Accessibility links

Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: February 26, 2002

26 February 2002, Volume 4, Number 8
AMENDMENTS WATER DOWN LUSTRATION. Last week, President Aleksander Kwasniewski signed an amended version of the 1997 lustration law, which obliges Polish politicians and state officials to declare whether they have collaborated with the communist-era special services. On 15 February, the Sejm voted to approve some dozen amendments to the law that were introduced by the leftist-dominated Senate. The amendments were supported by the governing Democratic Left Alliance (SLD)-Labor Union (UP) bloc and a majority of lawmakers from Andrzej Leper's Self-Defense, while the Civic Platform, Law and Justice, the League of Polish Families, and a majority of legislators from the Peasant Party voted against them.

Two of these amendments are particularly important, and they have been decried by many opposition politicians as the practical end to Poland's lustration process -- an attempt by Solidarity-rooted political forces to cleanse the political elite of those with hidden links to the oppression apparatus of the former communist regime. One amendment excludes collaboration with communist Poland's intelligence, counterintelligence services, and border guards from lustration. The other proposes a different definition of collaboration with special services and, by virtue of this, considerably narrows the scope of lustrated officials. According to this definition, the secret collaboration with communist-era secret services pertains to actions by collaborators (agents, informers, etc.) aimed at harming church organizations, the democratic opposition, trade unions, or "the nation's aspirations to sovereignty."

"Today we have a better lustration law that allows us to avoid mistakes that were made in the past," Kwasniewski commented on the passed amendments, which were drafted by him personally. Kwasniewski voiced the opinion shared by many leftist politicians that the lustration law -- adopted by the former, Solidarity-dominated coalition in the Sejm -- has been misused by warring political forces to settle scores among them. In particular, the lustration law came under fierce fire in Poland during the 2000 presidential election campaign, during which both Kwasniewski and first Solidarity leader Lech Walesa had to undergo a "lustration procedure" in connection with their alleged collaboration with communist-era secret services.

Opposition politicians suggest that the SLD passed the amendments to shield some of its prominent politicians from being declared "lustration liars" -- that is, the persons who lied in their lustration statements. Currently, the Lustration Court is viewing lustration cases of three SLD leaders: SLD parliamentary caucus head Jerzy Jaskiernia, parliamentary European Integration Committee head Jozef Oleksy, and Marek Wagner, the prime minister's chancellery chief. The three are suspected of having kept mum on their collaboration with communist-era intelligence services. One of the amendments to the 1997 lustration law stipulates that the lustration trials that were begun in the past should be continued under the new legislation. This means that in the cases of Jaskiernia, Oleksy, and Wagner, the lustration prosecutor must now prove not only the fact that they were collaborators, but also establish that their collaboration harmed church organizations, democratic opposition, trade unions, or "the nation's aspirations to sovereignty."

Supporters of the lustration process argue that the special services in communist-era Poland functioned as one repressive entity -- therefore it is senseless to single out intelligence and counterintelligence services as its purportedly "harmless" components. "I'm one of the victims of the intelligence and counterintelligence services of the Polish People's Republic, and I'm not going to accept such idiocies as a justification [for the amendments]," was a comment from former Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, who was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp and, subsequently, of the Stalin-era regime in Poland.

Law and Justice lawmakers are reportedly planning to file a complaint with the Constitutional Tribunal asserting that the amendments are unconstitutional. First, the lawmakers argue that the changes to the lustration law, which were introduced by the Senate, exceed the framework of legislative amendments and actually constitute a new legislative initiative. The Senate has the right to propose new bills, but such an action requires a different procedure than that applied to the amended lustration law. Second, Law and Justice says the amendments contradict the constitutional right of the citizens to obtain information about people seeking high-ranking official posts.

Irrespective of what may happen with lustration in Poland in the future, one must admit that the Polish left wing has managed to hamper to a significant extent the country's attempt to pursue politics in the postcommunist era without politicians who were partly responsible for the communist-era repression machine.

