Accessibility links

Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: August 13, 2002

13 August 2002, Volume 4, Number 30
SOMETHING IS ROTTEN IN THE ARMY OF POLAND. Colonel Ryszard Chwastek, commander of the 12th Mechanized Division (which is part of the NATO Danish-German-Polish corps in Szczecin), has proposed what he calls a "vote of no confidence" in the leadership of the Defense Ministry, PAP reported on 6 August. Chwastek is demanding that the president, the commander in chief of the armed forces, "hold an extraordinary meeting of trusted delegates from the army" in Warsaw on 12 August to give them an opportunity to decide on their possible support for his motion. Chwastek blames Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski and the army's top brass -- chief of the Polish Army General Staff General Czeslaw Piatas, head of the Personnel Department of the Ministry of National Defense General Zbigniew Jablonski, head of the Ministry of National Defense Audit Department General Piotr Makarewicz, and Land Forces commander General Edward Pietrzyk -- for "humiliations" of professional servicemen and the "mess" that in his view reigns inside the armed forces.

"In 2001, the previous minister of national defense and the present leadership of the Polish Army carried out a barbarous reduction of personnel. In 2002, the new minister of national defense and the same generals have been preparing in secret, mafia-style, successive changes in organizational structures with the aim of assuring for themselves successive terms in office and fast promotions," Chwastek wrote in an open letter to Polish officers.

Chwastek stressed that it is not politicians who are responsible for the current state of affairs, but "the absolutely obedient generals of the present military leadership of the Ministry of National Defense." He went on: "The compliance, passivity, and readiness to break the law in the name of their own careers, the satisfaction of exaggerated ambitions at the cost of the professional cadres and at the cost of the Polish Army, bear witness to a kind of decay in the Polish Army leadership."

Chwastek told PAP that he made his decision to accuse the military leadership "single-handedly": "Today, I single-handedly put forward a vote of no confidence. But I have spoken with others and I know what the opinions are. Nobody has yet decided to talk about this out loud and to speak out clearly for our rights."

Asked about specific causes for his behavior, the colonel said he has in mind redundancies among valuable personnel and the inappropriate allocation of posts among the leadership of the army. "Posts are allocated selectively, so as to, for instance, promote the head of the General Staff and his deputy and to introduce new generals, and two-star generals at that, to command posts in divisions," he said. "I have been the commander of a division for two years in the rank of colonel. On Monday [5 August], I was presented with two offers for moving to Warsaw, so that I would free up a post for another general, so that he could get a second star here. The value of the tasks that the division undertook over two years is not taken into account. My work counts for nothing. What counts is that some people are to be promoted."

In response to Chwastek's accusations, the Defense Ministry suspended Chwastek from duty. In addition, Land Forces commander Edward Pietrzyk has launched disciplinary proceedings against Chwastek in connection with "financial mismanagement" in his division.

Pietrzyk told Polish radio on 8 August that Chwastek "has perpetrated his auto-da-fe as an officer and as a commander" by publicizing his accusations. Pietrzyk stressed that decisions on reforming the Polish Army -- which implied painful personnel reductions -- were made by the parliament, not the General Staff or the Defense Ministry. He also said that he is aware of financial difficulties in many army units. "Professional soldiers are poor, professional soldiers suffer from privation," Pietrzyk noted. "There are loads of professional soldiers to whom we allocate special welfare benefits, by decision of the national defense minister."

Pietrzyk emphasized, however, that the 12th Mechanized Division -- a constituent of the above-mentioned NATO corps -- is a "privileged" unit and receives adequate financial support to maintain its "highest [combat] readiness."

The daily "Rzeczpospolita" on 8 August suggested that Colonel Chwastek's accusations may have been prompted by his personal disappointment -- he was twice unsuccessfully proposed for promotion to the rank of general. "Chwastek had only one shortcoming: He wasn't part of the circle [of the top brass's favorites]: He never went hunting with the generals nor did he go drinking with them," an officer told the daily on conditions of anonymity.

