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Ukraine's quest for freedom: an eyewitness of Ukraine's recent presidential election gives an overview of the ballot tampering, vote fraud, and other injustices which took place.

Askold S. Lozynskyj was born in New York City on February 8, 1952, to Ukrainian immigrants who arrived in the United States in 1951. He is a graduate of Fordham College (1973, with a BA in Greek and Latin classical studies) and Fordham University School of Law (1976, with a JD). Mr. Lozynskyj is a member of the Bar of the State of New York, as well as a member of the federal bar for both the southern and eastern districts of New York. He is past president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America and is the current president of the Ukrainian World Congress (UWC), the umbrella organization for all Ukrainians outside Ukraine, numbering some 20 million people.

Mr. Lozynskyj was in Ukraine for the recent presidential election as head of a UWC election-monitoring team of over 400 observers, the largest non-governmental monitoring group. This interview was conducted on December 2 following his return to the U.S. from Ukraine.

THE NEW AMERICAN: There have been all kinds of reports" and charges about voting fraud, intimidation, and election "irregularities" surrounding Ukraine's November 21 presidential election. How serious were the violations?

Askold S. Lozynskyj: It was astounding! I was under the impression that the powers that be in Ukraine at least would make an attempt to create the impression of open and fair elections because they knew that the world was watching, that there would be large numbers of international observers--of which there were over 4,000. I had been in contact with their officials, and they had assured me that they wanted foreign observers and press there to witness that this was a legitimate election. But I was astounded at the arrogance of officials in their very open, blatant election violations--ballot stuffing, intimidation, using official resources to promote Viktor Yanukovich, the handpicked successor of Ukraine's outgoing president Leonid Kuchma.

TNA: What are some of the things that you and your observers saw firsthand? Mr. Lozynskyj: Well, for example, Yanukovich's campaign used government buses to bus large crowds of voters to polling places and then [told] them how to vote. At universities, they would tell students and teachers that if they wanted to stay at the university they had to work for and vote for Yanukovich. The government election officials sent out Yanukovich campaign materials stapled to the official invitations that were sent to all registered voters telling them where the polling places were. This is not hearsay; I personally saw this with my own eyes. And I saw, we saw, much more. They had, for instance, what they called "wandering ballots." This is where voters can be registered in more than one place and cast votes in more than one place. This was not insignificant because there were 1.5 million of these "wandering ballots." Given that the difference in the final count between the two candidates was only 800,000 votes, you can see that this made a tremendous difference. Essentially, you had 1.5 million people voting twice.

TNA: Yet, the official Central Election Commission certified Yanukovich as the winner. Who was on the commission?

Mr. Lozynskyj: They are, essentially, all people who were involved with the government, who are part of the Kuchma-Yanukovich team. I have said that it should be called the Commission to Elect Yanukovich rather than the Central Election Commission because, unfortunately, that is how they operated, in a very illegal and unethical fashion. Interestingly, many of the commission members are attorneys. But they are attorneys trained in the Soviet system and have operated their entire professional lives in that system and the very similar system that has continued in Ukraine. This involves a very important concept that too few people in the West understand. In the Communist systems, the attorney exists to serve and protect the state. In the West, the main function of the attorney is to protect the individual against the state. I went through the biographies of the Central Election Commission, and they invariably turn out to be lifelong careerists in the government, many as prosecutors.

TNA: In the old Soviet Union, of which the Ukraine was a part, attorneys, like most government officials, were members of the Communist Party. Do you still have holdovers therefrom the Communist Party? Mr. Lozynskyj: Sure, of course. Many of these people are elderly, in their 60s and 70s.

TNA: How extensive was Vladimir Putin's and Russia's involvement in the election ? Mr. Lozynskyj: It was very extensive and very outrageous. Putin unabashedly endorsed Yanukovich and actually came to Ukraine twice to campaign just prior to the election. It was blatant interference. Now, no leader in the West would dream of going into another country to campaign for a candidate. And no leader in the West endorsed Yushchenko, even though it was clear that many favored him because he is in favor of closer ties with the West and is more democratically oriented. Yet no Western leader actually endorsed or campaigned for him. But Putin very openly stated that it would be best for Ukrainians if Yanukovich were elected.

TNA: Putin did much more than just those campaign trips, correct?

Mr. Lozynskyj: Yes. For instance, Russian radio and TV flooded Ukraine with broadcasts favoring Yanukovich, especially aimed at the Russian-speaking Ukrainian population.

TNA: There were reports that President Kuchma allowed Russian Spetznaz troops, the feared Russian special forces, to come into Ukraine to help put down the pro-Yushchenko demonstrations.

Mr. Lozynskyj: I can't confirm those stories. Unconfirmed reports were that Russian Spetznaz troops had been brought in and had changed into Ukrainian military uniforms. But I have no evidence or eyewitness reports.

TNA: Viktor Yanukovich was handpicked by Leonid Kuchma, who has been Ukraine's president since 1994. Kuchma was a career Communist official who had been director of the Soviet Union's largest missile factory. Yet, when

Kuchma was elected, it was heralded in the West as a great victory for reform because he had ousted the old-line, Soviet commissar Leonid Kravchuk. So, what is Kuchma's 10-year legacy?

