Channel 1+1's “Epicenter,” lasting almost an hour and one half, starred President Leonid Kuchma on Sunday, October 17, giving us all several cruel, bitter, and easily understandable lessons. Watching our home screens, we saw the whole picture of what The Day has long predicted. Yet, what we saw was even more impressive. A man planning to be reelected as President of a country with 50 million citizens was unable to adequately assess the situation in that country and his place in it. The main lessons we were taught are as follows:
1. Many saw with their own eyes, seemingly for the first time, what all those pushing Leonid Kuchma toward the second term see every day. How frightened they must be to lose their personal fortunes, obviously made not quite legally, and how scornful of their people to pressure them to once again make “the right choice” to which there is, allegedly, no alternative.
2. There are still journalists singing to this clearly incompetent head of state, thus having a hand in pushing this country further down its blind alley, and finding a way out will be very difficult.
3. Back in 1994, Leonid Kuchma won many a voter's heart with the splendid simplicity of his program. Now, as never before, it is clear that we must elect the next President not out of sympathy or as the lesser evil, but proceeding from the possibility of developing true respect for the chief executive. At present, Ukraine is like a country of ostriches, all heads buried in the sand, but let us hope that last week's “Epicenter” served as a powerful eye-opener for the still uncomprehending. Also, some of the sharp remarks voiced by our experts on “Epicenter” were by force of inertia. The picture we saw was so clear that there is no use criticizing Leonid Kuchma. He has to be replaced.
NO USE CRITICIZING LEONID KUCHMA...
What kind of a man and politician did you see in the last “Epicenter” with Leonid Kuchma? What do you think of the journalists taking part?
Oleh STEFANETS, Lviv:
Kuchma looked as though someone had forced him to run for a second term. I feel sorry about him as a man, but he obviously does not measure up as President. His speech was faltering and he lacked arguments; he looked unsure of himself and the journalists' mocking stabs at him made it plain to any sober-minded viewer that the man on screen was no President.
Viktor MUSIYAKA, Kyiv:
[Epicenter host] Vyacheslav Pikhovshek did his best to elaborate on a topic being of the greatest importance for the President: as guarantor of the Constitution, he cannot make any blatant violations of it. Toward the end of the program, this journalist tried to impress on Mr. Kuchma that he has always been a law-abiding citizen and never violated any laws, well, except maybe what he called “technical” breaches. This seemed even to embarrass the President. But then Pikhovshek made a “technical” mistake himself. He should have started the program in that vein. The President probably wouldn't then admit that he had “largely violated my constitutional right by issuing a number of edicts contrary to the Transitional Clauses of the Constitution and [other] laws of Ukraine.”
And at the end of the program Pikhovshek suddenly said that it would perhaps be worthwhile to violate the laws more often in the interests of the people and that they would understand you (i.e., the President). The skies would not fall if you did. To which Mr. Kuchma replied, “We will try that in the future.” At first I was shocked and confused: there was the host of a prestigious program calling on the President to do as he pleased, and forget the Constitution. A gesture of utterly cynical undisguised scorn for the law as such. But then I thought that maybe it was a stunt, that they pushed the President into making such a revealing statement shortly before the election. If so, Mr. Pikhovshek deserves all praise. The whole thing was done with utmost technical precision. And I found myself pitying Mr. Kuchma. He must have relaxed by the end of the program and swallowed the bait. It is hard to imagine how many law-abiding citizens with minds not yet poisoned by that “revolutionary expedience” and willing to cast their ballots for the acting chief executive will remain as willing after his public statement that he is prepared to continue to violate the Constitution after being reelected.
Volodymyr VOITENKO, Professor and MD:
That Sunday night we were all witness to a striking revelation. First, I must point out that battle-hardened Vyacheslav Pikhovshek showed about as much spine as a wet noodle. On three occasions he responded to harsh questions from his colleagues on the President's behalf. As for the President, Mr. Kuchma vividly demonstrated that, politically speaking, his kind of role was of a provincial factory manager cum party cell leader who happened to be at the head of one of Europe's largest states. And watching his linguistic struggles was physically painful, for the interjection “by and large” and the purely Russian “so to speak” sounded 11 and 17 times respectively (according to my estimate). Well, by and large we have this President, so to speak.
Also, it transpired that this President has spent the five years of his term learning to be President, studying at our expense. Those that have turned beggars, lost a lot of weight, or even starved to death can rest their souls: their sacrifice was not in vain. On this ground made fertile with their sweat and blood will grow another Leonid Kuchma, as he promised he would after reelection.
