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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: May 22, 2001

22 May 2001, Volume 3, Number 19
RIGHT WING FAILS TO AGREE ON ELECTION ALLIANCE. Talks to set up a broad election bloc of Polish right-wing groups for the 23 September legislative elections ended on 19 May without agreement. Jerzy Buzek, Antoni Tokarczuk, and Stanislaw Zajac -- leaders of the Solidarity Electoral Action Social Movement (RS AWS), the Party of Christian Democrats (PPChD), and the Christian National Union (ZChN) respectively -- issued a statement saying that Justice Minister Lech Kaczynski (who recently launched Law and Justice groups across Poland jointly with his brother Jaroslaw Kaczynski) refused to participate in a broad-based coalition of Poland's right and has decided to form a separate election committee. Tokarczuk told journalists that a joint election committee will be set up by the RS AWS, the PPChD, and the ZChN this week. The Movement for the Reconstruction of Poland led by Jan Olszewski and the Right-Wing Alliance of Kazimierz Ujazdowski are to decide this week if they will join the three-party election bloc.

A recent poll released by the CBOS polling center showed that Polish right-wing parties would have fared badly if the elections had been held in May. According to CBOS, the postcommunist Democratic Left Alliance (in coalition with the Labor Union) would have obtained 46 percent of the vote, the centrist liberal Civic Platform 13 percent, the Peasant Party 9 percent, and the Solidarity Electoral Action 7 percent. Support for other parties -- including the centrist Freedom Union -- would have been below the 5 percent required to win seats in the parliament.

LUKASHENKA HOLDS 'POPULAR CONGRESS.' Some 2,500 delegates attended the "Second All-Belarusian Popular Congress" in Minsk on 18 May and approved a government-drafted program of Belarus's socioeconomic development for 2001-2005. The Soviet-style gathering of Alyaksandr Lukashenka's supporters adopted a resolution expressing confidence that the program "will ensure further economic growth, the efficient functioning of the economy, a substantial increase in the standard of living of the Belarusian people." The "First All-Belarusian Popular Congress" was held in 1996, before the controversial referendum that helped Lukashenka consolidate his authoritarian power and disband a democratically elected legislature.

Belarus's official media reported last week that some 2 million people were involved in electing the 2,500 delegates to the congress. The opposition, however, saw the event in a completely different light. Former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir, who participated in the 1996 congress, told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service last week that such gatherings are orchestrated by the authorities. And Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the opposition United Civic Party, commented on the Minsk gathering: "We have witnessed a tragicomedy staged by one man and involving more than 2,000 extras. Its purpose was to improve Lukashenka's falling rating, promote him as a presidential candidate, and create an illusion of popular support."

Lukashenka, who delivered a speech lasting two and a half hours, said the congress is a "direct consultation with the people, the verification of priorities of the course that Belarus will follow in the new century and the new millennium." He added: "Such an approach of the authorities represents the uttermost manifestation of democracy in our state. In our contemporary political life direct, open, and frank talk with people is the basic principle of the authorities."

Lukashenka noted that the proposed five-year program of socioeconomic development provides for a 40 percent increase in the country's GDP in 2005 compared to 2000, and a 25 percent GDP increase compared to 1990. Lukashenka pledged that the average monthly pay in 2005 will amount to $250.

Lukashenka also touched upon the upcoming presidential elections in Belarus.

"[The elections] should be held, my dear ones, in an exceptionally civilized [and] open way, in full accordance with our legislation and international standards," Lukashenka said. "I declare to you -- and I know that almost all of those gathered here are supporters of the current course and my supporters -- that I do not want to cling to power by force and injustice. It is no problem to retain the power today. But it is necessary to think beyond the presidential elections. If we go against our society, if we fail to persuade our people that they should support us at this critical point, if this persuading breaks the people instead of making them vote for us, then we will never keep the power, because everybody is waiting for the presidential elections. The West realizes that they cannot win in our presidential elections. But why are they giving money? In order to consolidate the fifth column [in Belarus] and, following the presidential elections, to send [this column] to undermine the authorities in the country."

Lukashenka also lashed out the West. He said the West owes Belarus and other former Soviet republics for their role in defeating the Nazis in World War II. "We, Soviet people, did everything so that from Poland onward people lived wonderfully," he said. "We saved you, and you should pay us back your whole lives. And if you can't, or more likely, don't want to, please don't tell us what to do, leave us alone," AP quoted him as saying.

Touching on Belarus's foreign policies, Lukashenka said the top priority is to build a union with Russia. The Belarusian president said his government has been angrily attacked for its intention to form a union state with Russia by both the opposition and Western politicians, who he said fear the possible emergence of a USSR-like "world power center."

Lukashenka noted that Poland has been used "by some states" as a staging ground for attacks on Belarus. The Belarusian leader said that "ultramodern facilities and stations for surveying the territory of the Republic of Belarus" have been erected in Poland and Lithuania near their Belarusian borders. He said he would like "the Baltic states and Poland to act with regard to Belarus on the basis of the interests of the Polish people and the Baltic nations."

Lukashenka described Belarus's relations with Europe and the United States as complicated. He said Europe is reluctant to improve relations with Belarus prior the presidential elections. He confessed that Belarus is ready to cooperate with the United States and even to make concessions "within reasonable limits."

