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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: January 29, 2002

29 January 2002, Volume 4, Number 4
SEJM STRIPS LEPPER OF PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY. The Sejm on 25 January voted by 281 to 87, with seven abstentions, to lift the parliamentary immunity of Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper. The motion to strip Lepper of his immunity was opposed by lawmakers from his Self-Defense and the right-wing League of Polish Families. Lawmakers from the Law and Justice caucus did not take part in the vote. Lepper is now expected to face criminal charges for slander and unfounded accusations of corruption leveled against ministers and parliamentary deputies (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 4 and 11 December 2001).

Before the vote, Lepper addressed the parliament with a two-hour speech in which he repeated his former allegations and accused all previous postcommunist governments of "plundering national assets." Lepper also accused National Bank Governor Leszek Balcerowicz of implementing an "economic genocide" in Poland. The overwhelming majority of deputies left the session hall during Lepper's tirade. Most Polish media declined to report in detail on Lepper's speech. The following day, Lepper said in commenting on the media's lack of a response that "if Lepper had gone in to see the speaker and hit him in the mug or spat in his face, then the entire press would have been writing about it on the front page, but because Lepper is saying that it is thieves who rule Poland, that is altogether normal for the journalists."

Speaking on 26 January in Bialystok, northeastern Poland, Lepper said he will encourage people to "revolt against the authority that is acting against Poland, against the Polish nation," PAP reported. "I will not be afraid to stand at the head of this revolt, but [it will be] a passive revolt," he added. Asked to specify methods of this "passive revolt," he said: "This is even nonpayment of rent, this is that we will stand passively, we will go out onto the streets, apologizing to those whose movements we hinder for what is happening.... Not one stone will be thrown, not one window will be broken." He added: "there are still going to be many surprises [in the Sejm]. This Sejm is not going to have an easy time of it...until the time when people will live with dignity.... You can expect everything. If there can be a passive revolt on the streets, there can be one in the Sejm."

TYMOSHENKO SPARS WITH MEDVEDCHUK ON RFE/RL. On 23 January, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service broadcast live a 40-minute discussion between former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko and former parliamentary speaker Viktor Medvedchuk. Both the participants in and moderators of the discussion avoided mentioning the 31 March parliamentary ballot -- since Ukraine's election law forbids electioneering through foreign media -- but most Ukrainian commentators have nevertheless treated the Tymoshenko-Medvedchuk meeting at the RFE/RL office in Kyiv as the first high-profile public debate connected with the current election campaign. The importance of the event was underlined by the presence of a large group of journalists from Ukrainian media, including several television channels.

Tymoshenko heads the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, while Medvedchuk leads the election bloc of the Social Democratic Party (United). It seems that with her live appearance on RFE/RL, Tymoshenko scored a significant victory in her attempts to break what she calls an "information blockade" around her in Ukraine. Since she heads the antipresidential political bloc, she cannot count on positive coverage on the state-controlled television and radio. As for private television and radio stations, they are either controlled by different oligarchs -- who pursue their own political interests and are not interested in promoting Tymoshenko -- or are simply afraid of retribution from state control bodies, including tax police and the committee responsible for issuing broadcasting licenses, in the event the private broadcasters start advertising one of the fiercest opponents of President Leonid Kuchma. In either case, Tymoshenko cannot expect much favorable publicity in Ukraine's electronic media.

Following the discussion between Tymoshenko and Medvedchuk on RFE/RL, a number of prominent political figures -- including Our Ukraine bloc leader Viktor Yushchenko, Communist Party head Petro Symonenko, and Socialist Party head Oleksandr Moroz -- announced that they are ready to take part in live broadcasts of their debates with representatives of different political forces. It seems that such a form of contact with the electorate has found broad approval among Ukrainian political elites. In December, the Verkhovna Rada passed a bill on the holding of mandatory television debates during presidential and parliamentary election campaigns. The bill obliged all countrywide television channels irrespective of their form of ownership to hold election debates. President Kuchma vetoed the bill in January, and the parliament immediately passed another bill, obliging only the state-run Ukrainian Television One to hold such debates. It is not clear whether Kuchma will sign this new bill.

Below are some highlights of the Tymoshenko-Medvedchuk debate translated from a transcription published on the "Ukrayinska pravda" website.

RFE/RL: "You live in the country called Ukraine. It is not a Soviet republic any longer -- it has been pacing toward democracy for the past 11 years. But you will admit that the atmosphere in this state is not too pleasant. People are disappointed, distressed, feel themselves helpless, distrust the authorities. They don't like their state, they also don't like the authorities. They ask, 'What has this state given to us?' Both of you have been in power. You, Mr. Medvedchuk, are still in power, since you are a [parliamentary] deputy. Why do you want to be in power, what do you need power for, what have you done for an average Ukrainian?"

