President Leonid Kuchma suffers from Louisism. That is Louis as in Louis XIV, as in “I am the state.” Yesterday Kuchma told “every civil servant” to choose between “opposition movements” and “their jobs in state bodies.”
Kuchma has been under attack since the broadcast of audio tapes on which he purportedly discusses with his top security aides plans to “deal with” Gyorgy Gongadze, a gadfly journalist later found murdered. Some 25,000 people took part in a “Kuchma out” rally and mock trial in Kyiv on February 25. A few days later, police and special troops demolished a longstanding “Ukraine Without Kuchma” encampment on Kyiv’s main avenue. Protests from the United States and the European Union have been brushed aside.
The president is holding up well against a divided and leaderless opposition. His supporters appear to be maneuvering in parliament to force Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko and his cabinet to resign in favor of a broad coalition government. That would give Kuchma a chance to broaden his base by awarding ministerial portfolios across the political spectrum, from communists to representatives of the oligarchy that took control of the country’s industrial base after independence.
Meanwhile, Kuchma has no shortage of witches to hunt. In January, he fired Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was charged with evading taxes on millions of dollars allegedly taken from the energy sector. On March 6, he fired Energy Minister Serhiy Yermilov. And he has accused unnamed high officials of backing his opponents, which makes them candidates for the political if not the literal boneyard.
Kuchma denies any role in Gongadze’s murder. He suggested the tapes were assembled from words spoken in other contexts or otherwise faked. But the tapes, apparently recorded by a bug in a sofa in Kuchma’s private office, run to many hundreds of hours. So far no evidence has been brought forward to contest their authenticity.