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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: April 9, 2002


9 April 2002, Volume 4, Number 14
BELARUS
LONG-TIME BELARUSIAN-LANGUAGE NEWSPAPER GOES INTO LIQUIDATION. The state-controlled Belarusian-language newspaper "Chyrvonaya zmena" (Red Successors), which survived for 81 years, was recently ordered by the Information Ministry to merge with the Belarusian-language daily "Zvyazda" in connection with the lack of funding for issuing it as a separate publication, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported last week. At the same time, the ministry ordered a 20 percent reduction of the "Chyrvonaya zmena" editorial staff ("Chyrvonaya zmena" appears three times a week).

The Belarusian Union of Youth (BSM, known in the Soviet era as Komsomol), which acts as the founder of "Chyrvonaya zmena," has announced that it is still interested in the future of the newspaper. BSM First Secretary Ala Danilava told RFE/RL that, depending on state subsidies, "Chyrvonaya zmena" may become a weekly supplement to "Zvyazda" or simply a page in the daily.

Some commentators in Belarus see the liquidation of "Chyrvonaya zmena" as yet another step in the deliberate policy of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's administration to wipe out all publications in the Belarusian language in the country.

Mikola Markevich, the editor in chief of the closed Belarusian-language weekly "Pahonya," told RFE/RL: "Today I can simply say -- while having facts in my hands to support my point -- that a devilish plan is underway to destroy the Belarusian-language information area...["Chyrvonaya zmena" is facing shutdown] despite the fact that it is a pro-government, state-run newspaper, despite the fact that it has never taken a democratic approach to reporting on events. It is obvious that for the people who have made up this plan, the main criterion is the Belarusian language. Because the Belarusian language in itself carries a potential protest against the dictatorship, against [the restoration of] the empire. It is actually the only difference, the only barrier separating Belarus from the Northwestern Krai [ed. note: the name of Belarusian lands in tsarist Russia]. This is why the Belarusian language is the main enemy of the current authorities."

When "Chyrvonaya zmena" ceases to appear as a separate publication, "Zvyazda" will remain the only state-run nationwide Belarusian-language newspaper in Belarus.

UKRAINE
MEDIA WATCHDOG FINDS CAMPAIGN COVERAGE BIASED. On 1 April, the European Institute for the Media (EIM), a nonprofit, nongovernmental research institution, published a preliminary report on its monitoring of media coverage during the parliamentary election in Ukraine (a period from 10-31 March). This was the fourth EIM media-monitoring mission in Ukraine. The project was partly funded by the European Commission.

The EIM concluded that on the whole, voters were not well served by the Ukrainian media during the election period, in terms of having access to impartial and balanced information about the parties/blocs involved in the election. Media coverage on the UT-1, Inter, ICTV, and 1+1 television channels in particular was found to be biased in favor of For a United Ukraine and the Social Democratic Party Ukraine-united (SDPU-o), and against the opposition parties. The print media tended to be partisan and not to distinguish between editorial opinion and news coverage. In a positive note, the EIM said the media provided voters with a wide range and large volume of information that could have assisted them in making their political choices.

Some of the EIM findings regarding Ukraine's most-prominent nationwide media outlets (TV channels and newspapers) are reproduced below:

Television channels

UT-1

The state broadcaster failed to live up to standards of impartiality and balance provided by the election law. During the three weeks of EIM monitoring, the main state broadcaster devoted nearly 8 1/2 hours of coverage during prime time to the party of power -- For a United Ukraine. The next-most-mentioned party after For a United Ukraine was Winter Crop Generation with just under two hours of coverage. The discrepancy between coverage of For a United Ukraine and other parties was explained by the head of the channel as being a result of having to cover party representatives carrying out their government duties. However, the fact that the party of power received more than four times the amount of coverage devoted to any of the other parties, plus the demonstrably positive tone of that coverage, showed a bias on the part of the state broadcaster. This was a clear breach of the election rules and a continuation of the practices of the state broadcaster in all previous elections monitored by the EIM. Negative coverage on UT-1 was noted in particular toward the Our Ukraine and Yuliya Tymoshenko blocs, both parties in opposition to the government. The party of power also had 52 percent of all news coverage on UT-1, compared to 13 percent for Our Ukraine. The tone of news coverage was also positive toward For a United Ukraine, while coverage of Our Ukraine tended to be negative.

