Today it seems that Gia was number one in Ukrainian political journalism at the time – the symbol of an era. But no, he became a symbol later. Back then he was simply one of those who spoke the truth. And he was killed for the truth, not because he was the most influential or was privy to some terrible secrets.

The country in 2000 knew very little about the Internet, and Ukrayinska Pravda wasn’t the main source of information for most, as the vast majority of the population got its information from television channels that, just as now, are controlled by the government.

Georgiy’s colleagues were mostly journalists, not politicians, and after his disappearance they went out into the streets and demanded that he be found. Everyone suspected that the government had done something bad, while the authorities regularly reported that someone somewhere allegedly saw Gia, either in Georgia or Lviv. But everything was quiet and peaceful until the “cassette scandal.”

The country exploded with Georgiy’s name. For the first time in a decade, the all-powerful government was at a loss for what to do. The civilized world turned away from the Ukrainian president. Journalists for the first time admitted there was censorship. The democratic opposition forces united. The country took a step towards the Orange Revolution. The path was irreversible…

Some now say it was provocation against Ukraine. No, it wasn’t provocation. This was the establishment of authoritarian rule through the ritual killings of messengers of freedom. In a nation’s history there are mechanisms of self-preservation and survival, even when this trigger is a murdered journalist. Gia died but he was able to raise the nation to a struggle for self-preservation. He was a courageous man who survived the horrible war in the Caucuses, he wasn’t afraid of threats or “advice” to stay silent. But I don’t think that he woke up every morning with a readiness to give his life for the truth…Sometimes fate deals you a card to play an Important Role in history, even against your own will.

I don’t know if “Ukraine without Kuchma” or the Orange Revolution would have happened with Georgiy Gongadze. Maybe, but not as soon.

But that’s not the issue. What’s important is that society didn’t stay silent, didn’t come to terms with his brutal murder. The country responded not to repressions, not to persecution of the opposition, not to the numerous cases of corruption and abuse, but to the death of a Man who dared to speak the Truth. Ukraine made a decisive step towards democracy when it lost a messenger of freedom of speech.

Since then, the democratic struggle in Ukraine has been a struggle for freedom of speech, and the main achievement of the Maidan wasn’t Yushchenko’s victory, it was freeing the television channels from censorship.

…Today we are again losing this pained freedom of speech. To learn the truth we again have to turn off the television, switch on the computer and go to Ukrayinska Pravda…just like 11 years ago.

Again there are temnyky, instructions, directions…

As a politician, I don’t always like what is written about me. There were times when I was angrier at Mustafa Nayem or Serhiy Leshchenko than at Yanukovych and Azarov combined. These are emotions and there’s no escaping them.

But I clearly know that the country I’m fighting for and the country I was to see is one where you can safely speak the truth and not be afraid.

It’s a shame that we so quickly forgot the price we paid for free speech, because the real loss of independence begins not with a drop in GDP or inflation, this loss begins with the first temnyk, the first silenced news program, the first manipulation, the first executed order to “Be Silent!”

I ask everyone: let’s not lose our Freedom. Let’s preserve is as a great, real value, let’s not adjust it to certain interests, because no “stability” and “growth” is worth even one lost free word. I want on this September 16 for every journalist, before going on air or sitting behind his computer, to think of Georgiy for at least a minute, remember what freedom of speech means to us all…

If we can preserve freedom of speech, if we can bring back that desire to speak only the truth, all other problems associated with the battle against dictatorship will be solved rather quickly. The regime can fight opposition politicians, can erect fences between them and the people, can break up a peaceful demonstrations, but “freedom of speech” is a virus that kills a dishonest government and it has no immunity against it.

I believe that Ukrainian “freedom of speech” that for 11 years has been associated with Gia’s name – a brave and honest boy from Georgia – will return to the country, and this will happen much faster than anyone expects.

Yulia Tymoshenko

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