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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: March 11, 2003

11 March 2003, Volume 5, Number 9
EU PREPARES 'NEW NEIGHBORHOOD' POLICY TO REWARD EASTERN REFORM. The European Union should in the future "reward reform" on its eastern borders, encouraging economic and political process by means of greater financial support, access to the bloc's internal market, political dialogue, and easier travel.

This is the gist of a new policy document to be unveiled by the EU's external-relations commissioner, Chris Patten, in Strasbourg on 11 March. A draft copy of the document -- seen by RFE/RL -- notes that political and economic interdependence between the EU and its neighbors to the east and south is "already a reality." It adds that the EU recognizes that it has a duty toward present and future neighbors to ensure continuing social cohesion and economic growth, to bring down trade barriers, enhance political stability, and support the emergence of the rule of law.

The document takes its cue from an EU foreign ministers' meeting in November, when Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus were identified as the primary targets for an EU "new neighbors" strategy. Relations with Russia, although considered separate, are an inevitable complement. Last December's Copenhagen summit added the southern Mediterranean countries to the list.

The document says Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia "fall outside the geographical scope" of the initiative "for the time being."

The countries of the western Balkans have all been given a membership perspective by the bloc and are not covered by the new strategy.

The situation on the EU's future borders differs from country to country. The EU has signed free-trade agreements with the countries of the southern Mediterranean and is now pushing for greater regional integration.

The EU's Partnership and Cooperation agreements (PCA) with Russia, Ukraine, and Moldova provide for assistance in political and institutional reform but do not grant preferential trade treatment. The PCA with Belarus was suspended in 1997, and, the document says, the EU now faces a choice: "either to leave things to drift" and avoid all cooperation or "to engage, and risk sending a signal of support for policies which do not conform to EU values."

The "new neighborhood" policy is designed to provide a framework for the development of relations over the coming five to 10 years. It is interesting to note that, although a number of senior EU officials have in recent months indicated countries like Ukraine and Moldova may never become members of the bloc, the current document says its aim is not to "set the geographical limits of the [European] Union or to exclude eventual membership."

The document does say that accession "has been ruled out" for "noncandidate" Mediterranean partners, i.e., with the exception of Malta and Cyprus. However, as to Ukraine and Moldova, it merely notes that both have "repeatedly expressed their desire to join the EU."

An explanation for the softening in the EU stance may be found in the observation, made in the paper, that the "incentive of reform created by the prospect of [EU] membership has proved to be strong -- enlargement has inarguably been the EU's most successful foreign policy instrument."

Thus, the paper says, a further debate is needed to determine the "limits of Europe" before a decision on further expansion can be made.

The new vision offered by the European Commission -- which must be endorsed by the EU's 15 member states before it will take effect -- suggests that the EU should offer its neighbors a trade-off. In return for a "stake" in the bloc's internal market and increased development aid, they must commit themselves to wide-ranging political and economic reforms.

Cooperation should be modeled on the EU's existing acquis communautaire, i.e., EU law, to help establish functioning markets and common standards for products and services.

The EU would also provide its neighbors with aid to help build administrative capacity and lessen the costs of social adjustment.

The document suggests that the EU should provide its neighbors with "perspectives for controlled migration" to meet the bloc's growing need for specialist skills. In parallel, longer-term visas should become easier to obtain, and a "user-friendly" system would be established for genuine small-border traffic. In the more distant future, the document says, the EU should be open to examining the possibility of abolishing the visa requirement altogether.

However, for any of this to happen, readmission agreements for third-country nationals must first be signed by Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova.

The bloc also offers intensified political dialogue, a "shared responsibility for conflict prevention," and cooperation in fighting crime.

The document holds out the promise of EU involvement in regional-conflict prevention and crisis management, accompanied by a dialogue on its common foreign and defense policies. Moldova's separatist Transdniester region is mentioned as a particularly pressing issue in this context.

Collaboration in fighting crime is something the EU itself clearly needs at least as much as its neighbors. The common tasks enumerated in the document run from terrorism to drug trafficking, trafficking in human beings, the smuggling of migrants, fraud, counterfeiting, money laundering, and corruption, as well as combating nuclear and environmental hazards.

