Challenges for 2017: Stay Cool. Talk Clearly. Think Positively
Bohdan Nahaylo asks Hromadske Radio CEO Andriy Kulykov about Ukraine as a Political Nation, the Media, and More
Hello and welcome to Ukraine Calling. Your weekly review of what’s been happening in Ukraine, with a focus on a main issue. I’m Marta Dyczok for Hromadske Radio, and here’s a look at some of the stories that caught my attention.
Ukraine’s Political Nation and its Media. Looking Back. Looking Forward.
FOCUS INTERVIEW: Bohdan Nahaylo asks Hromadske Radio CEO Andriy Kulykov about Ukraine as a Political Nation, the Media, and More
CULTURE and MUSIC
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FOCUS INTERVIEW: Bohdan Nahaylo asks Hromadske Radio CEO Andriy Kulykov about Ukraine as a Political Nation, the Media, and More
Nahaylo: Well, dear listeners it’s that time of the end of the year, a time for reflections, a time to take stock and time to look back and this is a year that has been more than eventful and it’s also a year in which we marked 25 years of Ukrainian independence. So I thought today it would be very fitting to have with me, not for the purposes of an interview but for a discussion, a fellow journalist, a very well-known journalist in Ukraine, a pioneer in his field and now the Head of the Board of Directors of Hromadske Radio, the Ukrainian public radio, Andriy Kulykov, a very well-known TV presenter and journalist, interviewer, somebody that probably has his own thoughts and his own experience which he can share. I’m Bohdan Nahaylo. I used to be a journalist in Britain, wrote a lot for the top British newspapers and journals like the Spectator and New Statesman, Times. I presume that I’m better known here in Ukraine as the former director of the Ukrainian service of Radio Liberty in those critical years of 1989-1991 when things were happening as we say euphemistically. Andriyu, it’s my pleasure to have you here in the studio. Tell me what are your thoughts as we approach the end of this year? Positive? Negative? What’s your general feeling before we get into the substance?
Kulykov: My general feeling is realistic, I would say. Going back to what you said when you started this recording about taking stock and looking back, I’d also say we should look forward in no less degree than we look back because whatever happens next year is going to be no less important than the eventful year of 2016.
Nahaylo: Thanks for reminding me about the challenges that still lie ahead. But still I was trying to provoke you into telling me your present mood. Are we well equipped to face these challenges or are we a bit hesitant or a bit uncertain?
Kulykov: Depends also on what we have in mind when we say “we” and how broad this “we” is. Do we say Ukrainians as a whole? Do we say Ukrainians who live in Ukraine and associate themselves with Ukraine? Do we say “journalists in this country”? If “we” come to terms with this “we”, I say “yes, we are”. To the extent that every one of us understands what they should do.
Nahaylo: Andriy, I’ve been thinking a lot since I’ve been working here in my new capacity heading an NGO Democracy Reporting International. I used to work for the UN, now I’m working for the NGO. I’m dealing a lot more directly with civil society, with students, with officials, and it’s clear to me that this “we” today is somewhat different from the “we” that we knew 5-10-25 years ago. The “we” I refer to is a political nation in the making, crystallising particularly precipitated by the Maidan and the Revolution of Dignity. I also think this age of social media, where to be Ukrainian is no longer to simply live in Ukraine, to suffer in Ukraine, to be a dissident or whatever or a cultural activist or just a decent Ukrainian. And a diaspora out there doing their thing, trying to preserve Ukrainian culture and to make the world aware of Ukraine’s issues. I think today where social media plays such an important role where we are directly in touch with realities; this notion of “we” -“they” among Ukrainians where the ethnic, where the geographical, where the diaspora, where the present here is no longer as important. Because we can listen to your radio station out there. We can see on TV what’s happening on the Maidan as it happens and as people are getting killed. I remember we were standing in Geneva on that fateful day in February 2014 as demonstrators were being shot down. We were demonstrating in front of the UN and we were listening to this horrible news. It was as if we were there with you. Something has really changed and that is a challenge to us journalists too to deal with that.
Kulykov: Definitely. But mind you, this had nothing to do with social media. You heard the news and you watched the news, I presume, from so-called traditional media.
