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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: June 25, 2002

25 June 2002, Volume 4, Number 25
LEGISLATURE SEEKS TO RESTRICT NONTRADITIONAL RELIGIOUS GROUPS. Many small Protestant and nontraditional religious communities in Belarus say a proposed bill that would require the registration of religious communities would endanger their very existence. A draft of the bill was already approved by the Chamber of Representatives (Belarus's lower house) in a first reading on 31 May.

The law will hit small religious communities and new religious movements in Belarus, such as the Hare Krishnas, especially hard. According to the draft, the authorities will register only those religious communities that consist of more than 20 Belarusian citizens, while other communities would be outlawed. The bill would also outlaw all religious groups not active in the country 20 years ago. All religious literature would need the approval of a new state agency before being distributed.

Analysts say the law will enhance the state's control over Belarusian society and increase the position of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is the biggest religious community in the country. Some 70 percent of Belarusians say they are Orthodox believers, while 15 percent say they are Catholics. The rest consider themselves Muslims, Jews, or Protestants of various denominations.

Felix Corley is an analyst at the Keston Institute, a British organization that monitors religious freedom in Eastern Europe. He told RFE/RL that the requirement that religious communities have at least 20 members before being registered will seriously impact the ability of religious groups to form legal national bodies. To do so, they must prove the existence of at least 10 registered religious communities.

Corley said the stipulation that a religious group must have functioned in Belarus for 20 years is also draconian. "That means the Belarusian authorities are going back to the position as of 1982, which was at the height of the Soviet restrictions on religious communities," Corley said.

Corley said only the Russian Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, and the country's main Jewish organizations will be able to gain registration.

He said the draft introduces a wide variety of other restrictions that have not existed in the country for the last 10 years, one of them being prior compulsory approval of all religious literature. "All religious communities will have to have the religious literature that they import or produce within the country checked out by a group of experts appointed by the government, which could mean that Hare Krishna books or even Protestant books [or] Protestant newspapers could be banned," Corley said.

Corley said the draft of the bill also includes a provision specifically recognizing the Russian Orthodox Church as having a preeminent role. He said it recognizes the "spiritual and historic role" of the Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, Orthodox Judaism, and Sunni Islam. He said the draft discriminates against all other religious communities and violates Belarus's international commitments on human rights.

Last week, a citizens committee called Freedom of Conscience was set up in Belarus. The group unites members of several religious communities and is strongly opposed to the bill.

Alyaksandr Vyalichka of the Pentecostal Church is a member of this group. He told RFE/RL that the bill is all but certain to be approved and predicted the situation in Belarus will be gloomy when the bill comes into effect. "I can even say there could be a destabilization of the political situation because some 30 percent of religious communities will be pushed underground. They will be made to congregate illegally. Executive measures will be taken against them and, finally, they could be taken to court," Vyalichka said.

Vyalichka said there are 30,000 members of the Pentecostal Church in Belarus and that 491 Pentecostal communities are registered in the country. He said 277 Pentecostal communities are still waiting for registration. Vyalichka believes that one-third of the communities that have already registered will lose their registration because they have fewer than 20 members.

A week ago, 750 Protestant congregations across Belarus prayed and fasted to protest the bill. Viktar Krutko, a bishop in the 30,000-strong Belarusian Baptist Church, took part in Sunday's prayers. Krutko said he trusts only in God's help. "We all prayed and fasted. We prayed for our government, our president, our parliament. We asked God to stop them," Krutko said.

Syarhey Kastsyan, a deputy in the Chamber of Representatives, is one of the supporters of the bill. He said the new law would "put up a barrier against all these Western preachers who just creep into Belarus and discredit Slavic values."

The Keston Institute's Corley said Kastsyan's remarks reflect a myth about Western preachers in Belarus, which he said is spread by the Russian Orthodox Church to strengthen its own position.

Leanid Zemlyakou is the human-rights chairman of the Chamber of Representatives' Committee on Human Rights, National Relations, and Mass Media. Zemlyakou told RFE/RL that Belarus is an independent state and has the right to issue the laws it finds necessary. Asked why the state finds it necessary to assume the role of religious censor, Zemlyakou said: "It is very simple. Every state has the right to check, to control. It is why states exists."

(RFE/RL correspondent Valentinas Mite wrote this report.)

DOES UKRAINE NEED MORE NUCLEAR-POWER REACTORS? The expansion of Ukraine's electrical generating capacity by the construction of new reactors at the Rivne and Khmelnytskyy nuclear-power stations will "benefit only Germany and Russia," claims an article in the Ukrainian opposition newspaper "Svoboda" on 11 June. The article was originally written last December when an environmental group, the Youth Committee for National Safety, held a "people's hearing" in Kyiv to discuss the expediency of completing the new reactors. Until now, however, the author, Yevhen Zelinskyy, had been unable to find a publication willing to print it.

