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OLENIK SUSPENDED. President Putin on 29 December issued a decree suspending Defense Ministry budget and finance chief Colonel General Georgiy Olenik, who has been charged with exceeding his authority and is being investigated for involvement in a multimillion dollar scheme between Russia and Ukraine, Interfax reported. PG
PATRIARCH BLAMES VATICAN FOR PROBLEMS. Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksii II on 29 December expressed the hope that there will be improved relations between his church and the Roman Catholic church in the future, Interfax reported. But Aleksii insisted that the "still serious problems" between the two confessions "have arisen through no fault of Orthodox Christians." And he added that the situation in Western Ukraine is especially serious because there "three Orthodox eparchies were literally smashed up with the active support of Greek Catholics." In addition, he sharply criticized efforts by the Roman Catholic church "under the pretext of 'social work'" to convert Orthodox Christians. PG
RUSSIANS, UKRAINIANS, BELARUSIANS WANT UNITY. A poll conducted by the Moscow Humanitarian Academy found that 61 percent of Russians, 53 percent of Ukrainians, and 69 percent of Belarusians are in favor of a new united state, Interfax reported on 29 December. Most of those supporting reunification backed the idea of a unitary state like the one in the pre-1917 Russian Empire. Only 15 percent of the Russians, 36 percent of the Ukrainians, and 19 percent of the Belarusians were against moving toward a new union. PG
INFLATION IN UKRAINE TOPS 25 PERCENT... The inflation rate in Ukraine for 2000 was 25.8 percent, far above initial forecasts and above 1999's 19.2 percent, AP reported on 30 December. Price hikes for food and fuel are the single most important reason for the rise. In an effort to stabilize fuel prices, Kyiv signed accords for delivery of oil and gas respectively with Russia on 29 December and Turkmenistan on 2 January, ITAR-TASS reported. PG
...AS UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PREDICTS BETTER 2001. Leonid Kuchma said on 29 December that inflation will fall in 2001 and the country's GDP will increase by 5 percent over the next twelve months, ITAR-TASS reported. He pointed to the National Bank's record gold and foreign currency reserves as evidence that the country will be able to repay all its foreign debts. Buoying Kuchma were the disbursal of the first installment of an IMF loan of $247 million on 22 December and of a $1,000 million loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Euroatom. PG
KUCHMA SEEKS FOREIGN HELP ON GONGADZE CASE. Arguing that "as president, I need the truth more than anyone else does," President Kuchma said on 30 December that he would welcome the arrival of foreign experts to probe the case of missing journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, Interfax-Ukraine said. Meanwhile, Reporters without Borders told Interfax on 29 December that its experts will arrive in Kyiv on 8 January to investigate Gongadze's disappearance. And DPA reported the same day that Ukrainian parliamentarian (Reforms and Order Party) Serhy Holovaty said that German forensic specialists have confirmed that a body believed to be Gongadze's is in fact that of the missing journalist. PG
KUCHMA WANTS CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE. On 30 December, President Kuchma repeated his argument that his country will remain in a political stalemate unless the constitution is modified to give him more powers relative to the parliament, Interfax-Ukraine reported. If there are no changes soon, he said, "parliament will remain what it has been during the past month" and "nothing sensible" will be achieved. PG
UKRAINE TO REDUCE ARMY BY 25,000. According to a decree issued on 29 December by President Kuchma on the basis of legislation approved on 7 December, Kyiv will reduce the number of uniformed service personnel by 15,000 over the next five years and the number of civilians employed by the military by 10,000, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials acknowledged on the same day that Kyiv had, as the United Nations suggested, unwittingly sold weapons to Burkina Faso that had fallen into the hands of rebels, AP reported. Such sales have been stopped, the Ukrainians said. PG
MORE PROBLEMS AT UKRAINE-RUSSIA BORDER. Border guard officials from Russia and Ukraine on 29 December told ITAR-TASS that the number of criminal groups smuggling migrants and illegal goods over the border increased during 2000. Specifically, the number of arrests of border violators by both sides grew by 33.4 percent in 2000 over the year before, while the value of confiscated contraband rose by 46.5 percent, of guns by 82.6 percent and of narcotics by 63 percent. PG
...APPROVES MORE MONEY FOR CHORNOBYL WORKERS. Also on 21 December, Duma deputies voted to approve in its second and third readings a law changing the social benefit system for workers who took part in the clean-up following the Chornobyl nuclear disaster, Interfax reported, without providing a breakdown of the vote. Under the bill, workers are divided into three different groups, each receiving a different level of monthly compensation ranging from 5,000 rubles ($179) to 1,000 rubles. One small set of workers, 332 in all, will receive 10,000 rubles a month. According to the agency, as a result of the bill spending on Chornobyl workers has increased by 1.1 billion rubles compared with the current level. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December)
PARLIAMENT URGES GOVERNMENT TO SPEED UP PROBE INTO JOURNALIST'S
Lawmakers on 21 December adopted a resolution urging the government to speed up the investigation into the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Earlier the same day, the parliament was addressed by Volodymyr Chemerys, a leader of the "Ukraine Without Kuchma" protest campaign. Gongadze's disappearance was "the drop that overfilled the cup of distrust in the authorities," Interfax quoted Chemerys as saying. According to Chemerys, the authorities want to conceal the truth about Gongadze's disappearance. "Leonid Danylovych [Kuchma], you expect that an expert investigation [of the Moroz tape] will prove your innocence. But there are no experts who could bring back the people's trust in you," he said in the parliament. Protesters in a tent camp on Kyiv's central square are demanding that Kuchma step down, accusing him of ordering Gongadze's murder. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December)
