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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: March 23, 2004

23 March 2004, Volume 6, Number 10
PUTTING THE STATE INTO STATE EDUCATION. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 19 March held a conference with the Republican Council of Rectors of Higher Educational Institutions, a body he created in 2001. Lukashenka briefed rectors on the role of the state in universities and colleges, both state-run and private, and told them what they need to do to reflect state policies in the educational process more fully. Apparently, Lukashenka has become seriously concerned with the indoctrination of students as his potential electorate.

Lukashenka began the conference with the announcement that he is extremely disappointed with the council which, he said, has failed to become a "real generator of constructive ideas and efficient measures." At the same time, he stressed that the council is an "absolutely democratic body" where every rector "should express any point of view he likes and defend it with any possible means until a decision is made." However, as transpires from an extensive report on the conference by Belarusian Television, it was primarily Lukashenka who was speaking and suggesting decisions.

According to Lukashenka, universities in Belarus have already undergone a process of improving their educational process which, in his opinion, essentially boiled down to preserving "all the best" from the Soviet-era educational system and drawing on some experience of European and world universities.

One of the modified Soviet-era constituents of the university education process was the recent introduction of an obligatory course called "Fundamental Ideology of the Belarusian State," which is seen by many in Belarus to be a present-day incarnation of the Soviet-era subject called "The History of the CPSU." Lukashenka said he is not satisfied with how the state ideology is being imparted to students. "I see that we have begun to introduce the course of ideology with a revolutionary swoop," Lukashenka said. "Formally, higher educational institutions have all necessary plans for carrying out ideological work...but in actual fact this work is of a very symbolic nature.... Quite often informational and ideological work is replaced with socializing and entertaining measures." Lukashenka expressed his discontent with the fact that an increasing number of students, instead of enhancing their state-oriented awareness, is becoming addicted to alcohol, drugs, and "various malpractices."

Lukashenka suggested that universities in Belarus should improve a system of preferences to enlist more students from rural areas, who, in his opinion, are educationally and socially handicapped in comparison with their urban peers. "[We need to] open the way to education for rural children in order not to violate the major principle of our state -- social and national justice," the Belarusian president stressed.

Last year, graduates from schools in the countryside taking entrance examinations at universities in Belarus were given grades bumped up by three points -- in a 10-point evaluation scale -- to equalize their chances of competing with students from the city. Belapan reported on 22 March that the Belarusian State University in Minsk is pondering whether to extend this differentiation. Additional preferences may be given to rural children from Mahilyou and Homel oblasts, that is, the areas that were most heavily affected by radioactive fallout from the 1986 Chornobyl disaster. "[Without offering preferences to rural schoolchildren], we will cut off the most stable and conservative -- in the good sense of the word -- segment of our society," Lukashenka said at last month's conference on secondary-school education in Belarus.

Lukashenka also stressed that there should be no difference between state-subsidized and private universities as regards the inculcation of a "state approach" into students. "The state approach should permeate the essence of all educational subjects, to prevent them from contradicting one another," the Belarusian leader said. "Nobody is forbidden to have his own ideas and convictions, but if you work in a state-run or private higher educational institution, you should teach from the standpoint of the state."

Stanislau Knyazeu, rector of the Presidential Academy of Management, which trains state ideologists in Belarus, suggested that ideological indoctrination should be started much earlier than during the university years of Belarusian youths. "Ideological work with people should be started from their childhood -- so as to make them feel patriotic and proud for their country in the period when they play with toys and are told fairy tales," Knyazeu asserted. "Incidentally, this is being done in many countries." (Jan Maksymiuk)

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT OPENS THE WAY FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM. The Ukrainian Constitutional Court ruled on 18 March that the constitutional reform bill that was preliminarily adopted on 24 December 2003 and amended on 3 February in the country's legislature (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 10 February 2004) does not contradict the Ukrainian Constitution, that is, specifically Article 7 and Article 158 that provide for a number of general restrictions on making constitutional amendments. The ruling paves the way for the final passage of the constitutional reform by the Verkhovna Rada, which would require at least 300 votes. If approved, the bill will shift the balance of power from the presidency to the prime minister and parliament, and prescribe a proportional, party-list system for parliamentary elections.

