“Resourceful country boy,” “state-maker,” “modern cheerful man of unflagging energy” – this is the way Leonid Kuchma was lauded, quite one-sidedly, in honor of his 75th birthday by the ICTV and STB TV channels that belong to his son-in-law Viktor Pinchuk. The other leading Ukrainian broadcasters were not much lagging behind. For example, the New Channel conducted a poll in which all Kyivites spoke in exclusively positive terms about the second president’s rule; 1+1 presented an already traditional trailer in the “I sing what I see” style, where it enumerated the colors of the jackets and dresses of Kuchma’s guests, while the First National showed again last weekend a laudatory-nostalgic talk between Kuchma and Yan Tabachnyk in the latter’s own program “I Have the Honor to Invite You.” A total hush-up of the Heorhii Gongadze case – not a single word of criticism or even a hint at that. Even if they recalled the “Ukraine without Kuchma” protest campaign, they only did it in a warped light. For example, STB’s Windows program began its story about the ex-president as follows: “Two presidential terms, when public rallies shouted: ‘Down with Kuchma!’ and after this we saw it written on fences: ‘Dear Kuchma, come back!” And the UBR (Ukrainian Business Resource) TV channel, now belonging to Ihor Huzhva, believes that Kuchma’s greatest merit is that he “survived two impeachment attempts.”
WHEN CHANNELS KEEP SILENT, BLOGGERS SPEAK
Unfortunately, national TV channels have too short a memory. As recently as in the winter of this year they (except for ICTV and STB) aired Oleksii Pukach’s statement on the implication of Leonid Kuchma and Volodymyr Lytvyn in the murder of Gongadze, but today they are full of nostalgia for the “good old times.” However, as the channels have taken the “vow of silence,” ordinary people are actively expressing their attitudes. For example, Oleh Soskin, director of the nongovernmental Institute of the Transformation of Society, published in his blog a wrathful manifesto, “Kuchma’s Birthday: a Daring Challenge to All Ukrainians.” “It is he who failed to free Ukraine from Moscow and laid the groundwork for our shameful financial plight. As a result of Kuchma’s actions, we did not become NATO members, and now Ukraine encounters obstacles on the road to the European Union. We lost ten years with Kuchma. It is Kuchma who begot Yanukovych. It is during Kuchma’s rule that the most high-profile murders in the history of Ukraine occurred – the murders of Chornovil, Yevhen Shcherban, Kravchenko, Kyrpa, and Gongadze. And, what is more, with him in power, we went through terrible ordeals, such as devaluation of the hryvnia. He appointed Lazarenko as prime minister… But it is very instructive for us that more than 60 percent of Ukrainians are eking an existence on the verge of poverty today, while the one who was member of the Central Committee of the Communist Part of Ukraine, an integral part of the CPSU, is lavishly celebrating his birthday in Sardinia,” Soskin says.
ANATOLII KAZANSKY, A CARTOONIST OF GENIUS, DREW THIS AS LONG AGO AS 1998, WHEN THE NEGATIVE TRENDS UKRAINIAN SOCIETY IS REAPING NOW WERE ALREADY NOTICEABLE. JOURNALISTS ARE – DELIBERATELY OR NOT – UNABLE TODAY TO APPRAISE THE CONSEQUENCES OF THESE PROBLEMS. WE ADVISE OUR COLLEAGUES TO CUT OUT THIS SKETCH AND REFLECT ON IT AND ON THE RESPONSIBILITY OF JOURNALISTS FROM TIME TO TIME / Sketch by Anatolii KAZANSKY from The Day’s archives, 1998
Journalist Oleksii Mazur has also addressed his colleagues though a Korrespondent blog: “It disgusted me to watch. I felt especially ashamed for journalists. For a colleague of yours was tortured to death under Kuchma… How dared you not to recall Heorhii? You are scum, journalists.”
A SPOONFUL OF THE TRUTH IN A BARREL OF LIES
It should be noted that not all TV channels hushed up the facts of Kuchma’s presidency. Yet it is odd that the story authors managed to turn the truth they said into manipulation. A good illustration to this is Mykhailo Shamanov’s story at the New Channel. A journalist says off-screen: “Having come to power under pro-Russian slogans…” but the end of this sentence contradicts itself and any logic: “Kuchma managed to avoid an imbalance in foreign policy.” Then the New Channel correspondent mentions in passing the signing of a treaty between Ukraine and Russia, which includes, among other things, permission for the Russian Black Sea Fleet to stay in Sevastopol, without saying a word about the threat this poses for Ukraine. Finally, Shamanov utters rather a profound and right sentence: “Even decades on, modern-day Ukraine essentially remains Kuchmaite. Almost all the Ukrainian politicians launched their careers in the Kuchma era: one was a banker, another ruled a region, and another was an MP.” But the conclusions the author draws from this illustrative situation are quite in the spirit of “cash-for-coverage journalism.”
The Inter channel also aired controversial programs on Kuchma’s birthday. On July 31 this year, Inter began to broadcast in the morning the installments of its project. The Country’s Birthday, which reviewed every year of Ukraine’s independence. August 9 was by chance the time to show the 1998 video. By that time, Kuchma had been president of Ukraine for four years. What did the viewers of the Morning with Inter program hear about that year? “Ukraine enters a period of an acute economic crisis,” “the profits of national business are falling, as are budget revenues,” “Ukraine is running up external debts,” “the state experiences an acute shortage of money – it is not enough to pay wages and pensions, let alone maintain the hryvnia’s exchange rate. The government decides to devalue the national currency. The rate immediately dropped by two and half times.” But this turns out to be a positive moment in the history of Ukraine, for, in Viktor Pynzenyk’s words in the same video, “the Ukrainian producer punched his foreign counterpart on the nose.” In the evening, the Details news bulletin announces Andrei Konchalovsky’s odious film Battle for Ukraine, leaving the thinking audiences stupefied again. The channel will air this agitprop-style movie just on the eve of Ukraine Independence Day.
THE PRO-KUCHMA BATTLE FOR UKRAINE STAGES A COMEBACK
An episode from Konchalovsky’s still-unfinished Battle for Ukraine was first shown by ICTV on April 21, 2011, and then by STB on May 2 this year. The film aimed to portray the ex-president as victim of the Kuchmagate scandal, for in the spring of 2011 the Melnychenko tapes were recognized as material evidence in the Kuchma case opened in connection with the murder of journalist Heorhii Gongadze. Kuchma’s lawyers tried to attach this “documentary” film to the case materials. In response, all the unengaged media community, together with media lawyers and political scientists, agreed that Battle for Ukraine was an attempt to whitewash the reputation of Kuchma. Who did Battle for Ukraine present as the second president’s “advocate”? The installment that came out in 2011 featured David Zhvania, one of Ukraine’s richest people in 2011 according to Forbes magazine; Boris Berezovsky to whom Zhvania ascribed funding some Ukrainian politicians; Aleksandr Goldfarb and Yury Felshtinsky from the so-called “Berezovsky group”; Poland’s ex-president Aleksander Kwasniewski who Serhii Leshchenko says “receives stable funding from Pinchuk his foundation Amicus; political spin master, Russian State Duma member Sergei Markov; Dmytro Tabachnyk who managed Kuchma’s election campaign in 1994; and Yulia Mostova, editor-in-chief of Dzerkalo tyzhnia. The full version of the film, which Inter will show soon, considerably broadens the circle of speakers and outlines the topic differently. The channel describes Battle for Ukraine in a press release as a film that “strives to tell us about the making of Ukraine as a sovereign state and about the problems this country had to face on its way to independence.” Yet the second president of Ukraine remains the film’s main hero.
WITH WHOSE HANDS?
It is not only the Russian film director who made an agitprop-style piece in support of Kuchma. In October 2012 the ICTV channel showed its own film Conspiracy written and directed by Mykhailo Pavlov, ICTV’s general producer of special projects. One of the off-screen voices belongs to Andrii Kulikov, the current anchorman of “Freedom of Speech” on ICTV. Kyiv’s art cafe Freud House recently hosted a meeting with this journalist on the subject of “how to ensure that the standards of quality journalism work in Ukraine.” Seizing this opportunity, a Day journalist asked Kulikov whether or not his personal actions ran counter to professional principles of journalism.
