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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: April 24, 2001

24 April 2001, Volume 3, Number 15
ONE IN THREE POLES SET TO LOOK FOR JOBS ABROAD. "Rzeczpospolita" on 23 April published the results of a poll conducted by the PBS polling center in which 32 percent of respondents said they might seek jobs abroad once Poland joins the European Union in 2003-2005. As regards people aged 18-24, this indicator stands at 68 percent. The poll, conducted among 1,066 adult Poles, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. It also suggests that some 4.5 million Poles could immediately go abroad to look for jobs. (According to government estimates, between 300,000 and 700,000 Poles would seek jobs in the EU in the first 10 years after accession. These estimates probably take into account the fact that the knowledge of foreign languages, which is not good among Poles, can prove a natural barrier to finding employment abroad.)

Poland's Main Statistical Office reported on 23 April that unemployment in March reached 15.9 percent, 0.1 percent higher than in February and 1.9 percent higher than in March 2000.

KGB DEPORTS CZECH HUMANITARIAN ACTIVIST. Belarus's KGB detained Czech citizen Michal Plavec in Minsk on 13 April and deported him from Belarus the same day. The KGB Information and Public Relations Center reported that Plavec was expelled for violating the rules of stay for foreigners in Belarus. In particular, the KGB said Plavec lived in Minsk in a different apartment than the one where he had registered for residence; ran the operations of an unauthorized foreign organization in Belarus; and repeatedly took part in unauthorized mass actions. Plavec's entry visa and permission to temporarily stay in Belarus were annulled and he was banned from entering Belarus for five years.

Plavec came to Belarus in September last year as a representative of the Prague-based People in Need foundation. The foundation was established in 1994 as a humanitarian organization with the aim to render assistance in crises areas of the world. People in Need carries out humanitarian aid and long-term development programs as well as supports democratization and human rights observance. CTK reported that People in Need established a Belarusian Center in Prague in 1998 and opened an office in Minsk last year to support pro-democratic forces in Belarus. "We tried to provide information, a kind of legal service, provide things and support the [Belarusian] opposition both morally and sometimes also materially," People in Need Director Tomas Pojar said on Czech Television on 13 April.

The KGB's move reflects the recently toughened approach of the Belarusian authorities toward the local opposition and its foreign sources of support in the run-up to the presidential elections. Last month, KGB chief Leanid Yeryn pledged to intensify the surveillance of foreigners in Belarus in order to prevent them from "stirring up the population's distrust in the current state system, the government, and the political, economic, and socioeconomic course" in Belarus. And on 12 April, Yeryn compared the preparation by the OSCE of election monitors in Belarus to the "recruitment" of spies. Asked if the KGB is going to deport those responsible for the "recruitment," Yeryn said: "If need and political expediency be -- and they are already appearing -- we will use this method too. I think [this may happen] within the next three months." Plavec's deportation took place the day after Yeryn made that statement.

LUKASHENKA SLAMS RUSSIAN POWER SYSTEM. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said in Yekaterinburg (the capital of Sverdlovsk Oblast in Russia's Ural region) on 17 April that Russia's system of government is "no good in the sense that everybody is elected [in Russia] as an independent [official]." Lukashenka elaborated: "Governors are elected, mayors -- for example, here in Yekaterinburg -- are elected, leaders of district administration are elected. All of them are independent. I'm not sure about your city, but in my opinion, it is hardly likely that anyone of them will work well. One needs to build the vertical [structure] of power from the governors. The governor must be the boss for those below, from the mayors and the district chiefs down."

The Moscow-based "Vremya novostei," quoting an unidentified source in Lukashenka's entourage, wrote on 20 April that "representatives" of Russian President Vladimir Putin called "their Belarusian colleagues" and told them that the Kremlin does not want Lukashenka to visit Russian regions in the future. According to the newspaper, the telephone call means an "actual moratorium" on Lukashenka's trips to Russian regions.

Meanwhile, the Minsk-based opposition "Nasha svaboda" on 20 April speculated on the reasons for Lukashenka's recent trip to the Ural region. According to the newspaper, Lukashenka -- who is reportedly out of favor with the Kremlin -- came to Yekaterinburg to seek support for his re-election bid.

The newspaper elaborated: "Apparently, [Lukashenka] is not in too high esteem in Moscow, therefore he needs to press all levers on which he can lay his hands. For example, on Russia's military-industrial complex, which has retained its unchanged [dominant] position in the Urals. Almost the entire potential of this region of Russia is involved in production of weapons. The military-industrial complex needs a natural ally to pressurize Moscow's democratic wing [in order to promote] half-legal and illegal trade in weapons; such as Lukashenka, whose international reputation is incredibly soiled and scandalous. Such a man may be commissioned with the task of publicizing a program of antidemocratic revenge in Russia, in order to examine public reactions without jeopardizing the Kremlin's international image. It is no secret that Russia is taking advantage of many findings of the Belarusian regime, slowly driving democracy into a corner, and acquiring more and more evident traits of the former empire. Therefore, Lukashenka's words are completely within the framework of possible further developments and, despite his criticism [of Russia's power system], they may actually benefit his plan to obtain Moscow's approval for another five-year term."

