Better late than never: Poland denounces Ukrainian nationalist glorification.
RussiaToday.com 05 February, 2010, 11:49
Polish President Lech Kaczynski has finally condemned the decision made two weeks ago by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko to name WWII nationalist leader Stepan Bandera a hero of Ukraine.
“Assessment of the activities of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in Poland is clearly negative. These organizations were engaged in mass murders of Polish civilians in the eastern territories of the Second Republic, killing 100,000 people. Poles were being killed for their being Poles,” says a statement published on Thursday on the official website of the President of Poland.
The statement adds that in this case “current political interests prevailed over historical truth.”
On January 22, the outgoing Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko honored Stepan Bandera, one of the leaders of the Ukrainian nationalists, for his efforts in “defending the national idea and his fight for an independent Ukrainian state.”
The move provoked outrage from many both in Ukraine and in other countries, who blame Bandera and his followers for numerous war crimes. The US-based Simon Wiesenthal Center expressed its “deepest revulsion” at the move, while chief rabbi of Ukraine Moshe Reuven Azman announced he will refuse his own state award in protest.
Ukrainian nationalists on Friday converged outside the Polish embassy to protest against Warsaw's condemnation of President Viktor Yushchenko's decision to bestow a top honor on a Ukrainian nationalist leader.
Polish President Lech Kaczynski has said Yushchenko's decision to declare Stepan Bandera a national hero is at odds with the historical facts.
"It is not up to the Poles to tell us who our heroes are," one of the speakers said.
Activists of the Svoboda (Freedom) nationalist association held slogans demanding that Poland "repent the colonization of the Ukrainians in the 15th-20th centuries" and "admit to crimes against the Ukrainians in the 20th century."
They also said Poland should pay Ukraine compensation for the "oppression."
Bandera was a leader of a nationalist movement in western Ukraine and headed the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists in 1941-1959. The Soviet authorities accused him of numerous acts of murder and terrorism and allegedly ordered his assassination in Munich on October 15, 1959.
Yushchenko's move has already fueled fierce debate in Ukraine, where Bandera is a controversial figure, with his mainly West Ukrainian supporters considering him a hero.
Outgoing Yushchenko, swept to power by the 2004 pro-Western street protests, gained slightly more than 5% of the vote in the first round of presidential polls. His presidency has been marred by continuous political infighting and economic problems.
Following hectic weeks of tough electioneering, bitter battles, scandals and mutual accusations, Ukraine’s presidential hopefuls – Viktor Yanukovich and Ylia Timoshenko - are preparing for D-Day on Sunday.
Adding fuel to the fire, an electoral reform bill pushed forward by Yanukovich’s party, the Party of Regions, was passed just ahead of the runoff. Timoshenko, in response, threatened to urge people to take to streets.
Having left behind 16 other rivals in the first round of presidential voting, the two bitter rivals are gearing up for the final battle in the February 7 runoff election where the winner takes all.
Yanukovich, the leader of the opposition Party of Regions, defeated current Premier Timoshenko 35 percent to 25 percent in the first round of voting on January 17.
The incumbent president, Viktor Yushchenko, lost his bid for retaining power while receiving a modest 5 % of the votes. Five years after the Orange Revolution which swept him to power, Yushchenko’s former ally and opponent are back in Ukraine’s political ring giving the whole election a feeling of déjà vu.
Going to polls Sunday, Ukrainians will face an uneasy choice – deciding on a path for the country of 46 million people for the next five years. The population is indeed fed up with the political fuss of the last two years and wants stability and confidence in the future.
The question is which of the two contenders can lead Ukraine to stability – both economic and political. Some Ukrainians do not trust either candidate and are tired of the fight for power between the two. Those are the voters who are likely to vote “against all” or simply ignore the election, especially since the weather in February is not very welcoming.
Analysts are divided on who will finally win the presidential seat. While many see Yanukovich as the front runner, others are confident that Timoshenko will manage to close the gap by picking up votes that were splintered among candidates in the first round.
The latest polls, however, gave Yanukovich a 6 to 12 percent lead in the head-to-head runoff.
Another thing that worries many is whether force will be used after the election results are announced. Experts predict there will be claims of vote fraud and do not exclude a possibility that people might take to streets. In an attempt to avoid the repetition of the 2004 scenario, a court in Kiev has banned rallies on the capital's central Maidan square – the site of past protests – throughout this month. East or West? Yulia or Viktor?
Traditionally, since the country became independent in 1991, voters in Ukraine have been split in their political preferences and each election turned into a bitter rivalry, not only between the candidates but, also, between the pro-Russian East and the Europe-leaning West.
Both Timoshenko and Yanukovich want to integrate with Europe and improve ties with Russia, as well. Both have been trying to lure voters with lavish promises.
However, the 49-year-old Prime Minister, one of the leaders of Orange Revolution, is seen to be more pro-Western. Nicknamed “Gas Princess” for her earlier involvement in the energy sector (where she is believed to have earned a fortune), she has an ambitious plan to bring Ukraine into the EU within five years if she wins the election.
Timoshenko believes “we are capable of rising to the level of European standards on democracy, human rights, quality of life and political culture".
"And once we build Europe in Ukraine, Ukraine will become a member of the European Union. The potential of existing cooperation and mutually beneficial economic cooperation will serve as the foundation for friendly relations with Russia and other CIS countries."
She stands for pragmatic relations with all countries “based on the priority of national interests and significantly increasing Ukraine’s competitiveness in the global arena”.
As for Ukraine’s joining any collective security system, it “will be decided only by a referendum”.
As part of her aggressive presidential campaign, posters were placed throughout the country showing Timoshenko wearing a Ukrainian peasant-style hair braid and stating: "Ukraine will win! Ukraine means you!"
