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OMBUDSMAN INTENDS TO SUE NEWSPAPER. Before departing on a UN-sponsored trip to the Czech Republic and Estonia to study the working of ombudsmans' offices in those countries, Kyrgyz Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu told a press conference on 1 August that he intends to sue the newspaper "Agym," akipress.org reported on 4 August. Bakir-uulu said that he had the necessary documents ready to launch the suit, but the "Agym" staff and the publication's editor in chief were all on vacation. The ombudsman's claim that he was defamed arises from an article asserting that he had traveled to an OSCE Parliamentary Assembly session in Rotterdam and a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart in Kyiv at the government's expense, statements that Bakir-uulu says are untrue. He says that his travel was paid for by an international human rights group. Bakir-uulu managed to persuade the pro-government daily "Vecherniy Bishkek" not to publish the article, he said, by threatening that publication with a legal suit. Akipress.org did not mention the date when the article appeared in "Agym." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August)
THREE REPORTERS ATTACKED. Independent journalist Vladimir Kucheryayev was killed on 2 August in Kremenchug in the Poltava region. The journalist headed the local office of the Blits-Inform holding company, but his killing is not believed to be related to his professional activities, the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES) noted in its weekly report of 28 July-3 August. Bogdan Yurchuk, a reporter with the Ukrainian Independent Information Agency, was attacked in the city of Lutsk on 31 July. Yurchuk, who suffered a concussion, said he had been attacked by a group of teenagers, according to CJES. In another incident, CJES reported that Igor Zhukov, a local television anchorman, had been attacked by an unknown assailant in the city of Kharkiv on 30 July. Zhukov's television scripts and a notebook disappeared after the attack. Hooliganism charges have been brought against the assailant. CC
An independent Ukrainian journalist group, the Institute for Mass Information (IMI), on 5 August reported that a person regarded as a key suspect in a long-running murder case had himself died in police custody.
Ihor Honcharov, an alleged gang leader, had been in custody since his arrest in May on charges of extortion and murder. Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun earlier this year said he believed that Honcharov was linked to the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze.
Gongadze, an outspoken critic of President Leonid Kuchma and government corruption, disappeared in late 1999. His headless corpse was later discovered, triggering one of Ukraine's biggest post-Soviet scandals. Nearly four years later, no one has been charged in the murder. A former bodyguard of Kuchma -- who secretly recorded the president -- released excerpts which implicated Kuchma in Gongadze's disappearance. But Kuchma has steadfastly denied any link to the journalist's disappearance or death.
Ukraine's political opposition and independent journalists -- as well as many Western governments and groups -- had accused state investigators of deliberately blocking the probe because it might implicate senior government officials, possibly including the president. But last year investigators identified 13 members of a criminal gang they said was led by Honcharov and which might have knowledge of the murder.
All 13 were apparently former policemen and intelligence officers known as "werewolves" -- the term for former police officials who have turned to crime. Prosecutor-General Piskun said he believed it was likely the so-called "Honcharov band" killed Gongadze. Honcharov was scheduled to give evidence about the case later this month.
But now Honcharov is dead. A Ukrainian police official who did not want to be named confirmed that Honcharov died on 1 August, apparently while being transferred by ambulance from jail to a hospital. He said the cause of death was being investigated. IMI, which works closely with the France-based journalists' defense group Reporters Without Borders, says Honcharov was cremated on 3 August, eliminating any chance of an independent autopsy.
According to IMI, Honcharov had passed a 17-page handwritten letter to the group to be opened in the event of his death. IMI member Alla Lazareva says the organization has frequently reported on the Gongadze case and that is why she thinks Honcharov passed the letter to them.
IMI says in the letter Honcharov claimed to have information about Gongadze's killers, including audio recordings and a confession that he said he had hidden but was willing to reveal to investigators in the presence of independent witnesses. Honcharov also predicted he would be murdered by an official -- whose name he gives -- and that the death would be presented as suicide or illness.
Lazareva says the IMI's first priority now is to establish whether the letter is genuine. "We're not certain yet because we are unable to carry out detailed tests to confirm its authenticity," she says.
To explain why IMI has already published some excerpts from the letter on its website, Lazareva says, "Our position was this -- we obtained this information, we thought that it was of importance to the public and therefore we publicized what we had -- although we blacked out some names, because since there is a presumption of innocence until he is proved to be a criminal, one shouldn't refer to him as such."
She says the IMI "does not have the technical capability to check the authenticity of Honcharov's handwriting. But experts can do this. That's why there are criminologists and specialists at the Prosecutor-General's Office who are obliged by law to carry out this work and to compare Honcharov's handwriting samples taken while he was giving evidence and being kept in jail. They can say whether he wrote this or not."
Lazareva says IMI today handed a copy of the letter to Deputy Chief Prosecutor Viktor Shokin, who was due to question Honcharov later this month. "As far as we know, we are not the only ones that have a copy of this letter. A few other people have copies," Lazareva says. She says the Prosecutor-General's Office has promised to keep IMI informed of developments.
