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False Spin in Ukraine

One unfortunate outcome of Ukraine's disputed presidential election is that it has brought into stark relief an east-west divide within that large country.

Pulled by Western Europe on one side and Russia on the other, and differentiated by language, culture, religion and economics, Ukraine appears to be threatened by breakup. Tuesday the parliament considered the issue of division as governors and officials from pro-Moscow eastern regions pushed for autonomy.

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The split is serious, but it's also been exaggerated, and exacerbated, by a critical factor: the Ukrainian media.

All three national television channels have shown heavy bias toward presidential candidate and autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, whose base is in the industrial heartland of the Russian-speaking east. And Russian TV, widely viewed in Ukraine, also swung behind the Moscow-backed Yanukovich.

During the campaign, the pro-Yanukovich media ignored opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko, or vilified him. The demonization was so severe that many Ukrainians might understandably fear their very way of life would end if Mr. Yushchenko - a Western-leaning democrat backed by hundreds of thousands of determined protesters - succeeds in overturning this clearly rigged election.

The media set up Yushchenko as a fascist who gladhands voters and kisses babies just as Adolf Hitler did. In fact, Yushchenko's father survived Auschwitz. The media portrayed Yushchenko as a CIA lackey; actually, he wants Ukraine's troops out of Iraq.

The opposition candidate was tarred as an anti-Russian nationalist, reflecting the views of extreme western, Catholic Ukrainians who want to suppress the Russian language and who oppose Orthodoxism. Hmmm. Yushchenko was born in northeastern Ukraine, and is Orthodox Christian, like many easterners. When he was prime minister from 1991-2001, he facilitated Russian investment in Ukraine. He promises he will "never force" a language choice on anyone.

The democracy that Yushchenko demands would bring a free media. That wouldn't close the split, but clearing out the lies would go a long way toward uniting the country.


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