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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: January 30, 2001

30 January 2001, Volume 3, Number 3
ANOTHER PARTY FACES SPLIT BECAUSE OF CITIZENS' PLATFORM? The recent creation of the Citizens' Platform (PO) has already provoked numerous defections from the centrist Freedom Union (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 23 January 2001) and now is threatening the unity of the Conservative Peasant Party (SKL), a major component of the ruling Solidarity Election Action (AWS) bloc. The PO's three leaders -- Andrzej Olechowski, Maciej Plazynski, and Donald Tusk -- repeatedly asked the SKL to quit the AWS and join their initiative, explaining their requests by the similarities between the political programs of the SKL and the PO. The last such attempt took place on 26 January, at a meeting of Olechowski with SKL Chairman Jan Maria Rokita, SKL Political Council head Aleksander Hall, and SKL Deputy Chairman Artur Balazs in the Sejm building late at night.

The next day the SKL Political Council voted by 61 to 53 with three abstentions to remain in the AWS. Balazs, who is agricultural minister in Jerzy Buzek's cabinet, said after the vote that he will comply with the SKL Political Council's decision but he resigned the post of SKL deputy chairman. Hall said he needs "several days for considering" what to do now. Both Balazs and Hall wanted the SKL to join the PO.

According to PAP, the debate before the vote was heated. Rokita argued that the PO's proposal of political cooperation with the SKL is unacceptable because it implied the SKL's "liquidation." Hall called for joining the PO, saying the Platform is "the only chance for the SKL, Poland, and the right-wing-oriented Poles." According to Hall, while remaining in the AWS, the SKL will face "the exhaustion of [its] political mission and ideological death" as well as an "electoral failure" this fall.

Meanwhile, Olechowski has announced that he will lead the PO's election committee to "encourage and mobilize people," noting that he personally will not run for the Sejm or the Senate. Olechowski added that following this fall's parliamentary elections, deputies and senators elected to the parliament on a Citizens' Platform ticket will organize a founding congress of a political party. "This party will be the Platform's political wing," he said.

GOVERNMENT DECLARES ATTACK ON UNEMPLOYMENT. "A new offensive against unemployment begins today," Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek told journalists on 26 January, after discussing the issue of job creation with Poland's business leaders and politicians from the AWS and the AWS's erstwhile coalition partner, the Freedom Union. According to Buzek, the main tasks in this offensive will be to loosen the current rigid Labor Code, cut costs for employers, and develop the "high-tech economic branches and service sector where new jobs can be created."

Poland's Main Statistical Office reported that the unemployment rate in December 2000 was 15 percent, up from 13.1 percent in December 1999 and 14.5 percent in November 2000. There were 2.7 million registered jobless Poles at the end of December 2000; of these, 79.7 percent are no longer entitled to unemployment benefits. Poland's economy grew by 4.1 percent in 2000 compared with the previous year (the same figure as in 1999), but the growth was slowing down: the economy expanded by 6 percent in the first quarter of 2000, slowed to 5.2 percent in the second quarter, and to 3.3 percent in the third quarter of 2000.

Leszek Miller, head of the opposition Democratic Left Alliance, commented that the meeting devoted to the creation of new jobs was of a propagandistic character. According to Miller, the unemployment under the AWS-UW rule increased from 10.5 percent to 15 percent, or by 1 million people. At the same time, Miller noted, the 2001 budget draft envisions only 960 million zlotys ($230 million) for fighting unemployment, that is, 30 percent less than the previous year. "This is an answer to the question about the purity of the AWS-UW intentions to fight unemployment," Miller said.

FORMER INTERNMENT CAMP HEAD TRIED FOR MURDER OF GERMANS. An uncommon trial opened last week in the District Court in Opole, southern Poland. The 76-year-old man identified in the Polish media as Czeslaw G., the former commandant of the internment camp for Germans in Lambinowice (Opole Voivodship), faces charges of murdering 48 prisoners on 4 October 1945, when he ran the camp. At that time, Poland was expelling large numbers of Germans and so-called Silesians from the Silesia region. Prosecutors accuse Czeslaw G. of ordering camp guards to set fire to a shed in the camp, forcing internees to put out the fire, and killing 48 prisoners by shooting or pushing them into flames during the action.

Czeslaw G. denied the accusation of premeditated mass murder, saying the prisoners set the shed on fire themselves during an escape attempt, and only three of them were shot by guards trying to stop them.

