Community News

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ukraine's Smear Campaign

Lviv, Ukraine | February 03, 2010

As the two candidates in Ukraine's presidential runoff escalate an acrimonious war of words, the campaign is showing an even uglier side on the streets. In this western Ukrainian stronghold of support for the Orange Revolution five years ago, circulating leaflets carry a photo of its heroine, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, under the words "Don't Vote for That Jew!" The leaflet includes an alleged facsimile of Tymoshenko's handwriting that purports to reveal her background as Jewish and Russian and asks how Tymoshenko can call herself Ukrainian.

Another leaflet purports to be a copy of a letter from Tymoshenko's erstwhile Orange Revolution ally, President Viktor Yushchenko, in which he calls on Ukrainians to vote for Tymoshenko's rival, pro-Moscow Viktor Yanukovych.

Although it's not clear who's behind the smears, the leaflets are helping fuel an atmosphere of bitter cynicism ahead of the election. Although many voters here say they'll cast their ballots for Tymoshenko only as the lesser of two evils, some say they'll abstain from voting altogether. Residents say they're disillusioned by the Orange camp's broken promises to clean up rampant corruption and reform the economy. Piles of unplowed snow snarling traffic along the streets of this faded baroque and predominantly Catholic city are blamed on corrupt politicians' absconding with municipal funds.

But the authorities in Lviv have beefed up a contingent of security service officers guarding a statue of Ukrainian nationalist hero Stepan Bandera, reviled as a Nazi collaborator by many in predominantly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine. Rumors that members of Yanukovych's Party of Regions plan to blow up the statue are competing with others that it's Tymoshenko supporters who want to destroy it to blame the crime on their opponents.

During a campaign stop in his native town of Yenakiyevo in eastern Ukraine on January 2, Yanukovych pledged he would fire Tymoshenko and her government in short order if elected.

Each side is accusing the other of preparing to falsify the elections, raising fears neither will accept February 7's results.

-- Gregory Feifer, reporting from Lviv

UPDATE -- RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service reports that in the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk, a Yanukovych stronghold, leaflets are circulating with calls for an election boycott.

The leaflets claim to be from the Communist Party and Natalia Vitrenko, the leader of the pro-Russian Progressive Socialist Party. But Vitrenko claims that the Tymoshenko camp is behind the fliers, which she called a “provocation.” She told RFE/RL that her own vote it going to Yanukovych.

The Tymoshenko campaign has rejected the accusations, and Tymoshenko Bloc parliament deputy Andriy Shevchenko said that both the Communist Party and Vitrenko's party have been closely aligned with Yanukovych's Regions Party for several years.

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