The second New York Times story in less than two months on Kuchma and how he feels about it all - Ukraine's Leader Looks Back in Melancholy, by C. J. Chivers (the first one, Ukrainian President Criticizes Court Order for New Vote, was written by Steven Lee Myers).
It's a little bit like reading pre-perestroika newspapers during perestroika: you're so used to revelations that you're expecting one every time you open the paper, but instead you get the same old - predictable and monotonous - stuff.
On the other hand, the piece reads like a good obituary, which, in a way, it is. (Next, I'm sure, will be a nice, solid hardback about Kuchma, translated into all major languages.)
Today's story was written five days earlier, on Sunday, Jan. 16, before the Supreme Court's decision. January 16 is also my father's birthday and, reading about Kuchma's "melancholy," I suddenly recalled this day a year ago.
My father loves his birthday parties - and they're always great, very fun, even more so because mama and I are always late with cooking and those of the female guests who arrive first have no choice but to slave over salads and canapés with us, and also because we always end up not having enough chairs and are forced to borrow at least a dozen from various neighbors... Anyway, my father loves his parties, and he loves attention - and last year, I was very worried that Kuchma would rob him of some of this attention - because the day was filled with rumors of Kuchma's death at a German hospital!
Whatever happened, Kuchma survived it, and returned to Ukraine looking much younger.
Today, I searched through the archives of Ukrainska Pravda and found a ton of stories about it, of course. Here's the beginning of one of them - Kuchma Dead? Kuchma Alive!:
On Friday, Kuchma made the whole Ukraine turn upside down: some were scared, others sighed with relief, still others felt untimely joy and there were those who just went numb.
A rumor spread over Kyiv and the regions that something terrible had happened to the Guarantor in Baden-Baden. According to one version, he was (excuse us) dead, according to another, he was in coma.
The rumor spread with supersonic speed, by the way, and horrified people all over the country. The Guarantor's possible death was being discussed at markets, in the subway and in the kitchens.
It was so interesting to read all those old stories - so much has been forgotten since then, obscured by the more recent developments.
The big news at the time was the Supreme Court's ruling allowing Kuchma to run for president the third time - nothing unconstitutional about it, because the Constitution, which set the two-term limit, had only been in place since 1996, for eight years!
Hence, one of the theories regarding the origins of Kuchma's death rumor - it could have been the opposition that started it, according to the aforementioned Ukrainska Pravda piece:
Because even though Kuchma returned to Kyiv healthy and alive, people are still left with an aftertaste - "he nearly died." And that's why it'd be better for him not try his luck in the election for the third time but instead to quietly prepare for retirement.
Strangely, the same kind of logic was used at some point by Yushchenko's opponents, after the poisoning.