Lutsenko Stands Firm

KIEV, Ukraine -- Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, who is widely regarded as a man of principle, announced July 7 that he was suspending his membership in the Socialist Party of Ukraine, saying that he would not be a part of any coalition with the Party of Regions.

Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko (in sunglasses)

The announcement came the day after Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz was elected speaker. Just like MP Yosyp Vinskiy, another high profile Socialist Party figure, Lutsenko disliked the way Moroz became speaker, effectively putting the final nail into the coffin of the Orange coalition and giving the new pro-Russian coalition a good chance of grabbing power.

Lutsenko said publicly on several occasions, including last month, that he would not be part of any Cabinet led by Viktor Yanukovich, who now looks likely to become premier.

Lutsenko’s principles go back to the times when he was a leading light in the Ukraine Without Kuchma protests of 2000-01, opposing all the unsavory political practices of that era. Lutsenko’s principled stance meant it was no coincidence that he became the first civilian to head the Interior Ministry.

In the wake of the Orange Revolution’s promises to put bandits in jail, Lutsenko rightly went after dubious figures from the Kuchma era, like Ihor Bakay. Mogul Rinat Akhmetov was invited for tea and questions, as was now former president Kuchma himself.

Akhmetov sidekick Boris Kolesnikov spent time behind bars, though the case was eventually closed. It was not Lutsenko’s fault that the prosecutor’s office decided to close it and other similar cases.

His actions show him to be a man of principle. He has stuck to his word, unlike his former party leader, who appears to have sold out for 29 pieces of silver, the number of Socialist MPs out of a faction total of 33 who voted for Moroz's appointment.

Lutsenko's tenure as Interior Minister, a post he has held since January 2005, may well be drawing to a close. However, his term should be remembered as one of a man who kept his word and principles in the face of difficulties - certainly a rare breed on the Ukrainian political scene.

Let’s hope that his time in office and his example will usher in an era of honesty in Ukrainian politics.

Focus: freedom of speech

The old gang from the days of former President Leonid Kuchma has not yet even been confirmed as the ruling parliamentary coalition or members of the new government; but freedom of speech in Ukraine is already under attack.

A member of the pro-Russian Regions Party, whose leader Viktor Yanukovych was handpicked to succeed Kuchma for the country’s presidential elections in 2004, manhandled a couple of journalists covering a protest near parliament July 12.

The protests involved members of the now defunct Orange coalition, as well as the so-called Anti-Crisis Coalition, which includes the Party of Regions and the Communists.

Regions deputy Oleg Kalashnikov, who physically forced an STB TV cameraman to hand over a video cassette he’d been recording, initially showed no regret for his actions, making a speech shortly after the incident, in which he only said he was sorry for damaging his party’s image.

Later, after pressure mounted on the more image-conscious elements of the Donetsk-based party, Kalashnikov made another apology to the journalists themselves, blaming his actions on the heat and the pressure of the moment.

Yanukovych, who has himself been the subject of media reports citing his alleged violent criminal past, met with STB representatives, confirmed his party’s respect of freedom of speech and pledged to have Kalashnikov removed from the party. In the meantime, Ukrainian media were reporting that Kalashnikov had been admitted to hospital with heart problems.

Only a few years have passed since Ukraine was rocked by protests against a couple of journalist murders, which some say were ordered by senior members of the Kuchma regime.

With the election of Viktor Yushchenko as president, many have taken freedom of speech for granted. Now with Yushchenko politically marginalized and the Orange Revolution in disrepute, many of the faces from Kuchma’s days are returning to the corridors of power.

They would have us believe that they aren’t as bad as they were portrayed, but their actions speak louder than words.

Source: Kyiv Post