The Constitutional Court noted that the bill includes some inconsistencies in its text and does not fit well with the text of the current constitution. However, the court added, these deficiencies do not restrict human rights or freedoms or mean that Ukraine's independence or territorial integrity will be violated. Therefore, the verdict concluded, ruling on the removal of these inconsistencies would exceed the court's competency.

Constitutional Court Judge Oleksandr Myronenko, who communicated the verdict to the public, did not list all the inconsistencies included in the bill, but gave some examples. In particular, he said the bill stipulates that the legislature is elected for a five-year term under a fully proportional, party-list system in 2006. "But what will happen in 2011?" Myronenko asked rhetorically. Myronenko said he expects that he and his colleagues will have to return to the bill after its possible final passage by the Verkhovna Rada, since any additional amendment introduced should be obligatorily examined by the Constitutional Court.

The opposition Our Ukraine and Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc filed a complaint against the bill with the Constitutional Court, arguing that it was illegally approved in a very controversial show-of-hands vote on 24 December 2003 and illegally amended during an emergency session on 3 February. However, the court refused to heed their arguments. "What happened in the Verkhovna Rada on 24 December and 3 February, was an internal problem of the Verkhovna Rada," Myronenko said. "The Constitutional Court will not interfere -- either now or in the future -- in the political battles that have taken place and will take place in the Verkhovna Rada." Myronenko advised lawmakers to follow the parliamentary statute in their activities.

Myronenko said the court's verdict on the constitutional-reform bill was adopted by a vote of 13 to four.

Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko told journalists in Kyiv on 18 March that his block will resort to "all available means" -- including "staging appropriate protests, taking people to the street, and blocking the parliamentary rostrum" -- in order to prevent the final adoption of the constitutional-reform bill. Lawmaker Oleksandr Turchynov from the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc announced the same day that his bloc will cooperate with Our Ukraine in staging "mass protest actions" during the upcoming parliamentary debate on the bill. (Jan Maksymiuk)

VERKHOVNA RADA OKAYS GOVERNMENT PLAN FOR 2004... The Verkhovna Rada voted 239-38 on 16 March to approve the government's action plan for 2004, called "Consistency. Efficiency. Responsibility." The vote simultaneously acknowledged the performance of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's cabinet in 2003 as satisfactory. Most lawmakers from Our Ukraine, the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc did not participate in the vote. A separate motion by the opposition to rate the government's performance last year as unsatisfactory was supported just by 109 lawmakers, well below the 226 votes required for approval.

The vote means that Yanukovych's cabinet, which was formed in November 2002, obtained one more year of life -- that is, at least the Verkhovna Rada may not oust a cabinet within a year following the approval of its action plan. Of course, Yanukovych may be sacked by President Leonid Kuchma, but Kuchma is rather unlikely to do so in the situation where neither the fate of an ongoing constitutional reform nor the issue of who will represent the pro-government camp in the upcoming presidential election have been decided.

Yanukovych presented his 2004 action plan and demanded a parliamentary vote on it a month ahead of his deadline. He apparently took this step under cold political calculation, to secure himself against any nasty surprises from the side of the legislature. Yanukovych heads the 67-strong Regions of Ukraine caucus, whose votes are crucial for passing the constitutional reform. Therefore, he seemed to be quite sure last week that the Verkhovna Rada could not vote him out of his current post, since such a step would put the entire constitutional reform in jeopardy.