The charismatic politician vows to fight for “justice and order” and promises to destroy “the corrupt alliance forged between power and oligarchy.”
During her campaign, she carefully crafted an image of being a devoted fighter against corruption, constantly casting accusations at her opponents.
“We will establish order in government and there will be order in the country,” her presidential program reads. Energy independence, a health insurance system “accessible to all citizens” and “fair distribution of wealth” round out her platform.
However, Timoshenko's insistence that Ukrainian should be the country's only legitimate language for education, business and in the courts made her unpopular among the Russian-speaking population of the East and South of the country.
In September last year she issued a directive obliging teachers to speak only Ukrainian at school, even during breaks. On February 4, three days prior to the vote, Ukraine’s Constitutional Court found that the Cabinet of ministers exceeded its powers and the decree was declared unconstitutional.
Her opponent, Yanukovich, on the contrary, promised that if he wins the presidency he will pass a law permitting the broad use of the Russian language within those territories populated mainly by Russian speakers.
Characterizing his bitter rival, Timoshenko said "we are from different worlds, from different galaxies, from different dimensions", Itar-Tass wrote.
In 2004 he was declared the winner of the presidential vote, but later, following street protests that became known as the Orange Revolution, his victory was ruled fraudulent and annulled.
Just like his opponent, the 59-year-old sees integration with the EU among his aims, if elected.
“Europe does not give us prospects, and we understand it,” he said in an interview with the Spanish newspaper “El Pais”, as quoted on Yanukovich’s official website. “Therefore we should work in order to modernize the country by applying social, economic and technical European criteria. ‘Marriage’ with the EU could only take place with the consent of both sides. We do not want to compel a fiancée, but we will fulfill our obligations and become reliable partners for Europe, Russia and the USA. We would like to have trustful, effective and mutually beneficial relations with all of them,” he said.
However, Yanukovich will not urge the country to join NATO. Also, he hinted that the issue of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet – which is using a naval base in Crimea as part of a 1997 lease agreement that expires in 2017 – is negotiable. Back in November, RIA Novosti wrote, he said that this topic should not be politicized.
“Taking into consideration our international obligations, earlier undertaken by Ukraine, we must not politicize the issue and appear like an unreliable or unpredictable partner,” he said.
Yanukovich said the position of the Ukrainian authorities on the issue was the result of a negative attitude towards Russia.
“[Foreign] policy has to be balanced and mutually beneficial,” Yanukovich added.
His main slogan is "Ukraine for the people." The candidate is quite experienced in politics. Previously Yanukovich served as Governor of the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, where he is still hugely popular. He twice served as prime minister, first under President Leonid Kuchma and then, from August 4, 2006 to December 18, 2007, under current President Yushchenko.
Presidential polls split Ukraine into east and west.
The gap between opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has narrowed to 2% and continues to fall rapidly following Sunday's presidential runoff in Ukraine, while preliminary statistics show several regions supporting one of the two candidates almost unanimously.
According to countrywide statistics, Yanukovych gained about 48% of the vote, and Tymoshenko garnered some 46%, with over 95% of the ballots counted.
Meanwhile, preliminary data show that most of the residents of the country's eight southern and eastern regions and the Crimean peninsula voted for Yanukovych, while 16 Ukraine's western and central regions and the capital, Kiev, supported Tymoshenko.
Yanukovych, the leader of the pro-Russian Party of Regions, received 80% of the vote in the Crimea, 84% in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, 91% in the Donetsk region, and 89% in the Lugansk region.
Tymoshenko, one of the leaders of the 2004 Orange Revolution, gained 87%, 88%, 84% and 72% in the Ivano-Frankivsk, the Ternopil, the Lviv and the Vinnitsy regions, respectively. She was also supported by 65% of the voters in the country's capital, Kiev.
Some analysts say a recent decision by Yushchenko to declare late Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera the Hero of Ukraine could have contributed to the East-West split in the country.
Bandera, a leader of the Ukrainian national movement in Western Ukraine and the head of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) in 1941-1959, is a controversial figure in Ukraine. He was accused by the Soviet authorities of numerous acts of murder and terrorism, but his mainly west Ukrainian supporters consider him a hero.
Yushchenko's move fueled fierce debate in the former Soviet state. Although Yanukovych has not openly condemned the president's January 22 decree, which sparked a wave of protests in the country's east, he said the new Ukrainian president should be the leader of the whole country, not of only one of its parts.
Tymoshenko supported Yushchenko's move, and as a result, the country's nationalists called for "all conscientious Ukrainian patriots" to vote for the prime minister to "overcome pro-Moscow Yanukovych."
Yanukovych has pledged to unite the country.
"In these elections, I believe that we have taken the first step towards the unification of the country," he said.
The Ukrainian Presidential run-off election on Sunday has met most of its commitments to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), election observers have announced on Monday.
"Yesterday's vote was an impressive display of democratic elections. For everyone in Ukraine, this election was a victory," said Joao Soares, President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the Special Co-ordinator of the OSCE short-term observers.
"It is now time for the country’s political leaders to listen to the people’s verdict and make sure that the transition of power is peaceful and constructive," he added.
Matyas Eorsi, Head of the Delegation of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, also praised the Orange Revolution, a series of protests which took following the allegedly fraudulent 2004 presidential election.
"Some say the Orange Revolution has failed. I say no! Thanks to the Orange Revolution, democratic elections in Ukraine are now a reality," Eorsi said.
With 98% of votes accounted for, the Ukrainian Central Election Commission has announced that Viktor Yanukovich has gained 48,54% of the vote, with Yulia Tymoshenko receiving 45,87%.
Despite earlier calls from Yanukovich on Monday to formally concede defeat, Tymoshenko has refused to withdraw.
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