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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: September 3, 2002

3 September 2002, Volume 4, Number 33
ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH LEADER MOVES TO LIMIT CLOUT OF RADIO MARYJA. Cardinal Jozef Glemp, the primate of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland, has issued a decree banning as of 1 October the operation of Radio Maryja bureaus at parishes in the Warsaw Archdiocese (which is directly headed by Glemp), "Rzeczpospolita" and other Polish media reported last week. At the same time, Glemp called on the clergy and believers in his diocese to support another Roman Catholic radio station, Radio Jozef. "The priest on the territory of his parish may not, without permission of the diocese authority, accept offers from other church institutions in the sphere of religious instruction or allow any fund raising. Otherwise, he runs counter to canonical law and undermines the unity of the church," "Gazeta Wyborcza" quoted from Glemp's decree.

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. Radio Maryja is notorious for its "Roman Catholic fundamentalism," nationalism, and opposition to Poland's membership in the European Union. It also actively participates in political campaigns in the country. Thanks primarily to support from Father Rydzyk's station, the far-right, ultra-Catholic League of Polish Families was able to win 38 seats in the Sejm in the parliamentary election on 23 September 2001. Glemp's decree suggests that the message aired by Radio Maryja does not necessarily concur with what the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy in Poland wanted to hear.

It is not clear at present whether other Polish bishops will follow Glemp's example and try to squeeze out Radio Maryja bureaus from their dioceses. Radio Maryja's parochial bureaus were set up all over the country spontaneously by believers, following an on-air appeal from Father Rydzyk. Their operation is regulated by accords concluded between the Radio Maryja management and individual dioceses. The bureaus are involved in raising funds for the operation of Radio Maryja, as well as for other purposes advertised by the station.

Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, the rector of the Papal Theological Academy in Krakow, compared the message broadcast by Radio Maryja to that of Self-Defense radical farmers union leader Andrzej Lepper, Poland's most notorious populist.

"From its very beginning, Radio Maryja did not want to be subordinated to anybody," "Gazeta Wyborcza" quoted Pieronek as saying. "The problem is very serious, because the social movement around this station resembles a sect grouped around a guru. It is a particular emanation of Lepperism in the church. [The problem] lies in ignoring the legal order. Self-Defense blocks roads and the parliamentary rostrum, while Radio Maryja rebukes the Episcopate of Poland. [Glemp's] decree is a step in the right direction, but it will not solve the problem in its entirety. Perhaps, it would be advisable to replace the Radio Maryja leadership with someone who would respect the church hierarchy. Are we facing some split? I don't think so. Both sides are not fully consistent. Father Rydzyk does not want open confrontation. Also, I'm not sure if all diocesans will do the same as [Glemp]. I'm skeptical about this matter and I think that everything will remain as it has been." (Jan Maksymiuk)

'SVOBODNYE NOVOSTI' REFUSES TO REMAIN NONPLUSSED, AFFIXES PLUS. The Belarusian authorities' inventory of ways to get rid of an undesirable media outlet in the country increased by one last month when Information Minister Mikhail Padhayny suspended the printing of the independent weekly "Svobodnye novosti," following a request from Syarhey Atroshchanka, one of the weekly's four co-founders. "Svobodnye novosti" had a circulation of 36,000 and was known for its criticism of the Belarusian government.

Atroshchanka's request was widely publicized in the state media, particularly on Belarusian television. Atroshchanka claimed that the weekly became unprofitable and that the editorial staff operated only thanks to grants from the U.S. Embassy in Minsk. Atroshchanka also charged that the editorial staff received money for publishing articles and materials "ordered" by unidentified clients.

"Svobodnye novosti" Editor in Chief Alyaksandr Ulitsyonak flatly denied Atroshchanka's charges, suggesting they were prompted by his intention to launch a separate publication, the weekly "Obozrevatel" (which Atroshchanka did last week).

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAZh) has called on Padhayny to step down, saying that his ban on printing "Svobodnye novosti" was illegal. Meanwhile, Ulitsyonak and his staff -- to sidestep the printing ban -- have launched a new weekly under the name foreknowingly registered with the Information Ministry a year ago, "Svobodnye novosti-plus." At present, the new weekly has a circulation of 8,000 and is distributed only in Minsk, because the editorial staff have not yet managed to settle formalities for nationwide distribution.

Not all Belarusian publishers and journalists whose periodicals have been suspended or closed down by the ruling regime have been so successful in continuing their publishing activities as the "Svobodnye novosti" staff. This month, journalists Mikola Markevich and Pavel Mazheyka of the independent weekly "Pahonya," which was closed by a court verdict last year, began serving their one-year sentences for libeling President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in "open-type correctional institutions" far from their home city of Hrodna (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 2002).

