: 22-01-2004
Peter Byrne: Kuchma: Dead Man Talking

// // // URL: http://maidan.org.ua/static/mai/1074775228.html

Last week was filled with rumors about the mortal sickness, and then the death, of President Kuchma. We received variations on the news several times per day. First, a post-operative Leonid Danilovich was comatose in a German hospital; then, it seemed, he was awake, but about to die; next, he was coming home in a coffin, even as the chynovnyky clawed for position in the post-Kuchma order.

Weve weathered periods of Kuchma-is-dying-or-dead rumor-mongering before. The presidents demise is a weird, periodic phenomenon of Ukrainian political culture: it simply happens once in a while. About a year ago, we heard Kuchma had terminal cancer. Some months before that, the story also went around that the leader was dead. Yet the president seems to be made of stronger stuff than these fables give him credit for. Well believe it when we see the corpse.

This time, however, the rumors were more intense than ever. So widespread was the news that the Presidential Administration released a surreal statement declaring the president alive.

The bigger issue, however, is that when the president of a country disappears for several weeks, and during an important period for his country the fate of constitutional reform was in the balance these last few weeks rumors will start.

Kuchmas withdrawal into Baden-Baden was irresponsible, the sort of tinpot gesture that isnt done by leaders of countries that want to be taken seriously. Leaders in the west cant go on holiday for a week without television cameras transmitting their every move. Even the mayor of New York City is abused by the local press corps for taking underpublicized weekends in Bermuda.

Kuchmas withdrawal had a Soviet scent to it, recalling the days when the movements of geriatric Kremlin leaders were attended by a mystical secrecy, and when each rare glimpse of a government figure was analyzed. (Did Comrade X look pale? Did he walk with a cane? How come Comrade Y didnt appear, too?) We thought Ukraine was getting away from this sort of business, and still hold out hope that it is. Next time President Kuchma dies, the authorities should handle it in a more responsible and less arrogant manner.

// // // URL: http://maidan.org.ua/static/mai/1074775228.html

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