On September 16 Ukraine’s antipresidential opposition marked the year since the disappearance of journalist Georgy Gongadze with a demonstration and rally. A column of protesters marched along Kyiv’s main streets, chanting anti-Kuchma slogans, and unveiled a plaque near the Journalists’ Union office with the names of eighteen journalists killed in Ukraine since independence. The protest was organized by the forces that most actively participated in anti-Kuchma protests late last year and early this, including the Socialist Party, former Deputy Premier Yulia Tymoshenko’s National Salvation Forum, and the public committee For Ukraine Without Kuchma.
The turnout, however, was small. Organizers had expected some 10,000, but only some 4,000 showed up. In other major cities, including Dnipropetrovsk, and Kharkiv, only small groups numbering fifty to 100 took part in similar rallies. Although the court in Odessa banned commemoration events, local Socialists ignored it and staged a rally, but failed to attract more than several dozen people. All this comes as little surprise, given the general indifference that has developed since the bloodshed on the anniversary of the birth of the nineteenth-century Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko this past March. Protests have died down, lacking organization, charismatic leadership, financing and, most important, public support. For the most part, Ukrainians seem to have remained indifferent, first, to the protesters’ allegations of President Leonid Kuchma’s involvement in the disappearance and murder of Gongadze and, second, to the sensational tapes that exposed corruption and undemocratic practices at the very top.
Some among the media–those either run by the state or controlled by members of Kuchma’s inner circle–allege that Ukraine’s opposition and its international ties are behind the September 16 and earlier protests. The opposition refutes this. In one of her most recent interviews, with Halytski Kontrakty in late August, Tymoshenko denied any Western financing of the protests. “I swear that no one is helping the Ukrainian opposition,” she said. “If the West offered us money, I would not accept it. Categorically.”
Meanwhile, Kuchma continues to maintain that the Gongadze case was an international plot. “This was a serious provocation against Ukraine, aimed at destabilizing the situation in this country,” he told top European officials at the Ukraine-EU summit in Yalta on September 11.
The journalist’s disappearance and murder remain unsolved. On September 8, Gongadze’s mother Lesya publicly requested Prosecutor General Mykhaylo Potebenko to initiate proceedings against Kuchma, the head of the presidential office Volodymyr Lytvyn and former Interior Minister Yury Kravchenko. She accused the prosecution of covering up instead of conducting a serious investigation and demanded additional examination of the mutilated body found in a forest outside Kyiv last November, which is believed to be her son’s. Her appeals have been ignored. Addressing journalists on September 17, Ukrainian Deputy Prosecutor General Oleksandr Bahanets said that there was no need for an additional examination because the prosecution firmly believes that the body in question is Gongadze’s. At the same time, Bahanets announced that Ukraine had invited FBI experts to help with the investigation, a statement confirmed on the same day by U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual (UNIAN, September 11, 16; New Channel TV, September 16-17; Versii.com, Ukrainska Pravda, September 17; see the Monitor, March 14).
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