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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: February 13, 2001

13 February 2001, Volume 3, Number 5
AWS POSITIONS ITSELF FOR PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS. The new leadership of the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) pledged on 10 February to transform the group and make personnel changes in order to hold on to power in this year's parliamentary elections. "We will push away dishonest and incompetent people. Solidarity must change," the AWS National Council wrote in a declaration after holding its first session since being appointed last month. Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek, who now leads the AWS bloc, made sure to clarify that the statement did not refer to Marian Krzaklewski, whom he replaced as head of the AWS but who still leads the Solidarity trade union.

Under a provision of the 23 December agreement on the internal reform in the AWS, there are eight seats on the AWS board: four went to the AWS Social Movement (RS AWS) and the Solidarity trade union, while the other four to the Conservative Peasant Party (SKL), the Christian National Union (ZChN) and the Polish Party of Christian Democrats (PPChD). The current board is made up as follows: Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek (RS AWS) is chairman, Stanislaw Zajac (ZChN) is deputy chairman, while Marian Krzaklewski and Marcin Tyrna (both from Solidarity), Jacek Rybicki (RS AWS), Jan Maria Rokita (SKL), Pawel Laczkowski (PPChD), and Wieslaw Chrzanowski (ZChN) are members.

Buzek was upbeat on the AWS political prospects. "The Solidarity Electoral Action is regaining balance. It is getting back in form. It wants again to play and to win. It wants to propose its program for Poland. All our radar screens, all our social and political receivers should be tuned to receive from Poland, to receive from the citizens. Let us remember: the Democratic Left Alliance has not won yet; the AWS has not lost yet," Buzek told the session of the AWS National Council.

The AWS is to hold a congress on 10 March to adopt a new program. Sixteen regional congresses of the AWS will also be convened within the first six months of the year.

UW PLEDGES TO CHANGE IMAGE. The Freedom Union (UW) is desperately seeking to "regain balance" after the creation of the Citizens' Platform of Andrzej Olechowski, Maciej Plazynski, and Donald Tusk. The UW's standing in polls has plummeted to some 5 percent, which is just the voting threshold necessary for a party to win representation in the parliament.

UW Chairman Bronislaw Geremek said in Poznan on 10 February that the UW will act more at local level and change the language it uses and its image. According to Geremek, the UW is perceived as a party of over-opinionated people, and one of its challenges is to make it so that the image of the party, which originates from intellectual circles, is perceived as being close to ordinary people's concerns. "That is why we have proposed action in three areas -- unemployment, health, and education -- which directly concern every individual," PAP quoted Geremek as saying.

Geremek's visit to Poznan signaled the party's new orientation to act more at the local level. "We have decided that every now and again the party board should meet in the regions. We have already held a meeting like that in Katowice and we are planning to hold the next one in Western Pomerania," Geremek added.

LUKASHENKA BECOMES PULP-FICTION HERO. The Belarusian state-controlled media have recently begun to vigorously advertise the book called "The President's Last Soldier" by Russian author Dmitrii Cherkasov. The book is to appear soon in bookstores in Russia and Belarus. RFE/RL's Minsk correspondent got hold of the promotional materials for the book and was able to explain the reasons for official Minsk's keen interest in the publication.

It turns out that Cherkasov's book focuses on developments taking place in Minsk and Moscow. A group of Belarusian opposition figures -- who appear under their real names (including Bahdankevich, Khadyka, Shlyndzikau, Nistsyuk, Patupa, Hermyanchuk) and are portrayed as criminals, drug addicts, and homosexuals -- are plotting to unseat President Alyaksandr Lukashenka with the help from "treacherous" state clerk Myasnikovich and journalist Maslyukova. Initially they want to poison Lukashenka but after their plan suffers a failure, they intend to drop a nuclear bomb on Lukashenka's residence (this step, quite naturally, is to be made with the help of the West). Lukashenka's life is finally rescued by a brave agent from Russia's special services -- the "last soldier" of the title.

It is notable that the book's villians include two persons called Myasnikovich and Maslyukova. There are two well-known real-life characters bearing such names in Belarus.

Mikhail Myasnikovich is head of the presidential administration staff. He was a member of the Belarusian government as early as in the Gorbachev-era: in 1986 he was appointed housing minister, and in 1991-94 he served as first deputy premier. In the 1994 presidential campaign, Myasnikovich headed the election team of then Premier Vyacheslau Kebich.

Following Kebich's defeat, Lukashenka proposed to Myasnikovich to remain in the government. In 1995 Lukashenka appointed Myasnikovich to his current position. Myasnikovich is widely believed to be one of the most influential representatives of the old nomenklatura and, owing to his political longevity, is seen by many in Belarus as a personified symbol of political spinelessness. But what is particularly interesting, some staunch supporters of the Belarus-Russia Union see Myasnikovich as a kind of "Belarusian nationalist" who is not wholeheartedly devoted to the merger of the two Slavic states. It is not ruled out that the book's "treacherous" Myasnikovich derives its origin from a series of articles published some time ago in Russia's ultra-leftist and nationalist periodicals, including "Zavtra," where the real-life Myasnikovich was presented as an enemy of Belarusian-Russian integration.

Lyudmila Maslyukova is a journalist of "Sovetskaya Belorussiya," Lukashenka's main press mouthpiece. She has a sharp pen and her articles usually have a touch of vividness and inspiration compared to insipid and heavy-handed pro-Lukashenka propaganda in the state-controlled media.