Finally, the new strategy also envisages the pan-European integration of transportation and telecommunications networks.

The document says assistance to the EU's new neighbors will be "tailored to needs" and differentiated according to individual ability and progress.

The European Commission makes it clear that considerable amounts of additional financing are needed for the project. It suggests that a new so-called Neighborhood Fund be created to build on the experience of existing aid programs such as PHARE and TACIS. It recommends that more grant aid be given to Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and -- eventually -- Belarus, together with budget support for tackling poverty and social inequalities. The document notes that not all of the money would come from the EU budget, indicating that international financial organizations must also play a role, albeit under EU guidance.

The building of new ties must be a step-by-step process, the document says, adding that the extension of cooperation and financial benefits must always "encourage and reward" reform. It admits that current EU aid policies have not always managed to achieve that end.

Engagement should be introduced progressively "and be conditional on meeting agreed targets for reform." Targets are to be set out in individual "country action plans" containing "clear and public objectives and benchmarks."

In a rare reference to human rights, the document insists that key benchmarks "should include the ratification and implementation of international commitments which demonstrate respect for shared values" as exemplified by the United Nations Human Rights Declaration and standards elucidated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe.

The document says current ties cannot be upgraded to new "neighborhood agreements" before the PCAs currently in force with Russia, Ukraine, and Moldova have been fully implemented.

This report was written by RFE/RL correspondent Ahto Lobjakas.

PRESIDENT CALLS ON BROADCASTING COUNCIL TO STEP DOWN. President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 10 March said on the private Radio RMF FM that the National Radio and Television Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) should resign after KRRiT head Juliusz Braun admitted that the work on amending a media law last year involved some "shady dealings" on the part of some KRRiT members. Kwasniewski was referring to Braun's interrogation on 8 March by the parliamentary commission investigating the so-called Rywingate bribery scandal (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 18 February and 14 January 2003), when Braun said the media law involved some shady dealings and admitted to committing several mistakes himself.

"When I hear that the head of the KRRiT admits with no doubt that strange things, or shady dealings, were happening during the work on the law, then I also expect some decision," Kwasniewski said. "I cannot imagine I could be a head of an institution where I am aware of shady dealings going on."

The KRRiT held an emergency meeting later on 10 March to discuss Kwasniewski's call. According to PAP, two members appointed to the KRRiT by the president -- Danuta Waniek and Waledemar Dubaniowski -- tendered their resignations. The third "presidential" member of the KRRiT, Secretary Wlodzimierz Czarzasty, refused to follow suit, reportedly demanding that Braun first present evidence of the shady dealings he spoke of last week. The same position was reportedly taken by the remaining six members of the nine-member KRRiT. Presidential minister Dariusz Szymczycha told PAP on the evening of 10 March that the president did not accept the resignations of Waniek and Dubaniowski. Answering a question about Kwasniewski's reaction to the fact that Czarzasty did not offer his resignation, Szymczycha said, "The president is surprised that resignations were offered by the best and most competent members of the council, not by those who should [step down]."

The KRRiT, which is a constitutional body, was created in 1993 and tasked with "establishing order in broadcasting," i.e., with giving licenses and frequencies to private broadcasters after Poland began demonopolizing its electronic-media market. (Radio broadcasting licenses in Poland are given for seven years and television broadcasting licenses for 10 years.) The KRRiT also appoints the supervisory boards of Poland's public television and radio. The KRRiT members are appointed by the Sejm (four), the Senate (two), and the president (three). They can be dismissed only after the Sejm, the Senate, and the president unanimously reject the KRRiT's annual report.

It is generally believed that beginning in 1997, the KRRiT -- and, consequently, Polish public television and radio -- have been dominated by people associated with the Democratic Left Alliance and the Peasant Party. During his Rywingate interrogation in February, "Gazeta Wyborcza" Editor in Chief Adam Michnik suggested that Polish Television chief Robert Kwiatkowski and Czarzasty -- who were mentioned by film producer Lew Rywin as the people purportedly behind his bribe offer -- had plans to privatize the second channel of the public Polish Television and might have been interested in eliminating Agora, the daily's publisher, as a potential buyer by embroiling it in a bribery scandal. And Braun told the parliamentary commission last week that Czarzasty, in his opinion, wields an enormous political influence in the KRRiT, as well as among lawmakers and government officials responsible for the regulation of the media sphere in the country.

