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You're reading: Kuchma’s face everywhere in 1999

In honor of the Jan. 17 presidential election, Kyiv Post classic digs back to a Nov. 4, 1999, opinion article to show how far Ukraine has come -- or not come -- in its hapzard journey to democracy. During the 1999 presidential election runoff between Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine's incumbent president, and Petro Symonenko, the hapless Communist Party challenger, Kuchma used the full weight of the state. Campaign posters with his face were everywhere -- a reflection of the Soviet-style methods of elections and campaigning still in place then. There's more Kyiv Post classics in our free, searchable archives. So enjoy. Here is the article:

It’s on the tip of the tongue of every newcomer who’s entered Kyiv in the last three weeks: Why in Heaven’s name does virtually every store in Kyiv have a poster of Alfred E. Newman plastered up on its entryway?

Has that handsome devil Newman, his popularity all but dead back home in the States, got a new commission going in a country that for years refused to tolerate him? Or is it just another blatant example of copyright piracy? Newcomers, fear not. Newman has made no comebacks in the former USSR, and no trademarks have been illegally appropriated.

In fact, the mug smiling out from those posters is not Newman at all, but the present — and most likely future — president of Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma. Why, you ask, is a poster of the president adorning virtually every storefront in this supposedly democratic country?

The answer is simple: Ukraine has not quite mastered the intricacies of being a democratic country. And the president has more than a little to do with that, as his slam-bang poster campaign indicates. If you don’t believe us, believe the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
t’s on the tip of the tongue of every newcomer who’s entered Kyiv in the last three weeks: Why in Heaven’s name does virtually every store in Kyiv have a poster of Alfred E. Newman plastered up on its entryway?

They are all hopelessly weighed down by ideological language and have always been dismissed by the entire population as utterly unrepresentative of reality. Now look at some of Kuchma’s slogans: “Five years of stability;” “Buy Ukrainian;” “It will all be good.”

First of all, the slogan, “Five years of stability” could just as easily have read, “Five years of steadiness,” as in “Five years of steady economic decline.” The “Buy Ukrainian” poster, especially when hanging in boutiques of expensive imported goods, offers a critique of itself. And, does anyone think that it will “all be good” if he gets re-elected?

Why wasn’t last year, or the year before, all good? Certainly few Ukrainians buy that one, as has been proven by numerous interviews conducted by the Post and other publications with average citizens throughout the country.

So, what we have here are a bunch of empty, ideologically false posters blanketing the capital. Nobody believes them and they are far too widespread to represent only the demographic that supports Kuchma. Rather, it is clearly a Kuchma-sponsored (read: state-sponsored) action, just as the Soviet authorities not too long ago covered the city with their propaganda. And, like the old Soviet posters, Kuchma’s campaign posters are so ubiquitous that by now we have grown used to them — even though they first appeared only a couple weeks ago. In honor of the incumbent’s latest and most visible return to old Soviet propaganda practices, the Post would hereby like to honor the president with the very special, Election ‘99 Best of Kyiv award. Good job at refreshing Ukrainian citizens’ memories of undemocratic Soviet traditions, Mr. President. You’re sure to make Boris Yeltsin, who did about the same thing during the 1996 election in Russia, proud.

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