...WHILE KUCHMA CALLS DISAPPEARANCE TALK A 'PROVOCATION.' Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma told journalists in Moscow on 21 December that Gongadze's disappearance is a "provocation," Interfax reported. Kuchma noted that "big money and professionals" are behind that provocation. "I am inclined to think that these professionals are ours, Ukrainian, homebred," he added. Earlier this month, Kuchma blamed unspecified foreign secret services for creating a scandal over the journalist's disappearance. Commenting on the "Moroz tape," which allegedly proves the president's complicity in Gongadze's disappearance, Kuchma said the recording does not include "even a hint" that he wanted to get rid of the journalist. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December)
PAY DISPUTE SHUTS OFF TV IN WESTERN UKRAINE. The state-owned Lviv regional broadcast center stopped broadcasting the programs of the state-owned Lviv television and radio production company on 25 December because the latter owes the former $1.8 million, the "Kyiv Post" reported on 28 December, according to DPA. As a result, the 2.7 million people of the region cannot get television at all and can hear FM radio transmissions only between 9:00 am and 5:00 p.m. The shutdown reportedly has also affected communications links used by police and emergency workers. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December)
<i>By Paul Goble</i>
Sixty-two journalists and other media professionals were killed this year for uncovering corruption and opposing authoritarian regimes, the tip of the iceberg of violence against reporters that has made their profession one of the most dangerous lines of work.
While the number of journalists killed this year actually declined from the record 86 in 1999, the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists said this week, the actual situation has actually deteriorated. Last year's count included 36 killed during civil wars, many of whom may have died while doing their jobs but not because of what they wrote or broadcast. This year, the IFJ said, only five journalists were killed in such conflict zones.
As a result, virtually all the journalists killed this year were singled out for assassination by those who did not want them to get the story out. Indeed, IFJ general secretary Aidan White, whose organizaation represents 420,000 media staff across the globe, said that "in every corner of the world, journalists have paid a terrible price in the struggle for democracy."
The ICJ report said that Columbia has been the most dangerous country for journalists in 2000 where 11 have been killed already this year. But it noted as well that eight journalists have been killed in Russia this year, including three in the Chechen conflict zone. And it highlighted the case of Sergei Novikov, the owner of a Smolensk radio station who had drawn fire because of his criticism of the activities of local political elites.
As dramatic and distressing as these deaths are, they represent only a small part of the kind of activities both official and unofficial in many countries which are becoming a virtual counterrevolution against journalists who try to report accurately about those in power.
One country which has attracted particular concern in this regard is the Russian Federation. Earlier hopes that it would move quickly toward a genuinely free media have been dashed, with people as diverse as former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and the World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC) suggesting this week that many of the gains of the last decade may be about to be lost.
In a 15 December letter to President Vladimir Putin, the World Press Freedom Committee's chairman, James H. Ottaway Jr, appealed to the Russian leader to end government harassment of independent media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky, and ecology reporter Grigor Pasko and RFE/RL correspondent Andrei Babitsky.
These three cases, Ottaway said, have "a common thread in that each one involves a decision by official prosecutors to continue the legal harassment of someone who is prominent in the world of journalism." And in each case, "at some point, a court has already found the accused not guilty of official charges. Yet prosecutors and courts insist on retrying them on the same or closely related charges."
Such actions, the WPFC head (Ottaway) concluded, mean that "the situation in Russia is as bad or worse than ever for a free press," something he argued will entail "inevitable long-term consequences for the acceptance of Russia into the community of free and democratic countries, as well as being harmful to the efforts to reform Russian society and the State which should serve it."
Russia is far from the only post-communist country where journalism and journalists are at risk and where as a result democracy and freedom are under threat as well. Journalists have been killed or are missing in Belarus, Ukraine and many other places as well. In some of these countries, officials have revived Soviet-era methods of denying paper, electric power or access to those who report things that officials want ignored or used the police power of the state even more directly.
In other places, officials have employed "market-oriented" solutions, driving some broadcasters and newspapers into bankruptcy either by selective prosecution of tax evasion, discouraging advertisers, or subsidizing only those outlets which hew to the official line.
But what is striking is that in virtually all of these countries journalists continue to try to report the news. The murder of 62 of their colleagues this year is an indication of the odds against them. At the same time, these deaths are an inspiration, an unintended testimonial by their opponents of the importance and power of free media in countries making the transition from authoritarianism to democracy.