statue, and
about a third of them looked like either reporters or passers-by
who had come to check out the commotion. The number of active
participants looked to be about 200. This was the crowd that Western
media described as starting off at around 10,000 and swelling
to a violent horde of 18,000 by the afternoon.
to people at the scene, Kuchma had already come and gone. At 4
a.m., police had cordoned off the park, so that when Kuchma arrived
shortly after daybreak he proceeded to the monument without confrontation.
The few demonstrators who were there confined themselves to shouting
matches with the police. After Kuchma left, the police removed
the barricades and the demonstrators started to arrive in greater
numbers. Angry at having missed the action, they vowed to march
on the presidential building.
couple of Ukrainian reporters smirked as they recounted the story,
but how could such grave and momentous events be treated as a
joke? A stroll among the numerous big red banners of the UNA-UNSO
(Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian People’s Self-Defense Organization)
revealed the seriousness of the occasion. Many UNA-UNSO warriors
wore paramilitary gear, black and red armbands, and bandannas
over their faces. Someone had spread a vicious rumor that these
young freedom fighters had a reputation for drunken brawling.
They certainly did look belligerent in their leather biker jackets
and earrings. One gallant dissenter was vomiting behind a tree,
his condition undoubtedly a symptom of the tremendous will he
had been forced to summon for the pursuit of his noble cause.
It couldn’t be drunkenness. It was far too early in the morning
lunchtime the violent confrontations were broadcast on the TV
news. The protesters had struck a decisive blow! Truncheon-wielding
police had beaten some of the intrepid revolutionaries less than
a mile from Shevchenko Park. The protesters caused some injuries,
took a little beating here or there, and inhaled some tear gas.
Kuchma, meanwhile, was in western Ukraine inspecting damage from
recent flooding in the region.
printable version of this article
to Chad Nagle
Nagle is a professional writer and lawyer licensed in the District
of Columbia. He has been published in the Wall Street Journal
Europe, the Washington Times, and several other periodicals. Mr.
Nagle traveled extensively throughout the ex-USSR from 1992-97
as a research consultant. Since mid-1999, he has traveled widely
in the former Communist bloc on behalf of the British
Helsinki Human Rights Group.
column, At the End of History, appears alternate Fridays
articles by Chad Nagle
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Oasis In The Heart Of Europe
Joins the West
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Twilight of Sovereignty in Azerbaijan
Ukrainian Model of Democracy
Slow Strangulation of Democracy in Slovakia
Buchanan and the American Reformation
Betrayal of Democracy in Post-Soviet Georgia
REVOLUTIONARY APPROACH TO REPORTING
of all, who was – or is – Gongadze? According to "Ukraine
Without Kuchma," he was a brave reporter who dared to uncover
the truth and tell his fellow countrymen about it on the Internet.
Western mainstream media has consistently carried this line. Problem:
the Internet was practically the only place Gongadze ever published
anything. Since less than 1% of the Ukrainian population has ever
had access to the Internet, Gongadze wasn’t famous before the
murder scandal broke and almost no one had heard of Ukrainska
the headless corpse discovery smelled rotten from the start. Official
reports about how and where the body was found were so varied
and conflicting it was impossible to know what to believe. For
example, Tarashcha is a small city about 50 miles south of Kiev
(about 75 miles by road). Yet BBC News Online reported
that the body was found "in a rubbish tip by the side of
the road near Tarashcha, 75 miles north of Kiev"!
The Independent newspaper in Britain also reported that
the body was found north of the capital. As for how it was disposed
of, FT.com said "a corpse believed to be that of Mr.
Gongadze was found buried at a crossroads with one arm sticking
out of the ground." Well, which was it – one arm sticking
out of the ground, or the rubbish tip by the side of the road?
Other reports have put the body on the outskirts or suburbs of
the initial identification of the corpse was evidently based on
the fact that a necklace and bracelet found on the body belonged
to Gongadze. The body was so badly mutilated and skinned that
even the journalist’s mother and wife couldn’t say for sure whether
it was his. The editorials of the Kyiv Post – a glitzy
newspaper published in both English and Ukrainian whose editorial
board is made up entirely of ex-pats – had chimed in week after
week attacking Kuchma as a murderous tyrant, joining the "Ukraine
Without Kuchma" movement’s calls for the president to step
down, and presuming the body was Gongadze’s. Yet if anything was
clear it was the unclear identity of the headless corpse. In March,
a DNA test in Munich resulted in a finding that the body was not,
in all likelihood, that of Georgi Gongadze. In other words, no
one could be sure the journalist was even dead.
