Sunday, January 02, 2005

The Silski Visti Affair Revisited (with a complete translation of the Yushchenko-Timoshenko-Moroz statement "Hands Off Silski Visti")

I suppose now that the Ukrainian people have apparently voted correctly, the Ukraine story will pass from the headlines in the European and American press. I wonder whether those conservative American commentators who have celebrated the December 26th re-run of the Ukrainian presidential election as an unambiguous triumph of democracy will prove as enthusiastic should, say, militants from MoveOn decide four years from now to blockade government buildings in Washington until such time as a Republican victory is overturned and the Democratic Party candidate installed.

Be that as it may, before turning also here on Trans-Int to more topical matters, I wanted, as promised, to revisit the "Silski Visti affair". As regular readers of Trans-Int will recall (see here and here), Silski Visti is a mass circulation pro-"Orange" Ukrainian newspaper that was ordered closed last January by a Ukrainian court on charges of incitement after publishing what can safely and uncontroversially be described as blatantly anti-Semitic material. (The court order, incidentally, was never enforced.) For anyone who doubts this characterization, consider the following extracts from Silski Visti as reproduced in an April 2004 article on the Ukraine Now website:

...Jews today strive to rule over Ukrainian people and enrich themselves at their expense. One of the ways of achieving this is demoralization, deprivation of cultural wealth and denationalization, and another is capturing political power. Both the first and the second ways are functioning perfectly today... the phantom of Zionism in Ukraine has turned into abnormal reality....

...Today the Jewish community in Ukraine is not experiencing the rebirth of a national minority but is in the process of legalizing its dealings as an apolitical and economic structure, which is well planned, organized and financed. This so-called minority exhibits extreme aggression. It poses an elevated threat to the national security of Ukraine. As a foreign political body that practically oversees international trade, national finances, mass media and publishing, it must be placed under strict government and sate [sic.] control, and must be regimented and regulated.

...In the 1930s, all Ukrainian gold that had been passed down from generation to generation ended up in Jewish wallets after the famine organized by Jews and Ukrainians had to reach deeply into their pockets. However, Jews were not able to enjoy those stolen goods as German fascism changed the course of events. Today the gold of Ukrainian Jews, these gold diggers of the Ukrainian Klondike, is in banks in Switzerland.

Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Timoshenko came to the defense of Silski Visti, joining their Ukrainian Socialist Party ally Oleksandr Moroz in publishing a statement titled “Hands Off Silski Visti" - or, more exactly, as I have learned now, "Keep Dirty Hands Off Silski Visti". At the same time, in an article published on the official website of the "Our Ukraine" (i.e. "Orange") coalition (and reproduced here), Viktor Yushchenko was quoted as saying in response to the court decision: "The government will get more and more upset with truthful information in mass media the closer we get to elections and it will not be surprising to see increased pressure at other oppositional publications." He would later claim that in defending Silski Visti, he had merely wanted to defend freedom of the media.

In one of my earlier posts on the Silski Visti affair, I wrote the following:

Yushchenko's initial reaction to the January court decision - "The government will get more and more upset with truthful information in mass media..." - suggests something other than just a content-neutral defense of principle. Perhaps a complete English translation of the "Hands off" statement would help to clarify this matter.

Thanks to the good offices of Prof. Dominique Arel of the University of Ottawa and the Ukraine List newsletter, I now have such a translation at my disposal. With the kind permission of Prof. Arel and the Ukraine List, I am reproducing it here. Readers may decide for themselves if they consider the "Hands Off" statement an appropriate response to the Ukrainian court order.

Get Dirty Hands Off Silski Visti
Ukraina Moloda (Kyiv), 30 January 2004
[translated by Ilya Khineiko for UKL]

On January 28, 2004, the Shevchenkivsky district court in Kyiv issued verdict to close down the newspaper Silski Visti allegedly for stirring up inter-ethnic hostility. The Ukrainian court made such an unprecedented and audacious decision – to forbid publishing the most popular Ukrainian newspaper with 84 years of history behind it – without good reasoning, examination of the source base, without taking into account the polemical nature of the article. The article that was used as a pretext to close down the popular media outlet may be the subject of academic or societal discussions. Yet, a court order cannot solve the problems in Ukrainian society that have mounted after the years of Kuchma’s rule. The extermination of the highest circulation political newspaper in Ukraine, which was done in such haste through a lower court, serves as evidence to the political nature of the case.

There is a criminal regime behind this verdict, the political forces that brought Kuchma to power and because of which Kuchmism emerged as a shameful phenomenon of our life. For twelve years Ukraine had witnessed the relentless, fearless fight put up by the Silski Visti staff against the regime. A good testimony to the high respect in which the newspaper is hold by society is the fact that two of its representatives have been elected to the Verkhovna Rada, and that the periodical has the highest circulation in the country. According to the well documented sources, Leonid Kuchma was directly involved in the persecution of the newspaper in 2000. To this day he has not given up on the attempts to get over with the independent publication. As before, Bankova Street [Kuchma’s official residence – I.Kh.] is acting through a proxy, using the ourt as a political instrument.

The Ukrainian opposition will not let the regime destroy Silski Visti. We, the representatives of the democratic opposition, will mobilize the world community. We will rally up the entire Ukrainian society to come to the defense of the most popular people’s newspaper. By defending Silski Visti we are defending democracy and freedom of speech in Ukraine, the people’s right to have a better life and to express their will freely. Society must realize what kind of a future the current regime is preparing for Ukraine.

In the name of all opposition forces that preach democratic ideals and see the future Ukraine as a free country governed by the rule of law we state the following: “Get dirty hands off Silski Visti. We are urging President Kuchma not to bring disgrace upon Ukraine and himself in front of the world yet another time by prosecuting the people’s newspaper. We are appealing to the judicial authorities “Do not disgrace yourselves issuing political decisions. Your mission is to protect citizens and not to serve the regime of crooks and criminal clans.

We are together with you all, the journalists and readers of the Silski Visti! When we are together we cannot be defeated!

Oleksandr Moroz

Viktor Yushchenko

Yulia Tymoshenko

[Note: Readers interested in subscribing to the Ukraine List newsletter on Ukrainian affairs may contact Dominique Arel at]