NATIONAL ASSEMBLY FAILS TO APPEAR AT OSCE FORUM. The bid by Belarus's National Assembly (the 110-member Chamber of Representatives and the 64-strong Council of the Republic) to join the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly remains unclear after last week's session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Vienna. Belarus's legislature failed to send a delegation despite an invitation, leaving commentators uncertain of its intentions.

The nonappearance of a Belarusian official delegation took the Vienna meeting by surprise (on the other hand, the session was attended by three representatives of the Belarusian opposition, who were registered at the session as observers). OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Adrian Severin received a joint letter from the chairmen of both Belarusian houses, Alyaksandr Vaytovich and Vadzim Papou. They asked for full participation in the work of the Parliamentary Assembly and said, "We believe that the restoration of the membership of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus would allow our country to foster the process of democratization and reinforce its status as a full-fledged member of the family of European nations." Severin sent the Belarusian legislature registration papers for members of the delegation, copies of the agenda, and other information. So there was considerable surprise when the registration papers were not returned and no official delegation appeared in Vienna.

A French delegate, Nicole Durand, told journalists that Belarus has recently criticized the OSCE and has been reluctant to accept a new chief for the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk. But it had been assumed that the Belarus parliament would continue to press its case for membership despite these problems.

"The Belarusian government has differences with the OSCE about the office in Minsk and other matters. But the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is a separate body, and we thought the Belarusian parliament would continue to seek membership," Durand told an RFE/RL correspondent.

No message was received from the Belarusian legislature to explain its absence in Vienna. The failure of the National Assembly to send an official delegation to the Vienna meeting means that the Belarusian application cannot be considered until the next meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Berlin in July. Severin said an invitation will be sent to Belarus for the Berlin meeting.

Some doubts remains because the October 2000 elections were criticized by foreign observers for failing to meet democratic standards, but Severin and other officials told journalists in Vienna that Belarus appeared to have had a chance of being seated if it had attended the session. The rules of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly state that a delegation will automatically be seated if there is no challenge. Severin and the other officials said they have received no indication that the Belarusian application would have been challenged this year.

Some OSCE Parliamentary Assembly officials said they believe Belarus avoided the Vienna session because it feared there would be a challenge with the possibility of another veto. They said the Belarusian legislature asked for guarantees that if it appeared in Vienna it would be admitted to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly without problems. However, this is not possible under the rules.

"This was something we could not do," a U.S. delegate said. "Every parliament applying for membership is treated in exactly the same way. We cannot give guarantees that there will be no challenges."

OSCE officials said they are now unsure of Belarus's intentions and whether it will apply to be admitted to the Parliamentary Assembly in July. "Probably it all depends on a decision by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka," one of them said. "And that is unpredictable."

(This report was written by Roland Eggleston, an RFE/RL correspondent based in Munich.)

CORRECTION: Last week's story "Lukashenka Triumphant" erroneously located OSCE Parliamentary Assembly sessions in Strasbourg. In actual fact, they are held in different European cities, while Strasbourg hosts gatherings of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

GREENS, OLIGARCHS, AND ELECTIONS. Of Ukraine's 130 registered parties, seven claim to be "green." These include the All-Ukrainian Chornobyl People's Party (registered in October 1998), the Green Ecological Party (February 2001), the Green Party of Ukraine, the Ecological Party, the Ecological Party "Defense" (all in March 2001), and the Green Party-XXI Century (April 2001).

Six of Ukraine's seven "green" parties have little influence in comparison to the oldest, the Party of Greens of Ukraine (ZPU), which was registered far ahead of the others on 24 May 1991. Until its electoral success in 1998, the ZPU faced little competition from other "greens." Then, another five "green" parties were registered in the winter 2000-spring 2001 season.