The Lambinowice deaths were investigated twice, right after the war and in 1956 during the post-Stalinist thaw, but both investigations were closed because of lack of evidence. The case was re-opened once again in 1998. Prosecutors questioned some 400 witnesses from Poland and Germany; 138 of them are expected to testify at the trial.

"This trial concerns a crime against humanity, and such cases are not subject to statute of limitations," PAP quoted the Opole District Court's spokesman as saying.

In 1998, Poland asked Israel to extradite Solomon Morel, a Polish Jew allegedly responsible for atrocities when he commanded an internment camp at Swietochlowice, southern Poland. Israel refused, saying that the statute of limitations had run out and that the charges failed to meet the definition of genocide under Israeli law.

LUKASHENKA SUGGESTS OPPOSITIONISTS ARE SPIES AND SICK PEOPLE. It seems that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has taken revenge on the domestic opposition, which has begun preparations for this fall's presidential ballot and publicly suggested that the incumbent president may be mentally ill.

In what is seen as an opposition move to undermine Lukashenka's standing among the electorate, the opposition newspaper "Nasha svaboda" published a "medical conclusion" by Belarusian psychiatrist Dzmitry Shchyhelski, who alleges that the Belarusian leader is suffering from a "moderately pronounced psychopathy with the prevalence of traits of a paranoid and distractive personality disorder." Shchyhelski provided a lengthy analysis of Lukashenka's deeds and pronouncements to prove his medical conclusion. According to Shchyhelski, Lukashenka's remaining in the post of Belarusian president "is posing a direct threat to both the citizens of the republic and the preservation of peace and stability in the region." Shchyhelski, who is now safely in the U.S., told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service that since 1996 doctors in virtually all psychiatric clinics in Belarus have been discussing symptoms of Lukashenka's psychopathic "deviations."

Prosecutors have already accused "Nasha svaboda" of libeling the president, and some Belarusian commentators say "Nasha svaboda" is facing closure, while its editor Pavel Zhuk -- an arrest. However, to neutralize the propagandistic impact of the newspaper's revelation, Lukashenka personally launched a counterattack against the opposition in the field of psychiatry on Belarusian Television. Below are excerpts from his interview with the "Panarama" newscast on 27 January.

"You know that a citizen of [sic] Western states has been arrested in Belarus and confessed to spying. He can actually be tried for spying in our state. And that spy was linked to a Western foundation, he worked for that foundation, he was spying here, where our home-grown Lyabedzkas [ed. note: Anatol Labedzka, formerly Lukashenka's aide, now chairman of the opposition United Civic Party] and others were being trained for several months or several weeks, all the opposition has been trained. Tell me, what does this suggest to you? I am posing this question to you just speculatively. I cited two concrete facts to you. That man was working for that foundation and today confessed to spying against Belarus for a foreign state, and our home-grown oppositionists were also trained there. I'm not going to make any conclusions now, we will surely make them [in the future], but I mentioned a concrete fact. So, who are you in the end, the oppositionists? Against whom do you prepare in those foundations to fight against your own people? [Ed. note: the preceding sentence as heard.] And [here is an example] how they want to field a [presidential] candidate from the opposition and make him [look] independent. They even want to summon [exiled Belarusian oppositionist Zyanon] Paznyak from abroad in order to field him as a fierce right-wing radical. He will obviously lose and so on, while Lukashenka will be on the other side [ed. note: the preceding sentence as heard]. But the independent one, who will be chosen by the opposition, will allegedly take the center. Do you understand? Sick people."

Lukashenka also touched upon the West's wider role in Belarusian developments.