"Rzeczpospolita" noted that until recently, promotion to the rank of general was possible only for those officers who had served at least 25 years in the ranks. But in recent years, the daily added, this rule has been slackened. For instance, Colonel Chwastek, who has served 24 years in the ranks, has already twice been proposed as a candidate for general.

"Colonel Chwastek's statement was pervaded with huge distrust with regard to his superiors," commented retired Colonel Marek Tarczynski, the chief of the Defense Ministry Social and Educational Department in 1998-2002. "Was [that distrust] groundless? Rather not. The perpetual change and lack of stability suggest that the army lacks clear-cut prospects and plans about where to go. But there are [other] ways for an officer at this level of command [as Chwastek] to present his objections to top army and state officials. Colonel Chwastek's emotional tension apparently exceeded his capability of keeping his psyche in check. This is dangerous and unacceptable for the military. Therefore, in my opinion, such a move eliminates Colonel Chwastek from continuing his military career." (Jan Maksymiuk)

RADIO MARYJA REPORTEDLY EVANGELIZING BUNDESWEHR. "Gazeta Wyborcza" on 7 August ran a report asserting that Radio Maryja -- a Roman Catholic radio station in Poland -- is also spreading the gospel to Germany's Bundeswehr. "This is Radio Maryja. The Catholic voice in your home": Such words in Polish were reportedly heard some time ago by a Luftwaffe pilot in the course of a routine flight on the short-wave frequency 7,400 kHz, which is used by the Bundeswehr for military communications.

Radio Maryja was started as a local radio station by Father Tadeusz Rydzyk in Torun in 1990; in 1993, the station received a concession for broadcasting nationwide. Today, Radio Maryja claims a regular listenership of 14 percent of adult Poles (some 4 million people), and touts itself as the most influential Catholic media outlet in Poland. The weekly "Wprost" called Father Rydzyk -- who remains the head of Radio Maryja -- "the most influential religious fundamentalist in Europe."

It took some time for the Bundeswehr to identify the station interfering with Luftwaffe messages, but once this was done, the German Defense Ministry turned for help to the Polish General Staff. "The Military Frequency Management Office has been notified by a frequency-control unit of the German Defense Ministry that German military radio communications are being interrupted by the Polish Radio Maryja network on the short-wave frequency of 7,400 kHz. I am asking National Radio and Television Broadcasting Council Chairman Juliusz Braun for an explanation," wrote General Lech Konopka of the Polish General Staff.

Father Rydzyk's explanation, according to the daily, "stupefied everyone." The radio signal on the 7,400 kHz frequency is transmitted not from Poland, but from the Russia Federation. In line with a license issued by the Russian Communications Ministry and an agreement signed in 1997 with the RTRS company it owns, the transmitters used by Father Rydzyk's network are located in Krasnodar (southern Russia). Radio Maryja broadcasts in Poland on UHF frequencies; its license does not allow for its signal to be emitted on short waves, which have become rather unpopular. It remains a mystery why Father Rydzyk needs a shortwave transmission as well.

"Everything is in line with the law," "Gazeta Wyborcza" quoted experts from the National Radio and Television Broadcasting Council as saying. "The Polish broadcaster, who did not have the possibility to broadcast on short waves in Poland, obtained such a license in Russia and broadcasts into Poland [from there]. Before the Radio Maryja signal reaches Poland, it passes many countries on its way. One can confidently claim that Radio Maryja primarily targets Catholics who live east of the Bug River [which runs along a portion of Poland's border with Belarus and Ukraine]. The evangelization of German troops is a side effect." (Jan Maksymiuk)

CORRECTION: "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" on 6 August misquoted the Center for Eastern Studies (Warsaw) in saying that Poland was visited in 2000 by 4.4 million Russians from Kaliningrad Oblast. In fact, this figure represents the overall number of individual trips across the Polish-Russian border in 2000 and includes both Poles and Russians.