"Perhaps now that the Prosecutor-General's Office is involved, the cause of death will be investigated. At least I hope so," she says. "Because either this person [Honcharov] really did make all these statements, in which case it's a truly horrible story, or it's a fake and therefore, we need to know who did it and why."
But the American author of a book about the Gongadze killing, Jaroslav Koshiw, doubts that investigators will solve the murder. He says that in the past, investigators have named and blamed criminals for Gongadze's death but have subsequently had to admit they were wrong.
"So really, periodically what we're getting from the authorities is a pretend investigation suggesting to the population that they're on top [abreast of developments], that they are looking for the killers and so on -- when really they are not bothering with an investigation," Koshiw says.
Koshiw's book -- "Beheaded: The Killing of a Journalist," is a comprehensive analysis of documents, evidence, and investigations by the Ukrainian authorities as well as journalists into the Gongadze case. Koshiw says he has no doubt that President Kuchma and other high officials are connected to Gongadze's death.
"There is more than ample evidence for a trial of the president and his associates who took part in the kidnapping and then the death of Gongadze," he says.
Koshiw says he believes the accusations against Honcharov were fabricated and the authorities have no desire to get at the truth. He says that if Honcharov was really cremated, that displays either poor judgment or an attempt to prevent the true cause of death being proved.
"It shows to me the tremendous irresponsibility by the authorities, in this case the police, to so quickly cremate somebody who died in mysterious circumstances and who they were suggesting might have been a possible witness," Koshiw says. "They create a bizarre atmosphere that helps rumors."
Koshiw believes the truth about the Gongadze murder will only emerge if Ukraine gets a government that really wants to build a state based on law and order.
The website for the Institute for Mass Information can be found at http://www.imi.org.ua. For Jaroslav Koshiw, it is http://www.artemiapress.co.uk.
...AS CITY GOVERNMENT DENIES LOCAL CONSTRUCTION FIRMS RELY ON MIGRANT LABORERS. Government Minister Vladimir Zorin, who oversees nationalities policy, told reporters in Moscow on 7 August that Russia ranks third in the world behind the United States and Germany in terms of the inflow of migrants, Interfax reported. He added that if the trend persists, Russia will soon be comparable to the United States. "In general, we are interested in attracting foreign workers. The target of doubling GDP by 2010 cannot be fulfilled without creating new jobs," he said (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 7 August 2003). Last week, Moscow First Deputy Mayor Vladimir Resin told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that not a single large construction project in the city employs illegal migrant laborers. According to the bureau, however, it is well known that Moscow construction companies are able to earn "superprofits" because they continue to raise the price of rents but rely on the labor of "guest workers," from whom they can withhold pay for months or pay less than promised. However, Resin denied such reports, saying that there is no cheap labor force in Moscow, and the average wage for construction workers is 15,000 rubles ($494) a month regardless of whether the worker is Belarusian, Ukrainian, or Russian. JAC
MINISTER LAUDS UKRAINIAN PARTICIPATION IN STABILIZING IRAQ. Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk said at a send-off ceremony at Baryspil airport on 7 August that the participation of Ukrainian troops in stabilization efforts in Iraq is in Ukraine's national interests, Interfax reported. Three hundred forty-five Ukrainian troops were airlifted to Kuwait on 7 August, and additional personnel will depart by 10 August. "This action once again demonstrates to the global community that Ukraine is devoted to the UN charter and its international commitments," Marchuk said. "Being a big European state, Ukraine cannot stand outside global processes," he added. The Ukrainian personnel will begin their mission in September in the Polish-led stabilization zone in Iraq. A Ukrainian antinuclear-, antibiological-, and antichemical-warfare unit -- which comprises 448 troops currently staying in Kuwait -- also will be deployed to Iraq. AM
MOLDOVA, TRANSDNIESTER AGREE ON DRAFT FEDERAL CONSTITUTION. Citing the official separatist news agency Olivia press, Flux reported on 7 August that the negotiators representing Moldova and Transdniester on the joint commission tasked with drafting a federal constitution have completed their work and sent a draft to their respective leaderships and international mediators (the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine) for examination. Earlier reports indicated that only the first chapter of the draft was completed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2003). According to the text of the draft federal constitution, excerpts of which were published by Olivia press, the flag of the federal state will differ from the current Moldovan flag [which is nearly identical to Romania's] and the sides have yet to agree on the federal anthem and coat of arms. In addition, "The state languages on the entire territory of the Moldova-Transdniester Federation are Moldovan and Russian." Both languages are to enjoy equal status across the federation's territory. Olivia press also reported that the federation will comprise two equal subjects, each of which will be "sovereign over its own territory." The federation is to have a bicameral parliament composed of a senate and a chamber of representatives. The federation's president is to be directly elected by citizens. MS
All the states of the western Balkans seek integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. Whether they will achieve their goal and at what pace appear to remain open questions.