Maslyukova lived through an unusual journalistic odyssey before arriving at her current political destination. In 1993, she worked for "Sovetskaya Belorussiya" and was a sort of press spokeswoman for Alyaksandr Lukashenka, then a legislator and head of a temporary anti-corruption commission. Maslyukova is widely believed to have written for Lukashenka his famous report on corruption in the government, which made him a popular hero and gave him an unbeatable position in the 1994 presidential race. However, Maslyukova broke ties with Lukashenka before the presidential ballot and supported Vasil Novikau, the candidate of the Communist Party, in the campaign. Following the controversial 1996 constitutional referendum, Maslyukova joined the ranks of democratically minded journalists and wrote for some time for the anti-Lukashenka "Narodnaya volya." Finally, by the end of 1999, she got a job once again in "Sovetskaya Belorussiya" and became a model for loyalist pro-Lukashenka journalists in Belarus.

Judging by its advertisement campaign of "The President's Last Soldier," official Minsk expects that the book will inflict substantial damage on the opposition in the runup to this year's presidential campaign. Belarusian Television's comment on the book on 8 February clearly signals such expectations:

"The novel of Dmitrii Cherkasov, 'The President's Last Soldier,' has become a really sensational publication for the Belarusian political elite....This is not strange, since a few dozen well-known activists may be easily recognized among the plotters, political schemers, drug addicts, and even -- pardon my word -- homosexuals in the book. By revealing the unknown side of life of the Belarusian political beau monde, the author has apparently cut many to the quick....Meanwhile, the novel was favorably reviewed by Russian writers. The author was credited with an uncompromising presentation of reality....Uninformed Belarusian readers will soon have the possibility to make themselves familiar with the other side of the lives of some main figures in Belarus's current politics."

CIVIC INITIATIVE TO DELIVER UKRAINE FROM KUCHMA? A group of Ukrainian politicians and lawmakers on 9 February set up a movement called the Forum for National Salvation Civic Initiative, Interfax reported. The main goal of the Forum for National Salvation is to depose President Leonid Kuchma and transform Ukraine into a parliamentary-presidential or parliamentary republic. The Forum declares in its manifesto "to put an end to the criminal regime, assert the truth and the law, and bring Ukraine back onto the path of European development."

The Forum's coordinating council is made up of 15 people, including Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, lawmaker Serhiy Holovatyy, Sobor Party leader Anatoliy Matviyenko, Cherkasy Mayor Volodymyr Oliynyk, Yuliya Tymoshenko and Oleksandr Turchynov (leaders of the Fatherland Party), lawmaker Taras Chornovil, Volodymyr Chemerys (a leader of the Ukraine Without Kuchma protest actions), lawmaker Stepan Khmara.

Anatol Matviyenko said Ukraine is currently facing two dangers: "the agony of the mendacious presidential authority" and the reflux of "the wave of awakening" that rose owing to developments around the disappearance of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze.

Yuliya Tymoshenko noted that the Forum's primary goal is "to give people hope for changes for the better and to build a democratic state."

Lawmaker Oleksiy Shekhovtsov announced that the Forum will soon begin consultations with other lawmakers to initiate the impeachment of President Leonid Kuchma in the parliament.

Meanwhile, Kuchma told the "Financial Times" on 10 February that he had no role in the death of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. "I can swear on the Bible or on the constitution that I never made such an order to destroy a human being. This is simply absurd," he noted. Kuchma said the tapes provided by his former bodyguard, Mykola Melnychenko, were a montage of different conversations recorded "probably" in his office. "Maybe the name Gongadze came up in conversations, I don't remember. But I give you my honest word, I did not even know this journalist," Kuchma said. He noted that the tape scandal was staged by a "well-organized force" with "a great deal of money and capabilities" but added that "I completely reject the idea that this was done on the level of states, that it was the Americans or the Russians."

A day earlier, Kuchma noted that the current anti-presidential actions by the opposition threaten the national security and independence. "If strategic investors and serious foreign companies do not come to Ukraine to take part in privatizations -- the results will be [obvious]," Interfax quoted Kuchma as saying. According to Kuchma, some opposition leaders remind him of "Lenins" who take "not people but a herd of cattle" to the streets. He also compared the anti-presidential rally in Kyiv on 6 February to a coup attempt of Hitler and his associates in Munich in November 1923, saying on 9 February that "there is only one step from such national socialism to fascism."

Jacek Kuron, Poland's famous anticommunist dissident and Solidarity activist, now a parliamentary deputy of the Freedom Union, was interviewed by Radio Zet on 7 January.

Kuron: "I hope I will not have to run in next elections, I have deserved [the right to rest]. I served all terms of the Sejm [ed. note: Kuron has been a Sejm deputy since 1989] and I feel fully guilty about the shape Poland is in, but, unfortunately, I am not able to change it: I am ill and old."

Journalist: "You feel guilty about the shape of Poland, not proud?"

Kuron: "Unfortunately, I cannot say I'm proud. As I look and assess, I see too much dreadful poverty, too much incapacity."

"Your time is over. The political and moral failure of your rule can be seen not so much in the 'tape scandal' as in the alienation of power from the people, from their needs and spirit....[The tape itself] is a trifle. The important thing is that virtually nobody doubts [its authenticity] and no voice of real indignation has been heard -- even from your side." -- Ukraine's PEN club in a letter to President Leonid Kuchma; quoted by Interfax on 7 February.

"Let us stop playing games and get down to work." -- Kuchma on 9 February, commenting on calls for his resignation; quoted by Interfax.