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Wednesday, 28 November, 2001, 22:53 GMT
Press mourns failure of Ukraine democracy
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma
Mr Kuchma claims the case was designed to discredit him
Exactly a year after allegations were first made linking President Leonid Kuchma with the disappearance of an investigative journalist who was discovered decapitated, the Ukrainian press has criticized the country's failure to live up to the standards of European democracy.

A thorn in the side of Mr Kuchma's government, the anti-corruption campaigner Georgy Gongadze disappeared in September 2000.

A headless body was found shortly afterwards which was later confirmed as that of Mr Gongadze.

On 28 November last year, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz played a tape to parliament recorded by a former security guard, allegedly featuring the voice of President Kuchma ordering the killing of Mr Gongadze.

'Tapegate'

Mr Kuchma allegedly spoke about "getting rid" of Mr Gongadze.


What kind of people would put up with discredited rulers? Are we worse than the Serbs?

Vecherniye Vesti

Mr Kuchma wrote an open letter to London's Financial Times in February sending condolences to the dead man's family and saying the case was being used as a political weapon against him.

According to the moderate daily Den, it is not only the government which has let the country down, but the opposition too.

"Tapegate proved the infantile nature of both the government and the opposition: the former is incapable of settling conflicts in a civilized way, and the latter cannot offer a worthy alternative."

The killing failed to ignite public opinion, Den said.

"The public took the scandal as something predictable, and the government being accused of ordering a journalist's murder as not uncommon. That was the worst lesson of the Tapegate."

Den went on: "Most people had something to say about the event but nobody wished to pursue it. The opposition's protest failed because of little emotional support from the public."

Soviet sins

The opposition tabloid Vecherniye Vesti was even more cutting.

Journalist Georgy Gongadze
Mr Gongadze was an anti-corruption campaigner
The case became known as "Tapegate".

"While the rebellious people of Yugoslavia were out in the streets toppling their dictator, Ukraine was reliving the worst habits of the late Soviet era."

It compared Ukraine unfavourably with the former Yugoslavia.

"What kind of people would put up with discredited rulers? Are we worse than the Serbs?"

The protest in spring, when about 10,000 marched in Kiev calling for Kuchma to resign, left no lasting impact, it lamented.

"The people took to the streets, calling the criminal regime to account. But no radical changes followed. The government recovered from its shock, and the president is now pontificating about the damage done to Ukraine's 'image'," Vecherniye Vesti added.

Losers

The public relations fiasco over the recent downing of a Russian plane by a Ukrainian missile proved that the government had not learnt from the scandal, Den argued.


Tapegate proved the infantile nature of both the government and the opposition

Den

"The lesson the government failed to learn from these dramatic events was that cover-up and lies are inadmissible in public relations."

Both the scandal and its aftermath have caused irreparable damage to Ukraine, the paper concludes.

"International opinion does not discriminate between a country and its government, society and the state. The whole of Ukraine has lost."

Not everyone in Ukraine is pessimistic.

Mr Moroz told the popular daily Segodnya: "Society woke up from its slumber. Journalists started asking the questions they had never dared whisper."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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