(Prague/Washington--August 27, 2004) Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who has ruled his country with an iron fist for more than ten years, is no longer a premier player in Ukrainian politics, according to politicians and analysts who appeared on the RFE/RL Ukrainian Service's "Evening Liberty" program on August 26, 2004.
Amid mounting rumors in Kyiv of Kuchma's imminent resignation ahead of the presidential election in October, the main question of the roundtable program was: "When will it happen and what will it mean for Ukraine?" "Evening Liberty," a daily 45-minute in-studio discussion moderated by RFE/RL Ukrainian Service Director Alexander Narodetsky, featured the coordinator of the parliamentary majority and head of the Democratic Initiatives group in parliament, Stepan Havrysh; Oleh Rybachuk, the chief of staff for parliamentary deputy, former prime minister and leading opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko; and Andriy Yermolayev, head of the Sofia Social Research Center in Kyiv. All three rejected the notion, reported widely in the Ukrainian press this week, that Kuchma planned to leave office prematurely as part of a pre-election strategy to strengthen the candidacy of his chosen successor, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. In spite of their different political views and allegiances, Havrysh, Rybachuk and Yermolayev agreed energetically and unanimously that Kuchma would never leave office before he had to and would hang on to power until the election, scheduled for October 31. The participants also agreed that Kuchma's remaining term in office was of little political significance and that the main question now was what would happen to his legacy. Kuchma has said he will not stand for a 3rd term in the forthcoming election.
In a lively exchange of views on the merits of his legacy, pro-government supporter Havrysh held that Kuchma's successor must continue the work begun by Kuchma to energize economic development, move Ukraine closer to the West while improving relations with Russia.
Rybachuk disagreed strongly, arguing that a complete change of course is needed, to weed out persistent problems of corruption, crime and patrimonialism--the blending of money and power--that are paralyzing economic development, which benefits only a chosen few, free speech is being stifled with persecution of independent media and Ukraine's international image is suffering from the fact that several criminal charges are pending against Kuchma.
Yermolayev noted that the biggest challenge will be to overcome political apathy. He called for "a mobilization of the people" to get people engaged and committed to building a civil and democratic society.
"Evening Liberty" is the RFE/RL Ukrainian Service's most popular program. A transcript (in Ukrainian) and audio of the August 26 show can be found on the Ukrainian Service's website, at www.radiosvoboda.org/article/2004/08/bd0e5362-5636-4b4a-ab77-7af8ad9b520f.html.
RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service broadcasts nearly 7 hours of programming a day Monday through Friday, and 3 hours every Saturday and Sunday, with programs produced in Prague and the service's Kyiv Bureau and transmitted to listeners via shortwave, satellite and AM and FM signals provided by local affiliate stations in Ukraine. Ukrainian Service programming is also available via the Internet, at the service's website www.radiosvoboda.org and at www.rferl.org.