“I used to say what ran counter to my principles. I admit that I made mistakes. Some of them were of a purely occupational nature, and some other can be called political. At least, I am still not much ashamed for what I was doing,” he answered. What does he mean by “not much ashamed?”
Is this perhaps the reason why we are marking time and remain a “Kuchmaite” Ukraine? On the one hand, the blame lies with the loyal media and journalists, their “conspiracy of silence.” Why do none of my journalist colleagues put to a public debate the question “What is the Kuchma era and when is it going to end?” A positive exception from this rule is journalist Serhii Vysotsky who raised this matter in April this year in the TVi channel’s program PolitClub, thus opening the system’s “ulcer.” On the other hand, it is “loyal oppositionists,” such as Arsenii Yatseniuk who calls Kuchma “state-maker” in an ICTV program. And, finally, it is the downtrodden citizens of Ukraine, who have already forgotten coming out on the Maidan in protest against Kuchma. We all remember the “Ukraine without Kuchma” campaign, its consequences and even international impact. Watching the developments, the younger generation of journalists was sure that society and the media began to adequately reappraise Kuchma’s performance. And what do we see now? Unscrupulousness leads to the past.
This will last until the Ukrainians learn their history lesson.
Viktor NEBOZHENKO, Ukrainian political scientist; director, sociological service Ukrainian Barometer:
“Leonid Kuchma has enough money to get himself hyped positively on his 75th birthday. But Kuchma is too weak a figure for the media to confine themselves to courteous descriptions. Kuchma is linked to many shady schemes, and it is interesting to rummage in this. But every politician is busy, as long as he or she is alive, laundering his political career. So it is no wonder that Inter is going to air Konchalovsky’s film Battle for Ukraine.”
Yurii MAKAROV, journalist, TV host, documentarian:
“The overall professional level of our guild is rather low – in terms of both technologies and world views. The present-day media are terribly warped. You can count the examples of quality journalism on the fingers of one hand. Whenever owners are afraid to quarrel with the authorities, they go tabloid. A process like this went on before my eyes in the Pluses program. I do not want to hurl one more stone at Kuchma, but he is the architect of the system that has been working steadily since then. What made it possible to effect some modifications were personal qualities of the next presidents. Against the backdrop of this administrative pressure, people are still finding a comfortable dimension of existence to avoid overexertion. This is a dead-end branch of civilization, which cannot be improved or modernized. A full reset is needed.”
Serhii VYSOTSKY, journalist:
“The Kuchma era is still on. He ruined the communist and post-communist nomenklatura of Kravchuk and created his own elite which had not been part of the CPSU’s topmost echelons. Among them are Yushchenko, Tymoshenko, and others. They are ‘children’ of Kuchma and the oligarchic setup he had shaped. Yanukovych is now trying to introduce his people into this system, but they are unfit for the offices they hold. All this may end up with a complete collapse of the system. As for the opposition, it rather resembles a different set of figures on the same chessboard. They are not a true opposition, for they are embedded into the same system based on oligarchic clans. The Kuchma era will only end when Ukraine manages to join – if not formally then at least in some informal aspects – the civilized family of first-world countries.”
Mykola LIAKHOVYCH, one of the organizers of the “Ukraine without Kuchma” campaign, sentenced to four years’ imprisonment in the “March 9 case”:
“Kuchma has a few dozen public figures and journalists on his conscience – the people whose destiny is of no concern at all for our post-totalitarian society. Naturally, we will never know why a victim may in the course of time fall in love with her rapist – it is the preserve of psychopathology rather than politics. If a victim ‘falls in love’ with the rapist, it is a malady and we have no right to condemn her for this. But when doctors and nurses make a hero out of a rapist, it is at least a moral crime. I am disgusted with the moral degradation of those media people who have forgotten dozens of their colleagues who lost their lives in the period of Kuchmism to make it possible for the former to feel protected today.”