Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 88

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma was “astonished” at being included on the list of the greatest “enemies of the press,” made public by the U.S. Committee to Protect Journalists. Oleksandr Martynenko, Kuchma’s spokesman, told this to journalists yesterday, adding that Kuchma may sue the committee if it does not apologize to him. Kuchma appeared No. 6 on the list for 1998, which was released on May 3, alongside Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, Cuban leader Fidel Castro and several African dictators.

The U.S. press freedom watchdog accused Kuchma of using tax and libel laws to strangle opposition press, tacitly accepting violence against the media and encouraging self-censorship. Martynenko argued that the economic problems faced by Ukrainian media “do not allow full realization of the freedom of the press,” for which it is “naive” to blame Kuchma. The committee mentioned the dailies “Vseukrainskie vedomosti” (VV), “Kievskie vedomosti” and “Pravda Ukrainy,” which closed down during the last year following property disputes and libel suits by government members and one “oligarch” close to Kuchma–Hryhory Surkis, in the case of VV–against them. Martynenko insisted that those “lawsuits [were filed] by private persons and enterprises,” and thus had no relation to the president (Ukrainian agencies and television, May 5; International agencies, May 3).

Both “Pravda Ukrainy” and VV closed down on the eve of last year’s parliamentary elections; “Pravda Ukrainy’s” shutdown was ordered by then information minister and Kuchma loyalist, Zynovy Kulyk. Both newspapers had been controlled by the former premier and bitter rival of Kuchma, Pavlo Lazarenko, who later, charged with embezzlement, fled Ukraine to seek political asylum in the United States. “Pravda Ukrainy” resumed publication in January of this year, losing its opposition edge. “Kievskie vedomosti,” evicted from its premises, closed down in February. This daily reappeared on sale in kiosks on April 24, after the former head of Dendi bank and current member of Lazarenko’s Hromada Union, Mykhaylo Brodsky, reportedly sold his controlling share in the paper to Surkis (Kyiv Post, April 29; see the Monitor, January 8, February 23). Virtually all of Ukraine’s nationwide dailies are currently under firm control of various political interest groups, Ukrainian “oligarchs” and the government.–OV