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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: September 1, 2005

1 September 2005, Volume 7, Number 31
POLAND'S KEY FIGURE IN TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY REMEMBERS SOLIDARITY. Bronislaw Geremek, a medieval historian by training, was one of the leading intellectuals of Poland's Solidarity movement -- officially formed 25 years ago, on 31 August 1980. A key adviser to Lech Walesa, he helped draft the 1980 Gdansk Agreement with Poland's Communist rulers that led to Solidarity's official recognition as the communist bloc's first independent trade union. Geremek was then the chief negotiator, representing the political opposition, at landmark 1989 roundtable talks with the government that laid the groundwork for Poland's transition to democracy. After the fall of communism, he was elected as a deputy to the Polish parliament and he served as foreign minister from 1997 to 2000. Geremek is currently a member of the European Parliament.

The first sign that the summer of 1980 would be a hot one for Poland's Communist authorities came in July, when thousands of workers in the eastern cities of Swidnik and Lublin went on strike.

Instead of marching through the streets, where riot police could have attacked them more easily, the workers used the unique tactic of staging sit-in strikes, occupying their own factories. After two weeks, the government gave in, granting them economic concessions. The strikers dispersed.

But a precedent was set. The next month, workers at the Lenin Shipyard in the city of Gdansk staged their own sit-in strike, led by the electrician Lech Walesa.

That was when intellectuals in Warsaw took notice, says Geremek. They saw determined workers and a weak government. But they also saw the potential for danger and a possible Soviet intervention. After discussing the situation with journalists returning from Gdansk, a group of 64 intellectuals wrote a letter to the workers and to the government, offering to mediate.

The date was 18 August 1980, four days after the start of the Gdansk sit-in.

"We decided to go to Gdansk -- Tadeusz Mazowiecki and myself -- on behalf of this group of intellectuals and to give this letter to Lech Walesa," Geremek said. "We came to Gdansk on the evening of the 22nd and the same evening, we met Lech Walesa. Lech Walesa was very much impressed by the letter, by the list of intellectuals who signed it, but he said to us: 'You know, we have here many letters. What we need now is not more letters but more help. Could you help us?'"

Geremek and Mazowiecki said yes, they could help. And together with the striking workers, they created the beginnings of Solidarity.

"We created, I would say, an intellectual infrastructure for the negotiation process. And we did prepare the text of the agreement, together with the strike committee and the workers. So in this sense, one of the very important things which appeared during this strike was the climate of trust, of [great] confidence, between the intelligentsia and workers, and maybe that [happened] for the first time," Geremek said. "And also, [there was trust] between farmers and the urban population, because farmers -- as we were told immediately the first night in the shipyard -- the farmers decided to furnish food for the workers without asking for money, simply in an act of solidarity. And so, Solidarity became later the name of the trade union, the name of the newspaper published in the shipyard. But it was also a very human relationship which appeared from the beginning of this Gdansk strike."

Geremek believes the inspiration for this "new human relationship" in Polish society owes a great deal to the election of the first Polish pope, John Paul II, in 1978, and his visit the following year to his native land.

"One should see this phenomenon in the larger context. This context is first of all the lesson of the 1979 visit of John Paul II to Poland. Not only the message of John Paul II -- 'Don't be afraid,' which was a very powerful message -- but also the experience of the organization of the pope's visit. The organization was assured, in all cities in which the pope paid a visit, by civilians -- by a special guard formed by workers, people from the intelligentsia -- [who were] able to organize themselves," Geremek said.

Through the end of 1980 and into 1981, Solidarity opened chapters across the country and its membership swelled to a phenomenal 9 million people -- a quarter of Poland's population. The euphoria was soon cut short. On 13 December 1981, Polish Communist leader Wojciech Jaruzelksi imposed martial law, dissolving Solidarity and arresting its leaders, including Geremek.

Jaruzelski later justified the move, saying Solidarity's ever-pressing demands could have led to a Soviet invasion. But Geremek disagrees. "In my view, Solidarity was absolutely responsible until the very last period of this 500 days for the stability of the country. And never from our side, from the side of the trade union, could one observe the usual violence. It was a nonviolent movement not only in theory but also in practice. Of course, sometimes there were different verbal attacks against the government, against communist ideas. But it was, in the very sense of the word, a self-limited revolution. People knew well that there are some limits which should not be passed," Geremek said.

