GreenJolly – Orange Revolution 2004 Mastermind

Eurovision Song Contest 2005 participant

The new Ukrainian government is facing accusations of picking up the bad habits of the former regime

The suicide two weeks ago of former interior minister Yuri Kravchenko, a key witness in investigations into the outgoing leadership’s criminal exploits, has been widely blamed on the government putting its own interests before the legal process – a hallmark of ex-president Leonid Kuchma’s years in power.Mr Yushchenko’s announcement on March 1 that the murder four years ago of opposition journalist Georgy Gongadze had been “solved” – before the case had gone to court and with many questions still unanswered – met with widespread scepticism in the press and from Gongadze’s family. On March 8, President Yushchenko dismissed calls for the general prosecutor to resign over his handling of the case.

Under Mr Kuchma, Ukrainians became accustomed to declarations that high-profile crimes had been conveniently solved, only for officials later to retract their claims in the face of new evidence.

“I want to hear no more announcements, I want to see concrete steps,” Gongadze’s wife, Myroslava, said. Andrei Fedur, lawyer for the murdered journalist’s mother, said he would “refrain from offering congratulations for solving the case” and that he feared the government’s accusations against suspects “could simply disintegrate in court”.

Two weeks earlier, there had been controversy over an internal government dispute involving lucrative oil exports, which some suggested illustrated that the government has yet to conquer another of the old regime’s habits – combining business interests with politics.

In mid-February, controversy ensued after justice minister Roman Zvarych unsuccessfully attempted to block a cabinet decision to halt re-exports of oil from Ukraine.

it was alleged that the only reason he did this was so that the re-export could go ahead for 3 million tonnes of Russian oil belonging to the company Oil Tranzit, of which Mr Zvarych’s wife, Svetlana, is deputy general director.

When the cabinet stuck to its decision, Mr Zvarych threatened to resign – a powerful ultimatum to the fledgling government.

The timing of Mr Zvarych’s resignation threat was widely interpreted as a defence of his wife’s business interests.

Mr Zvarych, the son of an American millionaire, denied abusing his political position to further his wife’s interests, claiming the ban on oil re-export would itself encourage corruption. He pointed out that the government had been lobbied by other elements of the oil industry to introduce the ban.

Svetlana Zvarych vigorously denied any impropriety and said the government’s decision to halt oil re-exports was itself motivated by the interests of competitor oil traders. She told a Ukrainian website that Oil Tranzit had received government permission for the oil to be exported, and that by stopping the oil on the border the Ukrainian customs had broken the law.

She accused the authors of the oil ban of deliberately trying to catch her husband by getting his wife’s firm trapped in what would have become an illegal deal.

“The essence of the oil scandal is that we, citizens, have the right to do anything not forbidden by law,” she said. “They, [government] civil servants, have the right to do only that which is permitted by law.”

Mrs Zvarych is now suing Ukrainian newspaper Dzerkalo Tyzhnya for “publishing inaccurate information” and damaging her business reputation.

In the wake of the affair, Ms Tymoshenko and several other cabinet ministers issued an open letter to journalists, calling on them not to behave like “hired killers” by discrediting the new government and undermining its good intentions. The letter accused the media of using the leadership’s transparency and openness to foment political intrigue.

The newspaper Stolichnye Novosti spoke for most journalists in its response to the letter: “We have already been through the politics of political censorship and silencing the truth. We don’t want the same thing to happen again.”

Serhiy Goos, head of the Independent Media Trade Union of Ukraine, said at a Kiev media conference: “The government now realises the letter was a mistake. It has received a hostile reaction from journalists.”

The broadcast media in Ukraine was crudely censored before journalists’ protests combined with November’s street demonstrations to overturn the system of state interference. One of the new government’s top priorities is to remove the officials responsible for implementing censorship and establish high editorial standards in news and current affairs.

So the National Television Company of Ukraine (NTKU) was initially singled out for a radical transformation into a public service broadcaster, its output to be monitored by a committee of MPs, journalists and public figures. With a general election looming next year, however, the government is beginning to see the advantages of having a state-owned broadcaster under its control.

“There are voices in the cabinet saying it’s not worth changing it before the elections,” said a source close to the government. “I don’t think the government is backing away theoretically from public service broadcasting, but practically they are.”

The new head of NTKU, Taras Stetskiv, is one of Mr Yushchenko’s trusted lieutenants who organised the “tent city” in Kiev during the November protests. He has said that public service broadcasting “won’t happen tomorrow” and that in the meantime he will concentrate on coverage of Ukraine’s hosting of the Eurovision Song Contest in May.

NTKU’s handling of Eurovision has also been criticised for slavishly toeing the government line – not unlike what the state broadcaster used to do under the previous regime.

When it seemed that the most audience votes would go to singer Ana Lorak, considered a supporter of the losing presidential candidate, Viktor Yanukovich, the new government stepped in at the last minute to impose a new contestant. The group Greenjolly wrote Together We Are Many, a pro-Yushchenko rap song that became the anthem of the Orange movement in November.

The song’s lyrics say: “Together, there are many of us. And we cannot be overcome. No falsifications! No lies! No machinations! Yes Yushchenko! Yes Yushchenko! This is our president! We are not cattle. We are not goats. We are Ukraine’s daughters and sons. Now or never. That’s enough waiting! Together, there are many of us. And we cannot be overcome!”

Greenjolly went on to win the Eurovision nomination. Ms Lorak claims that the vote was rigged, with callers unable to get through to the telephone voting lines.

The deputy prime minister, Mykola Tomenko, denied the competition was fixed. “Whatever path the participants took to the final, the final decision was made by viewers and only them,” the Times reported him saying.

The accusations facing Greenjolly mirror the problems facing the new government. According to a joke circulating in Kiev, the new interior minister Yuri Lutsenko gathers together his police chiefs to discuss sacking corrupt policemen. But the cops start to sing Greenjolly’s refrain: “Together we are many, we will not be overcome!”

At issue is whether the government succeeds in paying the piper, or will end up dancing to other tunes.

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