FOR THE RECORD: RFE/RL interviews Viktor Yushchenko
Viktor Yushchenko, leader of the Our Ukraine political bloc, visited the RFE/RL headquarters in Prague on June 6, where he was a keynote speaker at Radio Liberty's 50th anniversary commemorations. Later the same day, Mr. Yushchenko was interviewed by Vasyl Zilhalov and Iryna Khalupa from RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. The entire interview can be found at http://www.radiosvoboda.org/specialreports/guests/uk/2003/06/20030606asp.
Below is a translation, provided by RFE/RL Poland, Belarus and Ukraine Report, of selected excerpts, where Mr. Yushchenko touched upon the freedom of expression, the political situation and upcoming presidential elections in Ukraine, as well as upon his relations with President Leonid Kuchma.
Q: Is there any alternative to Radio Liberty in Ukraine? In other words, have we already reached the situation that Ukraine has many media outlets such as Radio Liberty?
A: Unfortunately, no. [While speaking at the 50th anniversary commemorations earlier today], I wanted to conclude my speech with a wish that I or my children could live as long as to see the time when services of Radio Liberty are no longer needed in Ukraine, because stable democracy has been established in the country. Unfortunately, this has not been the case yet.
For the time being, Ukraine is proceeding in the opposite direction. It's a time of disappointments as regards the freedom of speech. I think there are some independent media outlets operating in Ukraine, both domestic and foreign, but as regards the foreign ones, I would put Radio Liberty in the first place.
Q: There are presidential elections approaching in Ukraine. Do you think that the Ukrainian media are ready for objective coverage of the presidential elections?
A: I will start by quoting a distressing figure: 56 percent of Ukrainians think that democratic elections in Ukraine are impossible. This is a challenge both to politicians who are seeking to change the government and to citizens. This is also a challenge to common sense. This is a problem not only for Ukraine but also for Europe.
[To have objective coverage of the elections], one needs, first of all, to have these elections actually staged in accordance with the Ukrainian Constitution. Second, I'd like to stress that Ukrainian democratic forces do not need any assistance apart from ensuring that these elections are honest, transparent, and democratic. We think that this alone will be enough to introduce changes in Ukraine, to install democratic forces in power.
Q: Excuse me, Mr. Yushchenko, for interrupting you. But do [preconditions] for honest, transparent and democratic elections exist in Ukraine?
A: Regarding the [freedom] of the media, which is absolutely necessary for progress in Ukrainian society, we need both domestic and international support. The [state] monopoly in the media sphere in Ukraine has deprived thousands of journalists of the possibility to work professionally and honestly. It is a problem to obtain truthful information in Ukraine. It is a problem to obtain full information in Ukraine. People are continually treated with large doses of falsified information.
It is very difficult for people to make correct choices, including political ones. Any issue, including those connected with Ukrainian history, the Ukrainian language and integration, may be subject to political bargaining. This is being done to keep Ukrainian society fragmented like a flock of sheep.
Q: Regarding your bloc, Our Ukraine, anonymous publishers spread massive disinformation in propaganda publications that reach millions of copies. What would you advise average Ukrainians - how are they to sort out this [disinformation]?
A: The best reaction [to this disinformation campaign] would be to install democracy, but this is possible only at some later time. You know, I have already seen a dozen falsified publications bearing my signature. Now we are witnessing an avalanche of mendacious interviews that I have never given. What is more, they are being published under the mastheads of publications that do not exist.
But all of them pursue one goal: to stuff people's minds with nonsense so they may later wonder: Is Our Ukraine a pathologically stupid organization? Is it a fascist organization? Does it consist of idiots and people devoid of elementary human values as regards morality or religion?
We are trying to react but our efforts are insufficient. I emphasize - this is not [only] my personal problem or my bloc's problem. This is a problem of 48 million Ukrainians.
We are working on a project of cooperation with regional print media, with newspapers, and I hope this project will be successful. We are in touch with two newspapers, we are opening up a number of possibilities on television but I would not like to speak about them right now in order to avoid closing these possibilities before they are actually opened up.