Geremek cites a specific example to validate his point. "When I spoke at the last meeting of the national council of Solidarity in Gdansk with Zbigniew Bujak, the leader of the Warsaw organization, he said to me that the [demonstration] proposed for -- if I remember -- for 16 December 1981 was still under discussion and that they should be sure that the situation could be under their control," Geremek said. "So, in my view, the responsibility for the introduction of martial law is completely of the political leadership of the Communist Party and personally, of General Jaruzelski. I can say that I see a tremendous and even courageous role of General Jaruzelski in the process of change in 1989, when he didn't use the means of violence. But in 1981, there were no messages and no proof until now -- when we know the Soviet archives a little bit -- that the Soviet Union was ready to intervene."

The following years were bleak ones for Solidarity's leaders. But the Communist regime soon began once again to seek compromise. Geremek explains what kept the movement going and why, ultimately, the Communists were forced to return to the negotiating table.

"During this period of wasted time, these seven wasted years, at the beginning the military government had some successes in the reorganization of the economy, being able to mobilize some superficial means of action and to obtain a small improvement of the situation of the economy. But after two, three years it became more and more evident that they were unable to continue in the same way and they had to accept dialogue. I think also that the determination of the Polish people [was key.] This means that during the seven-eight years of resistance, people ensured the survival of the movement," Geremek said. "And the idea of Solidarity, the idea of the fight for freedom and democracy, was still present. And this determination, from one side, was the proof that Solidarity still was the very representation of society. And in second place, one could see also this feeling of weakness in the economy. The economy was in a crisis situation and the authorities were unable to do something in order to repair this."

In 1989, Geremek was the chief negotiator, representing the political opposition, at landmark roundtable talks with the government that laid the groundwork for Poland's transition to democracy. Some people later criticized Solidarity for failing to press its advantage and being too accommodating with the regime. Geremek rejects the charge.

"I think that the level of accommodation with the Communist regime should be seen through results. We were the first country in the Communist bloc to obtain the possibility of free elections, limited free elections under a deal. But we were the first country that gave the signal that this was possible. In my sense, thinking now on this process of changes in historical terms, one could say that nobody knows how long the Communist regime could have survived in this 'other Europe' if Polish workers in the Gdansk shipyard, the Lenin shipyard, in August 1980 hadn't had the idea and the determination to fight for freedom. And nobody knows how long the Berlin Wall and the division of Europe could have survived if the Polish roundtable in 1989 had not given the example of a peaceful transition to freedom from a totalitarian regime," Geremek said.

Geremek says he never dreamt that he would live to see the day Poland joined NATO and the European Union. In this sense, Solidarity's legacy was phenomenally successful. But he regrets that so many Poles today appear to have forgotten their recent history.

"From the perspective of these years, I have a bitter feeling that Solidarity in the present political game, in the present Polish politics, is rather ignored. On one side, one can see that the workers who started this process and who had this tremendous courage to begin the fight for freedom paid the social costs of the economic transformation. One can see also that in the young generation, the Solidarity phenomenon is forgotten, if not ignored. In one of the last public opinion polls, only one-fourth of respondents were aware of Solidarity in the history of Poland. I hope that the festivities organized on this occasion will give the opportunity to form a new spirit of continuation. I do believe that it concerns Poland but it concerns also other Eastern and Central European countries and it concerns Europe. We need knowledge of the history of the fight for freedom because what Europe is, is the fight for freedom. The fight for bread and freedom was from the beginning of the 19th century the sense of European history," Geremek said.

Although Geremek cautions that each country's circumstances are unique, he believes the history of Solidarity can offer lessons to those still struggling against undemocratic regimes.

"The important lesson for this Polish phenomenon is that first, it's important to not be afraid, to see what can be done. Secondly, it's important to see the political dimension of the resistance to the authoritarian regime. One should not accept that politics is a question regarding only professional politicians. Third, it's very important to accept a nonviolent philosophy. In the Solidarity period, no window was broken during the 500 days of freedom. The violence was only on the side of the authoritarian regime," Geremek said. "And finally, it's important to see the implementation of this idea of the fight for bread and freedom in pragmatic terms, which means to accept that negotiation is the efficient means of action. For starting such a negotiation process, it is important to obtain the minimum of trust from the other side. From one side and the other, it's not easy. But if we want such negotiations, it's extremely important." (Jeremy Bransten)

TWO GEORGIAN YOUTH ACTIVISTS REMAIN JAILED IN MINSK. Giorgi Kandelaki and Luka Tsuladze -- two activists of Georgia's Kmara, an organization that was very instrumental in deposing the Georgian government during the bloodless Rose Revolution in 2003 -- were arrested in Minsk on 24 August, reportedly because the authenticity of their passports raised official "doubts."