"The West, of course, needs to influence [the situation] here in a certain manner. They are looking for people -- for agents of influence, as they were called before -- here. You know, they [the West] feed them, pay them money, and have decided to create a corps of 14-18,000 militants who will allegedly be observers, but tomorrow, as journalists say in the Chechen Republic, they will be sowing grain by day and wielding guns by night. Where are the guarantees that this will not happen? Those will be paid and trained people. We did not consent to this. I am just giving [you] an example of the OSCE's policy. What right do you have here to create some observation groups and other [things]? You have only one mandate -- to assist the authorities in improving legislation and to monitor the processes under way here. Do monitor, do monitor. [But] we are the masters [here]. You came here to help [us] work out legislation, following my decision and a request from former Foreign Minister [Ivan] Antanovich. As I already said, we have improved that legislation. Sufficiently. I declare for the third time, we will not touch the electoral legislation until the presidential elections. The Belarusian legislation is civilized, normal, everybody has confirmed this. All countries, all observers who were here said: it is civilized. ...A question arises: what is left of your [the OSCE mission's] mandate? We are monitoring. Well, do monitor, you have four people here, do monitor. But where has it been written down that you should interfere in our domestic policy and create here [ed. note: he does not finish his thought], pay money from the OSCE? Do you realize what an absurdity it is? We pay membership fees to the OSCE, they go into the budget of that OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group [in Minsk], and they [the group] finance our opposition here, they fight against Lukashenka for his own money. Is it not absurd? What, should I look at this calmly? No. Therefore, we took the budget of the OSCE group under control, we have the right to do this. Now they have allegedly given up [the idea of] that corps of observers and realized that it is not allowed. Moreover, I can hardly be reproached for taking a tough stance on the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group. You know following which events I took such a stance. [It was] after our home-grown [nationally] aware ones [ed. note: Lukashenka's routine abuse with regard to the opposition which pursues the goal of Belarus's full independence and national revival, in contrast to his stress on Belarus' Soviet past and integration with Russia; Lukashenka pronounces this abuse in Belarusian: svyadomyya] started to speak about a Yugoslav scenario and after a group of Western observers started to speak about a Kostunica scenario. What, should I look calmly at this, when they start to bomb our people from above with shells stuffed with allegedly depleted uranium? We have already got [our share] from Chornobyl. Therefore, I reacted in a tough way when all those trends began: yesterday Yugoslavia, tomorrow Belarus. No, there will be no Yugoslavia here. As long as I am president, this will not happen. This is not a bluff, this is not a bluff. I will not push you to the barricades, I will go ahead of you, I will defend my people. I am intended for this as the president, in the end. I am not for paying wages or regulating prices. There are the government and local power bodies for this purpose, even if I have to do this by myself. For this reason I am unpopular. [But] this is not the role of a president. I am duty-bound to defend the country and the people...."

YUSHCHENKO OPTIMISTIC ABOUT CABINET PROSPECTS. Premier Viktor Yushchenko said on 26 January that this year the government is going to raise pensions every three months and wages in the budget sphere every month, Interfax reported. Yushchenko noted that this goal can be achieved if Ukraine preserves "the harmony and productivity that has [so far] existed in the triangle president-parliament-government." According to Yushchenko, the problem of wage arrears will be resolved within the current year at all Ukrainian enterprises, irrespective of their form of ownership.

Yushchenko said he is interested in the creation of a coalition government in Ukraine but added that the current parliament has no coalition that could form such a cabinet. Yushchenko was commenting on lawmaker Serhiy Tyhypko's proposal that the parliament initiate Yushchenko's ouster if the latter fails to form a coalition cabinet. "We have a [parliamentary] coalition formed on the basis of various ideas that are not necessarily political," Yushchenko noted. According to Yushchenko, it is "theoretically impossible" to propose a coalition cabinet on the basis of the 11 parliamentary caucuses and groups that currently constitute the so-called "parliamentary majority."

Yushchenko said his cabinet is a "quasi-coalition," since some of its members are affiliated to some political parties or parliamentary groups. In particular, he noted that Deputy Premier Mykola Zhulynskyy is deputy head of the Liberal Party, Agrarian Policy Minister Ivan Kyrylenko belongs to the Agrarian Party, Education Minister Vasyl Kremen is from the Social Democratic Party (United), Environmental Minister Ivan Zayets belongs to the Ukrainian Popular Rukh, and Health Minister Vitaliy Moskalenko is from the Popular Democratic Party. (Interfax added that, according to its data, Deputy Premier Mykhaylo Hladiy is one of the leaders of the Agrarian Party.)

Yushchenko commented that following Oleh Dybyna's appointment as a new deputy premier to replace Yuliya Tymoshenko (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 23 January 2001), the cabinet will conduct an "even tougher" policy of exacting payments from energy and fuel consumers than before. He also pledged that the government will pay "more attention" to the privatization of regional energy-supplying companies (oblenergos).

"The first Solidarity congress was held here. We referred to the authorities as 'they.' Twenty years later, too many Poles still call the government 'they.' I want us to say, 'our city, our country'." -- Parliamentary speaker Maciej Plazynski, one of the founders of Solidarity, during the founding convention of the Citizens' Platform in the Olivia Hall in Gdansk on 24 January; quoted by AP.