DOUBTS REMAIN OVER 'RESOLUTION' OF GONGADZE MURDER CASE. Last week, Ukraine's interior minister, Yuriy Smyrnov, announced that police had solved the murder of opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze.

The case of the journalist's death last autumn has become a national sensation. Allegations that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma might be involved in the murder have led to widespread demonstrations calling for Kuchma's ouster.

But on 15 May, Smyrnov said the killing had not been politically motivated. He said Gongadze's murderers were common criminals who were later murdered themselves. A map showing the location of Gongadze's grave had been found on one of their bodies, he added.

Smyrnov went on to say that those responsible for the killings of the two murderers are now in custody. He also referred to the involvement of a mysterious crime boss nicknamed "Cyclops." He added that "as [interior] minister, I consider the crime to be resolved. We have proof concerning the criminals, who have died, to our sorrow."

Smyrnov's announcement, however, does not spell an end to the case. The Ukrainian press has reported that the Prosecutor-General's Office, in comments to the lawyer of Gongadze's mother, called Smyrnov's statement "premature" and said that the matter has not yet been concluded. Deputy Prosecutor-General Mykola Obikhod said his office will issue a full response to Smyrnov's statement this week.

Many opposition politicians -- as well as Gongadze's widow, Myroslava -- have called Smyrnov's announcement a deliberate attempt to confuse the public and deflect attention from Kuchma's possible role in the murder.

Myroslava Gongadze says Smyrnov's version of events is, in fact, a fabrication. "Right now we're witnessing the latest in a series of announcements which, in my opinion, Internal Affairs Minister Smyrnov had no right to make," she said. "[I say this] because the investigation is being conducted by the Prosecutor-General's Office, and only the Prosecutor-General's Office can say whether the matter has really been concluded and talk about the results of the investigation. Therefore, I have no reason to trust [Smyrnov's] announcement. Actually, I haven't trusted him for a long time, and in the present situation I have even more reason to distrust him."

The investigation into the disappearance and murder of Gongadze has been plagued by confusion and conflicting information from the start. Gongadze disappeared from Kyiv last September. The following month, a headless corpse -- later identified as his -- was found in a woods south of the city.

Gongadze had been an outspoken critic of President Kuchma, who he claimed was involved in corrupt business dealings.

A former Kuchma bodyguard then came forward with audio recordings he said he had secretly made of conversations between the president and his advisers. The recordings appeared to show that Kuchma had wanted action taken to silence the outspoken journalist.

Kuchma has consistently denied the authenticity of the recordings. But his political opponents -- and thousands of ordinary Ukrainians -- are convinced the recordings proved the president's involvement in Gongadze's death. Mass demonstrations have followed, with protesters calling for Kuchma's resignation.

The official investigation into Gongadze's murder also has been criticized by Gongadze's relatives and a number of Ukrainian politicians. Some Western governments and entities such as the Council of Europe have also expressed doubts that the investigation is being conducted in a proper and transparent manner.

Ukrainian authorities at varying times have alleged that the corpse found in the woods outside Kyiv is not Gongadze's, and for months refused to allow the journalist's relatives to examine the remains.

Oleksandr Kryvenko, a spokesman for the opposition Forum for National Salvation, described Smyrnov's version as a "fairy tale." He said it is obvious that criminals murdered the journalist but that that in itself does not exclude a political motive.

Gongadze's widow, who is now in the United States after being granted political asylum last month, said the police in the past had deliberately muddled the investigation into her husband's death and continue to do so now. "The fact is that, in this matter, the Prosecutor-General and the police have distinguished themselves with many statements which later have not been substantiated and where, in a normal society, they would have had to be corrected. From the very beginning there were announcements that it was not a politically motivated matter, and then that the corpse that was found had been reburied there, and so forth. The police made these announcements, and when the Prosecutor-General's Office investigated, they could not substantiate the police claims," Myroslava Gongadze told RFE/RL.

Ukraine's Interior Ministry was reluctant to comment on the Prosecutor General's Office's continuing investigation into the case. A ministry spokesman, who preferred to remain anonymous, said Smyrnov is not prepared to issue any more details regarding the Gongadze case. "The minister said that he is not going to discuss the details. That's probably because the Prosecutor-General is still investigating. [There are ] probably still some outstanding matters [that] need to be cleared up," the spokesman told RFE/RL.

The spokesman denied that there were any serious differences between the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office. "I can't make any conclusions. You as a journalist have to draw your own conclusions. There has been a concrete announcement by Smyrnov. As for the Prosecutor-General's Office, I don't know, because I don't work there," the spokesman noted. (RFE/RL correspondent Askold Kryshelnycky wrote this report.)

"Despite apparently gigantic differences, history has matched up in a very peculiar way the historical destiny of our country with those of the overwhelming majority of states on the African continent." -- Belarusian Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou; quoted by Belarusian Television on 16 May.

"The representatives of our people have the right to say today that we will follow this path and that you, dear president, as long as you are president, should do this, and this, and this. And as you [the delegates] say, so it will be [Ed. note: prolonged applause follows]." -- Alyaksandr Lukashenka to the Second All-Belarusian Popular Congress in Minsk on 18 May; quoted by Belarusian Television.