Inter

The private broadcaster Inter continued its practices of 1998 and 1999 by devoting the majority of its coverage during the monitored period to the SDPU-o, demonstrating a clear bias in favor of this party. It also devoted a large amount of positive coverage to the For a United Ukraine bloc. Our Ukraine received the second-largest amount of time on the channel, but nearly 80 percent of this time was devoted to negative and critical coverage.

ICTV

ICTV devoted the most airtime in this period to Winter Crop Generation, closely followed by For a United Ukraine. Coverage of Winter Crop and For a United Ukraine was positive for around 50 percent or more of the time allocated. Opposition parties like Our Ukraine, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and the Socialist Party, tended to receive negative coverage on this channel.

Studio 1+1

This privately owned channel devoted the most coverage in this period to the opposition party Our Ukraine, followed by the SDPU-o, For a United Ukraine, and the Democratic Union-Democratic Party. However, while the tone toward the For a United Ukraine bloc and the Democratic Union-Democratic Party was assessed as being either positive or neutral, coverage of the Our Ukraine bloc was assessed as more than 50 percent negative in character.

STB

The most frequently mentioned party/bloc on this channel was For a United Ukraine, followed by Our Ukraine. Coverage of the parties was mainly neutral, although small amounts of negative coverage were reported for the Our Ukraine bloc and the Communist Party.

New Channel

This private television channel devoted the most airtime to Winter Crop, For a United Ukraine, Our Ukraine, and the Greens Party. Apart from news programs, however, most of the party information was paid advertising, although the channel also took sponsorship from the above-mentioned parties for some entertainment programs. The tone was mainly neutral, with the exception that the coverage devoted to Winter Crop tended to be positive in nature.

Newspapers

State-funded

The state newspaper "Uryadovyy kuryer" demonstrated a clear bias in favor of the For a United Ukraine bloc, which had more than 14 times as much coverage as any of the other parties. The party of power was treated positively, while the small amount of space devoted to the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc was almost all negative. The parliamentary paper "Holos Ukrayiny" had a more fair distribution of information about the parties -- For a United Ukraine was still the most-mentioned party with a large amount of positive coverage, but Our Ukraine and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc came second and third in terms of quantity. Their coverage was mainly neutral. The only party to receive significant criticism in the paper was the Socialist Party.

Private and pro-government

The private "Fakty" newspaper devoted by far the most space to Winter Crop. Coverage of Winter Crop Generation and For a United Ukraine was positive, while significant amounts of coverage of the opposition Our Ukraine and Yuliya Tymoshenko blocs were almost all critical. "Kievskii telegraf" devoted the most space to Our Ukraine and For a United Ukraine. The paper demonstrated a clear bias in the tone of its coverage in favor of the pro-government For United Ukraine and against the opposition Our Ukraine bloc.

Private and pro-SDPU-o

"Kievskie vedemosti" devoted the most coverage to the SDPU-o and Our Ukraine in order to praise the qualities of the SDPU-o and criticize those of Our Ukraine. "Den" also devoted the most coverage to the SDPU-o in order to praise it. For a United Ukraine also received a large amount of coverage, although the tone was mainly neutral. The opposition Our Ukraine and Yuliya Tymoshenko blocs were singled out for criticism.

Private and pro-Socialist Party

"Silski visti" supported the Socialists, devoting by far the majority of its election coverage to this one party. Unity was well treated in the newspaper and For a United Ukraine was also mentioned, but normally in order to criticize it.

Private and pro-Our Ukraine

"Ukrayina moloda" devoted most of its coverage to Our Ukraine, which it covered mainly in a positive light. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc was also covered positively, while the For a United Ukraine bloc received criticism in the paper.

Private and pro-Tymoshenko

"Vechernie vesti" devoted most of its coverage to Tymoshenko in a positive way, while criticizing the pro-government parties.

Private and independent

"Dzerkalo tyzhnya" devoted most of its coverage in the three weeks of monitoring to a mix of parties: For a United Ukraine, the Socialist Party, the SDPU-o, the Communist Party, and Our Ukraine. Of these, most were treated neutrally, apart from the Communist Party, which received more than 70 percent negative coverage.

'ANTINATIONALIST' CAMPAIGN TO DISCREDIT OUR UKRAINE. The "party of power," represented by the election bloc For a United Ukraine (ZYU), recognized that it had little opportunity of winning votes in Ukrainophone western and central Ukraine in the 31 March parliamentary ballot. Therefore, in the same manner as in the 1994 presidential elections, President Leonid Kuchma sought to make a last stand in the more Sovietized and Russophone Donbas and other eastern Ukrainian oblasts. In Kuchma's 1994 campaign, Russian speakers were warned of the dangers of "Ukrainianization" if the incumbent, President Leonid Kravchuk, was returned to power.