The organizers of the December event had wanted to call it a "public hearing," but to do so would have required the authorization of the state authorities. Their requests for this authorization were ignored, however, so, to stay within the law, they redesignated it a "people's hearing." This change of name gave the bodies most concerned with the nuclear program, the Ministry of Fuel and Power, the Enerhoatom state nuclear-power monopoly, the State Committee for Nuclear Regulation, and the relevant parliamentary committees, a pretext for ignoring the hearing. Had it been a "public" and not a "people's" hearing, they claimed, they would have sent representatives. Even the "green" environment minister, Serhiy Kurykin, ignored the event, though he is said to have doubts as to the expediency of going ahead with the reactors. The only person who came from the "nuclear" side was an engineer from the Khmelnytskyy station, who could discuss technical matters but was hardly in a position to deal with larger policy issues. As a result, the questions raised by the hearing remain unanswered.

These questions addressed not only the issue of safety, which, since the explosion at the Chornobyl nuclear-power station in April 1986, has held a dominant place in the Ukrainian national psyche. The hearing duly noted that the new reactors are being built in accordance with an outmoded (1984) Soviet design (not, incidentally, that of the ill-fated Chornobyl station), and that other similar reactors in Ukraine are still operating on only a temporary license. Furthermore, the hearing asserted, the state environmental enquiry regarding the new networks had not yet presented its report. Hence, their construction was both premature and illegal and should be halted immediately.

When challenged over nuclear safety, however, those concerned with Ukraine's energy strategy, particularly in the early years of independence, have repeatedly argued the need to balance conflicting threats: the possibility of deaths arising from a future nuclear accident and the certainty of winter deaths from hypothermia due to a lack of generating capacity. The surviving reactors at the Chornobyl station would then have to be kept in operation until the new reactors at Rivne and Khmelnytskyy (based on a less hazardous reactor design) are ready to replace them.

But the people's hearing therefore challenged the necessity and economics of the new reactors, saying that nuclear generators have to operate around the clock and that Ukraine now has more than sufficient around-the-clock capacity. The hearing questioned why Ukraine would construct an additional 2-megawatt capacity of nuclear power that operates around the clock, when what Ukraine needs is more top-up power to be brought on line at times of peak demand, power that could be conveniently provided by modernizing the country's conventional generators that run on Ukraine's own coal.

Finally, the hearing also raised political issues: Germany, it said, is committed to phasing out its own nuclear power over the next 20 years, and will have to import more energy; and Russia wants to sell its obsolete reactors that no other country "except possibly Iraq" will buy, together with fuel and spare parts over the next 40 years. It is they who will benefit, while Ukraine takes the risks. President Leonid Kuchma, the hearing alleged, is prepared to accept this situation in order to meet the needs of his "precious, too precious friends," Russia and Germany.

The hearing last December had a topical context: President Kuchma had just castigated the former cabinet for agreeing to a loan to finance the new reactors with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development on terms that, he said, were tantamount to "slavery," and for confirming that the reactors would be completed with Russian help.

During the past six months, however, the issue has not lost its topicality, as a postscript to the original article indicates. On 29 March, it reports, six people appealed to Kyiv's Pecherskyy District Court, seeking the restoration of their right to "a safe life and environmental safety," which, they said, had been placed at risk by Enerhoatom upon the construction of the new reactors at Khmelnytskyy and Rivne. They offered documentary evidence that the construction is illegal and called on the court to halt the financing and construction of the reactors unless, and until, the state environmental enquiry gives its clearance. On 24 April, however, the court rejected the appeal, noting that, "the plaintiffs addressed the court in the interests of society" but they did not have the authority to make such an appeal.

Less physically hazardous, but not without its own dangers for Ukraine, are the plans for a consortium of Russia, Ukraine, and Germany to manage gas transit through Ukraine. At first glance, it seems set to benefit all three parties: Russia will supply and Germany will receive the gas, without the danger of unauthorized Ukrainian siphoning; and Ukraine will be ensured the financial benefits of transit, without the threat that Russia will reroute all its west-bound gas through Belarus. A document to this effect, signed by the Russian and Ukrainian prime ministers on 21 June, guarantees gas transit via Ukraine of at least 110 billion cubic meters annually. Russia, likewise, guarantees to ensure the steady supply of gas to Ukraine under contracts already concluded between Ukraine and Central Asian suppliers. Furthermore, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the creation of the consortium will make it possible to attract in the near future the $2.5 billion of foreign capital needed to upgrade Ukraine's dilapidated pipeline system.

