(Department of Political Science and History, University of
Western Ontario, CREES Fellow)
Media: Censorship Exposed - Journalists Fight Back"
(Resident Fellow, CREES)
Domestic and International Ramifications of Iraqgate"
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
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.
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.
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
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."