However, the following day a KGB official announced on Belarusian Television that they will be deported from Belarus for meddling in the country's internal affairs. Although they were scheduled to be deported to Georgia on 26 August, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported that a Minsk-based court on 29 August sentenced the two Georgians to 15 days in jail each for "petty hooliganism."

"During their stay in the country, they made contacts with representatives of radical, politicized, unregistered structures, such as Zubr, Youth Front, and Limon, and held a number of training seminars on the organization of civil-disobedience actions accompanied by mass unrest, similar to those during the colored revolution in Georgia," the KGB official explained to television viewers on 25 August. "They participated in a number of unsanctioned actions to disseminate illegal publications in the city of Minsk and intended to travel to a number of regions of the country with analogous purposes."

On 26 August five members of the Belarusian youth organization Zubr organized a protest in Minsk against the detention of their Georgian colleagues. Carrying the Georgian flag, the Belarusian national white-red-white flag banned during President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's rule, and a banner that read "Freedom to the Georgian Brothers!" the five youths marched down Independence Avenue in central Minsk. They were arrested by a riot-police squad some 30 minutes after their demonstration began.

The police released two adolescents of the detained five, while the remaining three -- Natallya Ushko, Alyaksandr Kurbitski, and Alyaksey Lyaukovich -- were immediately sentenced by a court to 10 days in jail each for staging an unsanctioned demonstration.

The Belarusian regime appears to be really concerned with a recent wave of "colored" revolutions in the post-Soviet area and takes every measure to avoid a similar scenario in Belarus next year, when autocratic President Lukashenka is going to run for president for the third time in a row.

In late April Belarusian police arrested five Ukrainian and 14 Russian representatives of youth organizations for their participation in an unsanctioned antigovernment protest together with their Belarusian colleagues in Minsk. The Ukrainians and Russians were handed jail terms varying from five to 15 days. The Russians were subsequently granted early release, following a plea from the Russian ambassador to Belarus. The Ukrainians, despite a similar intervention by the Ukrainian ambassador to Minsk, served their jail terms in full.

As regards the "bad influence" from Georgia, in June Lukashenka issued a decree introducing visas for Georgians visiting Belarus and thus withdrawing Belarus from the CIS agreement of 1992 on visa-free travel. Minsk officially explained the move by the large number of Georgians who allegedly took advantage of the lack of border control between Belarus and Russia by using Belarus as a transit country for illegal entrance into the Russian Federation

The Georgian parliament immediately came up with an ingenious, "asymmetrical" response, drafting a resolution to ban Lukashenka from entering Georgia. Lukashenka apparently realized that he lost in that propaganda duel -- Minsk banned all Georgians from traveling without visas to Belarus, while Tbilisi banned just him, thus differentiating between the autocratic leader and the people. Therefore, Belarusian Foreign Ministry Syarhey Martynau was given the task of backing off on that unfortunate decision.

Martynau claimed on Belarusian Television that Lukashenka only instructed the Foreign Ministry and law-enforcement agencies to look into the possibility of introducing visas for Georgians, but did not introduce them in actual fact. At the same time, Martynau admitted that Belarus would not hesitate to introduce visas for Georgians should Tbilisi attempt to export "some revolutions or pseudo-revolutions" to Belarus. (Jan Maksymiuk)

BRUSSELS TO FUND DEUTSCHE WELLE BROADCASTS IN RUSSIAN. The European Commission said on 24 August that it will start funding independent radio broadcasts to Belarus starting from 1 November. The commission has contracted the German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle to carry out the program, which may also extend to the Internet. The scheme originally intended to run for one year. Officials in Brussels say the planned broadcasts are intended to increase awareness among the Belarusian population about democracy, human rights, and other issues. But pro-democracy circles in Belarus have criticized the plan, saying Deutsche Welle should broadcast in Belarusian -- not Russian (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 24 August 2005).

The European Commission says the plan is meant to counteract the growing stranglehold on independent media in Belarus under President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

The commission said it will pay 138,000 euros ($169,000) to Deutsche Welle to make 15-minute daily broadcasts to the former Soviet republic.

