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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Media most trusted check on Yanukovych government: poll

No way to treat the media:
Presidential bodyguard tackles cameraman, June 15, 2010

Ukrainians trust the church and media the most, while they trust the banks and courts the least, according to a June poll.*

After 100 days in office, a little over half of Ukrainians gave President Victor Yanukovych a passing grade and a +22 percent trust balance, third place after the church (+52) and media (+36).

More than 50 percent combined gave a “totally positive” and “mostly positive” assessment to the improved relations with Russia that have occurred since Yanukovych came to power, including the gas-for-fleet deal. More than half approved of the creation of a majority in the country’s parliament.

Yet expectations remain high, as only 25 percent feel the economy has improved since Yanukovych took power after a slim victory in February. Most feel the economic situation has yet to change one way or another; around 10 percent said the economy has deteriorated in the first 100 days of Yanukovych’s rule.

Most Ukrainians think that the Yanukovych government is doing a good job in ensuring wages and pensions are paid on time, allowing access to objective information and maintaining law and order. But the new government has yet to address the challenges of combating corruption, lowering inflation and stimulating economic growth.

Seventy-five percent of poll respondents said that corruption in Ukraine is “very high” or “high.” Thirty percent said they have personally encountered corruption since Yanukovych came into power.

Issues of geopolitics, democracy and language are nowhere near the list of priorities Ukrainians think the government should be addressing. Priority issues are: overcoming economic crisis and economic growth (74 percent), combating corruption (52 percent), reforming the health system (46 percent), welfare for the needy (36 percent), pension reform (32 percent) and cancellation of parliament members’ immunity to criminal prosecution (27 percent).

Elected for a five year term, Yanukovych has plenty of time to address these issues. And his +21 approval rating after 100 days is not the worst ever.

Victor Yushchenko’s approval rating after 100 days in office was nearly +40, while Leonid Kuchma’s was only +8. Yushchenko was out after five years, while Kuchma ruled the country for ten. That’s the thing about expectations: the lower they are the easier it is to meet them.

The list of priority issues Ukrainians want to see resolved hasn’t changed dramatically in the two decades since Independence. What has changed significantly is the public’s perception of and trust in the media. In June, 2004, the national media’s trust balance was minus 3 percent among Ukrainians. Six years later, the media is second only to church, which has traditionally has had a positive trust balance in the post-Soviet space. Ukrainians trust the media more than they do political parties, NGOs, parliament, cabinet and president.

Only 16 percent supported the actions of the political opposition in early June 2010. That makes the media the most-trusted “check” on Yanukovych’s government. If he wants to make a go of it, then he better treat the press better than his goon bodyguards have recently. And it’s up to the media to rise to the occasion of heightened expectations too.

* The nationwide poll of 1,611 adult respondents was conducted from June 5-10, 2010 by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation and the Sociological service of the Oleksandr Razumkov Centre. The face-to-face interviews were conducted in 113 population centers (65 urban, 48 rural). Sample error (without design effect) does not exceed 2.5% (0.95 probability).

Yanukovych bodyguard tackles cameraman, June 15, 2010. The president was reportedly 300 meters away.

June 2010 poll results (in Ukrainian)

June 2004 poll results (in Ukrainian, ZIP)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Toast to Yanukovych

Bearcats Threaten Ukraine

The Arctictis binturong is neither bear nor cat. The nocturnal Asian mammal is making life difficult for some businesses in Ukraine, according to that country's president. (

Ukraine’s newest president has been described as pro-Russian, but Victor Yanukovych primarily employs US consultants to win elections, whitewash his image and investigate political opponents. If the Americans really want to help Yanukovych’s international image (and make a buck while doing so) they should start with something far simpler: proper English.

As one example, take the June 18 news item on Yanukovych’s initiative to combat corruption found on the English language pages of the presidential website:“We plan to reduce the number of permits and licenses, which has been complicating life of small and medium business, by at least 50%. Thus we will make doing business in Ukraine easier and minimize influence of bearcats on it”, said President Yanukovych.

Bearcats. Bill Gates’ spellchecker won’t say it’s wrong, but an American consultant could probably tell you that rare Asian mammals aren’t Ukraine’s greatest problem. The website contains many such errors: spelling mistake, grammatical no-no’s and obsolete usage. Of course, Yanukovych has more important things to worry about than getting the English language right. He must, first and foremost, create stability, even if that means bulldozing democracy and Rule of Law under the asphalt.

This reminds me of a true story related by a close family friend who was in Ukraine in the early 90's working for an international NGO. It’s about language and a toast worth raising to Yanukovych, his government and their US consultants.

The setting is a dinner in Kyiv with officials from Ukraine and Western diplomats seated around a table. As is customary at Ukrainian meals, vodka is consumed with the many-course meal, but only when it's preceded by longwinded toasts.

Respectful of his guest, the Ukrainian delivered his toast in English. Well, it wasn’t exactly English, but the weird variety of the English dubbed “Ukrenglish,” where words are translated from English into Ukrainian and back again, most often with hilarious consequences. (The book and film Everything is Illuminated capitalize on this phenomenon). The kind of English you’ll find on the presidential website.

The Ukrainian official spent several minutes promising a bright bilateral future while extolling the benefits of cooperation. In conclusion of his toast, and to show that he is savvy in the finer points of English, the Ukrainian said “Up your bottoms!” (The Ukrenglish version of “Bottoms up!”)

Bursts of laughter were successfully suppressed, but a few chuckles disguised as coughs could be heard as smiles crept upon the faces seated on the Western side of the table.

Not to be outdone, the highest ranking Western diplomat responded with a toast when the guests’ turn came around. He too spoke about mutual goals and common interests and the future. Wishing his Ukrainian counterparts only the best, the diplomat finished his toast with the words “Up yours too!