STRUGGLING FOR 'EQUALITY' IN UNION WITH RUSSIA. Cooperation with Russia and the formation of a union state remains the "No. 1 priority" of Belarusian foreign policy, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told a Minsk news conference on 12 August, two days before his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. The approach of the Belarusian side was, he said, "balanced and serious"; there was "no reason" for him to answer yet again the question "who is more important to whom: Belarus for Russia or Russia for Belarus?"

However, the equality and reciprocity implied by the Belarusian president's rhetoric is clearly not shared by all concerned. Belarus National Bank Chairman Petr Prakapovich seems to have some reservations over a major point in the plans for union: the issue of a single currency. Prakapovich heads the Belarusian team of a joint working group that is supposed to submit practical plans for the future currency by 1 November. The first formal meeting of the group takes place this week; however, informal exchanges with the Russians have been going on for some time and, according to what Prakapovich told a Minsk news conference on 7 August, there are considerable differences of opinion between the two sides. Although he did not spell out the Russian position, he implied that the latter does not view the single currency as being a matter of equals; it envisages a single issuing center in Russia under its own, Russian, control.

The Belarusians, however, Prakapovich said, will insist on strict adherence to the union treaty, "which requires equal conditions." This, he said, is their "fundamental position, which cannot and will not change." However, the terms of the treaty, as quoted by him, seem to run counter to this: They specify that there must be "a single issuing center of the union state." He insisted, however, that, "We cannot have the single issuing center solely in Russia, nor solely in Belarus." But "how and when" to resolve the problem "is a different matter."

The Interbank Monetary Council of Belarus and Russia, which unites the managements of the Russian Central Bank and the Belarusian National Bank is due to meet in October, in Belarus, to try to work out a common standpoint on the currency and to submit it to the union bodies. If Prakapovich remains true to his "fundamental" and "unchanging" stance, the meeting could be a difficult one. (Vera Rich)

CORRECTION: "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" on 6 August mistakenly reported that the bulldozing of an Orthodox church in the Belarusian town of Pahranichny earlier this month was the first destruction of a Christian shrine in the Commonwealth of Independent States since the fall of communism. Sadly, in November 1999, a Seventh-Day Adventist church in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, was bulldozed following an order from the authorities.

"I'm afraid that Brussels treats quite seriously Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov's recent statement [that], 'The problem of transit to Kaliningrad is exclusively a problem of Russia's relations with Lithuania.' If so, then it is inadmissible for Lithuania, with its 3.5 million citizens, to become a barrier to cooperation between Russia and Europe. The Lithuanians themselves, who are dependent on Russian oil and gas supplies, as well as on Russian capital, which dominates in major economy branches, will most likely have to keep mum. True, Lithuanian Minister for European Affairs Petras Austrevicius says, "We'll do the same as Europe," but it is only a declaration of helplessness. If the EU proposes to Lithuania to introduce a transition period for introducing visas for Russians [and, judging by the map, it is also possible with regard to Latvia], Vilnius will become exposed to Moscow's pressure.... And this means a third-rate membership in the EU for the Balts." -- Jerzy Marek Nowakowski, undersecretary of state in former Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek's cabinet, in the weekly "Wprost" on 4 August.

"In recent months, while speaking about the corridor, that is, the transit from Kaliningrad Oblast to Russia, politicians have behaved as if Belarus did not exist. Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov told the 10 July 'Izvestiya' that at issue is not a corridor but nonvisa transit across Lithuania, and that this transit means 'movement through the territory of Lithuania from one Russian frontier to the other.' But Lithuania has no 'other' frontier with Russia in the east. Belarus is there!" -- Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Zyanon Paznyak in the weekly "Wprost" on 4 August.

"If we fail to make final decisions on the future of the [Russia-Belarus] Union by 2003, I don't rule out that a [joint] Russian-Belarusian state may not be formed at all." -- Russian State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev; quoted by Interfax on 9 August.

"While we are engaged in profound deliberations about 'European choice,' Russia and Europe have already started making money together." -- Ukrainian opposition leader Yuliya Tymoshenko in "Zerkalo nedeli" on 5 July.