In 2002, the authorities returned to traditional methods of mobilizing eastern Ukrainians by denouncing their opponents as "nationalists." Not surprisingly, the main target of this "anti-nationalist" campaign was Our Ukraine. On 28 February, fake Our Ukraine posters were placed in Kharkiv with headlines reading "Glory to Ukraine! Glory to Its Heroes!" The posters depicted Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko in a long line of nationalist leaders from Hetman Ivan Mazepa, who led a revolt against Russia in 1709, through to Symon Petlyura and Stepan Bandera, nationalist leaders in the 1910s and 1940s, respectively, to the former dissident and head of Rukh, Vyacheslav Chornovil.

ZYU's attempt to blacken Our Ukraine as a "nationalist" formation was assisted by Russian newspapers and television, which are still widely read and viewed in eastern Ukraine. Russian officials and Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin openly interfered in the elections by indirectly calling upon Ukrainians not to vote for Our Ukraine because it was "anti-Russian," i.e., "nationalist" in traditional Soviet parlance. The Ukrainian newspaper "Zerkalo nedeli/Dzerkalo tyzhnya" concluded that the executive, Kuchma's entourage, and Russian elites worked together "to produce an allergic reaction in people in Russian-speaking regions to Yushchenko and his supporters."

In early March, Ukrainian and Russian news agencies reported that the Ivano-Frankivsk city council had voted to recognize members of the Waffen SS Galicia Division as "freedom fighters" and thereby grant them pension rights. The Russian media played a major role in disseminating this false information, which was later reported by the Western media and condemned by Jewish organizations.

The issue became further clouded because the Social Democratic Party Ukraine-united (SDPU-o), fearing that it was going to lose votes in western Ukraine to the Our Ukraine bloc, tried to gain votes by playing the nationalist card. The SDPU-o argued that its leader, Viktor Medvedchuk, was the son of a repressed member of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), and claimed that it had prepared a draft law to rehabilitate the OUN and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). The SDPU-o's populism was evident during Medvedchuk's election campaign visit to Crimea on 15 March where he categorically rejected suggestions that the SDPU-o sought to rehabilitate the OUN and UPA.

The most vociferous condemnations of the discussions on the rehabilitation of the OUN and UPA and the alleged Ivano-Frankivsk city decree were by Russian media outlets, which quoted outraged Russian officials from the State Duma and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Russian media and officials portrayed these moves as the program of "national radicals" who dominated Our Ukraine. In reality, as Ivano-Frankivsk Mayor Zinoviy Shkutyak said, the council had only debated the issue, not adopted any decision. In his view, the reaction proved that this was "an attempt by certain political forces to influence the election process in Ukraine." This view was backed by "Zerkalo nedeli/Dzerkalo tyzhnya," which concluded that the Russian media portrayal of the entire affair was "largely inaccurate and designed to falsely portray the front-running Our Ukraine as Nazi supporters."

Suspicions were also aroused that this was an attempt to sully Our Ukraine when the Ivano-Frankivsk city councilor who proposed the motion to rehabilitate the Galicia Division was found to be a member of the SDPU-o. Our Ukraine distanced itself from the controversy surrounding the Galicia Division by referring to Yushchenko's father's service in World War II in the Soviet Army. Nevertheless, the damage may have already been done to Our Ukraine among eastern Ukrainian voters.

The assassination of Mykola Shkriblyak, Ivano-Frankivsk's deputy governor and head of the oblast organization of the SDPU-o, just two days before election day again raised suspicions. Shkriblyak was a candidate in election district No. 90 where Our Ukraine candidate Roman Zvarych was his main opponent. District No. 90 is the former constituency of Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists (KUN) leader Slava Stetsko (KUN is a member of the Our Ukraine election bloc). ZYU openly linked the assassination of Shkriblyak to the atmosphere created by the alleged campaign to rehabilitate the Galicia Division.

The assassination had all the hallmarks of the "attempted assassination" of Progressive Socialist Party leader Nataliya Vitrenko in the 1999 presidential elections in Krivyy Rih in an attempt to discredit Kuchma's main threat, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz. In the 2002 elections, the main threat to the authorities had changed to Our Ukraine.

