Friday, January 21, 2005

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 canap├ęs 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.

Et cetera.

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.

1 comment:

  1. Melnychenko is not saying that Shmeshko did not change his allegiances on November 21, when he saw the Orange Revolution coming out in force. Nobody can say that. Revolutions have a curious effect of changing people's minds, sometimes sympathetically, and sometimes opportunistically. The NYT article seems too much of a thriller to be taken too seriously. No doubt Shmeshko was hedging bets, but he appears to have taken risks too. But this misses the whole point:

    Obviously the machinations are in high gear to deflect blame (thanks NYT), appear as an all-along supporter (of the OR) or at worst neutral, and to cover some influential behinds.

    But this finger pointing by the opposition misses the whole point.

    If you wish a negativist approach, then yeah go ahead and find as many culprits, real or imaginary, conspiratorial or rational, as you can find, and give them the Abu Ghraib treatment while consolidating your own power position at other's expense.

    If you however are of a positivist bent, then you would want to get the truth and facts out, to expose the behind the scene anti-state activities, scheming and profiteering - but for a historical and empirical perspective. Then you would try to understand and then learn from this experience, and then you would try to improve (reform) the system, and then you would get on with your lives.

    My choice would be the positivist approach.

    The influential Kyiv Post editor Jed Sunden is being a REAL jerk for not calling for a truth commission - and instead trying to whitewash Kuchma, when the facts remain obscured.