Nahaylo: No, I’m talking about Hromadske TV and the streaming that was possible. You know, people with cameras with TVs standing there…
Kulykov: Streaming is nothing new. You had direct broadcast all those years back. Sometimes we invent new forms or new shapes and say that this is something new you know. A movie is shown on television is still a movie. Same as direct broadcast when it goes through the internet. It’s still direct broadcast either from radio or from television. That’s to say that we tend to exaggerate the meaning and the importance of social media. Sometimes when you say that they have brought about a new realities I think that they have brought about an imagined or invented reality. Reality is there, reality is when I look you into the eye. When I know as Bohdan Nahaylo, the journalist from Britain or Radio Liberty, but not as someone whose icon or avatar I see on the Facebook page. For instance, for seven years there is a Facebook page, which is supposedly done by myself. I have nothing to do with this.
Nahaylo: No, but Andriyu, what I’m getting at is this. Take my personal example. I was sitting in Geneva in those fateful days when the maiden had just started. I don’t know if we are to believe Mustafa Nayem, it all started with Twitter and Facebook calls to come protest against what happened with Yanukovych and the Association Treaty, but then, when things heated up and became brutal, unpleasant and ugly, when human lives were at stake, when blood was being spilt, these young journalists were out there on the streets risking their lives and filming with their telephones and streaming this not only in Ukraine, but we living in the outside world could see this. That was something qualitatively different. Yes, the Orange Revolution had elements of that. But I never witnessed or experienced something where you were directly present on your screen, you were sitting in your kitchen for 16 hours glued to it because you felt you were part of it. Would that person live? Would the barricades still exist tomorrow? Would Yanukovych concede? Would he call another meeting? What the trio standing on the stage would say? What would their response be? That brought us qualitatively into a different type of mode of accepting and reacting to news and to coverage.
Kulykov: I still think that this is just a new form of what was there for a long time. If you remember 1991, which you mentioned in the beginning, and dozens and hundreds of people going around Kyiv with their radio receivers, glued to their ears. That was the same. If there were a portable television set, then they would do this and sometimes, I think, that by exaggerated the meaning of what has happened in Maidan in 2013-14 we tend to cross out what has been brewing in Ukraine for dozens of years. When I hear that the Ukrainian political nation was born on Maidan in that fateful winter, I say that’s entirely the opposite. Maidan was born and brought about by the political nation, which was being formed also due to broadcast by Radio Liberty, Voice of America and other radio stations. Although we should not exaggerate their influence as well. But the Ukrainian political nation was there in the 60’s. It was there in the 50’s…
Nahaylo: Was it?
Nahaylo: I would argue that it really came about. Yes, individuals were involved. It was a start of society maybe among the elite, but the regional, ethnic and religious fragmentation was there. I think that what helped to glue us together was Rukh and its position in the late 80’s that it was not Ukraine for Ukrainians but Ukraine for all the citizens on its territory.
Kulykov: Definitely, but it is still very many years before Maidan.
Nahaylo: Yes. Ok, look, let’s not concentrate solely on that because we still have quite a bit to cover. So, let’s look at these last 25 years. You started off as a journalist at that time. I was a journalist on the other side of the barricades. I’m sure we had very much in common in our thinking. Maybe we could express it more openly than you, don’t know. But today looking back at those 25 years, what do you see as the main achievements as a journalist, not political, not in terms of state building, but in the sphere of open media, open society of us being accountable for news and its quality. Have we really moved a long way in those 25 years?
Kulykov: Again. Who are “we”? Some of us have and some of us have not. I think that the biggest achievement is that more and more people in Ukraine in our profession start to understand freedom of speech, freedom of the press exists to the extent that you are able to take it for yourself. Some people would say as for instance Gorbachev used to think I think he’s done a lot of cause 12:34? But gifts and presents from above even if they are done in a good faith do not make the climate, especially political climate. You have to live through. I remember when Gorbachev started his reforms, I was either a member of the Communist party or was going to join it. I was a rather hard-core communist except for ethnical or national independence issue. One party system? Yes. Planned economy? Yes. Revealing foreign intrusion? Yes. Although I must say I have never written a story against the so-called Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism. І have always been an adherent of Ukrainian independence. But at first I thought he was not right. This liberalisation that was launched in the Soviet Union was not way that we should go forward. It took me, I would say, at least 18 months to come to terms with what Gorbachev and the others were saying. Until you grasp it …
Nahaylo: It’s a matter of awareness, of a level of your political culture and your openness to other possibilities to the outside world… Now as we come together as a journalists that worked for similar cause outside and inside Ukraine. I think we are those responsible, those who feel Ukrainian in the most positive and embracing sense of the world. What have been our achievements? Do we have genuinely functioning free press and free media in Ukraine after 25 years?