Commission spokeswoman Antonia Mochan told RFE/RL the service is intended to provide people in Belarus with an independent source of information about their country and the world beyond. "The idea is just to make another outlet available to the Belarusian people to hear about what�s going on in the world," she said. "There's such a strong stranglehold on the state media, there's almost no independent media available in Belarus now. And, obviously, we've said on many occasions that we have serious concerns about the human rights and democracy situation, etc. So, it's to make available an independent source of information to the Belarusian people."

The 15-minute Deutsche Welle broadcasts will run from Monday to Friday and provide news reports from a network of correspondents inside Belarus on political, social, and economic matters. A website will also be created to displaying the texts of the broadcasts with audio files for download.

Mochan said the European Commission will closely monitor the treatment of the Deutsche Welle correspondents by the Belarusian authorities. She said the Belarusian government had so far offered no reaction to the EU decision.

But the proposal has sparked criticism from some pro-democracy advocates in Belarus. They say the decision to broadcast in Russian, rather than Belarusian, runs contrary to the idea of reviving a Belarusian national identity.

Aleh Trusau, chairman of the Belarusian Language Society, spoke to RFE/RL's Belarus Service about the issue earlier this month. "It would be good if the EU, which supports the national languages of all its member countries, used its money to support a [Belarusian-language] broadcast," he said. "Furthermore, for the past five years, Deutsche Welle has been broadcasting to Ukraine in the Ukrainian language. [The decision to broadcast here in Russian] is some sort of a political decision, in our opinion, and we will therefore continue to collect signatures [against it] and forward them to the German Embassy. Everyday the TBM [Belarusian Language Society] is collecting nearly 100 signatures. And the peak in collection has not yet occurred because many people are on vacation. Belarusian society is very hurt at the disrespect shown by the German side, because this is an insult for us."

Mochan said the decision was made to broadcast in Russian because it is seen as a dominant language in Belarus. She also said that the EU hopes that the shortwave broadcasts, which can be picked up far outside Belarus, could also serve as a source of information on democracy and human rights for listeners in Russia and Ukraine as well.

"In the first instance here, the programs, which are 15 minutes a day, will be broadcast in Russian. We are open to the possibility of broadcasting in Belarusian as well. But, Russian is an official language of Belarus and there are...most Belarusians will understand broadcasts in that language. There�s also the fact that these shortwave broadcasts will be available in Russia and in Ukraine and therefore by broadcasting in Russian we are making them more accessible to people in neighboring countries who are interested in issues relating to human rights, democracy, etc.," Mochan said.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty already regularly broadcasts to Belarus in Belarusian. Poland has also announced plans to set up radio broadcasts to Belarus in the Belarusian language.

The European Commission also announced on 24 August that it will speed up the process of setting up a commission representation in Belarus. As a first step, a charge d'affaires will be placed in Minsk who will report to the existing European Commission delegation in Kyiv.

In a statement issued on 24 August in Brussels, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the EU is "extremely worried" about the lack of freedom of expression in Belarus.

The EU has previously imposed restrictions on ministerial-level contacts with the Belarusian government and has put in place a visa ban against high-level officials who have been implicated in human rights violations and repressions against protesters. (Ahto Lobjakas)

(RFE/RL's Belarus Service contributed to this report.)

GREEK CATHOLICS MOVE HEADQUARTERS TO CAPITAL. Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, head of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, celebrated Mass for some 3,000 believers outside a cathedral under construction in Kyiv on 21 August, thus marking the move of his church's headquarters from Lviv to Kyiv. The move was approved by the late Pope John Paul II and confirmed by his successor, Benedict XVI. Simultaneously with the transfer of the headquarters, Cardinal Husar changed his official title from Major Archbishop of Lviv to Major Archbishop of Kyiv and Halychyna (Galicia).

The celebration took place among noisy protests by several hundred Orthodox believers and representatives of ultraleftist political groups, for whom the move represented an intolerable incursion of Catholicism into what is seen as canonical territory of Orthodoxy. Arguably, the transfer of the see of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church eastward adds more fuel to a simmering conflict between Catholic and Orthodox believers in Ukraine in particular, as well as the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican in general.