However, "Segodnya" warns that setting up a consortium implies the "imminent corporatization of the gas transportation system," which in its turn may well prove the "first step toward privatization" of Ukraine's main gas pipelines. It is unclear what stakes the participants will have in the consortium and if future European partners will come up with "big money." Ukraine needs to walk warily, or one day it may find that "the money-spinning pipeline is no longer ours, but simply runs across our territory."

(This report was written by Vera Rich, a London-based free-lance researcher.)

WHAT CAUSED FAMINE IN UKRAINE? -- A POLEMICAL RESPONSE. (This article by Professor Mark B. Tauger (, Ph.D., associate professor at West Virginia University, responds to the article by Dr. Taras Kuzio in "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" of 12 June 2002.)

Dr. Kuzio's article concerns a discussion on H-Net Russia, which began when in response to a question, I sent in a list of my recent publications (listed below) and summarized their main points. These points were that the 1933 famine was not limited to Ukraine and resulted from a shortage due to natural disasters that no other scholars have investigated. Dr. Kuzio's article distorts this discussion and misrepresents Western scholarship and my works in particular, which were the main ones at issue but which apparently almost none of my detractors had read.

Dr. Kuzio claims that Western scholars refuse to compare Soviet and Nazi crimes, and are Russia-centric. On the first point, he quotes other scholars' statements that any questioning of the Ukrainian genocide argument is "immoral and absurd." On the second point, he cites my doubts concerning Ukrainian memoirs and asserts that no one questions similar accounts of the Holocaust. He refers to my criticism of Robert Conquest's work and cites James Mace's dismissal of my work as "baseless statistical circumlocutions" and "garbage." He asserts that Western scholars ignore Ukrainian sources and publications, and that the famine left no "memory" in the Russian consciousness. Here I will briefly respond to these claims.

With respect to memory of the famine in Russia, Dr. Kuzio seems unaware of such publications as "Tragediya sovetskoi derevni," a massive five-volume collection of documents published in Russia with the support of the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities, which evidences the severity of the famine in Russia as well as Ukraine, and the imprint of the famine on the consciousness of all the Soviet peoples. Dr. Kuzio's point is also problematic because Ukraine is a multinational state, all of whose citizens -- Ukrainians, Russians, Jews, Poles, Tatars, and others -- were victims of the famine, as documented in recent Ukrainian publications.

Dr. Kuzio is wrong to characterize me as a Russia-centered Western scholar. I use Ukrainian sources, I have worked in Ukrainian archives, and I have published a study of the Ukrainian famine of 1928-1929 that the Ukrainian scholar S.V. Kulchytskyy described as one of the "blank spots" to which Dr. Kuzio refers. I published this in a collection of articles on Soviet history in the national republics ("Provincial Landscapes," listed below) by a group of scholars, and this publication is not unique. Dr. Kuzio's criticism of U.S. scholarship, therefore, at least as it refers to me, my associates, and many other Western scholars, is unjustified.

On the question of statistics, James Mace and other advocates of the genocide argument insist that the famine was "man-made" on the basis of Soviet official statistics that the total grain harvest in 1932 was 68.9 million tons and testimonies and memoirs from decades after the event that the harvest was excellent. Their argument therefore rests on the statistical claim that no genuine food shortage prevailed in the USSR in 1932. If it can be shown that such a shortage prevailed, this argument has to be rejected.

The official statistics, however, show that the procurements taken from the 1932 harvest were less than the procurements in any other year in the 1930s (and archival documents show that the data actually overstate the amount procured). In other words, the rural remainder for the whole USSR in that year appears larger than any other year in the early 1930s, so there should not have been a famine by those statistics. Several other scholars noted this before me, including the Ukrainian emigre scholar Dmytro Solovey. These are not "baseless statistical circumlocutions" but a fundamental problem in the evidence, which Conquest, Mace, and other recent Ukrainian scholarship never mention.

Yet there was a famine, and as the archives document exhaustively, people were dying of starvation all over the country (see the article by Wheatcroft in Getty and Manning, "Stalinist Terror," Cambridge University Press 1997). So that harvest statistic is wrong. As I show, the harvest figure that Mace and others rely on was a biological yield projection, not harvest data, and was imposed on Soviet statistics by Stalin in 1933.

I obtained the archival annual reports from the collective farms themselves, including those from more than 40 percent of the collective farms in Ukraine (the remainder of the farms did not complete and submit annual reports, apparently because of the crisis). These data show that the 1932 harvest was at least one-third below the official figures. These are data from the farms, including Ukrainian farms, data gathered and prepared by Ukrainian peasants and other villagers at the time that the famine took place. I also show that even these data, which imply in Ukraine a harvest of less than 5 million tons instead of the 8 million-ton official figure, overstate what must have been a famine harvest. I show that these annual-report data are the only reliable data on Soviet grain production in the 1930s, and that peasants used them to resist outside officials' demanding high procurements based on Soviet biological yields.