The "Greens" underwent a similar process that took place within other Ukrainian political parties. From 1994 to 1998, some centrist and national democratic parties were gradually taken over by oligarchs who needed to convert their newly found economic clout back into political influence. After the ZPU and the People's Democratic Party (NDP) were taken over by them, those members of both parties who stayed loyal to their original pre-oligarch ideology left to create other parties or joined existing ones. These nonoligarchic parties have joined Our Ukraine or the Yuliya Tymoshenko blocs, while the ZPU and NDP support the oligarchs and President Leonid Kuchma.

Of the 34 parties and blocs registered until last week for the election campaign, only two were "green," and both are supported by competing oligarchs. The Rayduha (Rainbow) election bloc included the Ecological Party of Ukraine "Defense" and was financed by Vadym Rabynovych, an oligarch who was recently accused of acting as a middleman in the sale of Ukrainian tanks to the Taliban in the mid-1990s. Rabynovych holds dual Israeli-Ukrainian citizenship, is the head of one of two competing Jewish organizations in Ukraine, and is persona non grata in the United States. The title of this bloc is also meant to appeal to the gay community, whose international flag is made up of the colors of the rainbow.

Rabynovych went ahead and created his own election bloc after falling out with the ZPU, which he helped to finance in its successful return to Ukrainian politics in the March 1998 parliamentary elections. In an interview in "Stolichnye novosti" in August 2001, a newspaper funded by Rabynovych, Ukrainian Ambassador to Canada Yuriy Shcherbak initially toyed with the idea of heading the Rainbow coalition as an alternative "green" bloc to the ZPU. Shcherbak founded the Green World Association in 1986 and was the first head of the ZPU, which he now accuses of having betrayed "green" ideology. Rabynovych and Shcherbak have known each other since the early 1990s when the latter was Ukraine's first ambassador to Israel.

On 20 February, the Central Election Commission cancelled the registration of the Rainbow bloc, following a verdict by a Kyiv district court saying that the bloc was formed in an illegitimate manner. This decision has left the ZPU as the only group representing Ukrainian environmentalists in the elections.

Genuine "green" parties, in the same manner as genuine women's parties, find it impossible to be successful in Ukraine's political system. Only parties that have been captured by oligarchs (such as the ZPU) or created especially by them for the elections (Women for the Future) can be successful because they have financing and, while being pro-presidential, also have access to "administrative resources." The Rainbow bloc was not successful in winning popularity because Rabynovych was no longer on good terms with the executive. The Women of Ukraine Party, the only other registered gender party, has also failed to win support because it is backed by neither the oligarchs nor the executive.

Ukraine's largest "green" party, the ZPU, grew out of the Green World Association, an ally of the Rukh nationalist movement in the late Soviet era. It is contemporary Ukraine's third-oldest political party, and its inaugural congress was held in September 1990 where it championed both "ecosocialism" and state independence. Its main base of support then was western and central Ukraine, the same as Rukh's.

After Ukraine became an independent state in 1991, the ZPU began a long period of decline. In the eyes of Ukraine's elites, environmental problems became less important than ensuring sufficient energy supplies in the face of Russia's use of energy pressure, mounting debts, and a shift in world prices. During the ZPU's stagnation, it elected a new leader in October 1993, Vitaliy Kononov, who has remained in that position until today. In 1994, before the ZPU was taken over by oligarchs, the ZPU joined the European Federation of Green Parties.

The ZPU re-entered the Ukrainian political scene in the March 1998 elections when it won 5.44 percent of the vote. The new ZPU was very different from that created in 1990-91. At its peak the ZPU held 25 parliamentary seats, which has since declined to 15, and it boasts 52,000 members, small by the standards of other oligarchic parties.

The ZPU's 1998 success was due to two factors: a very effective Western-style advertising campaign, and a huge injection of new finances. As with the Women for the Future party in the current elections, the ZPU campaigned in 1998 on an "antiparty" ticket with the slogan "Politicians Utilize Demagoguery." This was an appeal to disaffected young people (the ZPU was one of the youngest factions) and those easily turned off by politics.

