BRAMA, Dec 6, 2004, 1:00 am ET|
Audio/text: RFE/RL forum on Ukraine elections, November 30, 2004
Remarks at RFE/RL forum on Ukraine elections
November 30, 2004, 9:15-10:30 am
Orest Deychakiwsky, Staff Advisor, Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
When Martins Zvaners contacted me to invite me to this forum a few weeks
ago, little did I, or I suspect most of us, think that the subsequent events
would turn out to be as dramatic, momentous and, indeed, historic as has
been the case, and how they would garner the world's attention. It's
difficult to know what to focus on given all of the rapid developments, and
given the time constraints, so what I'd like to do is:
First, offer some of my experiences in Kyiv and Kirovohrad as an
international observer for the OSCE as an illustrative example of some of
what went on;
and second, offer some thoughts on what is being called the Orange, or
What we are witnessing is what Ukrainian writer Oksana Zabuzhko last week
called the awakening of a nation. It's a story of courage and determination
I returned from Kyiv last Tuesday night. It was an experience that nobody
involved will ever forget. You've seen the reports of the OSCE (of which
Ukraine is a member), of Sen. Lugar as President Bush's personal envoy, of
ENEMO, NDI and IRI. You've seen the numerous expressions of concern by
senior U.S. officials and many other governments, international
institutions, NGOs both within and outside Ukraine, including the
Ukrainian-American community, and the international media. The International
Election Observation Mission, which included the OSCE along with
parliamentary assemblies of OSCE, Council of Europe, NATO and the EU), was
the first to issue its preliminary findings on the day after the elections.
Based on detailed reports filed by nearly 600 observers who visited over
2,300 polling stations, they concluded that the elections "did not meet a
considerable number of OSCE commitments and CoE and other European standards
for democratic elections" and asserted that "Overall, state executive
authorities and the CEC displayed a lack of will to conduct a genuine
democratic election process."
Only the CIS observers, who never met an election in the CIS they didn't
like, gave these elections the thumbs up. Their conclusions might be aptly
labelled as "eyes wide shut."
In the last week, most of the international community has spoken out. And
Poland, Ukraine's best friend today, has been very supportive, with
Kwasniewski and Walesa visiting and trying to help resolve the impasse. The
U.S. and EU have been in lockstep on this - all urging a review of the
election results. The US executive branch became increasingly more
assertive, with strong statements by the White House last Wednesday and
especially Sec. Powell last Thursday in which he said that the U.S. does not
consider legitimate the results of elections in Ukraine, challenged its
leaders to "decide whether they are on the side of democracy or not," and
talked of consequences, including hinting at further visa denials. And the
White House and Sec. Powell as well as the EU yesterday stressed the
importance of Ukraine's territorial integrity in light of some of the recent
moves towards authonomy in the south-east and a peaceful solution to the
impasse. (Parenthetically, Congress has been calling attention to these
elections for a long time, with statements by Helsinki Commission co-chairs
Rep. Chris Smith and Sen. Campbell dating back to nearly a year ago,
briefings, resolutions that passed the House and Senate (see www.csce.gov),
Sen McCain and Lugar visits, the bill on sanctions, delegations of former
Members, and, within the last week, strong statements by Helsinki
Commissioners and various Senators and Representatives).
The bottom line is that the elections were stolen. The independent and
respected Committee for Voters of Ukraine (CVU) asserted that at least 2.8
million ballots were rigged in favour of Yanukovich. Violations are too
numerous to enumerate.
They were extensive and they were flagrant, and what happened in Donetsk in
terms of "getting out the vote" and the positive vote for the "right"
candidate was reminiscent of the electoral zealotry of Soviet times. My
colleague from the Commission Ron McNamara and I were in Kirovohrad, in the
center of Ukraine -- on the dividing line between the northern and western
oblasts that voted for Yushchenko and the eastern and southern regions that
went for Yanukovich. On election day and night, we were in the infamous
Territorial Electoral Commission (TEC 100), where problems were legion
during the first round on October 31. Unfortunately, we weren't
disappointed. While at some polling stations, the voting process was orderly
and normal, at others it was highly problematic. Pro-Yushchenko polling
station commissioners had been thrown off the commissions, but many were
pushing back. The local court was crowded with those dismissed seeking
reinstatement. We hurried to the court where we spoke with people, some
crying, who recounted their frustration and disbelief at this injustice. (We
heard from some of them, as from so many others in Ukraine -- "we just want
to live in an honest, decent country"). We met with some of the judges who
were reinstating these people as polling commission members, clearly
displaying courage in doing so given the possible consequences.
