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Events from February 1 to 6, 2004

[08.02.04]

Constitutional reform

A special session of the Ukrainian parliament was held on February 3. It lasted only one hour. The session adopted some amendments to the draft of constitutional reform. In particular, a provision concerning the election of the president by parliament in 2006 was excluded from the bill. As for the 2004 elections, neither the initial nor the new draft provides any modifications of the effective constitution. The presidential elections will be held on the last Sunday of October.

Eight out of 10 factions of the Ukrainian parliament voted for the new draft. The factions Our Ukraine (leader Viktor Yushchenko) and the BYuT (leader Yuliya Tymoshenko) refused to take part in the voting. They tried to stonewall it and threw pieces of paper at the speaker.

Nevertheless, 304 lawmakers, i.e. the constitutional majority, voted for this decision. In reality for a preliminary approval a simple majority (226 votes) is enough whereas its conclusive approval requires at least 301 votes.

A regular (5th) session of parliament opened on the same day. The opposition did not try to thwart its session and parliament passed several important laws.

In particular, on February 4 the Ukrainian parliament ratified the Kyoto Protocol dealing with the issues of climate changes.

Ireland presiding now in the European Union on December 30 on behalf of the European Union "expressed profound concern" with the events of December 24. They meant the voting for the reform, which according to the Ukrainian opposition's opinion was illegitimate.

This statement was made before the voting on February 3.

The oil pipeline "Odessa-Brody" will be used in the forward direction

The oil pipeline "Odessa-Brody" will be used in the forward direction, that is from the oil terminal "Pivdennyi" to Brody. Such a decision was taken at the session of the Ukrainian government.

A working group was set up. This group will be responsible for the workload of the pipeline, that is, together with the pipeline's owners the commission will make decisions as to the pipeline's joint use for pumping oil.

It was announced that the Cabinet of Ministers supported the bill on leasing the "Odessa-Brody" pipeline and the "Pivdennyi" oil terminal for concession. After the bill is adopted a concessionaire will be determined at the tender.

The U.S. ambassador John Herbst in Kiev said that the Cabinet of Minister's decision on the forward use of the "Odessa-Brody" pipeline should be welcomed. "This will enhance Ukraine's energy independence and we believe it will be beneficial for Ukraine and its oil industry in the long-term and even in the short-term prospects", he said.

Nevertheless, the Russian-British TNK-BP Company selling oil products in Ukraine wants to persuade Ukraine's government to use the oil pipeline "Odessa-Brody" for pumping Russian oil in the time when its construction is completed in the direction of Odessa, i.e. in the reverse mode.

President of the company "Trading House TNK-Ukraine", a subsidiary of TNK-BP, Alexander Gorodetsky informed that the company intended to defend its proposal before the members of the governmental commission being set up and which is to secure the effective use of the oil pipeline.

But as was announced by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich the adopted decision is final and would not be revised. It is expected that the operation of the pipeline in the European direction will begin in the nearest months.

Before the Ukrainian government made this decision the Ukrainian side received a proposal from the U.S. company ChevronTexaco to start operation of the oil pipeline in the forward direction as early as in 2004.

ANTI-SEMITISM AND "SILSKI VISTI"

Today we bring you a special issue on the controversy of the closure of the newspaper "Silski Visti" ("Village News") and the issue of anti-semitism in Ukraine. Below is an article on these two subjects by Ana Shinder, a young journalist who covers Jewish issues for several media outlets in Ukraine.

Myths and Truths About Ukrainian Anti-Semitism

What if you opened a prominent national newspaper like the New York Times, theWashington Post, or the Los Angeles Times and read the following excerpt "...Jews today strive for ruling over Ukrainian people, and for enriching themselves at their expense. One of the ways of achieving this is demoralization and deprivation of cultural wealth and denationalization, and other is capturing political power. Both the first and the second way work perfectly today....the phantom of Zionism in Ukraine turned into abnormal reality." Some time later in the same newspaper the headline "Beware of Jews" appears. Both articles are filled with insults and unsubstantiated accusations. Would you consider that the author and the newspaper were exercising their rights to free speech or would you think that this was a clear attempt to incite ethnic hatred or worse, persecution? The paper is taken to court. During the hearing the newspaper’s representatives state that they fully support the views of the writer, who in fact has prepared similar additional articles that the newspaper’s editors plan to publish. The judge orders the newspaper to be shut down.

On 28th January a court in Kiev, Ukraine ordered the closure of such a newspaper on grounds of hate literature, a crime in today’s Ukraine. It was found guilty of publishing anti-Semitic materials, promoting ethnic and religious hostility.

