Radical right protesters target Soros in Kyiv

by Roman Woronowycz
Kyiv Press Bureau

KYIV - Members of a radical right organization in Ukraine sprayed United States philanthropist George Soros with a liquid element believed to be glue at the beginning of a conference on human rights taking place in Kyiv on March 31.

Screaming, "Soros out of Ukraine, we can do it ourselves," and "Yankee go home," the two assailants, a man and a woman in their early 20s, ran through the conference hall of the Hotel Rus', where a morning meeting on "Human Rights During Elections" was about to start. They sprayed a white milky substance at Mr. Soros, who simply stared at them in amazement. The two, who were arrested by state militia moments after the attack, identified themselves as members of the paramilitary group, Bratstvo, an offshoot of the Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian National Self-Defense (UNA-UNSO).

Later during a press conference, the well-known international financier and billionaire said it was the first time he had been the subject of such an attack.

"I find it disturbing that after all that I have done to help Ukraine develop a civil society, that certain members of the public give me such a strange reception," explained Mr. Soros during a press conference that evening.

Mr. Soros, who has committed tens of millions of dollars through his Open Society Institute to helping Ukraine develop democratic institutions, said the reception he had received in Ukraine during this visit was quite unexpected. It was Mr. Soros's first visit to Ukraine in four years.

The glue-spraying incident came a day after Mr. Soros had asked Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma to intervene to assure that another conference, this one held in Yalta on the Crimean Peninsula, proceeded as had been planned. On March 29 fire officials of the Ministry of Emergency Situation had ordered the Livadia Palace, the hall where the conference was to take place, closed for code violations.

At that time Mr. Soros blamed Viktor Medvedchuk, the president's chief of staff, for ordering the historic palace - where U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill signed the Yalta Agreement with Soviet Premier Stalin in 1945 - closed so that the conference on democracy development did not take place. The hall of the building was reopened by order of Mr. Kuchma.

Besides attending the two conferences, Mr. Soros, the founder of the Ukraine-based International Renaissance Foundation, was in Ukraine to review the work of his organization and get a first hand-look at how the Ukrainian election season was developing.

He announced that he would develop a legal aid foundation in partnership with Viktor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian lawmaker and businessman, who is also President Kuchma's son-in-law. The legal aid fund would give free legal advice, provided by law students, to those not able to afford legal services. Mr. Soros also announced that he was ready to provide financial backing for an exit poll to be conducted on the day of presidential elections.

The U.S. philanthropist met with both President Kuchma and Verkhovna Rada Chairman Volodymyr Lytvyn to get a sense of the commitment by both men to free, fair and democratic elections in Ukraine.

Mr. Soros and President Kuchma discussed a wide range of issues, including increasing the tempo of Ukraine's movement into the European Union. Mr. Soros stated in a commentary for the London-based Financial Times a few days before his visit to Ukraine that the Russian Federation was increasingly looking to draw the former Soviet republics, including Ukraine, into a tightly knit confederation. He stated that the EU needed to broaden its ties and give easier access to its markets for the Eastern European countries that border Russia.

Mr. Soros rejected notions leveled by some Ukrainians, including members of the radical Bratstvo group, that his Open Society Institute had financed the recent "Rose Revolution" in Georgia, and that he had come to Kyiv to meet with the political opposition to organize a "Chestnut Revolution" here. Kyiv is known for its chestnut trees, which bloom throughout the capital city in May.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, April 11, 2004, No. 15, Vol. LXXII

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