As the program continued we learned that the President is a tolerant person, the best there is. For example, Pavlo Lazarenko stole a lot and then threw himself on his knees, and the good President let him go, along with his millions, “for reasons of health.” First to Hlevakha (a scenic Kyiv suburb with a VIP clinic-resort) and then to the United States. True, he stole all those millions not from the President but from all of us common folk, so it would seem Mr. Kuchma forgave him on our behalf.
Of course, the big question is what Mr. President is going to do after reelection? Problems here. Will he send Verkhovna Rada packing, make the President-appointed governors senator, allow Mr. Surkis buy something else, appoint Mr. Volkov Ambassador to Belgium? It's a sad life, gentlemen.
Volodymyr MALYNKOVYCH , political analyst:
I had known Leonid Kuchma well enough before I watched the last “Epicenter.” Actually, we rubbed elbows during the previous elections. I was not surprised by watching and hearing him this time. I was surprised by the journalists in attendance. They acted remarkably servile. They were talking to the President, face to face. Wow! It was written all over their faces. They were scared stiff and no one posed a single serious question, addressing the man responsible for the situation in the country. And there could have been many such questions, instead of asking how he would keep his family fed. That was a demonstration of our mediocre Ukrainian journalism.
And it was a sorry sight, all of it. I was especially amazed watching Pikhovshek, only recently so very tough and severely accurate. Here was a totally different person. I was watching a servile Pikhovshek, ending his program by actually urging the President to keep violating the law. Great, wasn't it? Calling on your President to become another Pinochet. Not the smartest thing the host could have said, mildly speaking. Apart from the fact that this runs counter to all the democratic interests the journalist is expected to defend more than anyone else, being concerned about freedom of the press and living in a state ruled by law, what made that remark of the host so irrelevant is the fact that our President will never make a Pinochet. He doesn't have it in him to become one. Even if we have another dictatorship, Leonid Kuchma will never be the dictator. Rather someone like Tabachnyk or another character from the President's entourage who will actually rule the country like the Gray Eminence but with greater severity. A frightening prospect.
Serhiy HOLOVATY , People's Deputy:
The program left no impressions whatsoever, but its guest star did, very much so. Leonid Kuchma showed himself from a very strange angle. He has no control over the situation and does not even realize what post he is holding or what is actually going on in Ukraine. He would either avoid straight answers to straight questions or offer very ambiguous formulations. I thought that he showed a very low IQ in that program, somewhere at Grade 4-6 level. Almost every other candidate before him was five times smarter. A medical reference will tell you about “psychological inferiority.” It happens when the personality is degrading and one cannot look at oneself critically enough in a given environment and be responsible for oneself, let alone others. It's horrible!
Too bad Natalia Kondratiuk joked about Leonid Kuchma having studied for five years and now having to start practicing his knowledge. Can you picture a “student” like that getting another five years of office? Another five years of experimenting with 49 million Ukrainian citizens? Mr. Kuchma had seven years as Premier and then President, ample time to show what one is made of. Watching the last “Epicenter,” I also thought that the women's team did its job manly, but the men were bootlickers. Journalists Musafirova and Horchynska were the best, and Pikhovshek left me speechless with indignation, cueing the President, passing the ball to him, stressing that what the President wants will benefit the state, forgetting that this President has always waged a constitutional war against his people. And the host's closing phrase that the President could go on violating the law for the good of the people was very stupid. The Ukrainian people has suffered long enough to expect a final end to such experimentation. It needs specific efforts to raise this country from its knees now that the state has reached the verge of the abyss.
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The Editors do not necessarily share all the views expressed above and welcome readers' comments.
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The Day received a formal refutation of Leonid Kuchma's statement made on October 17 during the “Epicenter” program on Channel 1+1. The reader will recall that the President informed that after his intercession the Black Sea Television and Radio Company in the Crimea is operating “without restrictions..” The refutation, signed by BSTV President T. Krasykova, reads: “Before July 26, 1999, BSTV programs were beamed by 16 transmitters, embracing all large Crimean cities. At present, only five transmitters are functioning, all in resort area with small towns. In the Crimean capital, Simferopol and other big cities no transmitters are broadcasting and no explanations are given. The corrupt information that went on the air [i.e., the President's statement] at best testifies to the president's being ill-informed. Bureaucratic arbitrariness continues. The Black Sea Television and Radio Company was deliberately crowded out of the Crimean information space, which is a flagrant violation of the Constitution, laws of Ukraine, and the principles of freedom of speech and democracy.”