"Thanks to monks and missionaries, Christianity made its way from here -- in Kyiv -- throughout the Slav world," Cardinal Husar said in his homily, according to Reuters. "Kyiv earned fame as the cradle of Christianity in the Slav east. But we allowed the church that was established in this holy place to be divided. And we ask ourselves: Is there a way to restore that initial unity to bring confrontation to an end?"

Husar's words were drowned out from time to time by shouting from the protest rally, which was separated from the Greek Catholic flock by a police cordon. Demonstrators reportedly chanted antipresidential slogans, called Greek Catholics "traitors," and voiced support for the unification of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Against the worst expectations, the protest did not turn violent.

Ukraine's religious cleavages run not only between the Greek Catholics and the Orthodox, but also between the Orthodox themselves, who make up a majority of believers in the country. The Orthodox community in Ukraine is divided between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Only the first, largest organization -- which is the administrative branch of the Russian Orthodox Church -- objects to the move of the Greek Catholic Church headquarters to the country's capital. As, incidentally, does the Moscow Patriarchate, which accuses the Vatican of expansionism and proselytism with regard to Orthodoxy.

Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II slammed the transfer of the seat of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church from Lviv to Kyiv as an "unfriendly step" that will add further tension to relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican. "This move cannot be justified either from a historical point of view or by church rules and canons. The Kievan chair from the very first years of its existence was an ecclesiastical capital of the Russian Orthodox Church, first as the metropolitan center and later as the major chair among the Ukrainian dioceses," the Moscow Patriarchate website quoted him as saying.

The protracted Greek Catholic-Orthodox controversy in Ukraine takes its origin in 15th- and 16th-century church history, which can hardly be commended as a period of Christian love and peace. In 1439 some Orthodox hierarchs, urged on by the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople, signed the so-called Union of Florence, whereby they accepted the primacy of the pope and settled some theological questions in Rome's favor, in exchange for anticipated assistance to Constantinople's struggle against the Ottoman Turks. However, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453, and the Union of Florence was subsequently rejected and condemned by an Orthodox Church synod.

The Vatican made a more successful attempt at putting a part of Orthodoxy under its control in 1596, when some Orthodox bishops in the then Kingdom of Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania -- two states united by a political union -- signed the so-called Union of Brest (now a city in Belarus), whereby they accepted Roman Catholic dogmas and the supremacy of the pope but retained the Eastern rite and their own calendar of saints. The Greek Catholic Church (called also the Uniate Church), which was created in Brest, embraced a majority of former Orthodox believers in the 17th-century Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, although the switch to a new faith led to numerous acts of violence and bloodshed on ethnically Belarusian and Ukrainian lands.

The expanding Russian Empire partitioned the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 18th century jointly with Prussia and Austro-Hungary. Incidentally, one of the Russian diplomatic excuses for dismembering 18th-century Poland was intolerance of Roman Catholics toward their Orthodox brethren. Greek Catholic bishops were evicted from Kyiv by Empress Catherine II by the end of the 18th century, and the Union of Brest was formally liquidated in the Russian Empire by Emperor Nicholas I in 1839.

However, the Greek Catholic Church survived in Galicia (western Ukraine), a part of the Kingdom of Poland annexed by Austro-Hungary. The church also survived through the Polish rule over Galicia in 1918-39 and was banned by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin after western Ukraine became part of the Soviet Union. In 1945, the Soviet authorities arrested all Greek Catholic Church hierarchs, and in 1946 a Greek Catholic synod orchestrated by Stalin decided to merge the Uniates with the Russian Orthodox Church. The Vatican declared that synod to be noncanonical and its decisions illegal. The Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, which went underground during the Soviet era, reemerged in 1989, after then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev officially recognized its existence.

While many Ukrainians look at the current move of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church headquarters from Lviv to Kyiv with either sympathy or indifference, some religious activists of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate doubtless perceive the move as an emblematic setback for Orthodoxy in its struggle to ward off the expansion of Catholicism. "The Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate will consider this [move] as a great symbolic failure," Ukrainian political analyst Viktor Nebozhenko commented. "And some political forces will of course use Lubomyr Husar's move to Kyiv as a pretext for exacerbating interdenominational relations in Ukraine."

