Sunday, November 28, 2004

Ukraine update

Two things, it seems, are driving the conflict over the disputed presidential election in Ukraine: One is an ethnic division between the more industrialized, Russian-speaking east and the more rural west. (Sort of like the so-called "red-blue" divide except even more intense and geographically focused; none of those purple maps there.) The other is that people seem to be, as I noted before, serious about their democracy and not willing to either fold or look for "healing" in the wake of fraud. (Unlike certain unnamed major parties here, which don't even seem enthusiastic about examining charges, much less taking to the streets over them.)

Tens of thousands continue to fill a tent city in Kiev. The opposition has demanded that President Leonid Kuchma fire Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the purported winner over Viktor Yushchenko in the November 21 balloting, and threatened to block Kuchma's movements if he fails. The Parliament has passed resolutions calling the election invalid and declaring no confidence in the Central Elections Commission. Those resolutions are not legally binding but they are politically important.

Perhaps most significantly, the BBC reported on Friday that
[j]ournalists on Ukraine's state-owned channel - which had previously given unswerving support to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych - have joined the opposition, saying they have had enough of "telling the government's lies".

Journalists on another strongly pro-government TV station have also promised an end to the bias in their reporting. The turnaround in news coverage, after years of toeing the government line, is a big setback for Mr Yanukovych. ...

A correspondent on the state channel, UT1, announced live on the evening bulletin that the entire news team was going to join the protests in Independence Square. She said their message to the protesters was: "We are not lying anymore".
Now seriously, ask yourselves, really think about this: Can you think of one time, a single instance, just one time when a reporter or anchor on network TV news, some member of our so-called free press, said flat out "the government is lying to you?" Just once? I don't mean the fanatical right-wing asshole talking heads, I mean something that was supposed to be giving news, not opinion. Can you think of a single time? If so, please tell me about it. Because I don't know of one.

Yanukovych's forces are starting to hit back. The legislature of his native region, Donetsk, voted 164-1 to hold a Dec. 5 referendum on autonomy. Autonomy would require a change in the constitution, but raising the specter of increasing regional splits and on-going conflict if the election is overturned may be intended as a means to pressure the opposition to give in.

Meanwhile, Kuchma started dropping hints that he is considering what are usually euphemistically called "sterner measures."
Kuchma, who backed Yanukovych, criticized the blockades [of government offices] Sunday as a "gross violation of law" that "would be unacceptable in any nation." He made his comments during a meeting of his National Security Council, parts of which were broadcast live on Ukrainian television.

"Compromise is the only way to avoid unpredictable consequences," Kuchma said.
"Unpredictable consequences" has an ominous ring coming from him. Nonetheless, for the moment the protests will continue. The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling on the election on Monday. I don't think it will end the conflict no matter what it rules, but either side will use it as a club to beat the other. This is not over and I very much doubt it will be over after Monday.

Footnote: One amusing note is that, according to the Beeb's article,
[e]ven the sign-language presenter said that in an earlier bulletin, she had rejected the pro-government script and informed her viewers instead of the allegations of vote-rigging.
So the news reader is there, giving the government line, and there she is, signing away about charges of vote fraud. Must have been quite a thing to see for anyone who could hear but knows sign language.

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