Of all the truly bad government appointments throughout history, the decision to name Dmytro Tabachnyk as Ukraine’s education and science minister ranks as one of the truly boneheaded decisions of our time. What was President Viktor Yanukovych thinking?
Before Tabachnyk even opened his mouth in public, he may have set a world record by the speed with which he incited an opposition movement to oust him.
On March 12, just a day after he took the job, a draft resolution was registered in parliament to oust him, and students in Lviv, Donetsk and Kherson started collecting signatures against him. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s blogosphere exploded with criticism over this controversial appointment. Anti-Tabachnyk websites mushroomed. Four regional councils in western Ukraine appealed to the president by March 17 to remove him, while a crowd of 5,000 demanded his ouster in Lviv during a rally on March 17.
Even Hanna Herman, deputy chief of the president's administration said it would be "fair" if Tabachnyk resigned.
Before this, many Ukrainians would have been hard-pressed to name the education minister. So what has this refined-looking 46-year-old history professor and academician done to provoke this avalanche of horror?
Tabachnyk’s name is associated with everything anti-Ukrainian, and there are good reasons for it. He is often referred to as having Ukrainophobia, and is quoted saying that the state of Ukraine is a historical mistake. Many of his radical views he published in his 2008 book, “Duck Soup, Ukrainian Style,” which has already been reprinted three times since then.
The book spells out many of his controversial views – in his own words. Tabachnyk refers to Ukrainian nationalist leaders Roman Shukhevych and Stepan Bandera as “Hitler’s officers.” He claims they received the highest honors from Hitler. He was sued by Shukhevych’s children for such statements in 2008. Tabachnyk won the court case last week, after his appointment as minister.
Tabachnyk also alleges in his book that all important decisions taken by former President Viktor Yushchenko were actually made by the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, rather than by the president’s administration. It criticizes Yushchenko’s initiative to create an all-Ukrainian Orthodox Church as a policy that is directly derived from the Third Reich, a condemnation that he applies pretty much to all other policies of Yushchenko, whom he strongly dislikes.
Also, Tabachnyk says that millions of people who came to Maidan Nezalezhnosti in 2004 during the Orange Revolution were a result of neuro-linguistic programming, a psychological technology to influence people, originating from the United States. He is a strong advocate of Russian as Ukraine’s second state language (which contradicts the Constitution) and considers Halychyna (a historical region that covers most oblasts in western Ukraine) to be an alien formation with a non-Ukrainian mentality.
Tabachnyk has been a government member many times before, starting off in 1994 as Leonid Kuchma’s presidential campaign manager. He moved on to head his administration for two years. He was referred to as “all-mighty Dima” in those days for his grip on power and control over access to the president.
Here is Tabachnyk’s definition of the Kuchma era: “It’s a politically stable regime with elements of authoritarianism, characterized by successful reform and high speed of growth of the economy and social guarantees, which provided for the formation and gradual development of the civil society for the last 10 years, and which transformed Ukraine from a de jure state to a de facto state.”
The brightest and most quoted description of Tabachnyk came from the mouth of his Party of Regions colleague Borys Kolesnykov, who was also appointed a top Yanukovych aide. “Let’s raise the issue of expulsion [from the Party of Regions] of this cheap clown Dmytro Tabachnyk!” Kolesnykov said in 2008. “An embezzler of state property, who has not created any business in his whole life! What can he do except stealing books and pictures from the poor Ukrainian museums? ”
Kolesnykov, in his outrage, was referring to a number of scandals Tabachnyk was at the center of. The new education minister was implicated in a criminal case that investigated the disappearance of unique archive documents from a museum in Lviv. He was also suspected in a scheme to embezzle budget money set aside for purchasing free eyeglasses for World War II invalids. He was under criminal investigation for at least some of these charges in 2005, but the cases went nowhere. Tabachnyk is a passionate collector of old decorations and other unique historical artifacts, among other things.
Moreover, Tabachnyk has publicly admitted that he forged sociological research when he served under Kuchma. He was accused in 2007 of organizing a massive campaign to forge the result of the mass voting in The Great Ukrainians TV show, licensed to Inter TV channel by the BBC. Bandera, much hated by Tabachnyk, was set to win, but was suddenly out-voted in the last few days before the show closed.
Vakhtang Kipiani, the show’s chief editor, rang the alarm bell then, accusing Tabachnyk and associated people and businesses, and was sued by Ukrgazbank that was implicated in the scam. The case stalled in court a year ago.
So there is little surprise that this man of dubious political views, who has little respect for laws and is without personal integrity is causing massive protests. An education minister is in charge of developing policies for bringing up new generations of Ukrainians – intellectually and morally. Tabachnyk qualifies on neither grounds.
Lviv students collecting signatures to oust new Education Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk on March 15. The student in the foreground is holding a poster saying “Out with Ukraine-gobbler!” (Ukrinform)
Fears are running high that Tabachnyk will attempt to rewrite history, a la Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s refashioning – many say whitewashing -- of that nation’s history. People also worry that Tabachnyk will push for greater use of the Russian language. And, more broadly, educators are nervous that he will reverse the many educational improvements made under his predecessor, Ivan Vakarchuk.
The essence of Vakarchuk’s reforms was to introduce European-style independent testing for high school graduates, and its results were the basis for admission to universities all over the country. The universities, in turn, were required to drop entrance exams that were major sources of corruption.
Despite the success of Vakarchuk’s important changes, Tabachnyk has been one of the most outspoken critics of independent external testing all the time, saying in 2008 that it’s a disastrous experiment and “amoral when teachers experiment on pupils.”
Tabachnyk has, so far, said nothing about his plans in the ministry. But his supervisor, Volodymyr Semynozhenko, the deputy prime minister for humanitarian issues, said on March 15 that universities will re-introduce internal entrance exams this year. While independent testing will also remain for now, gluing the old Soviet education system and the new Ukrainian one into a single hybrid.
As a result, this year’s school graduates might end up facing three types of tests: regular end of school tests, independent external examinations and re-introduced university entrance exams. So, the parents of university aspirants have gotten their first warning: Get your cash ready if you want a freshman in the family, even if your kid is academically deserving of admission.
Kyiv Post editor Katya Gorchinskaya can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org