The collapse of communism brought a rush of candidates to join both the EC -- now the EU -- and NATO. The would-be members wanted to belong to the rich men's clubs, sit at the tables where crucial decisions are made, and put an end to the division of Europe, enjoying all the while the security benefits of the most powerful military alliance in history.
The candidates met with differing degrees of success. At the bottom of the scale are the countries of what is now called the western Balkans -- or former Yugoslavia, minus Slovenia and plus Albania.
Croatia, Macedonia, and Albania at least have their respective road maps for NATO membership since the November 2002 NATO summit in Prague, but Bosnia and Serbia and Montenegro have yet to qualify even for the Partnership for Peace program. The international community's reluctance to deal with the question of Kosova's status means that the province with over 2 million inhabitants is not even considered for the integration process, although it is host to a sizeable NATO presence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June and 23 July 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002, and 13 and 20 June 2003).
The EU appears even less welcoming. At least some of the western Balkan countries hoped that the June Thessaloniki summit would offer them road maps and target dates for admission, but they failed to get much except a lecture calling on them to try harder (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2003). The disappointment was evident throughout the region, although Croatia tried to put on a brave face and pledged to meet the 2007 deadline for EU admission that the government of Prime Minister Ivica Racan set for itself.
Erhard Busek, who heads the EU-led Balkan Stability Pact, which is a clearinghouse for aid and development projects, wrote in Munich's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" on 1 August that the western Balkan countries must be patient if they want to join the Brussels-based bloc. He warned would-be members against setting overly ambitious and arbitrary target dates for EU membership, singling out Croatian and Serbian hopes for joining in 2007 in that regard.
Busek reminded the western Balkan countries that EU membership is not a right, a gift, or a "beauty contest," adding that long negotiations and an extensive restructuring of a country's legal system are at the core of the membership process that the countries themselves chose to begin. The EU has been generous with the western Balkan countries, and the Greek EU Presidency in the first half of 2003 did much to advance their cause for membership, Busek argued.
But few politicians in the region see much reason for expecting rapid integration into the EU -- except for the Racan government, which faces elections in the spring of 2004 at the latest and probably does not want to admit that its optimism was misplaced.
"The Washington Post" wrote on 4 August that Bruce Jackson of the newly founded Project on Transitional Democracies nonetheless strongly warns against losing time on integrating the western Balkans and the rest of ex-communist Europe into Euro-Atlantic structures. He argues that "where this part of Europe finds itself five years from now is where we will be for the next 50 years."
Jackson believes that the outcome is by no means certain and the range of alternatives is great, particularly where countries such as Serbia or Ukraine are concerned. He notes that they could become democracies allied to the United States and members of the EU, or they could emerge as parts of a new Russian empire, or they could develop into authoritarian failed states that are a haven for terrorists, drugs and arms smugglers, and human traffickers.
Questions about Serbia's future have emerged anew in the wake of the 12 March assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and subsequent indications that links remain strong between the worlds of politics, business, organized crime, and the security forces (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 May 2002, and 28 March, 9 May, 25 July 2003).
On a recent visit to Washington, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic sought to dispel such concerns and present his country as reformist and a potential "strategic partner" of the United States. He offered to help not only in the reconstruction of Iraq, but reportedly also with the services of 1,000 peacekeepers there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25, 28, and 29 July and 6 August 2003).
But he was coy on the issues of Belgrade's lawsuit against eight NATO member states before the International Court of Justice in The Hague and of arresting former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic. Zivkovic nonetheless told "The Washington Post" that "Serbia is looking for an ally in the United States, and in return Serbia can offer to be a reliable partner in the Balkans."
But not everyone was convinced by his message. Some observers felt that he deliberately exaggerated the success of his visit when talking to the Serbian media, perhaps to offset his and his voters' disappointment at the results of the Thessaloniki summit.
For her part, "The Washington Times" commentator Helle Dale suggested on 6 August that Zivkovic was insincere, noting that he told a group "over dinner, brandy, and cigars at the Metropolitan Club in Washington...[that] 'there are three things Serbs cannot stand: an independent Kosovo, NATO, and the United States.'" Dale added that Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic criticized Secretary of State Colin Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice for lacking the "courage" to promote Serbia's case in Washington and elsewhere.
For Dale, the problem is a deep one. "The Serbs are at it again. Once again, they are playing their role as the perpetual victims of Europe, complaining about unfair treatment by the international community and whining about the injustice of it all. If the Serbian mentality was supposed to have changed since the ouster and war crimes indictment of former dictator Slobodan Milosevic, this was not evident from the recent visit of Serbian government leaders to Washington.
"Undaunted by the horrors it has perpetrated, Serbia now wants to reclaim its leading role in the Balkans. While it took the Germans more than two decades after World War II to raise their heads enough to start playing a role in Europe, the Serbs are already demanding international recognition and foreign aid....
"The war-torn Balkans is the final piece of the European continent that needs to build peace and economic stability. Eastern and Central Europe are well on their way to joining the EU and NATO. Serbia could be an important part of this project, but until the Serbs experience a change of attitude about their past and their present, they will cut themselves off from their future."