Mr. Lozynskyj: Well, it's mixed. There are positives and negatives. There are various ways of looking at it. He presided over economic reforms, such as privatization and Ukraine's remarkable economic growth. Over the last four years it has had more rapid growth than any country in Eastern Europe. But, given the fact that Ukraine's economy fell so precipitously from 1991 to 2000, it was inevitable that it would go up. So, people can point to market reforms under Kuchma as positive, but I think the negatives outweigh the positives. For instance, privatization is a good thing. It was necessary to de-socialize the massive Soviet-style industry. But this was not an open privatization process that gave all Ukrainians a chance to get involved. Instead Kuchma and his cronies--all government officials or former government officials--have gotten incredibly rich. Only a relatively few Ukrainians were allowed to participate.

TNA: We read a lot about the "oligarchs" in Russia, the officials who have become fabulously wealthy and corrupt. Is this similar to what has happened in Ukraine?

Mr. Lozynskyj: Same thing. You have a striking example in Kuchma's son-in-law, Viktor Pinchuk, who is one of the richest men in Ukraine. Recently, he bought Kryvorizhstal, the country's largest steel plant, for a fraction of its fair-market price, even though there were other bidders willing to pay more than twice as much. This was obviously rigged. Yet President Kuchma allowed it to go through, in spite of protests and appeals. Communist Party apparatchiks, right.

Mr. Lozynskyj: Sure.

TNA: What can you tell us about Viktor Yanukovich? He seems to have come out of nowhere. Why did Kuchma pick him?

Mr. Lozynskyj: One of the things that someone in Kuchma's position has to worry about is that his successor may prosecute him, take his ill-gotten gains, even put him in prison. It is believed that Kuchma worked out a deal with Yanukovich to protect against such reprisals. Yanukovich has a criminal record that could be used against him. One of his arrests was for rape, which he covered up and paid off. It was squashed. Yanukovich is not particularly bright or articulate or adept as a politician. He did very poorly in the election debates. For instance, he tried to appeal to the Russian Orthodox Christians by pretending to be a very devout Orthodox, but then made some very embarrassing gaffes that showed he didn't know anything about the faith. He is purely the creation of the Kuchma machine and the Russian media.

TNA: Now, concerning Viktor Yushchenko: first of all, he has gone through an incredible physical transformation in the last couple months, since his mysterious poisoning. Is there any new evidence to support the charges or theories that this was a KGB-type poison attack by his opposition?

Mr. Lozynskyj: As far as I know, there is no smoking gun, no concrete evidence, that this was a deliberate poison attack. However, the Soviets perfected methodologies to kill that would leave no trace and would make it appear that the victim had died of natural causes. There's the famous case of Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist, who was assassinated in 1959 by the KGB with a spray of cyanide gas in Munich, Germany. The German doctors determined he had died of a heart attack. It was only solved when the assassin defected, and it was on his conscience, and he confessed to the murder and explained how it was done. So I'm not surprised that no "smoking gun" was found. But look at Yushchenko. He was a handsome man until the poison made him look grotesque. He's fortunate to be alive, but it has taken his health, as well, and left him in constant pain.

TNA: What about Yushchenko's political background? His critics say that he looted the Central Bank of millions of dollars, and his running mate, Yulia Tymoshenko, has been charged with fraud and embezzlement.

Mr. Lozynskyj: I'm not going to defend Yulia Tymoshenko, who was connected with former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, a convicted money launderer. But when it comes to Yushchenko, there is absolutely no evidence that he is corrupt. First of all, he is not wealthy. In Ukraine, the corruption is so commonplace that corrupt officials don't hide the fact that they're wealthy; they lavishly display their wealth. Yushchenko was in a position to have greatly enriched himself, but he didn't do that. He's one of those rare persons of prominence on whom there is no evidence that he's done anything bad.

TNA: Some of the media coverage I've seen and read has presented the Ukrainian conflict in a way that makes it primarily an ethnic and religious conflict. They say that Ukrainians who are Russian-speaking, Orthodox, and from the East are for Yanukovich, while those who are Ukrainian-speaking, Catholic, and from the Western areas are for Yushchenko. Is this a correct analysis?

Mr. Lozynskyj: No. First of all, Yushchenko is Russian-speaking, Orthodox, and from Eastern Ukraine. So that blows that theory. And he has broad support across the whole spectrum and across the country. He's the only political figure who does. Yanukovich, on the other hand, is not well known and, if not for the massive fraud, state aid, and help from Russia, wouldn't have gotten anywhere near the vote count he did. I talked with many Ukrainians who speak only Russian who were strong Yushchenko supporters. They do not want to see Ukraine back under Moscow's dominance.

TNA: Now Putin, Kuchma, and Yanukovich have said they would be for new elections but only ifYanukovich and Yushchenko both step down as candidates. What's wrong with that?

Mr. Lozynskyj: Sure, they're willing to do that because Yushchenko is the only real opponent with a broad, national following. As I've already said, Yanukovich is not a good candidate, and they probably figure they could win with someone else, if Yushchenko steps down.

TNA: Kuchma and Yanukovich also suggest that an election should be held months down the road. Is it better to wait several months, and is it realistic to try to hold elections any sooner?

Mr. Lozynskyj: I think that they should hold them as soon as they can, while there may still be a sizeable tent city of people supporting the opposition. If the [Kuchma] government sees that the people are melting away, they will try to go back to business as usual, and an historical opportunity to move Ukraine toward more freedom and democratic rule may be lost.
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Title Annotation:Europe
Author:Jasper, William F.
Publication:The New American
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:4EXUR
Date:Dec 27, 2004
Words:2081
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