These mass expulsions contributed to an air of confusion throughout the
afternoon and into the night. Some polling station chairmen were not
allowing polling station commissioners back on even after they had been
reinstated. In one case, we accompanied a woman whose case my colleague Ron
McNamara had heard back to her polling station, where the reception towards
her was cold, and I strongly suspect the only reason they let her back in
was because there were international observers present. Another polling
station we observed had only opened up at 4:10 pm(!), as eight out of the
eighteen members of the polling station commission simply failed to show up
to open the station in the morning, thus potentially disenfranchising
hundreds of student voters at the technical university. The other polling
station workers finally had to break into the safe in order to obtain the
ballot papers and other materials so that the voters -- mostly students --
could exercise their right to vote. (You also saw "hanger-ons" and heads of
PECs not even knowing who they were representing).
At the count we attended, a pro-Yushchenko observer was forced to leave
right before the count commenced. I spoke with this woman and it became
clear that the reasons for her being thrown out were specious at best.
Others had been thrown out earlier in the week. Despite this, the counting
process seemed to go relatively smoothly, and Yushchenko emerged victorious
with 1,221 votes to Yanukovich's 725. Or so we thought... After our return
to Kyiv the next day, we learned that the Territorial Election Commission
had reported that in that particular precinct, Yanukovich "won" by 1670 to
Yushchenko's 276. A reversal of the count, with a vengeance! At the polling
station where my colleague Ron observed the count neaby in Kirovohrad and
where Yushchenko won by nearly a three to one margin, there were 312
unmarked ballots missing, which meant that the results were not accepted.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg in Kirovohrad alone.
Group voting with the notorious absentee ballots, organized by state-owned
and some private companies, was one of the major violations that
significantly altered the results (nearly 5%, according to OSCE), or,
something which has gotten less attention, the high numbers of people who
participated in mobile voting (i.e. voting at their homes or hospitals),
which is ripe for fraud, in certain oblasts compared to the first round.
And, of course, pressure on state employees to produce the right results or
vote the right way.
In the East, voter turnout in the second round increased by 9 percent. For
example, in Donetsk oblast there was 96,65 per cent turn out compared to 78
in the first round (and 96 percent voting for Yanukovich). But in Western
Ukraine, the turn out grew only by 1,5 percent. In some precincts in
Donetsk, turnout reportedly exceeded 100 percent. This would point to ballot
box stuffing, which used to be a widespread technique in communist times in
order to reach very high voter turn out.
We've all seen the pictures of masses of people on the Maidan and on
Khreshchatyk, gathered in support of Victor Yushchenko, braving the freezing
cold and snow. My colleague Ron and I were on the Maidan on Monday night
and Tuesday morning. The mood was one of determination, yet there was an
element of festivity, optimism and ebullience, which by all accounts has
remained as hundreds of thousands more have poured in from all over Ukraine.
Witnessing this massive expression of support for democracy was deeply
inspiring. There appeared to be virtually no overt police presence in the
center of Kyiv. The rally was peaceful, orderly, and remarkably well
organized. The organizers were appealing to the crowds to only listen to
instructions from them on what and how to proceed, and not to give in to any
provocations. Clearly, the opposition is trying to do everything that it
can to ensure that this expression of the will of the people remains
peaceful and dignified. Kyiv Mayor Omelchenko and the Kyiv city council are
supporting the protestors to help ensure their comfort, health and safety.
There is a real network to sustain the protests.
The countless numbers of protestors in Kyiv and across Ukraine are the front
lines in the struggle for democracy, human dignity, respect for the will of
the people and against a return to the past. They are on the front lines in
the struggle against any return to Ukraine's colonial past. They are
struggling for freedom and, in a very real sense, true independence.
Ukraine's democracy, for all of its obvious flaws as illustrated by these
elections, and its civil society is further developed than any other in the
CIS. It is no accident that the Putins and Lukashenkas of the world are
watching this election carefully (And, by the way, the chutzpah of the
Russians when they accuse the U.S. and Europe of interfering in these
elections and subsequent developments is something to behold. Just imagine
the outcry if President Bush would have visited Ukraine several times and
actively supported one of the candidates, pumping hundreds of millions, or
if Bush would have twice congratulated a candidate even before he was
pronounced the official winner in Ukraine).