With circulation of over 500,000 Silski Visti is the largest newspaper in the Ukraine. It is tied to the opposition-a group of political parties aligned against President Kuchma and the government-and particularly to the Socialist Party and its leader Oleksader Moroz who is reportedly a man behind Silski Visti. The opposition uses this newspaper to influence rural communities, where the population is impoverished, isolated and poorly educated.

Supporters of Silski Visti have sought to turn this shameful development into a political windfall by claiming that the presidential administration used these two articles as an excuse to shut down an unfavorable news source. Those members of the opposition were directly involved in this effort were parliamentarians who participated in the newspaper’s legal defense in court: they included Ivan Boky, Valentina Semenjuk and Vasili Chervony. Following the court’s decision, Mr. Boky, a member of the Socialist Party stated that the court’s verdict was a direct infringement on the freedom of speech and democracy and that he planned to take the matter to the European Council. He complained that even if the articles were provocative, the penalty was too harsh.

However, under a closer examination of developments in Ukraine, it becomes clear that the penalty was not only the right one but in fact there was a precedent: in the year 2000 when the newspaper Dzherelze was shut down by a court order in Kharkiv on same legal grounds. What is disturbing is that anti-Semitism in Ukraine is growing. But what is even more frightening is it’s apparent use by political groups to attract constituents.

The first article to appear "Myths About Ukrainian Anti-Semitism" by university professor Vasili Yaremenko was printed in November 2002. After the article appeared, Sliski Visti, encouraged its readers to write to the newspaper and to share their own negative experiences with the people of Jewish nationality. A second article "Jews in Ukraine: Reality without Myth" published almost a year later on 30 September 2003 was the one that prompted the International Antifascist Committee and the Ukrainian Jewish Congress to file a lawsuit asking the court to close down the newspaper.

As the controversy over the article mounted, "anti-Semitism" became the hot topic jumping from the pages of newspapers into the political arena. Opposition party "Our Ukraine" under the leadership of Victor Yuschenko even started a forum on its website entitled "Beware of Jews: Ukrainians Must Read This."

Mr. Yuschenko together with other opposition leaders like Moroz and Timoshenko insisted that the reason for the Silski Visti closure was strictly political and dismissed accusations that the articles were anti-Semitic, insisting instead that they were, in fact, scientific and philosophical discussions.

It is scary to think that one of these opposition leaders could potentially be Ukraine’s next president or presidential aspirants would publicly support ethnic hatred. Mr. Yuschenko, Mr. Moroz and Ms. Timoshenko should have condemned the anti-Semitic articles and Mr. Yuschenko in addition should have moved to expell the openly neo-nazi skinheads from his political bloc. Instead they chose to defend Silski Visti and to accuse the Presidential Administration of trying to clamp down on the opposition press. The actions of these opposition leaders can only be described as irresponsible and shocking. They stand out among other opposition elements whose publications (such as Zerkalo Nedeli) have repudiated anti-Semetic rhetoric of Silski Visti.

Silski Visti, was shut down not because it was an anti-government newspaper but because it violated Ukrainian law in inciting anti-Semitism. Other opposition publications are operating today because they did not publish anti-Semitic poison. The editors of Silski Visti are unrepentant and clearly stated during the court hearings that they would publish such materials in the future. Considering the number of people Silski Visti reaches on a daily basis it is clear to see that the Ukrainian courts could not allow such widespread promotion of ethnic hatred to continue.


Current Commentary







Events from June 6 to June 12, 2004 - [17.06.2004]



Events from May 30 to June 5, 2004 - [07.06.2004]



Events from May 21 to 28, 2004 - [05.06.2004]



Events from May 14 to 20, 2004 - [25.05.2004]



Events from May 8 to 13, 2004 - [24.05.2004]



Events from May 1 to May 7, 2004 - [11.05.2004]



Events from April 24 to 30, 2004 - [02.05.2004]



Events from April 18 to 23, 2004 - [23.04.2004]



Events from April 1 to 8, 2004 - [08.04.2004]



Events from March 19 to March 26, 2004 - [29.03.2004]



Weekly briefing on key developments in Ukraine - [18.03.2004]



Events from February 1 to 6, 2004 - [08.02.2004]



Events from January 24 to 30, 2004 - [02.02.2004]



Events from January 15 to 23, 2004 - [24.01.2004]



Events from January 5 to January 15, 2004 - [21.01.2004]



Events from December 20, 2003 to January 1, 2004 - [21.01.2004]



Events from December 16 to December 20, 2003 - [25.12.2003]



Events from December 8 to December 15, 2003 - [15.12.2003]



Events from December 1 to December 5, 2003 - [06.12.2003]



Events from November 22 to December 1, 2003 - [02.12.2003]




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