Kulykov: I would not say we have. There have been some very bright splashes, very bright flares, starting with individual journalists like Serhiy Naboka, Vadym Boyko, Oleksandr Kryvenko. We easily can name several dozen of such people who are more or less known. There have been or probably had been very bright media, which successfully functioned for some time but then they were crushed by the oligarchs or state pressure. We now work. But there was a public radio in the first half of 2000s…
Nahaylo: When was that moment when the promising start of the development of independent media was taking over, high jacked, bought by those with the wealth and who later manipulated for their own political benefits?
Kulykov: I cannot say a precise date but the mood was the same as with first two Ukrainian Maidans which are called revolutions. When people start to believe that those whom they brought to power will take care of people, then almost everything is lost. Same happened in Ukrainian media sphere when journalists and media managers who have done a lot for media independence and standards in the profession thought that they have finally found owners who would abide by principals and standards. But it did not turned out this way.
Nahaylo: we have two problems there at least. On the one hand, we have the rich wealthy politically engaged in a narrow sense reflecting their own personal interest. They have taking over the commanding heights. On the other hand, those who have the wealth have also bought up media on the market. So you have this plethora, this mushrooming of TV, radio stations, hundreds and thousands of them.
Kulykov: I would not totally agree. Television, yes. Radio, no.
Nahaylo: Radio, no? I have an impression that there are so many radios.
Kulykov: But how many are talk radio stations?
Nahaylo: Yes, it’s mostly music and advertising… But you see, I think people are lost if they do not have 3 or 4 or 5 main stations. I am from Britain. We have independent radio stations, commercial radio stations. But essentially in the old days you’d listen to BBC One, Two, and Three. If you wanted high-brow culture, you listened to BBC Two. You wanted something general, you had BBC One. Here I think people are lost. When you switch on TV and you have a hundred channels, what do you turn to if you want reliable information? This channel is linked to a President, that one is linked to an oligarch, and that one is linked to another oligarch. Who can you believe? How do you take your moral, political and ethical bearings in such a noisy sea of so-called media?
Kulykov: You will not find an adversary in myself asking these questions.
Nahaylo: I am being provocative to hear your response…
Kulykov: My response is to repeat your words. At least since I worked in Britain for eight and a half years, I have been telling people here that the maximum, and probably the feasible, number of TV channels that we should have in this country should not exceed seven.
Nahaylo: The magical number…
Kulykov: Five very good channels. But it would be too British to have five… As far as radio is concerned, because radio is much more democratic and less pressurising the audience, this is the reason why Ukrainian oligarchs, moguls, tycoons do not want to invest in it. It gives too much independence and will to the audience.
Nahaylo: Today’s Ukrainian audience … Again we cannot say “we” and “they”. One would think that the lazy approach would be turn on the television, lay back on your sofa and watch whatever is offered to you. How many people do you think still listen to and rely on radio other than taxi drivers?
Kulykov: According to the latest figures I can quote, 28 % of Ukrainian audiences regularly listen to radio. Which is not bad, because we have to keep in mind that those people who watch television often listen to television. That is a potential for radio. One of the problems with Ukrainian audiences is that they have been rarely offered a quality product. Of course it is not enough to offer this quality product once or twice. You have to consistently offer a quality product to people who are not used to quality, so they can taste it, they can understand why they really need this sort of quality.
Nahaylo: Our time is already beginning to run out. Time flies when you have a good discussion as English say. We live in times of intensified hybrid war. To what extent in conditions of war do we have the semblance or reality of censorship?