TYMOSHENKO: "We came here to talk a little bit about power, because both Viktor Volodymyrovych [Medvedchuk] and our team are really trying to come to power. Given that we need to take full advantage of our conversation here, I would like to ask Viktor Volodymyrovych this question: Why doesn't he love our Ukraine? Why does he, being a deputy speaker and having his own caucus in parliament, pursue a policy that devastates and ruins Ukraine? I would like to ask Viktor Volodymyrovych a specific question."

RFE/RL: "Mrs. Tymoshenko, excuse me, but you are violating the rules of the game. You are our guest, we are asking you and you are answering. If you want to do an interview with Mr. Medvedchuk, we can even negotiate this and produce this on our airwaves. But now please tell me, what have you done for Ukraine while being in power, and what are you going to do for [Ukraine] in the future? What will you do for an average Ukrainian citizen who sits today in a house without electricity and has nothing to eat?"

TYMOSHENKO: "Mrs. Iryna [Khalupa, moderator in Prague], when I was on the budgetary committee [of the Verkhovna Rada], I looked into all budget revenue items for the first time, while knowing perfectly well how the shadow economy works, while realizing perfectly well how the economy works. And my first steps were oriented toward increasing the budget revenues by one-third. Nobody believed me, I was told that this was impossible, and Viktor Volodymyrovych with his caucus voted against the budget I proposed after I came to work in the government. I proved with my efforts that it was possible to replenish the budget with 10 billion hryvni within six months despite the fierce resistance from those people. And we know the effects -- there was electricity in settlements, people got pensions and wages.

Therefore, I am not ashamed of my work. But I want to ask Viktor Volodymyrovych -- and I have the right [to do that], I'm not for the first time in your studio -- why we ceaselessly hear from your television that we have such a wonderful Land Code?"

RFE/RL: "Mrs. Tymoshenko, we will address the Land Code in seven minutes. We have it in our scenario.... But let us now give a chance to Mr. Medvedchuk to answer [our question]."

TYMOSHENKO: "Incidentally, that 10 billion hryvni [I mentioned before] was partially, to a large extent, taken from the business behind which Viktor Volodymyrovych stands."

RFE/RL: "Viktor Volodymyrovych, your turn, please."

MEDVEDCHUK: "Your question included, in my opinion, what is not quite an objective assessment regarding the disappointment and depression among the Ukrainian population. Indeed, there are people who today suffer from material scarcity, from low standards of living, from a low level of social security, but one cannot say that this is a feature characterizing all of the Ukrainian people....

Regarding the 10 billion mentioned by Yuliya Volodymyrovna, I want to say that [her words] have thus far not been confirmed by statistics. Because this sum has not been directed to the budget. Why? Yuliya Volodymyrovna knows no worse than me where this sum was directed. This sum did not replenish the budget but was spent on the purchase of energy resources....

As regards the issue of how much I love my fatherland and my country, I can say that I entered politics in 1997 when I was elected a deputy of [the Verkhovna Rada of] the second convocation, and subsequently elected a deputy of the third convocation. While working as a deputy and defending interests of my voters, I dealt directly with what all people's deputies should deal. I created the legislative basis that is now changing Ukraine....

I want to declare that today, when representatives of leftist factions turned to the Constitutional Court with a complaint about the procedure for the adoption of the Land Code...I am ready to testify in the Constitutional Court and prove that the procedure for the adoption of the Land Code fully conformed with our constitution."

TYMOSHENKO: "One remark. Mrs. Iryna, may I? I want you [Medvedchuk] to look into my eyes and say the following. First. You have announced that this code does not allow foreigners to own land in Ukraine. Is it true? I have heard this [declaration] more than once on television."

MEDVEDCHUK: "Yuliya Volodymyrovna, it is absolutely true."

TYMOSHENKO: "Viktor Volodymyrovych, and now I want all of Ukraine to hear whether you are a lawyer or not?"

MEDVEDCHUK: "You doubt it, Yuliya Volodymyrovna?"

TYMOSHENKO: "Frankly speaking, I doubt it, because right now I have before me the code you pushed through the parliament in such a superb and filigree way. And it is written down here that land may be owned by [Ukrainian] citizens and legal entities. Tell me please, may Ukraine's legal entities be founded by foreign capital up to 90 percent or not? Yes or no?"

MEDVEDCHUK: "No, Yuliya Volodymyrovna. I feel demagogy in your question."

TYMOSHENKO: "But tell me, may they or may they not?"

MEDVEDCHUK: "I will answer you according to the text of the Land Code which is a historical event for Ukraine.... Yes, they may. However, a legal entity registered according to Ukrainian legislation is a Ukrainian legal entity."

TYMOSHENKO: "Absolutely true."

MEDVEDCHUK: "The status of a legal entity in Ukrainian legislation also allows it to make any land ownership claims. By no means does this contradict the ideology of the Land Code, which was so successfully adopted and which will be even more successfully implemented."

TYMOSHENKO: "Viktor Volodymyrovych, I am almost in love with you. I want to say...I want to complete my thought and say that the Land Code adopted by Viktor Volodymyrovych provides for...."

