Heorhiy Gongadze
The journalist who changed Ukraine







               It has been two years since Ukrainian journalist Georgiy Gongadze went missing, but the country is still rocking from 
               the political  crisis triggered on 16 September 2000.

               Mr Gongadze, the founder of the crusading web site Ukrayinska Pravda, attacked what he saw as an incompetent 
               and corrupt administration.

               His beheaded and acid-laced body was found a few weeks after he disappeared, when the story had long faded from the 
               front pages.

               Allegations which emerged soon afterwards that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma was implicated in the murder catapulted
               the story back into the headlines.

               It has stayed there ever since, fuelling street protests, reshaping the country's politics and ravaging Ukraine's reputation abroad.

               Two years on, the outrage at the murder has dulled, but the resentment of the government it sparked off still endures.

               The opposition is marking the anniversary with a nationwide protest campaign calling for the president to be removed.

             The investigation

               New allegations are still emerging from secret  tape recordings made in President Kuchma's office.

               The president's former bodyguard, Mykola Melnychenko, says Mr Kuchma's order to "throw Gongadze to the Chechens" is just one of the
               hundreds of recordings he made secretly over several years.

               After months of stonewalling, the government eventually acknowledged that it was Mr Kuchma's voice on the tapes.

               It insists, however, that the recordings were doctored in such a way as to put words into the president's mouth.

               Few in Ukraine believe that the bungled official investigation will ever move beyond  pledges to find the
               killers.

               After almost two years of inquiries managed little except drawing brickbats from the West and
               Ukraine's opposition, a new team of detectives was appointed.
 

               The new investigators accused their predecessors of incompetence, but they have so far done little
               to restore public confidence in the inquiry.

               After scores of conflicting previous tests a new examination has concluded that the mutilated body
               belongs to the journalist.

               But Mr Gongadze's mother says she is still not sure whose body she will be given to bury.

               New authenticity tests on the scandalous recordings have been ordered in an unnamed foreign country.

               Critics say, however, that the tests already held in the US by a former FBI expert leave no room for doubt that the records are original.

               After repeatedly rejecting Western assistance, the prosecution has asked Washington to question Mr Melnychenko, who was granted asylum
               in the US shortly after the scandal broke out.

               But the opposition says the prosecutors are just trying to whitewash the president's reputation and salvage what remains of his
               standing abroad.

              The implications

               While the truth about Mr Gongadze's death has yet to be revealed, the scandal's repercussions are immense.

               The normally phlegmatic Ukrainians took to the streets in the biggest display of public anger since independence in 1991.

               The opposition - once fractious but now united by anti-Kuchma sentiment - expects tens of thousands to turn out for the new wave of
               protests across the country.

               Mr Kuchma's reputation is in tatters, his ratings wallow in single digits, and any thoughts of a third term in office have been all but laid to
               rest.

               His supporters made a dismal showing in last spring's general election campaign, with less than 12% of the votes cast for the main
               pro-government bloc.

               Feeling threatened and vulnerable, the administration hardened its grip on the media, leaving few outlets for the opposition to make its voice heard.

               And in foreign policy, Mr Kuchma, berated by human rights groups and shunned by the West, veered sharply towards Russia, prompting
               accusations of trading Ukraine's interests for the Kremlin's unquestioning support.

              Pandora's box

               Meanwhile Mykola Melnychenko, the former bodyguard, says Mr Gongadze's murder was the last straw and is determined to keep the
               pressure on the embattled administration.

               In one of the new recordings he has released, a voice similar to Mr Kuchma's gives a green light to the sale to Saddam Hussein of
               Ukrainian radar capable of detecting Stealth planes.

               US officials refuse to comment on the evidence Mr Melnychenko has given them while in exile.

               But with the campaign against Iraq gaining momentum, the tapes, if found to be authentic, could win the Ukrainian opposition  powerful new
               allies in the West.

               If that happens, the Ukrainian administration, which has so far weathered the storm, may yet find that the disappearance of a campaigning
               journalist two years ago is the least of its problems.

Story published on Monday, 16 September, 2002, by BBC News Europe



Other Links:

Gongadze can become a National hero
http://www.ukemonde.com/gongadze/nationalhero.html
 

“Requiem 2002:
Face the Truth!” Heorhiy Gongadze
http://www.gongadze.org/

Ukraine's headless body 'to be buried'  - BBC News
Tuesday, 3 September, 2002
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/2234645.stm
 

Reporters sans frontières - Géorgiy Gongadze case
http://www.rsf.org/reports.php3?id_mot=533
 

Ukraine's Domain in Dot-Dispute (Wired.com)
By Julia Barton
(Reference to the Géorgiy Gongadze case )
http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,44012,00.html
 

Amnesty International Report 2002 - Europe - UKRAINE
... No progress was made in bringing to justice those responsible for the
possible ''disappearance'' of journalist Georgiy Gongadze in 2000
http://web.amnesty.org/web/ar2002.nsf/eur/ukraine!Open
 

Documentary films about Gongadze and tape scandal aired at ASN ...
http://www.brama.com/news/press/020413asn_gongadzefilms.html
 

In These Times 25/10 -- Caught on Tape
http://www.inthesetimes.com/issue/25/10/weir2510.html
 

Temporary home for the Melnychenko Tapes Project
http://www.wcfia.harvard.edu/academy/melnychenko/



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