News / Europe

Ukraine's President Takes Authoritarian Path in First Year

Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych, December 15, 2010 (file photo)
Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych, December 15, 2010 (file photo)

Multimedia

James Brooke

One year after Viktor Yanukovych became president of Ukraine, his boosters say he has brought stability to this massive nation of 46 million people.  His critics say he is pushing Ukraine in an authoritarian direction, halfway toward Vladimir Putin's strong rule in Russia.

The euphoria of Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution fizzled during five years of political gridlock.  One year ago, Ukrainians voted narrowly for a switch.

The winner of the Orange Revolution, pro-Western populist Yulia Tymoshenko, is out.  The loser of the Orange Revolution, pro-Russian conservative Viktor Yanukovych, is in.

At stake is the direction of a post-Soviet state, second in size and population only to Russia.

In one-year report cards, freedom and democracy advocacy groups say President Yanukovych is taking Ukraine down an authoritarian path.

The U.S.-based organization Freedom House has downgraded Ukraine from free to partly free.  Paris-based Reporters Without Borders dropped Ukraine 42 notches in its Media Freedom Index to 131st place.

Nataliya Lygachova works with the new Stop Censorship movement in Kyiv.  She says Ukraine's new government borrowed from the Kremlin the strategy of imposing controls on television news.  Newspaper and Internet sites are freer, but watched.

Theater student Anya Kovalenko says that Ukraine does not have the press freedom it had one year ago. She says that day and night, Ukrainian TV stations and newspapers say life here is better.  But in reality, prices are rising and wages are frozen.

In response, Ukrainian diplomats increasingly are on the defensive.  Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Voloshyn says many journalists and human rights workers in Ukraine are Orange Revolution supporters.  The power shift came as a shock.

"When you live in a state of chaos, of political chaos, that we have been living through the past five years, any limitation of this chaos creates a feeling, especially for the journalists, of limits being put on the freedom of the press," said Voloshyn.

The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv recently warned President Yanukovych about selective persecution of political opponents.  And the European Union has made it clear that democracy is a core condition for Ukraine winning a free trade pact this year.

These warnings came after prosecutors jailed three former ministers and prompted a fourth to flee to Prague and ask for asylum.  Prosecutors also are interrogating Ms. Tymoshenko, the former prime minister, on charges of abuse of power.  She is banned from leaving the country.

Ms. Tymoshenko said President Yanukovych "naïvely thinks he can build a new iron curtain.  This is a man still living according to Soviet ways, with Soviet views."

Ms. Tymoshenko commented at her political headquarters a few hours after government security agents demanded her party's computer server.  She calls President Yanukovych a tyrant.

She says the president's authoritarian ways are causing him to sink in opinion polls.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Voloshyn says politicians the world over are investigated for corruption after leaving office.

"How can we talk about political persecution?  Her ratings increase, she organizes rallies, she meets with foreign journalists, she gives interviews," Voloshyn noted.

Many Ukrainians ask if President Yanukovych will move Ukraine further in the political direction of Vladimir Putin's Russia.

Russian journalist Evgeniy Kiselev is not worried.  He hosts a political talk show in Kyiv, where he finds press freedom more robust than in Russia.  He compares Ukraine to Belgium or Canada, other countries too linguistically and ethnically divided to be run by a centralizing strong man.

"This regionalization of Ukraine, I am not saying disintegration, the fact that Ukraine is a combination of different regions, groups, religions, interests, etcetera, is a blessing for the country," said Kiselev.  "I don't think Putin's scenario is plausible for Ukraine.  In Ukraine, this will never happen for many reasons."

As for Ukraine's political future, Kiselev predicts Mr. Yanukovych will face strong opposition candidates in the next presidential election, four years from now.  And at this point, he says, he would not vouch for the president's re-election.

You May Like

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost-Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More