MEDVEDCHUK: "[It was adopted by] the Verkhovna Rada."

TYMOSHENKO: "I will repeat once again that you illegally pushed this code through [the parliament]. I want to say that the code envisions land ownership by legal entities, while legal entities may be owned by foreign capital of 90 percent. What is more, [the code envisions] not only land ownership but also ownership of mineral resources. Dear friends. This is what we have today. Our land will not belong to Ukrainians any longer.... I want to say that it is absolutely necessary to annul this code. We have lost our own land. And in the near future we will become witnesses to a return of serfdom and landed gentry. I do not want to find myself in this situation. I support private land ownership [but] only to Ukrainian citizens and only after you will give people the possibility to earn [enough] money for cultivating land."

RFE/RL: "And what's wrong about foreign investments in Ukrainian land? Why do you oppose this so [strongly]? Unfortunately, I am not a Ukrainian citizen. Why may I not buy a plot [in Ukraine]?"

TYMOSHENKO: "Because we have many peasants in Ukraine and these peasants want to own land. But we have driven them into complete beggary under Kuchma, who conducted this policy, and then we offer land for sale to natural and legal persons while the peasants have no single kopeck."

MEDVEDCHUK: "I am absolutely surprised with Yuliya Volodymyrovna's stance on [the land issue] since I have believed her to be a supporter of market economy and investments in which the primary controversial issue is land and land ownership."

RFE/RL: "I would like to touch upon [former Premier] Viktor Yushchenko. Mrs. Tymoshenko, you cooperated for a long time with him. Your cooperation with Yushchenko was very efficient during your work in the Cabinet of Ministers. You, Mr. Medvedchuk, were one of those voting to oust Viktor Yushchenko.... Tell me in plain language, please, what did you dislike in Yushchenko so that you needed to oust him?"

MEDVEDCHUK: "A good question. I have answered it more than once and I can answer it today: We were not satisfied with the level of cooperation between the Cabinet of Ministers and the parliamentary majority.... [Yushchenko] did not establish such cooperation.... I want to say that our choice in April 2001 was right. Anatoliy Kyrylovych Kinakh, who came with a new cabinet, has achieved a great deal, which is today reflected in extremely positive indicators, in the increase of the population's real incomes, in macroeconomic indicators, [and this] will surely contribute to increasing the well-being and living standards of people."

TYMOSHENKO: "I want to say that, indeed, our government did not reach consensus and mutual understanding with those parliamentary forces that it deprived on a daily basis of their shadow economy profits. Those forces, to say the truth, did not even try to reach this consensus."


YUSHCHENKO TO FACE ANOTHER YUSHCHENKO? Despite protests from the Our Ukraine election bloc led by Viktor Yushchenko, a congress of the "For Yushchenko" election bloc on 24 January did not change its name while approving its election list and manifesto. The "For Yushchenko" bloc was organized by lawmaker Oleksandr Rzhavskyy, the leader of the One Family All-Ukrainian Union. Rzhavskyy originally intended to join Our Ukraine but was rejected. "We cannot allow people's trust [in Yushchenko] to be privatized or usurped by a narrow political circle, by the right-wing parties that are now part of the Our Ukraine bloc. But we are willing to cooperate with them and to create a united caucus in the parliament," Rzhavskyy commented on his election initiative. Our Ukraine called Rzhavskyy's bloc a "provocation" and filed a lawsuit to prevent it from using Yushchenko's name. Most Ukrainian commentators see Rzhavskyy's election behavior as a glaring example of dirty campaigning in order to confuse the electorate and take away some votes from Our Ukraine. To make things even worse for Our Ukraine, Rzhavskyy included in his bloc's election list (as No. 2) a man named Volodymyr Yushchenko.

SOME 500 INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS TO WATCH OVER 31 MARCH ELECTION. Central Electoral Commission Secretary Yaroslav Davydovych said on 25 January that his commission expects that no fewer than 500 international observers, including 280 from the OSCE, will monitor Ukraine's 2002 parliamentary election, Interfax reported.

KUCHMA ADVISES MINISTERS SEEKING PARLIAMENTARY MANDATES TO TAKE LEAVE. "I have proposed to the premier and ministers [who are running in the parliamentary election] to file requests for leave beginning on 9 February," President Leonid Kuchma told journalists on 22 January. Kuchma noted that the election law does not require this from cabinet members but added that such a step would be "ethical." According to Interfax, eight cabinet members will seek parliamentary seats in the 31 March ballot, including Premier Anatoliy Kinakh, Deputy Premier Volodymyr Seminozhenko, Transport Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko, and Agriculture Minister Ivan Kyrylenko.

"[National Bank Governor Leszek Balcerowicz] is a criminal who is tightening an economic noose around the people's neck." -- Andrzej Lepper during his speech to the Sejm on 25 January; quoted by Polish Television.