Between Belarus and Watergate
Last week Ukraine was shaken (and still has not yet recovered) by two extraordinary events: bad weather and a political scandal.
On Tuesday morning deputies of the national Parliament discussed several urgent bills and listened to a report by representative Nina Karpachova on the question of human rights and freedoms in the country. However, the report's negative evaluation of Ukraine was overshadowed by events that defined the political activity for the rest of the week.
Leader of Ukrainian socialists Olexandr Moroz accused President Leonid Kuchma and other high-ranking officials of being responsible for the disappearance and possible murder of the independent journalist Georgy Gongadze. Gongadze disappeared more than two months ago. Police have been slow to investigate the disappearance and have failed to clarify the situation. A week ago a beheaded body was found near Kyiv which friends of Gongadze identified as possibly his. Results of the medical examination have not yet been announced.
Moroz's sensational accusation was first published by the Interfax news agency. Moroz revealed that he has in his possession an audio recoding implicating an official in the disapearance of Gongadze. On the tape voices similar to those of the president, the minister of internal affairs and the head of the presidential administration discussed ways to eliminate Gongadze from actively voicing his political views.
The recording was allegedly made by an officer of the security services during a two to three month period. The officer has since left the country but has agreed to testify in court as to the authenticity of the tape. Moroz also declared that the tape had been checked abroad using specially designed equipment and that the results supported his claim.
However, on Friday Dutch journalist Corine de Vries, one of the first Western journalists to publish an article on the issue after she interviewed Moroz for the national newspaper de Volkskrant, informed Radio Liberty that that Dutch specialists had been unable to guarantee the authenticity of the tapes.
Dutch specialists explained that the poor quality of the tape and the additional background sounds make it difficult to provide a clear identification of the voices. The testimony of the officer who taped the conversations is therefore crucial evidence. Nonetheless, the Ukraine Security Service has announced that it would be impossible to make such a recording in certain rooms of the presidential building because of technical and physical difficulties. The Security Services also tentatively declared that the high moral standards of its officers would prevent them from performing such an activity.
Moroz faces slander case
Head of the Presidential Administration Litvin, who was implicated in the scandal, has appealed to the court to begin criminal proceedings against Moroz for slander. Mr Litvin has evaluated the moral damage he has suffered at 33 hryvnas (appox. USD 6).
The deputies of Parliament have differing opinions of the situation. Some have argued that it is a ploy by Moroz to increase his popularity whilst others have suggested that it is an attempt to instigate a proper investigation into freedom of speech within the country. Two temporary commissions have been established by Parliament to investigate the disappearance of the journalist. A new commission is due to be created in order to check the relevance and authenticity of the evidence presented by Moroz against President Kuchma.
Opinions of events
Attending the meeting of the Commonwealth of Independent States' leaders last Thursday and Friday, President Kuchma provided his vision of events: "This is a provocation, possibly with involvement of the foreign special services," the national media quoted.
The European Parliament's Commission on Cooperation with Ukraine has sent a letter to the Speaker of the Ukraine National Parliament, Ivan Plushch, requesting clarification of the situation. Proof of Moroz's accusations could seriously endanger future relations between Ukraine and the European Parliament.
The Russian media has presented two explanations of events. Either the Ukrainian oligarchs are no longer satisfied with Kuchma as president and have made a decision to dismiss him using the opposition, or this is the 'hand of Moscow' which has also complained about Kuchma's presidential performance during the last few months.
Moroz himself is ready to provide answers in court and does not have any doubts about the authenticity of the tape or about the role of the president in Gongadze's disappearance.
The political scandal is far from over and the outcome is not clear. For now, perhaps the best conclusion has been made by Radio Liberty journalist Serhiy Grabovsky: "So, putting aside all hypothetical assumptions, let us try to make conclusions. As it comes out, the major problem is not whether Moroz tells the truth or not. The problem is different: what can society do with this truth and is Ukrainian society in general able to do something as a subject of the political life of the state?"
The reaction of Ukrainian society was minimal when Gongadze disappeared; now Ukrainian society is silent in its complaints. In general, Ukrainian society normally agrees with the Ukrainian authorities and does not have its own position. Can this society produce any reaction to the situation when the famous leader of the opposition (who has, according to the opinion polls, high levels of popularity in society) accuses the president of the country (who has been elected for the second term by the majority of society) as being responsible for a possible murder? Unfortunately, it seems that Ukrainian society will again decide that it is not its business to influence and direct political life in the country, especially this week when Ukrainian society was busy with its regular business—survival.
Winter has come, as always— unexpectedly
This week unexpected snowstorms paralysed a large part of the country, disrupting energy and water supply systems. Several regions of the country are almost totally isolated from the outside world. Approximately 4000 villages and towns were damaged by the storm and are without electricity and regular food supplies. Only six out of fourteen power stations have continued to work. Ukrainian railways have also been disrupted. Passenger trains were up to two days late and normal services have not yet resumed. Schools and kindergartens in damaged areas are closed. The severe weather is expected to continue through the weekend.
And in other news...
- Ukraine has decided not to blockade the consensus of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in the elections of a new High Commissioner on National Minorities. Ukrainian delegates had suggested Borys Tarasyuk, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, for the post. Although the Ukrainian diplomat was supported by nearly twenty countries from the region, Ukraine had to withdraw his candidacy in favour of the Swedish representative who was nominated as a single candidate from the countries of the European Union and the United States.
- On Thursday and Friday, high officials of the country including President Kuchma, Prime Minister Yushchenko and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Zlenko were in Minsk for participation in the summit of the leaders of Commonwealth of Independent States.
Natalya Krasnoboka, 1 December 2000
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Den', Daily national newspaper
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Ukrainska Pravda, Online independent
Facts, Daily national newspaper
The Kyiv Post, National weekly in English
UA Today, Information server
Korrespondent.net, Online newspaper
Unian, Information agency
Interfax, Information agency
Proua, Information agency
NG, Russian national newspaper
UTRO, Russian online newspaper
BBC, British online news agency
de Volkskrant, Dutch national newspaper