Zvarych took up Ukrainian citizenship after renouncing his U.S. citizenship in the mid-1990s and was elected to the outgoing parliament as a member of Rukh. On 6 March, the ICTV channel controlled by Labor Ukraine, a member of ZYU, had already labeled Zvarych as a "national radical" who planned reprisals if Our Ukraine won the elections.

Targeting Shkriblyak, therefore, had two purposes: it further blackened Our Ukraine as a "nationalist" formation while contributing to the officially inspired anti-American campaign by pointing to Zvarych, like Yushchenko, as having American connections. The SDPU-o-controlled 1+1 and Inter television channels implicated Zvarych and the U.S. Embassy in the assassination attempt by citing reports from the SDPU-o newspaper "Kievskie vedomosti." The SDPU-o-controlled media also alleged that the U.S. Embassy had pressured Shkriblyak to withdraw his candidacy earlier in March.

The claim by SDPU-o leader Medvedchuk that the assassination was meant to remove the probable victor in constituency No. 90 is unlikely, as the SDPU-o obtained merely 2.5 percent of the vote in the region compared to Our Ukraine's 72 percent. Zvarych won the seat with 61 percent of the vote. Although it can never be ruled out that Shkriblyak's murder was business-related, there will remain suspicions that he was simply a patsy to discredit Our Ukraine. Ukrainians have a saying: "Beat your own so that foreigners are afraid."

The report was written by Taras Kuzio, a research associate at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.

QUOTES OF THE WEEK
"The Belarusian model of state support of culture has been recognized as the most effective in the CIS. Surely, it could not be otherwise in the situation where virtually all cultural facilities have remained in the focus of the head of state's personal attention in the past five years. While visiting museums, the National Library, exhibitions, the Belarusfilm motion-picture studio, and making himself familiar with problems on the spot, the president gives specific assignments to resolve them." -- The Belarusian Television main newscast "Panarama" on 3 April, in a typical opening.

"The health of people is a key priority of Belarus's domestic policy. Today, this topic was once again tackled by the president of our country at a conference on the construction of an indoor soccer stadium in Minsk. The arena should become an idiosyncratic factory of health, particularly since it is the first such facility in the country, and it will doubtless become a model for imitation, the head of state noted. Alyaksandr Lukashenka set the deadline for the conclusion of its construction -- the first day of the coming winter." -- Another typical "Panarama" opening, on 4 April.

"I think I've gotten off rather lightly in comparison with Viktar Hanchar and Yury Zakharanka, who disappeared without a trace." -- Former Belarusian lawmaker Andrey Klimau, who spent four years in prison because of what is widely believed to be an act of official revenge for his role in an attempt to impeach President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in 1996; in an interview with "Novye izvestiya" on 4 April.

"All the forces of global evil have been thrown against our unification." -- Russian Federation Council member Andrei Vikharev at a solemn event in Moscow to mark the sixth anniversary of the Russia-Belarus Union; quoted by "Kommersant-Daily" on 4 April.

"I, as a young politician, will take advantage of the oblast council rostrum to pass some suggestions and disclosures to some people. I'm not going to be silent. I'm a patriot of my fatherland. We will in time cope with all those who do not like their fatherland." -- Donetsk Oblast police chief Volodymyr Malyshev, who was elected an oblast councilor in the 31 March local election; quoted by UNIAN on 5 April.

"It should not be ruled out that Viktor Yushchenko wants to become the premier [once again]...In fact, in this country, premiership is the only direct path toward presidency." -- Political analyst Viktoriya Pidhorna in an interview with the "ForUm" website on 5 March.

"The [2004] presidential election is all the time hovering over the Cabinet of Ministers...Therefore, it is not the time yet for the presidential administration to replace [current Premier Anatoliy] Kinakh. Kinakh will most likely continue his work until the presidential campaign is activated; after that, his function will be given to a [presidential] contestant. The Cabinet of Ministers should then play a decisive role in the fate of [President Leonid Kuchma's] successor and work as the central political staff for his promotion. The post of premier is the most advantageous from the viewpoint of [Kuchma's] successor, who should demonstrate his capabilities in this function. The post of parliamentary speaker is not enough. Only the premier can attract nationwide attention." -- "Politychna dumka" Editor in Chief Oleksandr Derhachov in an interview with the "ForUm" website on 5 March.

"Within the framework of the existing legislation, it is possible to form only a pro-presidential government [in Ukraine]." -- Political analyst Bohdan Sikora in an interview with the "ForUm" website on 5 March.

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