So while Mace stands by Stalin's false statistics, backed up with memoirs written decades later, to argue that a small harvest did not occur, my evidence (which Mace calls "garbage") -- desperately put forward by Ukrainians and other peasants themselves, which Soviet leaders received and rejected -- documents incontrovertibly that the country had a famine harvest. This is why I question Ukrainian memoir accounts. Their insistence on the false assertion that the harvest was good undermines their credibility. It is also a general principle of evidence that contemporaneous evidence concerning an event is considerably more reliable than reports decades after the event: The memoir and testimony sources on the famine date from the 1950s to the 1980s and later. Substantial critical literatures in history and psychology have demonstrated the problems of memoirs and oral history, which contrary to Dr. Kuzio's claim have been applied extensively to the literature of Holocaust memoirs and testimonies.

The evidence that I have published and other evidence, including recent Ukrainian document collections, show that the famine developed out of a shortage and pervaded the Soviet Union, and that the regime organized a massive program of rationing and relief in towns and in villages, including in Ukraine, but simply did not have enough food. This is why the Soviet famine, an immense crisis and tragedy of the Soviet economy, was not in the same category as the Nazis' mass murders, which had no agricultural or other economic basis. This evidence also explains why it is false to describe me and other Western scholars as "deniers" of the famine. There is nothing "immoral" or "absurd" about this evidence, which comes directly from Ukrainians and other villagers at the time, and it is in no way comparable to a denial of the Holocaust.

Mace, Krawchenko, and Kuzio responded to careful research that tests received interpretations, certainly accepted scholarly practice, with derogatory comments, misrepresentations, and moral condemnations, without apparently having read all of the publications they attacked. Perhaps this is why they have encountered some opposition to their views in the United States. This kind of ad hominem attack only makes it more difficult to get at the truth behind the tragedies in Soviet history.

Mark B. Tauger, "The 1932 Harvest and the Soviet Famine of 1932-1933," Slavic Review v. 50 No. 1, Spring 1991;

Tauger, R.W. Davies, and S. G. Wheatcroft, "Stalin, Grain Stocks, and the Famine of 1932-1933," Slavic Review v. 54 No. 3, Fall 1995;

Tauger, "Natural Disaster and Human Action in the Soviet Famine of 1931-1933," The Carl Beck Papers in Russian and East European Studies, University of Pittsburgh, No. 1506, 2001 (65pp); (412) 648 9881

Tauger, "Statistical Falsification in the Soviet Union: A Comparative Case Study of Projections, Biases, and Trust," The Donald Treadgold Papers in Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies, University of Washington, No. 34, 2001 (82pp); (206) 221 6348

Tauger, "Grain Crisis or Famine? The Ukrainian State Commission for Aid to Crop Failure Victims and the Ukrainian Famine of 1928-1929," in Donald Raleigh, ed., "Provincial Landscapes: Local Dimensions of Soviet Power," 1917-1953, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001.

"The Russian Federation is a democratic country. Not only a citizen but also the president there, like in Belarus, has the right to say what he thinks. Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] wanted to say what he thought and said that. If he hadn't wanted [to say it], he wouldn't have said [it]. Therefore, one needs to regard it calmly." -- Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 18 June, on Vladimir Putin's criticism of Minsk's approaches to Belarusian-Russian integration; quoted by Belarusian television.

"In general, who needs us to become a subject [of the Russian Federation]? Russia's leadership does understand that this will not happen. Then why do they propose this? Because they want to ruin [the Belarus-Russia union], because they do not want to move forward. To put an end to moving forward and creating, one needs to make an unrealistic proposal. So they have made this unrealistic proposal [to incorporate Belarus into the Russian Federation] in order to put the brakes on moving forward. This is done exactly at the moment when it's time to make fateful decisions." -- Lukashenka on 18 June, on Putin's alleged intention to absorb Belarus as a 90th subject of the Russian Federation; quoted by Belarusian television.

"Luxembourg is smaller than Germany, but nobody in the European Union has reproached Luxembourg for being small [in comparison with other EU countries]. Therefore, if one needs to follow the example of the European Union, one has to follow it in everything." -- Lukashenka on 18 June, on Putin's remark of 13 June that "the Belarusian economy amounts to 3 percent of the Russian economy"; quoted by Belarusian television.

"The unification of such close countries as Russia and Belarus should be carried out on an unconditional basis within the framework of a single state, and that means that there should be neither the Duma of the Russian Federation, nor the parliament of Belarus, there should be neither a Russian government, nor a Belarusian government. There should be one parliament, [and] we can call it the union's Duma or whatever we want. There should be one government and one country." -- Russian President Vladimir Putin on 24 June; quoted by RFE/RL.