Protesters erect tent towns in Kyiv as Gongadze scandal continues
by Yarema A. Bachynsky
Special to the Ukrainian Weekly
KYIV - Some four weeks after National Deputy Oleksander Moroz made public a tape implicating President Leonid Kuchma, Minister of Internal Affairs Yurii Kravchenko and other top-level Ukrainian officials in the disappearance and possible murder of opposition journalist Heorhii Gongadze, the scandal known as "Kuchmagate," "Gongadzegate" or "Tapegate" shows no signs of abating.
While Parliament continued its review of the scandal, ordinary Ukrainians and political activists of all stripes took to the streets to advance their case.
On Friday, December 15, in a move that harked back to the civil disobedience of 1990, that forced the resignation of Vitalii Masol, prime minister of then Soviet Ukraine, a group of students and political activists erected six pup tents on Independence Square in Kyiv. Those participating represented such ideological opponents as Socialists, the "My" (We) centrist union, members of the two Rukh parties, and the radical nationalist UNA-UNSO, among others.
Leading the anti-Kuchma camp on the ground were Volodymyr Chemerys, former national deputy and ally of current National Deputy Serhii Holovatyi, and Yurii Lutsenko, Socialist Party activist and 1990 hunger strike participant.
The demonstrators on Independence Square put forth a number of demands, among them the resignation of President Leonid Kuchma, Minister of Kravchenko, Security Service of Ukraine Director Leonid Derkach and Customs Committee of Ukraine Chairman Yurii Solovkov. They also called upon Ukrainian authorities to permit an independent investigation of all allegations against the president and other individuals allegedly tied to the Gongadze matter and the Melnychenko tapes, as well as to submit the body found in a forest in Tarascha (near Kyiv) to an independent international forensic examination.
The headless corpse was discovered on November 2. Subsequently, a number of items and bone scars were observed on the body, suggesting that it might be that of Mr. Gongadze, who disappeared from Kyiv streets on September 16 and has not been seen since. Last week Mr. Gongadze's wife, Myroslava, viewed the remains and identified the personal items as belonging to her husband, but could not say with certainty that the badly mutilated body belonged to her husband.
Over the weekend the tent town on the city's central square grew. The anti-Kuchma camp was joined by six tents set up by pro-Kuchma demonstrators identified by police on the scene as their fellow officers. Meanwhile, Ukrainian broadcast media made varied attempts at delving deeper into the roots of the anti-Kuchma camp's demands.
ICTV, a national television outlet associated with Viktor Pinchuk, son-in-law of President Kuchma, a powerful businessman and a backer of the Trudova Ukraina (Labor Ukraine) faction in Parliament, heavily questioned the protesters' motives and wondered about the origins of the Moroz-Melnychenko audio and videotapes, which had given impetus to the previous week's grilling of top law enforcement and security officials in Parliament and had helped bring the anti-Kuchma demonstrators onto the streets.
UT-1, the state television channel, in its "Seven Days" weekly analytical program on December 17 echoed other voices close to official Ukraine questioning the roots of the scandal.
The Studio 1+1 station in its weekly news commentary program, weighed the tape scandal and the burgeoning demonstrations on Independence Square, and noted that the organizers of the anti-Kuchma camp included organizers of the 1990 student hunger strike, people "who are prepared to go all the way," should the Ukrainian authorities seek to suppress or ignore their demands.
On Monday, December 18, about 250 participants were addressed by Socialist Party Leader and National Deputy Oleksander Moroz, Sobor Party Chairman Anatolii Matvienko and Ukrainian Republican Party Chairman Levko Lukianenko. The anti-Kuchma tent camp grew to double digits and the anti-Kuchma protesters, along with their counterparts from the pro-Kuchma forces, were beginning to draw increased attention from passers-by.
On Tuesday, December 19, events on Independence Square heated up. In the morning, the Communist Party of Ukraine brought its supporters to the center of Kyiv. CPU First Secretary Petro Symonenko called on the Ukrainian people "to unite and reclaim power from the Kuchma regime."
While the left-right anti-Kuchma coalition was assembling its supporters on Independence Square, a much smaller meeting - "In support of Constitutional Order" as it was dubbed by its organizers - took place on Bankova Street near the presidential administration headquarters. Such well-known politicians as former President Leonid Kravchuk and Rukh for Union (a recently formed splinter group of Rukh) organizer and former Ternopil Oblast Chairman Bohdan Boiko decried the anti-Kuchma protests.
The approximately 300 students assembled at this meeting were, as a number of them explained, promised payment of between 10 and 20 hrv and given free hot drinks and pastries in exchange for their participation in the pro-Kuchma meeting. Some of the demonstrators' posters included disparaging references to the lifestyle choice of National Deputy Serhii Holovatyi and suggested that the entire Gongadze tape scandal was a creation of either Western or Russian special services.
Around noon, between 5,000 and 8,000 anti-Kuchma demonstrators left the central square and marched through European Square and up Hrushevsky Street to the Parliament, where they were separated from a thousand-strong group of Kuchma supporters by a substantial police cordon. While the sides were generally restrained in their behavior, the anti-Kuchma camp did manage to penetrate the police cordon, although not without some relatively minor fisticuffs that left a number of people with cuts and bruises.
