“They will be the dirtiest elections in all history of independent Ukraine,” said president Leonid Kuchma in September 2004 and he knew what he was saying, as it is him who stands behind the brutal election campaign in Ukraine. Kuchma and his fellows, in order to preserve their position in the state, decided to nominate their candidate and that is Prime Minister Victor Yanukovych, representative of the Donets’k criminal clan. His opponent is the leader of the opposition block “Our Ukraine” and ex-Prime Minister and Head of the National Bank Victor Yushchenko, who won the first round of elections.
With this election campaign an ordinary Ukrainian citizen could get the feeling of being in the Soviet Union when watching TV, reading newspapers and walking on the streets. He or she gets the impression that, however, there is a choice – actually there is none. We have the only one choice and that is the power candidate Victor Yanukovych. Since the summer the whole Ukraine was plastered with an enormous amount of billboards showing Yanukovych or people who support him and the slogan “Because,” which people started to interpret differently.
Those billboards very soon ordinary Ukrainians started to call “big mordy” (big mugs). The candidate of the Opposition, Victor Yushchenko, was hardly visible. The main TV channels were showing the successful actions of the Prime Minister, who will turn Ukraine to paradise on earth. Before the elections he suddenly remembered the elderly people, teachers, etc. and decided to raise their pension and salaries twice. That caused inflation and incensement of prices, but who cares?
The picture broadcasted in the media
On TV everything looks great in Ukraine and only the bad Opposition disturbs the idyllic picture of the Prime Minister’s “successes”. The Ukrainian Opposition actually is not the Opposition, because according to Kuchma and Yanukovych the only possible Opposition would be the Communist Party. And further this actual opposition is very often “lying” by mentioning corruption of power, mistakes and overuse of that power by Yanukovych or by criticizing Kuchma for his bad language and attitude towards people, Soviet attitude and criminal past.
The recipe to destroy the opponent is simple – it is dirty PR in the controlled media. The ex-head of the National Bank and the most successful Prime Minister Victor Yushchenko is blamed for everything that goes wrong in the state. TV stations are rivaling in making TV programs about Yushchenko, where they are broadly discussing numerous manipulation with money or where he gets blamed for getting Ukraine into debts and usually without any proves.
The holes in the information blockade
The access of Yushchenko to media was and is limited to the TV stations 5 and “ERA”; the former has a coverage of only 38% of the Ukrainian territory and the later can be seen from late night till early morning. The only way to reach the general national audience was to go directly to the people. Yushchenko decided to travel all over the Ukraine and organize meetings, where usually thousands of people came despite the information blockade.
The campaign was successful, but it suddenly stopped at the beginning of September, when he got ill and the reason is unknown. Knowing the cases of poisoning of the Ukrainian deputies and Russian journalists, the Opposition suspected poisoning. Yushchenko was eliminated from the campaign for more than a month. The difficulty to find poison in the person that survived gave the TV stations the hot topic for discussions and blaming Yushchenko for pretending and lying. The explanations for the bad appearance of his face were sometimes fantastic, such as failed plastic operation, particularly, the injection of collagen in order to look younger.
Yanukovych´s strategic advisers are not asleep
The poisoning of Yushchenko and his speech in the Parliament shocked the power party and raised worries that his ranking could go up. Therefore, the sensation was needed. The advisers of Yanukovych decided to make a martyr out of him. During his visit to the Western Ukrainian city Ivano-Frankivsk they (probably) planned some stone throwing, but a student with an egg was first. Being injured by an egg Yanukovych artistically fell down. The videotapes were examined and the attempts to find some stones or batteries etc. failed and Ukraine received not a martyr, but a hero of numerous anecdotes and Internet games.
The action plan
The power pressure intensified two weeks before the elections. The whole administrative system was and is used to force people to make the “right” choice that is to vote for the power candidate. The people get frightened to loose their jobs in case of voting for Yushchenko. The students became the target group of the police, who began to arrest students for taking part in demonstrations and in oppositional actions to the power organization “Pora” (It is time) and blaming them for terrorism.