Q: Many of our listeners are interested in the behavior of the opposition as a whole in the [upcoming presidential] elections. As you know, [Communist Party leader Petro] Symonenko has already declared that he is ready to put his name on the ballot. Yulia Tymoshenko has recently made several very critical statements, in which she criticized both Our Ukraine and you, and threatened to propose herself as a presidential candidate if the situation remains as it is. What is your vision of the consolidation of opposition forces in these elections?
A: To start with, everybody should avoid resorting to adventurous politics or petty blackmail. We should be guided by one [goal]: to consolidate ourselves and come out as a single force. This is an important test for everybody. And we realize that the authorities are working day by day to prevent us from doing this.
Therefore, we proposed last year, and reiterated our proposal this year, that the consolidation should give each political force a conviction that it is one of the authors of this consolidation process. We want to avoid the situation where a navel, or a bright sun, is placed in the center, and everybody else will have to join it. If we follow such a pattern, we will make a great deal of opponents among political forces objecting to such serfdom.
Q: But many would say it is you who is this navel, this bright sun, which attracts a great deal of people, including many of dubious backgrounds.
A: Therefore, I'd like them to hear me now. Esteemed political forces, no matter whether you are today in Parliament or outside it, no matter even whether you are a political force or just an efficient social force, let me say one thing. Let us hold public roundtables throughout Ukraine and discuss one question: With what is Ukraine ill today? How has it happened that the authorities are such as they are?
[Let us also discuss] how - following regional roundtables with a broad range of opposition, democratic and other forces - to begin forming this fall a forum of democratic forces, in which all participants could feel themselves as co-authors of this forum, in which no differences between those from the first and the second rank would exist.
[Let us discuss how to make] all of them sign a fundamental document on forming such a coalition in order to achieve political consolidation, form a common outlook regarding Ukraine's reconstruction, and, of course, field a single [presidential] candidate.
Q: You have repeatedly said that there should be no impassable wall between the opposition and the authorities, that there should be some contacts between the former and the latter. You regularly meet the president. But there have recently been a lot of insinuations around this. Some even say that in the very last moment Leonid Kuchma may appoint you as his successor in the elections. What can you say about the purpose of your contacts with the authorities and the president in response to such rumors?
A: I am convinced that Ukraine is not an Asiatic khanate in which political succession is passed [by one ruler to another]. Therefore, I don't care too much about such gossip, even if I realize that many politicians are dying to know at whom [Kuchma's] finger will be pointed.
On the other hand, I would not be sincere if I said that it does not matter to me what position is taken by the Ukrainian president today or will be taken tomorrow. Beyond question, the president remains a key political player in Ukraine, who is constantly torn between the two dilemmas - either to work for the country's good or to yield to the clans even further, thus preparing a very difficult future for Ukraine.
I am convinced that one needs to communicate with the president. What is the language of this communication, what is the topic of these conversations? Of course, these are difficult conversations. Believe me, it is not easy for me to step in to talk with the president, and these talks are emotionally and morally exhausting. But if you are guided by Ukrainian interests, you have to stand up, go and talk. Such talks do not belong to the pleasant or easy hours of your life, but you have to hold them.
Q: There is a lot of information, including from Uzhhorod, Lviv, Rivne and other regions, that the Social Democratic Party-United (SDPU) and its functionaries resort to methods bordering on violence as regards employing people in regional administrations. They put the question in the following way: If you want to work in the administration, join the SDPU; if not, good-bye. And this has become a mass-scale occurrence. What is your assessment of this?
A: The SDPU-ization of the entire country is under way, this is a fact, I have already spoken about it in Parliament.
Q: How does the SDPU manage to multiply in such a magical way so quickly? In the  elections it was the party that obtained the least votes [among those parties that cleared the 4 percent voting threshold], but has got hold of strong positions in the government, is now running three oblast administrations and continues to mushroom.
A: I think there is nothing phenomenal. There is only [the party's] proximity to the president [ed.: SDPU leader Viktor Medvedchuk is head of the presidential administration]. This is possible because of only one reason - [Ukraine's political] system does not work. If it did work, it would have prevented such pathologies from occurring in the Ukrainian government.
The president ignores public opinion, he is in possession of political levers that allow him to appoint a person whose name has been whispered into his ear by those from his entourage.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, June 22, 2003, No. 25, Vol. LXXI
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