Kulykov: I think that if you are media literate, then you can get all the information you need. But you have to put it through the sieve of your own perceptions, your own experience.
Nahaylo: You have to work at it
Kulykov: Yes, you have to work at it. There are, and there have been, and I think that there will be attempts on the part of authorities and of the military to gauge some media outlets. We’ve been witnesses to this. I can understand why the military does this in some cases. Sometimes a report from a frontline position may put the lives of military personnel at risk, and so on. But as far as the state of affairs in the army is concerned, and the state of relations between the military and the civilian population is concerned I think 100% of truth should be told. I’ll give you a small example. A report from military authorities two years ago said they were supplying the Ukrainian army with everything they needed for the winter. They said ‘we have bought warm socks’ and then they quoted the sum of money spent on the socks. But no one knew how much one pair of socks costs and how many pairs of warm socks were bought, and whether the entire Ukrainian army was equipped with those warm socks, or if they went to just a few regiments and brigades. So this is one of the problems. We are sometimes very complacent, and we sometimes do not want to take another step or ask another question that would put things into context.
Nahaylo: Among your team, Hromadske Radio, let’s use them as an example. Journalists who want to find the truth, who want to probe deeper, do they have access to the information, the objectivity that we seek, or is that lack of transparency also bolstered by buffers of an invisible sort?
Kulykov: One thing is experience. Another thing is support from your bosses, your managers, your editors. We always try to support our people who work in the field. Our people who work in the field do not often ask for support from the central office, because their previous experience showed that their bosses were not always in support. Do we work at 100% capacity? No, I cannot say this. But do we do as much as any other station, and maybe more? Yes, I can say that.
Nahaylo: Before we move on to future challenges, you personally, had such a distinguished career as a journalist, you were a well-known personality on TV, ran some of the best quality journalistic programs. What made you leave all that and come to radio, take the risks and face up to the challenges involved in heading Hromadske Radio?
Kulykov: The only word for this is “Radio.” As I always say, radio is much more democratic than television. It can be and it should be a very broad ground for organizing public discussion in this country, involving as many people as possible in this. And at this very moment, during the war, radio has shown that it has not outlives its time (role). In many cases it provides quicker and more reliable information than the internet or television.
Nahaylo: How do you survive materially, economically?
Kulykov: We rely on grants from foreign institutions, but we want to lower this dependence. Although I cannot remember a single time when we were dictated to, about what we have to do specifically. In broad terms every grant does have its conditions (guidelines). But we also rely on support from our audience. We have conducted three successful crowdfunding campaigns, two in Ukraine and one mostly in the US. And now we are trying to collect 3 million hryvnia for our further development, and we are probing into the idea of getting commercials.
Nahaylo: How many of you are there? How large is the team?
Kulykov: At last count it was around 70 people, not only in Kyiv, but also including our regional correspondents.
Nahaylo: Andriy, let’s look ahead. What are the challenges for us journalists in these uncertain times?
Kulykov: Stay cool. Talk clearly. Think positively.
Nahaylo: Thank you very much for this stimulating, wide ranging discussion.
Kulykov: Thank you.
As another year comes to an end, many people are thinking about how to celebrate. But war continues in Ukraine’s Donbas. Some soldiers are facing their third New Year’s Eve on the front. Over the past week, 2 soldiers were killed, 10 were wounded. A report came out a few days before the year’s end, stating that in 2016 a total of two hundred and eleven soldiers had been killed, and two hundred fifty six civilians.
Ukraine’s broadcast regulator has been busy in recent months. The National Council for TV and Radio Broadcasting has been reviewing and issuing new licences. Hromadske Radio won tenders to broadcast on two FM frequencies in the Odesa region in a recent competition. Just as the year was coming to an end, one of the country’s main commercial TV Channels, 1+1, began to fear that its licence may not be renewed. On December 28th the channel’s executive wrote an open letter to President Poroshenko, the Prime Minister, and the parliamentary speaker, asking for the licence renewal. It seems the issue is about transparency of ownership. The regulator is requiring that the channel submit documents which clearly indicate who the owner is. Reportedly the channel is owned by Igor Kolomoysky. Ukraine Calling listeners may remember we reported that he used to own the country’s largest private bank, PryvatBank, until it was nationalized last week. We’ll have a feature interview about Ukraine’s media with Hromadske Radio CEO Andriy Kulykov later in the show.