Meanwhile, a group of prominent Polish journalists recently spoken is favor of the postulate voiced in the 1 March issue of the weekly "Polityka" that the politically biased KRRiT be replaced by a body elected by rectors of major Polish universities or by the Senate (governing body) of Jagiellonian University (Poland's oldest and most renowned university) in Krakow. (Jan Maksymiuk)

OPPOSITION RENEWS ANTI-KUCHMA PROTESTS. Tens of thousands of people took part in an antipresidential rally at the monument to Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko in Kyiv on 9 March, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. The gathering adopted a resolution calling for early presidential elections and reform of the country's political system. The resolution also called on authorities to release all political prisoners; abolish censorship and provide the opposition with regular airtime on public television; bring the level of wages, pensions, and scholarships "in line with the norms of the constitution"; and ban increases in prices for public utilities. Police estimated that the rally in Kyiv gathered 10,000-15,000 demonstrators, while opposition sources put the figure at 50,000-150,000.

The Kyiv rally marked the restart of the opposition's "Rise Up, Ukraine" campaign intended to oust President Leonid Kuchma ahead of the presidential election scheduled for late 2004. Similar, albeit smaller, protests were reportedly staged the same day in 103 Ukrainian cities, including an 8,000-strong rally in Lviv.

The renewal of the antipresidential campaign coincided with Kuchma's submittal to the Verkhovna Rada of a draft of constitutional amendments intended to transform Ukraine's political system from a "presidential-parliamentary" to a "parliamentary-presidential" republic. Kuchma proposed last week that parliament appoint the prime minister and most ministers, except for those heading the ministries of Defense, Internal Affairs, Foreign Affairs, and Emergency Situations, who, he believes, should be nominated by the president. According to Kuchma, the president should have the right to dissolve the parliament if it fails to form a working majority, appoint a government, or pass a budget. The draft proposes a bicameral, five-year legislature (Verkhovna Rada) consisting of a 300-seat State Assembly (Derzhavni Zbory) elected under a party-list system and an 81-member House of Regions (Palata Rehioniv). Ukraine's regions (24 oblasts), as well as the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the cities of Kyiv and Sevastopol, would delegate three representatives each to the upper house (the procedure for such a delegation is not included in the draft). According to the draft, the president, parliamentarians, and local deputies would be elected for five-year terms in elections held during the same year (parliamentary in March, local in September, and presidential in December). Kuchma also proposed that the results of national referenda be applied directly, without seeking approval for them from any branch of power.

The opposition met Kuchma's political-reform proposals with strident criticism. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz said last week that Kuchma's reform proposals are "unconvincing and inconsistent," adding that most are based on the "false" referendum of 2000. According to Moroz, the "quintessence" of the reform proposal is to dissolve the current parliament and/or prolong Kuchma's term for two more years. Yuliya Tymoshenko concurred with Moroz, saying the draft appears aimed at boosting Kuchma's authority and giving him a chance to extend his tenure for two more years. Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko said it is inexpedient to reform Ukraine's political system while public trust in the authorities remains at such a low level. "The reform proposal disguises the authorities' unwillingness to form a transparent political system," Yushchenko said.

How could Kuchma remain in his post beyond 2004 by virtue of the political reform he proposes? Critics of the draft point to the fact that Kuchma wants presidential and parliamentary elections to be held in the same year. Thus, they argue, if the political-reform proposals are approved by the current Verkhovna Rada, the next presidential election will take place in the year of a regular parliamentary election. And the latter may come either in March 2006 (the current Verkhovna Rada was elected in March 2002) or even in March 2007, if the provision for a five-year parliamentary term is extended to the current legislature. In other words, they suspect Kuchma of resorting to legalistic trickery in order to fool the opposition and remain in power beyond 2004.

All opposition leaders speaking at the 9 March rally in Kyiv called for the unification of opposition forces. There was, however, no agreement as to the purposes of such unification.

Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko said it is necessary for the antipresidential opposition to unify "against masters and Ukrainian hangmen, as Taras Shevchenko called for in the old times." Symonenko appealed to struggle for a "free and independent" Ukraine in which "power belongs to the people alone, not to those robbing them."

Moroz quoted some poems by Shevchenko and told the crowd that the current situation in the country very much resembles the situation that existed in Ukraine 150 years ago. "We should rise from our knees," Moroz said.

Yushchenko said "the agony of the authorities is becoming dangerous for Ukraine." According to Yushchenko, Kuchma won the 1994 and 1999 presidential elections because the left-wing and right-wing opposition forces in Ukraine were divided. "We should agree on a [single presidential] candidate in the 2004 election, no matter what this can cost us; otherwise, we will again suffer a failure," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website quoted him as saying. It was the first time Yushchenko mentioned the issue of the upcoming presidential election in public.

Tymoshenko also appealed to opposition forces to field a single candidate for the presidential election. "We are facing our critical and last chance to win the presidential election by fielding a single candidate," Tymoshenko said, stressing that the opposition has no right to divide into "leftists" and "rightists" or into "Ukrainian-speaking" and "Russian-speaking" groups. Tymoshenko proposed that the next antipresidential protest action be held on 22 May. (Jan Maksymiuk)

SHCHERBYTSKYY ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATED FOR THE FIRST TIME IN UKRAINE. In January, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister for humanities Dmytro Tabachnyk signed a government resolution to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the birth of the longest-running leader of the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) Volodymyr Shcherbytskyy. Shcherbytskyy became first secretary of the KPU in 1972, after Moscow removed Petro Shelest, accusing him of "national deviationism" (a Soviet euphemism for nationalism). Shelest's removal was accompanied by what became known as the Great Pogrom of Ukrainian dissidents and the cultural elite. Shelest was accused of being too supportive of national communism because of his support for the Ukrainian language and culture and glorification of the Ukrainian Cossacks in his book "O Ukraine. Our Soviet Land," which was published in Kyiv in 1970.

Shcherbytskyy's rule lasted for nearly two decades from 1972 until 1989, when he was replaced by Volodymyr Ivashko. Shcherbytskyy died a year later. Under Shcherbytskyy's rule, there was a reorientation away from Shelest's national communism toward a so-called Little Russian, territorial patriotism devoid of any ethno-cultural content. Such Soviet territorial patriotism was allowed in Ukraine and other Soviet republics during Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's "era of stagnation" as long as republican leaders remained loyal to Soviet nationality policy, where Russians were the unquestioned "elder brother" and Russian language and culture were understood to be on a higher plane than Ukrainian.

In Soviet Ukraine and other Soviet republics in 1976, Helsinki groups were created to monitor the Soviet Union's compliance with human rights standards. Ukraine created the largest Helsinki group (the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, or UHH), and its members, together with Ukrainian dissidents already in the Gulag, constituted proportionately the largest ethnic group of prisoners of conscience. In 1987, dissidents still alive in the Gulag, such as Vyacheslav Chornovil, were released. Others had already died in the Gulag, including the well-known poet Vasyl Stus (1986).

Chornovil and his colleagues created the Ukrainian Helsinki Union (UHS) as the continuation of the UHH and began to reissue the UHH samizdat journal "Ukrayinskyy visnyk." The UHH and the Writers Union became the driving force behind the creation of the Ukrainian Popular Movement (Rukh) in 1988-1989 in the teeth of opposition from Shcherbytskyy. In September 1989, the same month Rukh held its first congress, Shcherbytskyy left office. Ukraine's ability to introduce Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's policies became possible only in the post-Shcherbytskyy period in 1990-1991.

How do these events relate to contemporary Ukraine? Those with high positions in the Shcherbytskyy era also hold high positions in post-Soviet Ukraine. During his trial, Stus, the poet-dissident, was given a state "defender" who was none other than Viktor Medvedchuk, currently the head of the presidential administration, the Union of Ukrainian Lawyers, and the oligarchic Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o). The Stus connection is sufficient reason for many national democrats to continue to dislike Medvedchuk. Worse still, the "battle lines" of the Brezhnevite era of stagnation and the late Soviet era have not changed. Opposed to Medvedchuk and his centrist oligarchic allies is today's Rukh, which has been reincarnated as Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine.