"Nasha svaboda" Editor in Chief Pavel Zhuk told Belapan on 27 August that his weekly will close down because the authorities are preventing them from publishing any further issues. A district court in Minsk on 2 August fined "Nasha svaboda" some $55,000 in a libel case brought by Anatol Tozik, chairman of the State Monitoring Committee. Zhuk said the verdict has ruined "Nasha svaboda," as the authorities seized the newspaper's equipment and froze its bank account. An attempt to publish a "Nasha svaboda" issue on 27 August failed after the money transferred to a printing house to cover the printing costs was intercepted by the authorities. (Jan Maksymiuk)

YUSHCHENKO URGES KUCHMA TO STAND FOR DEMOCRACY. Last week, the Our Ukraine bloc led by former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko publicized an open letter to President Leonid Kuchma. The letter seems to contain Our Ukraine's harshest criticism of the authorities as yet but avoids pointing to personalities, apart from the head of the presidential administration, Viktor Medvedchuk. Our Ukraine's letter may be read as a kind of response to Kuchma's recent proposal to launch a systemic reform in the country to move toward a parliamentary-presidential republic (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 27 August 2002).

The letter warned the president against a "systemic crisis of the authority that has hit all spheres of social life." According to Yushchenko's bloc, "actions by the authorities are threatening Ukraine's national interests, national security, the independence of the state, and are provoking civic confrontation." Our Ukraine reiterated its charge that the presidential administration created an "artificial majority" in the parliament by pressuring deputies in order "to give the parliamentary leadership to outsiders in the election race." "One has the impression that the parliament, the government, and the media have been leased to the head of the presidential administration [Medvedchuk] and his oligarchic clan," the letter noted. Our Ukraine also complained that the opposition has no access to the state-run media. According to the bloc, "the situation in the state has been heading toward unpredictability and uncontrollability."

Our Ukraine called on President Kuchma to make a choice between "democracy and dictatorship" and take urgent measures "to remove threats to Ukraine's democracy and statehood." In particular, the bloc demands that a democratic parliamentary majority be created around Our Ukraine and a coalition government be formed by this majority. Our Ukraine also postulates that the authorities secure equal access to the state media for all political forces, stop political persecution, and strengthen Ukraine's integration into "European and trans-Atlantic structures," while simultaneously abandoning talk of Ukraine's accession to the Eurasian Economic Community.

Our Ukraine said it is necessary to unite all democratic forces in the country to overcome the current crisis, adding that it wants to gather a nationwide forum of democratic forces on 15 September -- on the eve of the "Rise Up, Ukraine!" protest campaign by the opposition -- to contribute to this end. An enigmatic threat of more radical actions -- in the event the president fails to heed Our Ukraine's appeal -- was included in the letter's last sentence: "The inability of the authorities to stop the country's slide toward a social and economic catastrophe and the continuation of the policy oriented toward curbing democracy and constitutional civil rights and freedoms will force us to call on voters to stand in defense of democracy, national interests, and the independence of the Ukrainian state."

Judging by the content of this open letter, Yushchenko has not yet lost hope to strike a deal with Kuchma and some of the pro-presidential parliamentary factions to form a "coalition government" that he could head, thus positioning himself better for the presidential elections in 2004. The letter obviously carries Yushchenko's blackmail message: If he is not given leadership of the government, he will take the leadership of the antipresidential opposition. As of now, both options seem to be possible for Yushchenko, whose political sway, measured by both Our Ukraine's parliamentary representation and his personal popularity among the electorate, remains very strong. But time is swiftly running out, and there is a threat that following the planned outbreak of opposition protests on 16 September, Yushchenko's political maneuvering and wavering may place him closer to the sidelines rather than the center of political developments in the country. (Jan Maksymiuk)

IS KUCHMA GENUINE IN HIS POLITICAL REFORM? President Kuchma used the anniversary of the declaration of Ukrainian independence on 24 August to announce his support for political reforms. How genuine was he?

Kuchma has always supported a presidential system modeled on Russia's and has opposed a law on proportional elections. The highly flawed April 2000 referendum aimed to transform Ukraine into a presidential republic and create a smaller, bicameral, puppet parliament. Last year, Kuchma vetoed a law on fully proportional elections five times.

Kuchma announced his intention to launch political reforms because the opposition plans to hold mass demonstrations on 16 September, with Our Ukraine holding a forum of democratic forces the day before. Worse still for Kuchma, and a sign of the rising public hostility to his regime, is the decision by the moderate business group Razom -- the "pragmatic" and "constructive opposition" within Our Ukraine -- to support a referendum on early presidential elections. (The speed with which events are moving can be seen in the fact that a failed referendum drive by Yuliya Tymoshenko in spring 2001 was not then backed by Our Ukraine.) Yushchenko also wrote his most critical open letter to date to Kuchma on 29 August (see above).