Taking an objective look at the performance of Yanukovych's cabinet, the Verkhovna Rada had no reasons to oust him. Yanukovych told lawmakers with pride that gross domestic product (GDP) in 2003 grew by 9.3 percent, industrial production increased by 15.8 percent, and the cabinet implemented the 2003 budget with a 3 percent surplus in collected revenues. And his action plan for 2004 is equally ambitious. It envisages, in particular, a 9.5 percent increase in GDP, a rise in foreign investments by $1.5 billion, the creation of 600,000 new jobs, and a 15 percent increase in wages. "We are confident that the program on the whole meets the need of the state and society, the perspectives of Ukraine's further movement along the path of reform, and the ideas of integration into the global economy," Yanukovych said in the legislature.

Yanukovych, who many see as the most probable candidate of the pro-Kuchma camp in the presidential race, is now also keeping the other option open for himself -- he may remain in the post of prime minister, a top political position in Ukraine, after the potential approval of the constitutional reform.

Yanukovych said last month that he has not decided yet whether to run in the presidential election but added that his decision will depend on whether he will be supported by the "political forces that today represent the centrist bloc, both in parliament and in the state." Recent surveys suggest that 10-12 percent of the electorate support him. (Jan Maksymiuk)

...AND ALLOWS NATO QUICK ACCESS TO UKRAINIAN TERRITORY. The Verkhovna Rada on 17 March voted by 237-61 to endorse a memorandum of understanding between the Ukrainian government and NATO regarding Ukraine's support for NATO operations. The Communist Party caucus and some Socialist Party lawmakers voted against the memorandum, while the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and some deputies from Our Ukraine did not take part in the vote.

The memorandum, according to Interfax, sets a legal framework for Ukraine's support for NATO operations conducted under the Partnership for Peace program. The document obliges Ukraine to provide technical, medical, and informational support for NATO units during military operations and exercises -- the types of such support are to be defined in separate accords. NATO is to pay for such assistance.

The document also grants NATO troops the right of quick access to Ukrainian territory if this is needed for the implementation of the alliance's general policies. NATO's military hardware may travel through Ukrainian territory if the alliance obtains "general permission." The bill needs to be signed by President Leonid Kuchma to take effect.

On 20 March, Interfax quoted an unidentified source in the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying that Moscow is concerned about the approval of the memorandum without coordination with the Russian side. "Special concern is raised by the fact that the memorandum declares Ukraine's support for any NATO operations, including those not authorized by the UN Security Council," the source said. "We hope that Kyiv will take into account our anxiety in setting its relations with NATO." (Jan Maksymiuk)

"I will force everyone to love my and your country, in which you live, and the authorities which -- even if they take a bribe or steal now and then -- have never left the people in need." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka during a conference with university rectors in Minsk on 19 March; quoted by Belarusian Television.

"It is my deepest conviction that Europe's representatives should not only isolate Belarus's officials but also make available as many programs and funds as possible for those Belarusians who are interested in cooperation [with Europe], even if the current regime is trying to prevent them from doing so. Only in this way we will be able to change the situation in Belarus and create prerequisites for free elections. It will subsequently be for the Belarusian people to decide whether they want to belong to Europe or not, and we will have to accept this. But the door must remain open. I believe that Belarus's future is closely linked to Europe's, as Europe's future to that of a democratic and independent Belarus." -- Former Czech President Vaclav Havel in "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on 19 March.

"Oleksandr Moroz has all chances to win the presidential election [in 2004]. After the constitution is amended, the posts of president, prime minister, and parliamentary speaker will be practically of the same political weight. The post of prime minister will be more demanding and independent, though. But for the post of president it will be necessary to elect a man exemplifying the moral authority of the nation. In my opinion, there is only one such man -- Oleksandr Moroz. When from the Verkhovna Rada rostrum he accused Ukraine's top leadership of involvement in criminal offenses, Viktor Yushchenko, jointly with the president [Leonid Kuchma] and speaker Ivan Plyushch, signed a 'statement of the three' in which they labeled the opposition as fascists. And Yuliya Tymoshenko has begun to fight the regime only after she was ousted from the government. Only Moroz is remaining a consistent politician, who acts in accordance with his principles." -- Socialist Party lawmaker Mykola Rudkovskyy in an interview in the 19-25 March issue of "Kievskii telegraf."