Both former President Leonid Kravchuk and current President Leonid Kuchma were born in the 1930s and experienced their most important career advancement in the 1970s and 1980s under Shcherbytskyy. Kravchuk became head of the KPU Central Committee in 1980, thus putting him in charge of ideology and propaganda, and he stayed there until Shcherbytskyy's departure in 1989. In his 1994 book of interviews "Ostanni Dni Imperii...Pershi Roky Nadii," (Kyiv, Dovira, 1994), Kravchuk proudly says: "I had respect and still have respect toward Volodymyr Vasylovych Shcherbytskyy. This is because he had stature." Kuchma also began his career at the same time in the KPU in 1975-1981 and then moved to the missile plant Pivdenmash (Yuzhmash), where he became director in 1986 and stayed until 1992.

Both Kravchuk and Kuchma went on to become presidents of independent Ukraine in 1991 and 1994, respectively. How then did they make the transition from being Shcherbytskyy's allies to leaders of independent Ukraine? Ukraine's "centrists" advanced their careers during the era of stagnation, when Communist Party leaders lost any ideological (in contrast to career) commitment to communism. In the post-Soviet era, this has translated into an ideologically amorphous center within Ukrainian politics.

Current Verkhovna Rada speaker and former head of the presidential administration Volodymyr Lytvyn provides a clue to how individuals like Kravchuk and Kuchma evolved. Writing still as an academic in the journal "Politolohichne chytannya" (Nos. 1-2, 1995), Lytvyn described Kravchuk as a consummate "careerist" who had been loyal to all Soviet leaders he had served stretching from Nikita Khrushchev to Gorbachev. Kuchma was elected to the Verkhovna Rada in March 1990 as a "Russian" and then became a "Ukrainian" in 1992 as prime minister. After defeating Kravchuk, the incumbent, in July 1994, Kuchma became president; his second term will end in October 2004. Kuchma's first head of the presidential administration in 1994-1996 was Tabachnyk, who signed the January government resolution to mark the anniversary of Shcherbytskyy's birth.

Ukraine's celebrations of Shcherbytskyy's birth are multifaceted and consist of nine separate events. In January and February, information on Shcherbytskyy's life and work was prepared for the state media, and an article was commissioned for the 18 February edition of the government weekly "Uryadovyy kuryer." The article was written by Valentyna Shevchenko, the last head of the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet Presidium prior to semi-free elections in March 1990. Memoirs by Shcherbytskyy's colleagues were commissioned for an edited volume in his honor.

Official celebrations began on 14 February with a press conference in the Ukrainian Home building and with the placing of wreaths and flowers on his grave in the prestigious Baykov cemetery, which was followed by a conference and concert in his honor in the National Philharmonic. Streets are to be renamed after Shcherbytskyy, and monuments and plaques to him are to be erected in Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Dniprodzerzhynsk. Finally, a documentary film is to be made of his life.

The 80th anniversary of Shcherbytskyy's birth fell in 1998 but was never celebrated. Why then is the less important 85th anniversary celebrated? In Kuchma's first term in office (1994-1999), he relied on support from national democrats, such as during the constitutional debate of 1994-1996, as the centrists were unstructured and financially still weak. Ukraine's foreign policy was also pro-Western, as Russia hesitated in recognizing Ukraine's borders until 1997-1999.

In Kuchma's second term (1999-2004), these factors are no longer applicable. The centrists now control a Verkhovna Rada majority, and, as oligarchs, they have financial clout and possess many media outlets. As in the Brezhnev era, three clans --Medvedchuk's Kyiv-based SDPU-o, Tabachnyk's Dnipropetrovsk (Shcherbytskyy's and Brezhnev's hometown), and Donetsk -- again rule Ukraine. The territorial patriotism developed in the Shcherbytskyy era is the path proposed by Ukraine's centrist elites for post-Soviet Ukraine.

This report was written by Dr. Taras Kuzio, resident fellow, Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.