NUCLEUS OF THE REVOLUTION
is Maj. Melnichenko? Interestingly, more than one person in Kiev
described the young SBU officer as "Lazarenko’s man."
Pavel Lazarenko was Ukraine’s prime minister for a couple of years
before he fled the country, allegedly with several hundred million
dollars tucked away in offshore accounts. About three years ago,
Lazarenko was imprisoned in the United States for embezzlement.
his tenure as premier, Lazarenko acted as the government patron
for a private gas marketing corporation called Unified Energy
Systems of Ukraine (UESU), which was essentially set up to resell
natural gas siphoned illegally off the Russian pipeline running
through Ukraine to the West. One of UESU’s chief beneficiaries
was the lovely Yulia Timoshenko, who – with her husband – may
have reaped as much as $1 billion running the corporation. Timoshenko
was made Deputy Premier for the Energy Sector by the current premier,
Viktor Yushchenko, and put in charge of "reforming"
the gas industry. However, Timoshenko’s government tenure took
the gaspipe in mid-February this year, when she was jailed in
Kiev for fraud and tax evasion. Her husband has been in prison
since last year.
does all this have to do with Kuchma? "Kuchma has failed
to fulfill Washington’s expectations in creating a favorable climate
for Western business," says Oleg Grachev, a member of parliament
from the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU). "When Yushchenko
became prime minister, the next phase of American policy began,
which involved attempting to install Yushchenko as president."
But how? "Lazarenko will testify to Kuchma’s corruption,
and Kuchma may be forced not only to resign, but to go to jail,"
Grachev says. In other words, Lazarenko used Melnichenko to arrange
the Gongadze operation and thus improve his [Lazarenko’s] chances
of getting a get-out-of-jail-free card. "We were approached
about participating in the tape recording plot and refused,"
reveals Grachev. "Later, we found out Moroz was using the
tapes." According to Grachev, Moroz had seized an offer to
publicize the tapes to halt his slide toward political outsider
status after losing his Speaker post. "If the plan succeeds,
Kuchma will ask for a pardon, as Yeltsin did, and Washington will
install Yushchenko as president after three months."
Boyko, a member of parliament from the National Movement of Ukraine
(NRU) for Unity (one of three split-offs from the right-wing group
once collectively known as "Rukh") is more blunt. "The
West is carrying out operations here on behalf of Yushchenko without
any concern for the interests of Ukraine," he says. "There
is an attempt underway to mechanically apply the Yugoslav model."
Okay, but who’s in on it? "[Rival Rukh leader Yuri] Kostenko,
[Reform & Order leader Viktor] Pynzennik, and [Fatherland
leader Yulia] Timoshenko are acting as agents of western intelligence
by financing political provocations in Ukraine." These "thieves,"
claims Boyko, hope to avoid jail by abolishing the presidential
republic. And Moroz? "Moroz is a sick man," he says
bitterly. "Our party analyzed the affair and concluded that
before February 26th Nikolai Melnichenko was located
on a NATO base somewhere in Sustenberg, the Netherlands."
Socialist Party (PSPU) leader Natalya Vitrenko, who was injured
by a hand grenade thrown into one of her presidential campaign
rallies in 1999, says, "The PSPU is the most anti-Kuchma
party in Ukraine. But the Melnichenko cassettes are a trick, and
we couldn’t side with Moroz when he accused the president."
She is no more forgiving of the West than Boyko is. "US attempts
to use the politics of western Ukraine to control the whole country
are futile," she says. "If the West applies the Yugoslav
model to Ukraine it will result in a catastrophe for Europe."
EBB IN THE REVOLUTIONARY TIDE
may have staved off the inevitable for now, but it’s doubtful
he can stem the tide of the Glorious Revolution indefinitely.