YUSHCHENKO RENDERED POWERLESS. This week Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yushchenko is widely expected to face (and lose) a no-confidence vote in the parliament. Last week, 290 lawmakers supported a motion to rate as unsatisfactory the performance of Yushchenko's cabinet on Ukraine's "Reforms for Prosperity" socioeconomic program in 2000. The parliament needs 226 votes to pass a no-confidence vote in a cabinet and dismiss it.

Yushchenko's ouster is demanded by a rather unlikely alliance of the Communists with the so-called pro-presidential (and theoretically pro-governmental) center and right-of-center majority in the parliament. True, some groups from the majority -- both Rukh factions, the Fatherland Party, and the Reforms-Congress caucus -- do not want to see Yushchenko dismissed. And the Socialist Party caucus led by Oleksandr Moroz refused to vote on the appraisal of the cabinet's performance in 2000, arguing that the current developments in the parliament are a "Communist-oligarchic" plot to take over power in the country.

Until this week, President Leonid Kuchma has remained silent on the standoff between the government and the parliament. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz made a strong point last week by saying that the standoff had been "artificially provoked" by Kuchma in order to divert the public spotlight from his person and the audio tape scandal implicating him in the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Indeed, the antipresidential opposition, which not so long ago organized regular demonstrations demanding Kuchma's ouster, has recently began mustering public support for Yushchenko to prevent his dismissal (it reportedly has collected more than 3 million signatures in support of Yushchenko). And quite naturally, the Ukrainian media, both state- and privately owned, have almost completely switched to covering the conflict between Yushchenko and the parliamentary "oligarchs."

This week, however, Kuchma seems to have changed his mind about the standoff. While in Vilnius on an official trip, the Ukrainian president noted that "the government's dismissal is not to Ukraine's benefit today." He said he is ready to contribute to reaching a compromise between the parliament and the government, adding that "the situation is dependent on how this dialogue will be conducted by the government, including Yushchenko." It remains to be seen whether Kuchma's intentions are honest and whether he will be able to persuade the pro-presidential caucuses -- most notably the Social Democratic Party (United) and the Labor Ukraine groups -- not to back the Communist-sponsored no-confidence motion.

However, what seems to be already evident is the fact that Yushchenko -- whom many see as a sure presidential candidate in the 2004 elections -- will emerge politically weakened from the current standoff. If a compromise is found with the "oligarchic" caucuses (which demand no less than 10 portfolios for their people in the cabinet), then Yushchenko's control of the government -- which was never large because of the president's exclusive power to nominate and dismiss ministers -- will become reduced even further. And if the parliament ousts him, Yushchenko will face the vague prospect of maintaining his current popularity without support from the state media at least until next year's legislative elections, when he may try his luck at winning a parliamentary seat and politically surviving until the presidential ballot.

It is hardly imaginable that Yushchenko would head the antipresidential opposition following his possible ouster. Yushchenko has repeatedly demonstrated that he lacks the guts for determined, let alone extreme, actions. His preference to look for a middle ground between Kuchma and the anti-Kuchma opposition has already implicated him in morally dubious situations, as when he signed a statement (along with Kuchma and Parliamentary Speaker Ivan Plyushch) branding the opposition Forum of National Salvation as a group of political bankrupts and potential criminals. On the other hand, Yushchenko is aware that the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians are not ready to fill the ranks of the anti-Kuchma opposition and that this situation is not going to change any time soon.

As in many times in the past, Kuchma once again appears to be sacrificing the premier in order to defuse his own political problems. This time, however, the situation is radically different than on previous occasions. The parliament is poised to dismiss the head of government who is credited with achieving the first signs of economic growth since Ukraine gained independence in 1991. And if Moroz's supposition about the "Communist-oligarchic" conspiracy in Ukraine is true, then Kuchma is facing the risk of losing control not only over economic, but also political developments in the country.

"A dismal rule of the state without any orientation points and prospects, criminality as an element of management, bandit persecution of those who are not silent. Such is today's face of our power system -- dim-witted, malicious, and hypocritical. And we, Viktor Andriyovych [Yushchenko] -- some to a lesser extent and the others to a larger extent -- are part of that face. When one hears your comments about why you signed the letter of the three [see Ukrainian item above] or sees you during an Easter mass in the company [of Kuchma], one wants to ask: 'With whom have you gotten mixed up?' And what is being expected from you by those who place stake on you, in particular, by the [anti-Kuchma] opposition? Their hope is a complete illusion, particularly since you have never said you do not agree with the president's policy in the power engineering, agriculture, utilities, and other spheres of life. It is impossible to defend you, Viktor Andriyovych, there is no reason to defend you." -- Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, speaking before the parliament on 17 April following Yushchenko's report on the government's performance in 2000; quoted by "Tovarysh," the press organ of the Socialist Party of Ukraine.