Wednesday, November 03, 2004

More on Ukraine

Here is a summary transcription of an interview I gave to Radio Liberty on October 25, which was translated into Ukrainian and back into English, regarding the pre-election environment. The double-translation makes me sound more definite about how the vote will go; there was still some doubt in my mind that the ruling party wouldn't find it "necessary" to cheat extensively. But the OSCE report puts that doubt to rest.


Former U.S. congressman witnessed the search of a Ukrainian non-governmental organization.

by Serhiy Kudelia

Washington, DC, October 27, 2004. The creation of additional polling stations in Russia and pressure by the law enforcement agencies on non-government organizations only prove that the current Ukrainian government has no intention to ensure the clean and transparent count of votes at the election. This was said in an interview with Radio Liberty by Sam Coppersmith, former U.S. congressman from Arizona.

Last week, the former congressman was in Ukraine as part of a delegation of former Members of the U.S. Congress who observed the course of the presidential campaign in Ukraine. Their visit to the Chernihiv and Kyiv oblasts was organized by the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation. On October 22, the last day of his trip in Kyiv, Congressman Coppersmith witnessed the search of the office of “Znayu!” (“I Know!”), an educational non-profit organization.

Former congressman Sam Coppersmith said that he became convinced of the possibility to hold fair elections in Ukraine during his contact with many Ukrainian citizens. He said that everyone was certain that they can ensure an honest vote count. At the same time, according to Coppersmith, he was amazed at the ability of the Ukrainian people to resist manipulations of the pro-government mass media.

“Ukrainians, whom we met, seemed quite savvy when it came to processing information they hear on television. They do not trust everything they hear and see on television. They realize that in Ukraine there is no tradition of a free mass media. A number of TV programs report under a certain angle and represent a certain point of view”.

After meetings with Ukrainian voters, former U.S. congressman Coppersmith felt optimistic about the future presidential elections in Ukraine. However, in his last day of visit he witnessed how the Security Forces of Ukraine (SBU) searched “Znayu!,” whose main goal is to inform voters about their rights. Former U.S. congressman Coppersmith is convinced that there is political connection to the search and does not believe the law enforcement’s official explanation that it is a fight against terrorism:

“Police did not evacuate the building and did not use any special equipment during the search and no one looked for explosives. They only checked the computers and copied files on to CDs. As far as I know, searches at other non-government organizations took place at the same time, and as in the case with ”Znayu!,” the grounds for searches were not clear. Therefore, it looks like the government is trying to limit or obstruct participation in elections of those citizens whom it can not control.”

Coppersmith considers such behavior on the part of law enforcement as pure intimidation of the voters and independent observers. According to him, during the search, law enforcement agents refused to show their IDs, did not allow him to freely move around the room, and he was basically detained for one and a half hours. After this incident, the former congressman returned from Ukraine with a more pessimistic take on elections: “My personal observations: there are grounds to assume that the elections will not be honest, transparent or fair. There are questions regarding the elections at foreign polling stations. Ukraine did not organize a good election campaign. The mass media carries out information on only one presidential candidate. Government uses its power to intimidate the opposition or interfere with its campaign.”

As former U.S. congressman Sam Coppersmith concluded, because of the aforementioned problems, elections in Ukraine most likely will not meet international standards.

No comments: