The Master's Voice

President Leonid Kuchma has been under close scrutiny since last December owing to mounting evidence of his involvement in the disappearance of Heorhii Gongadze, editor of the Internet newspaper Ukrayinska Pravda.

Demonstrators erected tents outside Ukraine’s parliament and began calling for Kuchma’s resignation. The scandal, known as Kuchma-gate, is the greatest political crisis since Ukraine gained independence in 1991.

Gongadze vanished in September. A headless corpse believed to be the journalist’s was discovered on Nov. 2 near Kiev. Personal effects and a DNA test confirmed the identity of the body. Tape recordings, made secretly by the president’s former bodyguard, Mykola Melnychenko, reportedly capture Kuchma and Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko discussing how to eliminate Gongadze.

Shortly after Gongadze’s disappearance, Kuchma promised a thorough inves-tigation. When the body and the tapes turned up, however, Prosecutor General Mykhai-lo Potebenko began temporizing. He expressed skepticism about the identity of the corpse, only to admit later that it was almost certainly Gongadze’s. He claimed the tapes couldn’t have been made as Melnychenko said they were. More recently, he has admitted that some of the recordings are genuine.

Gongadze’s colleagues at Ukrayinska Pravda have been on the case since the beginning, but even the semi-official press has weighed in.

Writing in the government newspaper Uryadovyi Kuryer (Jan. 20), Andrii Chyrva observed: “How many political scientists have noted that Ukrainian society is overly personalized? People ask, ‘Who or what stands behind a particular affair? Are they close to the powers-that-be?’ It’s a very fatalistic view. And what’s the source of people’s information? The print or electronic media.”

Mykola Nesenyuk, commenting in the centrist daily Den (Feb. 7) a day after 5,000 people marched on parliament, looked to Ukraine’s future: “Without a doubt, the initial shock of the charges from the tapes and the tent encampment has passed. The government wisely did not add insult to injury by organizing, again, implausible pro-Kuchma actions.”

Nesenyuk added: “Now the transition has taken place from street democracy to normal democracy that takes account of new conditions. These conditions are the inability of official propaganda to pretend that nothing is happening or to imitate a popular condemnation of ‘provocateurs.’ Independent information has blazed a trail to the mass consumer, and every means of mass communication that seeks to maintain credibility must give a real picture of events.”

Nesenyuk’s optimism may have been premature. On Feb. 13 former Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya V. Tymoshenko, identified with the anti-Kuchma opposition, was arrested on corruption charges. Quoted in the youth-oriented Molod Ukrayiny (Feb. 15), Mykola Tomenko, of the Institute of Politics, said: “I believe her arrest weakens the possibility of political dialogue between the opposition and thegovernment.”

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