On this day thirteen years ago I can not be certain of what I was exactly doing, even though my memory surprises many sometime. For many of you who have read my musings you are probably wondering, “What is so special about September 16, 2000?” For the most part there was nothing special that happened during that day, but that evening, led to a chain of events that would turn Ukraine and the given establishment on it’s head for some time. The repercussions are still being felt today! On the evening of the night in question, journalist Georgiy Gongadze disappeared without a trace. Some time later his headless body was found in a shallow grave. To this day, full punishment to those responsible for his death has not been meted out and it is due time.
I do very well recall what transpired day that I had learnt that Gia, as he was know by his friends and acquaintances, had disappeared. It was a overcast and bleak day, little did I know until after having lunch with family I had in town from Ternopil, my kum Serhiy and my second cousin Volodymyr. Though little did I know that day and week and months that followed would become bleaker still. We had gone to lunch at a small little place on Mykhaylivska street called Pid Osokorom, right across the street from O’Brien’s Irish Pub. Before I returned to work at the National Parliamentary Library of Ukraine I had to stop by the central post office and call home. After all it was my mother’s birthday, I was far away, and had to wish her a Happy Birthday! It was still early in the morning in Montreal, but I’m sure hearing my voice would give her a great start to that Monday morning.
When I returned to work at the Parliamentary Library I ran into one of the System Administrators I had been working with. No doubt he had seen the presser held by Gia’s wife and concerned journalists regarding her husband’s disappearance. He told me that Gia was missing! I had seen him the week before, needless to say I was in a slight state of shock. When I arrived at home, there were many familiar and non-familiar faces in my friend’s living room glued to the TV. During the days that followed, I would get know some of them a little better as we came together to plan some events to bring society’s attention to the fact that Gia was not the first journalist to disappear or be killed in Ukraine. At at that point, “we did not yet know about the discussions in Kuchma’s office, nor about Melnychenko with the ‘dictaphone’, nor about “Kravchenko’s eagles”, nor about the murders Pukach, Kostenko and Protasov…” as a friend of mine Vakhtang Kipiani wrote on the Istorychna Pravda [Historical Truth] website two years ago. It was in a preface to an interview he conducted with Gia’s mother Lesya Korchak, just a few days after Gia disappeared, now thirteen years ago and a part of history. During the next few days we would often meet late into the night, planning for an event which was meant to demand that the government take a serious interest in finding Gongadze. Some of us knew one another, others only knew each other visually, but this disappearance of Gia became a consolidating factor.
Saturday 23, 2000 those who were not indifferent to Gia’s disappearance gathered on Independence Square. That evening night a torch lit march from Bassarabsky market took place. Though to this day, complete justice has not been served.
Screen shots from Andriy Shevchenko’s film The Face of Protest(2003)
Today in an address to Ukrainian journalists, Myroslava Gongadze, Gia’s widow stated the following: “… those who ordered this murder, which are the root of this tragedy remain unpunished and are enjoying their freedom. Because of this we must all together demand a full investigation of the murder of Georigy Gongadze and other journalists who died at the hands of the government before he did and unfortunately afterwards. We must not be silent, because you can not defend yourself through silence. Because in place of Georgiy, unfortunately, in today’s Ukraine it could be any one of us. Today, we face new challenges. The beatings and the attacks on journalists to this day continue… If this tendency continues in 2013, it will be possible for them to call Ukraine not free.” Some of these words echo back to that autumn day of 2000 is why we all gathered. In using the term “them” Myroslav is probably making reference to Freedom House’s rating of democracy. Democracy is definitely on a down turn in Ukraine, and it is time that Europe and the world take notice. A lot of talk about the EU by politicians in Ukraine is nothing but oral flatulence. Until they get their own house in order and start playing by the rule of law, nothing good will come in Ukraine.
As I complete this posting and ready it to publish it, there are candle lit vigils taking place right now in Ukraine in various cities. While I am not physically there, I would like all my friends in Ukraine, both journalists, civic activists and people who are not indifferent to the state of democracy and freedom of speech in Ukraine, to never forget this day, nor what it symbolizes. I stand by you all, having taken the time to write up and share some thoughts of a short and unpleasant moment in time that took place thirteen years ago. Unfortunately, little has changed since then. Be strong my friends and be true to yourselves in all your professional activities. Take a few minutes to remember not only Georgiy Gongadze, but also the likes of Igor Aleksandrov, Heorhiy Chechyk and others.