Kuchma cannot be allowed to continue his move away from NATO and
the West since winning a second term in 1999, regardless of what
most Ukrainians want. Democracy is one thing, but it can’t hold
a candle to the March of History.
one thing, Ukraine is too honest. Ukrainians have come to refer
to the ruling political elite in their republic as – seriously
– "the Oligarchs." The Oligarchs are a group of parliamentarians
and other leading politicians who have amassed tremendous wealth
in the post-Soviet era by using their political offices to gain
control of Ukraine’s most productive resources and enterprises.
Now, it’s okay by us to have oligarchs, obviously. In fact, we
like oligarchs. But you can’t call them that, for Christ’s
sake! It’s embarrassing. Yushchenko understands the need to "reform"
that little social habit right down the memory hole. Lies and
lectures are an important part of our Western culture, and if
Ukraine wants to be part of it, Ukrainians are going to have to
learn how not to call a spade a spade.
for ordinary Ukrainians – getting by on an average salary of $46
a month, an average pension of $12 a month, and trying to heat
their apartments with Yulia Timoshenko’s gas at $18 a month –
well, you all will manage somehow. It’s reform, you see. Our hollow
sanctimony wins; you lose. Nothing personal, just business, and
here’s a swift kick in the face to help you remember that. "If
the current desperate situation continues, Ukraine will either
have a social revolution or fascism," says Natalya Vitrenko.
Why not try a little fascism, Natasha? Just ask the UNA-UNSO demonstrators.
They’ll tell you how you can get some more money if you really
were always pro-Western and pro-American," says Bogdan Boyko
angrily. "But now we’re reexamining our position." He
says the Verkhovna Rada is considering expelling Ambassador Pascuale
from the country. "Ousting Kuchma will not bring Yushchenko
to power but the Communists, so we’ll do everything in our power
to stop it," he says. "Liquidating presidential power
in Ukraine will result in a loss of our independence." Yeah,
but why would you want to be independent from us? "If
this continues, Ukraine will become anti-American." Oh, you
mean the Ukrainian people? You’re kidding, right?!
a serious operation as installing Yushchenko as president has
to involve foreign intelligence services, particularly the CIA,"
says Oleg Grachev. Are you suggesting that the fine folks at the
CIA would involve themselves in something as grisly as murder
by decapitation and leaving a headless corpse where anyone could
find it? "The hand of the CIA is evident in all the methods
and technology of the Melnichenko recordings." Yeah, so what
are you going to do about it, tough guy? "In April the parliament
will decide on a vote of no-confidence in Yushchenko’s government.
If Kuchma can hang on until then, Washington’s protégé
will be out of the premiership and be at a distinct disadvantage
in presidential elections," Grachev muses. "But if Kuchma
resigns before we vote, then Yushchenko automatically becomes
acting president and is almost guaranteed victory in the elections
after three months, because he will control all the media regional
apparats." Well, you certainly seem sure about your parliamentary
vote, pal. Didn’t you know that money talks, and little red flag-shaped
lapel pins walk? It’s called "buying votes." You know,
like in the Academy Awards. By the way, Oleg, didn’t you think
Gladiator was overrated?
REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE DENIED
that’s the Ukrainian Revolution. The bold young reformer Viktor
Yushchenko – who many Ukrainians say stashed millions of dollars
of Western credits in his own private bank in Cyprus just to cream
cool multi-millions off in interest overnight – is our man, the
Great White Hope of Reform. You needn’t care, of course, if you’re
content to picture children of the future reading history books
about the irrepressible "popular" movement that forced
an old Soviet Sad Sack President Kuchma out of office so a glory
boy Westernizer like Yushchenko (whose American wife Ukrainians
believed to be a State Department employee) could answer the people’s
calling. By then, history as written by the Winners will have
long ago consigned this little "conspiracy theory" to
take this little Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty blurb from less
than a year ago:
into account the latest outburst of popular love for and confidence
in the president during Ukraine’s constitutional referendum, Kuchma
may be said to be one of the most successful politicians on the
RFE/RL Report, Apr. 25, 2000 (Vol. 2, No. 16).
can just see myself shaking this in the face of an RFE/RL official
a few years from now, after the authorized history of Ukraine
has condemned Kuchma to ignominy forever.
you published this! You wrote that Kuchma was so loved
by his people they voted by 80% to expand his presidential powers,
and within months you became implacably opposed to him! You’re
nothing but a mouthpiece for power."
[shrug] Prove it."
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