I should add that the democratic movements in Belarus, Russia, and the CIS
are also watching developments intently, as which way Ukraine goes will
shape Russian and CIS moves towards democracy. (For example, Belarusian
democrats have been demonstrating in support of the orange revolution and
some who had been in Kyiv were detained and roughed up at the
I think the following quote by Zbigniew Brzezinski sums it up perfectly and
more articulately than I can: "The Ukrainian struggle for democracy is the
struggle for the future of Russia. If Ukrainian democracy prevails, Russia
has no choice but to go that way and be a democracy. If Ukrainian democracy
fails, Russian imperial ambitions are reawakened and there is a temptation
of an alternative future which is imperial and authoritarian."
Clearly, what is happening in Ukraine has very important geo-political
implications. Russia would like to separate Ukraine from the West and make
it co-dependent, possibly with a view towards an eventual restoration of
empire. It's also about oil and gas pipeline politics, with its intersection
of geo-politics and money. However, there are also many Russians who are
very uncomfortable with their government's heavy-handed involvement in the
Ukrainian elections, including some in their independent press.
But I think that for the average Ukrainian, including those on the front
lines protesting, it's not principally, if at all, about geo-politics; not
about Russia vs. West. It's about corruption versus reform, democracy
versus authoritarianism, truth and trust versus lies, a brighter future
versus prolonging the status quo. It's not about the sometimes
oversimplified East-West divisions in Ukraine. There have been few public
protests on behalf of Yanukovich and some of his supporters seem to get
co-opted when they came to Kyiv to demonstrate for their man. (Reports of
Yushchenko and Yanukovich supporters in Kyiv intermingling, and even
embracing and kissing each other). Rallies in support of Yushchenko have
not been limited to western and central Ukraine - they are also being held
in cities in eastern Ukraine. Importantly, the moves by some eastern oblasts
within the last few days towards autonomy have been rejected even within the
Yanukovich camp, the starkest example perhaps being Serhiy Tyhypko's
resignation yesterday as Yanukovich's campaign manager and National Bank
chairman, and his saying that this talk of separatism is madness and must be
stopped immediately. On the other hand, yesterday we saw violence in Luhansk
against pro-Yushcehnko supporters, including an OSCE project coordinator.
And even though Yanukovich won resoundingly in some of the eastern oblasts
(and would have even despite the falsifications), one wonders what the
results would have been if you would have had the UT 1, 1+1 and Inter tv and
other channels reporting objectively during the electoral campaign.
Thankfully, there appears to be a dramatic shift in media reporting within
the last week, although there are reports that some of these stations are
being blocked out in some of the eastern oblasts.
Or if you wouldn't have had the use of "administrative resources" and
pressure and intimidation on behalf of Yanukovich.
Or if you didn't have a campaign of so-called black PR -- vicious lies
designed to portray Yushchenko as a radical nationalist American stooge;
Or if his poisoning wouldn't have prevented him from losing valuable time
Indeed, the authorities' campaign to divide, and not unite, represents one
of the lowest of the many low points in the campaign.
Countless people, from the members of the Ukrainian national and local
governments, to the military and members of the security forces; to the
Ukrainian diplomats in the Embassy here in Washington demanding that the
elections reflect the will of the people; to the journalists - both
independent and now increasingly those working for the state channels who
broke state-imposed censorship; to the protestors old and young alike
braving the cold; to the ordinary, and yet very extraordinary women in
Kirovohrad fighting for their rights, all are displaying remarkable courage
and determination. They are taking risks, because there are no guarantees
of how things will come out.
The historic, dramatic events in Ukraine continue. Legal, peaceful methods
are being pursued. Following the CEC declaration of Yanukovich as the
winner last Wednesday, the Supreme Court effectively banned him from being
inaugurated until it heard the Yushchenko campaign's allegations of ballot
fraud. Today, the Supreme Court of Ukraine passed a decision, which forbids
the Central Election Commission to publish the official results of the
presidential elections. The newly elected president can only take office no
later than 30 days after the publication of these results. On Saturday, the
Rada (parliament) effectively rejected the results of the election and
expressed mistrust in the Central Election Commission "in connection with
improper performance of its duties".
Talks, with the participation of both candidates, President Kuchma and
European intermediaries were held on Friday and working groups continue to
meet. Nobody can predict with certainty how things will turn out, although
all indications as of this time point towards repeat voting or a new
But there is one thing that I believe is beyond dispute: the people of
Ukraine are determined to achieve their rights in a peaceful manner and to
live in a democratic, free and independent country. It's an idea whose time
Ukraine's motto: Volia, Zlahoda, I Dobro
"Freedom, Accord, and Goodness"