Kuchma's representative in parliament, Oleksandr Zadorozhnyy, admitted two reasons for Kuchma's new policies in an interview in the 31 August-7 September issue of the "Dzerkalo tyzhnya" weekly. First, "[Kuchma] was forced to move to this [supporting political reform] because opposition forces in parliament had adopted as their program the movement toward a parliamentary-presidential republic," Zadorozhnyy said. Second, Kuchma had an eye to the 2004 parliamentary elections. Zadorozhnyy argued that Ukraine has no individual to whom the extensive range of powers that Kuchma enjoys today could be transferred, i.e., neither to an oligarch nor to Yushchenko. "That is why these powers require serious modification," he said.

A move toward a parliamentary-presidential republic would reduce the power of the next elected president, which, as polls consistently show, would be Yushchenko. If the constitution is changed by the next presidential elections, the parliament, which has a pro-presidential majority, would elect the next president by a majority vote, a system in place in Estonia and Moldova. This would resolve the problem of a pro-Kuchma presidential candidate's not being subjected to a popular vote and would deal with the lack of any popular oligarch who could be elected by popular vote as a successor to Kuchma and would give Kuchma immunity from prosecution after his retirement. The pro-presidential parliamentary majority would simply elect one of its own to replace Kuchma.

In Ukraine, the pro-presidential blocs fought the elections in support of a presidential system and the implementation of the April 2000 constitutional referendum. This has now been dropped and changed five months after the elections when the executive ordered them to support a parliamentary-presidential system. Lacking any ideology and objectives other than maintaining power, centrist oligarchic parties can very easily change their programs.

Of Ukraine's virtual, centrist oligarchic parties, only the Kyiv oligarchic clan has attempted to create a functioning party, the Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o) led by Viktor Medvedchuk, who now heads the presidential administration. The SDPU-o is de facto becoming the new "party of power" and heads of raion administrations are being replaced by SDPU-o loyalists. The Popular Democratic Party (NDP) failed to fulfill this role after the 1998 elections, and For a United Ukraine (ZYU) disintegrated almost immediately after the March 2002 elections.

Our Ukraine leader Yushchenko claims that Medvedchuk has become Ukraine's "Rasputin." The SDPU-o has openly bragged that it is behind Kuchma's political reforms, working behind the scenes. Medvedchuk is reputed to be the most intelligent and "ruthless" (i.e., in Kuchma�s view, the most efficient) among Ukraine's oligarchs, especially in comparison to the weakness shown by former presidential administration and ZYU head Volodymyr Lytvyn. Medvedchuk and Kuchma have a major factor in common: They both hate Kuchma's enemies, especially Yushchenko.

The SDPU-o is the only oligarch party that has always supported a fully proportional election law. Medvedchuk -- the leader of the SDPU-o, which was the last of the parties that made it through the 4 percent threshold in the March elections when it won only 6.27 percent of the vote -- is behind the attempt at tampering with the election results in the parliament by creating what Yushchenko calls an "artificial administrative [pro-presidential] majority."

The nine factions from the former ZYU and the SDPU-o that have created this majority are unlikely to obtain agreement from Our Ukraine to join it because this would contradict Yushchenko's long-held argument that a "democratic majority" can only be built around his bloc that won the elections. In addition, Yushchenko has ruled out joining a majority "created by the SDPU-o."

Regardless of the truth behind Yushchenko�s arguments, they have no resonance with centrist political forces steeped in Soviet political culture. Such a political culture defines those in opposition as illegitimate, i.e., "destructive forces"; attempts to co-opt political groups, trade unions, and nongovernmental organizations to help "consolidate society"; and still uses the security service to collect information on the opposition in the same manner as the Soviet KGB. Such views prefer an authoritarian, corporatist state and have little to do with a liberal democracy.

In January 1999, 237 parliamentary deputies voted in favor of abolishing the presidency, a reflection of how the presidency had already by then been discredited by Kuchma. Kuchma's political reforms aim not to replicate this move from three years ago but to consolidate the former Soviet Ukrainian nomenklatura as the country's ruling elite and to marginalize the opposition by ensuring that a safe successor is elected from among the pro-presidential parliamentary majority. (Taras Kuzio)

"Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc lawmaker Serhiy Holovatyy: 'There is no difference with which hand, right or left, you hit Kuchma in the snout.'

"Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz: 'There is a difference though: It depends on whether you are right-handed or left-handed.'

"Yuliya Tymoshenko: 'So it's better to hit with both hands.'"

A conversation at the 2 September news conference of the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Communist Party, and the Socialist Party, announcing that on 16 September, they will begin their open-ended civic protest campaign "Rise Up, Ukraine!"; quoted by the "Ukrayinska pravda" website.