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Righting Wrongs in Ukraine

The Philippines sent deposed strongman Ferdinand Marcos to retirement in Hawaii. Serbia handed Slobodan Milosevic to a criminal trial at The Hague. South Africa gave a pass to F.W. de Klerk, its last president under apartheid.

Should he win his hard-fought campaign to become Ukraine's president on Sunday, what should reformer Viktor Yushchenko do about Ukraine's outgoing president, the autocratic Leonid Kuchma? And what about the layers of criminality and corruption, to which the rigged Nov. 21 election and the apparent dioxin poisoning of Mr. Yushchenko attest?

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Emerging democratic countries can take many different roads to justice, but they confront the same choices: justice vs. revenge; widespread prosecutions vs. trials for just the top dogs and a general amnesty for the rest; an emphasis on the future vs. preoccupation with past wrongs.

South Africa found a way to balance these interests with its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, based on confessions and pardons. Iraq's human rights minister has expressed an interest in using that model.

Some disturbing high-profile murders have taken place under the Kuchma government, but Ukraine has not been a country of mass arrests, widespread torture, or genocide. Essentially, the problem is greed. This has bred corruption in high places.

That context argues for legal pursuit of only the most flagrant wrongs, along with systemic government and business reforms. It's encouraging that Ukraine's prosecutor general has decided to reopen the Yushchenko poisoning case and the investigation into the murder of two journalists.

Kuchma himself is a tricky case. He's widely despised, and Yushchenko might risk unrest if he grants him amnesty. Kuchma was implicated in one of the journalist murders, the case has never been fully probed. A trial could distract from the reform road. A solution might be to send him on a permanent holiday in Russia, if such a deal has not already been struck.