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Munk Centre

Marta Dyczok
(Department of Political Science and History, University of Western Ontario, CREES Fellow)

"Ukrainian Media: Censorship Exposed - Journalists Fight Back"

Taras Kuzio
(Resident Fellow, CREES)

"The Domestic and International Ramifications of Iraqgate"

In the past year several dramatic events have brought Ukraine to the focus of the international community. First in June there was the release of tapes that revealed Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma discussing the sale of radar equipment to Iraq. Then in September, journalists actively stood up against government censorship in conjunction with the actions of the wider spread opposition movement. It was with these events as background that, on October 31, the Petro Jacyk Program for the Study of Ukraine invited Marta Dyczok, professor of political science and history at the University of Western Ontario, and Taras Kuzio, CREES Resident Fellow, to present a seminar on "Ukraine in Crisis."

Professor Dyczok spoke on "Ukrainian Media: Censorship Exposed-Journalists Fight Back." She first gave a chronology of the events of the last several months. On September 16, 2002, mass demonstrations demanded the resignation of President Kuchma. In reaction to pressure from government authorities, a large segment of Ukrainian journalists refused to report a slanted telling of the events. In early October, journalists circulated a petition demanding greater freedom of the press.

Professor Dyczok described some of the underlying issues facing journalistic freedom in Ukraine. The relationship between the opposition movement and the journalists' anti-censorship campaign is not as cohesive as it would seem to general observers at first glance. There is a feeling among some journalists, Dr. Dyczok indicated, that the opposition movement has acted in an opportunistic fashion in attempting to co-opt the anti-censorship movement for its own ends. Secondly, a more cynical analysis of the anti-censorship movement would consider this activism as merely a "show" for Western NGOs and international institutions to increase the amount of foreign funding for media projects. Nonetheless, the anti-censorship movement and the speed of its mobilization reflects the slow growth of civil society in a post-communist transitional setting.

Dr. Kuzio primarily focused on the current state of the Kuchma regime in Ukraine. One important theme he described was the lack of vision or even coherency in government policy. Secondly, there is the problem of a lack of a united opposition across the whole of Ukraine. The opposition is an assorted mix of moderate and radical reformers who oppose the country's economic oligarchs and support closer relations with the EU and the West, and of communists and social democrats who are oriented towards the Russian Federation. At the same time, the existing opposition cannot be quelled or co-opted into the Kuchma regime. Therefore, a stalemate exists which indicates little or no qualitative change in the government of Ukraine in the near future.

The discussion that followed both presentations was lively and brought up several issues. For example, the internet has been an important instrument in organizing the opposition to the Kuchma regime. It has helped as a tool for organizing action against the Kuchma regime (for example, with the journalists' online petition against censorship). Another issue debated was the pace of the development of Ukraine's civil society as a foundation for a democratic alternative. A Ukrainian civil society is still in its infancy and is dogged by widespread alienation (for example, 40-60% of the population may voice dislike of the Kuchma regime, but only 10% turn out to vote against him). Also there is regional and linguistic division with the high concentration of Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine who are oriented more towards the Russian Federation. Therefore, the formation of a nationwide consensus of dissent against Kuchma is a daunting task. However, both Professor Dyczok and Dr. Kuzio indicated moderate optimism for the Ukrainian situation by noting that the economy is slowly growing (by about 5% per year) and that the generation of younger Ukrainians is less inclined to remain passive like its elders. By the end of the seminar, the prevailing consensus was that "only time can tell."

Ian Henderson, CREES

Content: © 2002 Petro Jacyk • Design: © 2002 dragandesign.