2017 Budget adopted
Ukraine now has a state budget for 2017. Parliament approved the document, and President Poroshenko signed it into law on Monday December 26th. The minimum wage has been doubled. The defence sector will receive 5.2 % of the GDP. And major infrastructure spending is planned, particularly in the roads sector. New measures were introduced aimed at improving the tax administration. These include VAT reimbursement and online interface for taxpayers.
According to government sources, revenue collection improved during 2016. In November, the State Treasury reported a 14.8 billion Ukrainian hryvnia surplus (that’s around 550 million US dollars.) President Poroshenko said that local budgets have increased, in some cases fivefold to six fold. This is after decentralization reforms were introduced 3 years ago.
With this budget, Ukraine is optimistic that it will receive the next tranche of the IMF loan. Its Board of Directors meets again at the end of January 2017.
RNBO Discusses Cyber Security
Cyber security was the hot topic at Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council year end meeting on Thursday. That same day the US expelled 35 Russian diplomats and announced new sanctions against Russia and for cyberattacks that had interfered with their presidential election. Ukraine was discussing the 6 and a half thousand cyberattacks it had detected against itself. The Ukrainian Security Council revealed that on December 6th these attacks had put the State Treasury and Ministry of Finance out of action for a while. Previous attacks had targeted energy sector objects, nuclear power stations, Boryspil airport, as well as industrial objects, transportation and communications infrastructure, particularly in Donets’k and Luhans’k regions.
President Poroshenko said, “We are dealing with the global security challenge of Russia to the entire Euro-Atlantic community.” He called for international, interagency cooperation. Ukraine may have valuable experience to share.
Ukraine-Israeli Relations Tense Up
Tensions appeared between Ukraine and Israel this week. The two countries have enjoyed diplomatic relations since 1991, when Ukraine became independent. In 2011 Israel lifted visa restrictions for Ukrainians.
But when Ukraine voted in favour of a UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Israel cancelled the Ukrainian Prime Minister’s visit. It was scheduled for this past Wednesday. The trip was intended to deepen relations between the two states, and included the next round of negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement and liberalization of air traffic.
Israel also lashed out at others. It recalled its ambassadors to Senegal and New Zealand, the countries that had sponsored the UN resolution. It cancelled trips to countries which voted for the resolution. And loudly criticize the United States. A Rabbi in Kyiv, Pinchas Vishedski, spoke to Jerusalem Post about the situation. He said that that he hoped relations will go back to normal, because at the base there is a true friendship between Ukraine and Israel, and certainly with Prime Minister Groysman. Groysman is Ukraine’s first Jewish Prime Minister, and has family in the Israeli city of Ashdod.
Year of De-communization
2016 could be called the year of de-communization in Ukraine. According to the Institute of National Memory, a record number of names and symbols of the communist past were removed from public places. New names appeared for over 50,000 streets. Almost 1,000 cities and towns got new names through public consultation. A record number of statues to Soviet era heroes were removed, including 1,320 Lenin monuments. This process happened in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, just after communism collapsed. In Ukraine it started in 1991-92 but then slowed down, and picked up again after the Euromaidan revolution. Although still a subject of debate, but is gaining more popular support.
This year there’s been a lot of news about the changing international order. So for your year end song, here’s a piece called Civilization Clash. It’s by a band from L’viv, who call themselves Misty Gates.
Next week Ukraine Calling will be taking a break for Ukrainian Christmas. We’ll be back with a new show for you on January 13th 2017. That’s New Year’s Eve on the old Julian calendar, that’s still observed by many people in Ukraine. Till then, from the entire Ukraine Calling Team: Happy New Year! Yeni Yılın Qutlu olsun! (that’s in Crimean Tatar, apologies if I mispronounced it) S Novym Godom! Hanukkah Tova! Z Novym Rokom!
Interview transcribed by Larysa Iarovenko and Alexander Konovalov. Sound engineer Andriy Izdryk. Web support Natalia Kucheriava.