Parliament Chairman Ivan Pliusch addressed the various demonstrators on the square in front of the Verkhovna Rada. Speaking through a megaphone to be heard above the din of the crowd, Mr. Pliusch, promised that Mr. Chemerys would address Parliament that day at 4 p.m. A short time later, both demonstrations dispersed, with many of the anti-Kuchma demonstrators returning to Independence Square.
The designated time came and went with the resolution to permit Mr. Chemerys to address Parliament narrowly failing to gather sufficient votes. The pro-Kuchma Labor Ukraine faction and numerous deputies from the Regional Rebirth, Greens, and Social Democratic Party (United) abstained from the vote on this resolution. The anti-Kuchma forces had also been promised on Tuesday that presidential administration head Volodymyr Lytvyn would meet with their representatives that evening at 6 p.m.
Around 5 p.m., a group of about 350 anti-Kuchma demonstrators marched on the presidential administration, but did not meet with Mr. Lytvyn, who in the words of the demonstrators, was unavailable. Instead the deputy head of the presidential administration, Oleh Diomin, spoke with Mr. Lutsenko, who gave Mr. Diomin a list of their demands, which the latter promised to pass along to the president. The anti-Kuchma demonstrators dispersed, promising to assemble in greater force the next day, and to begin a hunger strike if Mr. Kuchma did not meet with their representatives by noon the next day.
By Wednesday, December 20, the anti-Kuchma tent town had grown to include delegations from throughout Ukraine, including regions as diverse as Donetsk, Lviv, Rivne, Cherkasy, Sumy and Vinnytsia. Close to noon, President Kuchma met with Messrs. Chemerys and Lutsenko. Thereafter, the protest leaders met with the demonstrators, numbering well over 1,000 participants. Mr. Chemerys described the meeting with the president, which lasted one and one-half hours.
At the meeting, Mr. Kuchma categorically refused to submit his own resignation. Mr. Chemerys reported that the president would, "agree to consider releasing Internal Affairs Minister Kravchenko and Security Service Director Derkach, but only on the condition that [the] prime minister submit such a request to him.
Mr. Chemerys also said the president had agreed to order an independent international investigation of all the issues surrounding Mr. Gongadze's disappearance and the Melnychenko tapes. The president also said he would contact Parliament Chairman Pliusch about granting the anti-Kuchma protesters time in the legislature on Thursday to address the national deputies and the nation. Mr. Chemerys also said that he and Mr. Lutsenko had told the president that, should Messrs. Kravchenko and Derkach, as well as Procura General Mykhailo Potebenko be removed from office, the anti-Kuchma tent town would be disassembled while the group decides on further actions as it awaits investigation of the Gongadze and Melnychenko issues.
On Wednesday afternoon, a group of close to 500 anti-Kuchma protesters marched to the Cabinet of Ministers on Hrushevsky Street, where Prime Minister Viktor Yuschenko met briefly with them and promised to review the issue of Messrs. Kravchenko and Derkach at a meeting of the government in the next days. Ukrayinska Pravda reported that Mr. Chemerys had been informed that such a meeting might take place the following day. The day closed with the tent town still up, Maidan still full of people, and Parliament preparing to review the Law on Special Investigative Commissions, previously vetoed by Mr. Kuchma.
On Thursday, December 21, a crowd numbering more than 2,000 anti-Kuchma and close to 1,000 pro-Kuchma demonstrators gathered near the Parliament. The pro-Kuchma side included primarily representatives of the National Democratic Party, SDP (U) and Labor Ukraine, shouting "Kuchma is our President!" Mr. Kuchma's opponents chainted "Ukraine without Kuchma." The various demonstrators were separated from the Parliament and each other by a double steel barricade and large numbers of police.
Mr. Chemerys addressed Parliament for some five minutes and repeated the anti-Kuchma forces' demands. The Parliament voted to include the revised Draft Law on Special Investigative Commissions on its daily agenda, and it ordered Procurator General Potebenko to expedite the Gongadze and Melnychenko investigation; and passed a resolution asking the Council of Europe to assist in conducting independent examinations of both the unidentified body thought to belong to Mr. Gongadze and the Melnychenko tapes.
A meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers at which the issue of Messrs. Kravchenko and Derkach's employment was to be discussed was ongoing as this article went to press.
On the presidential front, Mr. Kuchma departed on Thursday for meetings in Moscow with Russian officials. Mr. Kuchma also ordered by decree the creation of a Department for Coordination of Law Enforcement Bodies at the Presidential Administration. The body will answer directly to the president.
The tent town in Kyiv continued to grow and numbered more than 30 tents in the anti-Kuchma sector. The pro-Kuchma forces remained at six tents. In Chernivtsi, Rukh and the Ukrainian Republican Party erected a tent town and information stand of their own, according to the Kyiv-based Korrespondent.net.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, December 24, 2000, No. 52, Vol. LXVIII
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