Suddenly Ukrainians discovered that almost in each university we are having terrorist, but quite unprofessional ones. They even do not know what to do with grenades and keep them in the oven, as it was the case with one student, who was blamed for being a terrorist. That caused mass strikes of students all over the Ukraine. However, the majority of students were forced to vote for Yanukovych, and in some cases as in Sumy they had to show the voting paper with their vote to the vice-rector.
The revolution of the journalists
Another action before the elections was to close the independent TV stations that were left. The first one was 5TV and later “Era”. That did not go as well as it was expected, because the journalists started to protest and announced starving. After one week of protest they won the case in court and caused the journalistic revolution.
Around 250 journalists supported them and signed the
declaration that they will work honestly. Some of them even resigned from their jobs in the main TV stations. This resulted in decreasing the amount of negative information about Yushchenko in media for about 10%. After the first round one journalist was fired from the First National Channel, because he refused to give false information and was supported by 13 of his colleagues.
The Ukrainian intellectuals also decided to take an active part in those elections. To them those elections are crucial for Ukraine’s future and a few declarations were published. In one of them it is stated that: “Today the Ukrainian (?) “prim-minister” Yanukovych gives his comrades and servants the best reservation territories, historical palaces and villas, parts of the seacoast and reservoirs, forests and mountains and already tomorrow he will give to us all for survival (or death) something like the last reservation with the destroyed depressive landscape… Therefore we, Ukrainian writers… are calling upon the Ukrainian electors in the Presidential elections to vote for the Victor Yushchenko.” This statement was signed by famous Ukrainian writers, such as Yuriy Andruhovych, Taras Prohasko, Mykola Ryabchuk, etc.
The first round of elections showed the great interest of citizens in the presidential campaign and in the faith of Ukraine. The participation of the people in the vote was 74% and the voices divided almost equally between the two candidates. Around 92% of the citizens announced participation in the second round of the elections. The main fear of people was and is falsification of the results of voting.
The first round showed the enormous number of techniques of falsification such as: manipulation of the election lists and as a result around 10% of people were deprived from the right to vote, mostly electors of Yushchenko, merry-go-round of voting, when 300 thousand people voted three times (with talons that allow to vote not in place of inhabitance), falsification of the election protocols by local and territorial committees, implication of falsification in the regions where Yushchenko won, etc.
The fears of the citizens are supported by the Central Election Committee, which counted 97,7% of voices in one day and 2,3% in ten. The Committee delayed the announcement of Yushchenko´s victory, waiting for the decisions of Kuchma and preventing the opposition candidate from starting the election campaign.
Last minute preparations
Before the second round of elections the opposition made a list of the falsifications and prepared contra-actions if this should repeat. They are asking the citizens not to write “f…k off” in front of the Yanukovych name in order not the spoil the voice, how it was done by many people in the first round. They recall the incident in Kharkiv, where a person wrote this expression opposite to Yanukovych name and the local election committee decided to count it as a voice for Yanukovych.
The candidates are trying to find spectacular supporters before the 21st of November. The leader of the Socialist Party, Olexandr Moroz, recently declared the support of his party for Yushchenko. Further more Anatoliy Kinah, of the Party of Industrials and Entrepreneur, well-known artists and intellectuals, and famous boxer brothers Klychko.
Yanukovych is supported by the leader of progressive-socialists Natalia Vitrenko and his wife, as he said recently in debates. However, he had also the Russian president Vladimir Putin pushing his PR campaign, but it did not help in the first round. The list of supporters is wider, geographically and socially for Victor Yushchenko, but the administrative resources are in the hands of Yanukovych and the second round will show what is crucial in Ukraine – the will of the people or the interests of the mafia.
What will the future bring?
The main result of the election 2004 is the birth of a civil society in Ukraine. The people became aware of their rights and responsibilities. They started to believe that they could change something in their country, that they can react upon the power pressure and change that power.
The victory of Victor Yushchenko could develop this civil society, and a victory of Victor Yanukovych, especially with manipulations, could destroy the most important value that is – the believe of the people that they are the most important part in the state and that they can change something. As the Ukrainian writers wrote: “Yanukovych – is the irreversibility of the marionette dictatorship and Yushchenko – is the irreversibility of democracy.”