The main financier of the ZPU since 1998, as well as the Women for the Future whose campaign is building on the earlier success of the ZPU, is Vasyl Khmelnytskiy, No. 3 on the Green election list, and director of the huge Zaporizhstal plant. He was successful in recruiting other businessmen who needed a "krysha" (roof) to protect their business interests in telecommunications, banking, insurance, hotels, and -- more surprisingly -- energy. Khmelnytskiy's additional support for Women for the Future has been made possible by his close relationship with President Kuchma and first lady Ludmyla Kuchma.

Throughout the entire tenure of the 1998-2002 parliament, the ZPU remained loyal to the president without going overboard in its support, presumably so as not to turn off potential young voters. Only two minor government positions were granted to the ZPU. Last year, Ambassador Shcherbak severely criticized the ZPU's lack of legislative initiative in the current parliament.

The ZPU has 9.9 to 7 percent support in southern and eastern Ukraine, and its two strongest bases are Zaporizhzhya and Odesa. Ironically, in western and central Ukraine, where the ZPU began 10 years ago, its support is only 5.1 and 3 percent, according to a January poll by the Center for Economic and Political Studies. Khmelnytskiy's two pet projects, the ZPU and Women for the Future, will therefore enter the next parliament, but neither are likely to promote green or gender issues.

(This report was written by Taras Kuzio, who is a research fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.)

WHAT'S ON THE BALLOT? The Central Election Commission drew lots on 22 February to decide the order in which the 33 parties and blocs registered for the 31 March parliamentary election will appear on the ballot. The results of the drawing are as follows:

No. 1 -- Communist Party
No. 2 -- Our Ukraine Bloc (led by Viktor Yushchenko)
No. 3 -- Democratic Party and the Democratic Union Party Bloc
No. 4 -- All-Ukrainian Christian Party
No. 5 -- Natalya Vitrenko Bloc
No. 6 -- Green Party
No. 7 -- Bloc Against All
No. 8 -- Communist Party of Workers and Peasants
No. 9 -- New Force Party
No. 10 -- Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc
No. 11 -- Party for the Rehabilitation of the Seriously Ill
No. 12 -- Reformed Communist Party
No. 13 -- Socialist Party (led by Oleksandr Moroz)
No. 14 -- For a United Ukraine Bloc (led by Volodymyr Lytvyn)
No. 15 -- Unity Bloc (led by Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko)
No. 16 -- All-Ukrainian Party of Workers
No. 17 -- Reformed Liberal Party
No. 18 -- All-Ukrainian New World Association
No. 19 -- Justice All-Ukrainian Leftist Association
No. 20 -- Winter Crop Generation Team
No. 21 -- Party of Depositors and Social Protection
No. 22 -- Agrarian Party
No. 23 -- Social Democratic Party (United) (led by Viktor Medvedchuk)
No. 24 -- People's Movement of Ukraine (Rukh's splinter group led by Bohdan Boyko)
No. 25 -- Ukrainian National Assembly
No. 26 -- ZUBR Bloc (ZUBR is the acronym of "For Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia")
No. 27 -- Ukrainian Naval Party
No. 28 -- Christian Movement
No. 29 -- Social Democratic Party
No. 30 -- Russian Bloc
No. 31 -- Women for the Future
No. 32 -- Yabluko Party
No. 33 -- New Generation Party

"It is a truly manly friendship, thus a somewhat brusque one, but also one with the charm of a beautiful, sentimental woman." -- Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller on his relations with President Aleksander Kwasniewski; quoted by Polish media on 21 February.

"It is better to remain a political orphan than to have such a father as [President] Leonid Kuchma." -- Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz on relations between former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko and the Ukrainian president; quoted by the "Ukrayinska pravda" website on 23 February.