After holding a press conference devoted to the language issue, Levchenko was assaulted by protesters and threatened with violence by a member of his own party.
By Ilya Khineyko
“Lately, Mykola Levchenko, has become one of the newsmakers in our country” wrote Anton Zikora from UNIAN. Indeed, the controversial statements by this previously little known official from the Donetsk city council and a very public rebuke from prominent figures in the Party of Regions have made headlines in the Ukrainian online media. After running an interview with Levchenko on March 6, UNIAN decided to provide him with another opportunity to express his views by holding a press conference on March 13.
Speaking as “a citizen of Ukraine” rather than a Donetsk official or a representative of the Party of Regions, Levchenko remained defiant with regard to the status of the Russian language in Ukraine. He reiterated his previous claim that Russian has been a language of science in Ukraine but also added that Russian is a language of business because
Our large scale firms recruit senior managers in Russia, from Ryazan or Irkutsk for example. They represent our business elite who form our economy and create a Russian-speaking language environment.
When asked what then should be the status of Ukrainian, he suggested that “it should be made a regional language in the three western oblasts of Lviv, Ternopil, and Ivano-Frankivsk.” The interesting thing about this bold proposal is that it mirrors the hotly debated idea to sanction granting Russian regional language status in eastern oblasts of Ukraine. In the past, Donetsk and Kharkiv oblast councils have tried to make such moves. However their decisions were later overturned by the Ukrainian Supreme Court as violating the Constitution’s provision on the status of Ukrainian as the sole state language.
It turns out that nation-wide exposure can carry some drawbacks too. According to the Donetsk online news portal Ostrov, after the press conference Levchenko was attacked outside the building. Two unknown individuals, reportedly young males, splashed some liquid on him. According to Levchenko, the unknown substance tasted like kefir (fermented milk).
It was also reported that a woman, who was part of a small group of protesters who had come to condemn Levchenko, remarked that “Next time it might well be acid.”
The new round of Levchenko’s one man campaign prompted another deputy from the Party of Regions to issue a thinly veiled threat against Levchenko. In an interview to a Russian information agency, Noviy Region, Yaroslav Sukhii, who hails, like Taras Chornovil and Hanna Herman, from Western Ukraine, predicted that Yanukovych will discipline his colleague and implied that Levchenko will be facing some difficult times.
“I think Yanukovych will explain to this young man in both, Russian and Ukrainian that he has made some mistakes. I’ll tell you frankly – I do not envy him very much. If you want to know what kind of conversation it is going to be, you should ask deputy Kalashnikov who was involved in a scandal with journalists. After a conversation with Yanukovych, he had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized, having apparently suffered a heart attack.”
(On July 14, 2006, a group of Regions supporters led by MP Oleh Kalashnikov manhandled the two-person crew [of the StB television station] and forcefully seized their video cassette. Later Kalashnikov was forced to apologize publicly to the journalist and to Yanukovych personally. )
Yaroslav Sukhiy’s allusion to Yanukovych’s unconventional methods of dealing with the transgressed subordinates harks back to the persistent rumors in Ukrainian media. During the time of the Orange Revolution it was widely believed that Yanukovych physically assaulted the then Minister of Railroad Transportation Heorhiy Kirpa, knocking out several teeth and sending him to a hospital bed. Two years later, Ukraina Moloda reported that Yanukovych again resorted to such measures when two of his ministers, Oleksandr Lavrynovych and Anatoly Tolstoukhov, were beaten up after the Law on Cabinet of Ministers was vetoed by President Yushchenko due to an error made in the Verkhovna Rada apparatus.
Taking such history into account, one would assume Yaroslav Sukhiy’s prediction was not a hollow threat after all. However, employing the spectre of Yanukovych’s iron fist in order to censure a party comrade may not just be indicative of the violent nature of the Ukrainian political jungle. Perhaps, the need to use violence and/or intimidation to maintain the party’s famous stern discipline masks another reality. The Party of Regions has been metamorphosizing into a typical post-Soviet “party of power.” As such, its members share little except allegiance to their leader. In such a climate, appeals to the “main arbiter” become the only meaningful form of political dialogue.