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

UN Fears Rights Violations in China-backed Projects

UNHCHR investigates link between financing development and ignoring safeguards for human rights More

Boko Haram Violence Tests Nigerians’ Faith in Buhari

New president has promised to stem insurgency; he’s scheduled to meet with President Obama at White House July 20 More

Social Media Network Wants Privacy in User’s Hands

Encryption's popularity in messaging is exploding; now it's the foundation of a new social network 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.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs