Another chapter in the Ukrainian murder mystery.

Another chapter in the Ukrainian murder mystery.

Another chapter in the Ukrainian murder mystery.

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
Nov. 14 2005 6:40 AM

Ukraine's Unfinished Revolution

Can the new democracy withstand a murder investigation?

Can the fledgling democracy handle the truth about Gongadze's murder? Click on image to enlarge.
Can the fledgling democracy handle the truth about Gongadze's murder?

Five years ago in Slate, Anne Applebaum told a "Ukrainian Murder Mystery" about the September 2000 killing of Gyorgi Gongadze, an Internet journalist almost certainly liquidated for publishing articles critical of then-President Leonid Kuchma. Gongadze's decapitated body was eventually found; his head was not.

As anyone donning an orange scarf on Kiev's Independence Square during last year's uprising could tell you, the Gongadze case has never simply been a crime. It has always been, from the moment the journalist was kidnapped and, soon after, beaten to death, a symbol of larger things.


Above all, it was a symbol of a past—an ideology, a consciousness, a national enslavement—that most Ukrainians wanted to move beyond. The Gongadze murder, and the state's refusal to investigate it, encapsulated a whole history, beginning with mass death in the name of Bolshevik utopia and ending, ignominiously, with mobster rule in the name of nothing.

So, when Viktor Yushchenko was catapulted to power last December, there was widespread expectation that the government would finally solve the crime. After all, ex-President Kuchma appeared to have been implicated in the murder by audiotapes provided by a former guard.

Alas, it's been 10 months since Yushchenko took power, and, so far, little progress has been made: The alleged murderers have been arrested, but the men behind those men have yet to be identified.

The activists and reformers, the people who once worked the phone banks and organized protests for pro-democracy outfits like Znayu (I Know) and Pora (Enough), are deeply disappointed. It seems the people have changed, but the authorities have not.

Before the government can forge a new compact with the governed, it must acknowledge the past, the reformers contend. There must be a cleansing ritual or process—the Germans' opening of Stasi files; the Czechs' "lustration," which barred senior Communist officials from positions of authority; or the South Africans' Truth and Reconciliation Commission—separating the old from the new. That has yet to happen in Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials, including the new prime minister, Yuriy Yekhanurov, who was in Washington recently meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and congressional leaders, insist they are determined to get to the bottom of the Gongadze murder.

But Gongadze's widow, Miroslava Gongadze, says that's a lie. It seems to her that President Yushchenko doesn't really want the crime solved, because doing so would bring down senior officials in his own government and jeopardize his party's standing in next spring's parliamentary elections.

"He doesn't know what to do," Gongadze said of Yushchenko in a recent interview, sipping tea in the basement cafeteria of Voice of America, where she broadcasts daily reports from Washington to viewers across Ukraine. "He understands that if he doesn't investigate the case, he's done, he doesn't have a political future. But he understands that if he does, he's in trouble."