Regrettably, Nebozhenko may be right. The protest nearby the unfinished Resurrection of Christ Greek Catholic Cathedral in Kyiv on 21 August was attended by representatives of extreme leftist and pro-Russian forces, including the Progressive Socialist Party of Natalya Vitrenko and the radical Brotherhood association led by Dmytro Korchynskyy. These forces, which failed to win parliamentary representation in 2002, will in all probability use the religious factor -- the dissatisfaction of a significant part of Orthodox Ukrainians with the Greek Catholic move -- as an extra argument in their campaign for the 2006 parliamentary elections. (Jan Maksymiuk)

CHISINAU MARKS LIBERATION ANNIVERSARY, BUT SOME SEE IT OTHERWISE. Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and other senior government officials on 24 August took part in solemn celebrations of the 61st anniversary of the liberation of Moldova from the Nazis by the Soviet Army. On the same day, a group of demonstrators in front of the Russian Embassy in Chisinau denounced the Soviet liberation of Moldova as "occupation" and urged an official reinterpretation of the country's 20th-century history.

Some 1,000 people, including World War II veterans, attended an official flower-laying ceremony at the Military Glory Memorial in Chisinau on 24 August. Following this ceremony, Voronin went to the Serpeni Stronghold Memorial near the Dniester River in Anenii Noi Raion, where he delivered a speech to what Infotag described as a "massively attended meeting." "This was a just war for the liberation of the Soviet Union, and it was crowned with a victory over fascism," Voronin said. "Many generations of people were raised on the veterans' example, and their heroic deeds are still inspiring us for actions to consolidate and develop our country."

The Soviet Army launched the so-called Chisinau-Iasi operation, which liberated Moldova from the Nazi troops, on 20 August 1944. Chisinau was taken by the Soviets four days later. But the operation was prepared by the Soviet Army as early as April 1944, when some of its troops crossed the Dniester and took several important bridgeheads on its right bank. A stronghold near the settlement of Serpeni was the most famous of those bridgeheads.

Vladimir Shmarov, a former Soviet general and World War II veteran, told reporters on 24 August that the Serpeni Stronghold Memorial, which was inaugurated a year ago, belongs to the worthiest monuments to the war effort in the post-Soviet area and can be compared to the Mamaev Mound Memorial in Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad, Russia) or the Brest Fortress Memorial in Brest (Belarus).

Meanwhile, representatives of some 20 Moldovan nongovernmental organizations staged a rally in front of the Russian Embassy in Chisinau on 24 August, unfurling banners reading, "Russians Go Home!", "Down with Occupants!", and "Rehabilitate Ion Antonescu!"

"With this action, the true patriots of Moldova want to make the authorities and the population understand that 24 August 1944 is not the date of our liberation from the Nazis but the date of our occupation by Stalin's regime," Jacob Golovca, head of an organization called Molotov-Ribbentrop Antipact, explained to journalists.

At the same time, Golovca voiced indignation over "those national renegades in the Republic of Moldova who venerate the memory of the Slavic enslavers and occupiers of Bessarabia by erecting monuments and luxurious memorials to the Stalinist hordes," according to BASA.

Demonstrators near the Russian Embassy reportedly called for declaring 23 and 24 August days of national mourning in both Moldova and Romania, liquidating Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact consequences, and reunifying Greater Romania within its borders before the Soviet annexation of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina (now a part of Ukraine) in 1940. A relevant declaration was sent to the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Mission in Moldova, and foreign embassies in Chisinau.

The Soviet Union annexed Bessarabia -- the part of present-day Moldova that lies between the Dniester and Prut rivers -- in June 1940, in accordance with the secret annex to the Soviet-German Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 23 August 1939, which left Bessarabia in the Soviet sphere of influence. Romania recaptured Bessarabia the following year, after Romania under the leadership of Ion Antonescu joined Adolf Hitler's Germany in its attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941.

After the war against the Soviet Union went badly for Hitler, Romania changed sides, capturing more than 50,000 German soldiers who were stationed on its territory and declaring war on Germany on 23 August 1944. However, following World War II, the Soviet Union and the allied powers did not reinstate the Greater Romania of the prewar period but included Bessarabia once again in the Moldovan Socialist Soviet Republic. The Moldovan SSR declared its independence from the Soviet Union on 27 August 1991 and is known today as the Republic of Moldova.

In his speech at the Serpeni Stronghold Memorial, President Voronin made an indirect reference to those Moldovans who question the positive contribution of the Soviet Army to their country's history. "The Moldovan nation is grateful to the Soviet Army for the 1944 liberation, in spite of statements by the so-called historians who have falsified the truth about World War II," Voronin asserted. (Jan Maksymiuk)