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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: October 9, 2001

9 October 2001, Volume 3, Number 38
SLD, PSL CLINCH COALITION DEAL. The National Council of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) on 6 October passed a resolution supporting SLD leader Leszek Miller in his attempts to form a government that -- in addition to the SLD's election bloc partner, Labor Union (UP) -- could include the Polish Peasant Party (PSL). Together, the SLD-UP bloc and the PSL would have a comfortable majority of 258 mandates in the 460-seat Sejm.

While the SLD was expected to pass its decision on a coalition government without any difficulties, the joining of the ruling coalition by the PSL was not obvious. The Supreme Council of the PSL on 6 October held a stormy nine-hour debate in which PSL leader Jaroslaw Kalinowski was persuading his skeptical colleagues about the expediency of entering a ruling coalition with the SLD. In a vote held after the debate, 74 members of the Supreme Council backed signing a coalition deal with the SLD, while 22 opposed it. Immediately after the vote, Kalinowski voiced the PSL's expectations with regard to a future SLD-UP-PSL cabinet:

"There will be no increases in indirect taxation, either on food or on equipment for agricultural production, or any other hikes of indirect taxes. Second, banks that are Polish banks are to remain in Polish hands. This concerns the PKO BP [the Savings Bank], the Post Office Bank, the National Economy Bank, as well as the Food Economy Bank. A change in the privatization approach is to take place too. Revenues obtained from privatization will not be used to patch up the budget deficit but to strengthen the competitiveness of Polish economy, create new jobs and improve conditions of the privatized companies," PAP quoted Kalinowski as saying.

The PSL politicians who opposed a ruling coalition with the SLD fear that voters may blame the PSL for austerity measures Miller's cabinet is expected to introduce, and that the party risks loosing support among farmers to the benefit of the militant Self-Defense.

POLISH-UKRAINIAN COLLEGE OPENS IN LUBLIN. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma on 6 October attended the inauguration of the European College of Polish and Ukrainian Universities in Lublin, eastern Poland, Polish and Ukrainian media reported. The founding declaration says the college is to help create a strategic partnership between Poland and Ukraine.

Speaking at the inauguration, both presidents stressed that the college is the first step toward the setting up of a Polish-Ukrainian university. "Educational institutions are able to build bridges of reconciliation. Both science as well as culture and arts were, are, and will be stronger, more powerful than borders, visas, and passports," Kwasniewski said in Lublin. "For centuries, Lublin was a place where cultures of the West and the East were coming together, so the education of a younger generation here in the spirit of tolerance and of the respect for others and democratic principles will promote rapprochement of the nations that are on the road toward the unifying Europe," Kuchma noted.

Eighty-six Ukrainian, two Belarusian, and 16 Polish postgraduate students (who will be seeking their doctorates) were matriculated into the college on 6 September. The college was set up by three Lublin-based universities -- Maria Curie-Sklodowska University, Catholic University, and the Central and Eastern European Institute -- as well as three Ukrainian ones: the Kyiv-based Taras Shevchenko University, the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, and the Lviv-based Ivan Franko National University.

ETHNIC LEMKO WINS PRECEDENT CASE OVER NATIONALIZED PROPERTY. Last week Poland's Supreme Administrative Court passed a precedent verdict in a case over property confiscated by the state in 1949 from Maria Hladyk, an ethnic Lemko who was compulsorily resettled in 1947 from her village in Beskid Niski (a region in southeastern Poland).

In 1999, Maria Hladyk's grandson, Stefan Hladyk, applied to the Polish authorities with a request to repel the 50-year-old decision by which some 11 hectares of land (including 7.55 hectares of forest) was confiscated from his grandmother. The Agriculture Ministry satisfied his request. In last week's decision, the Supreme Administrative Court rejected an appeal by Poland's State Forests, a state-run agency that manages the country's forested areas and which had owned Maria Hladyk's wooded plot for the past 50 years. The court simultaneously confirmed Stefan Hladyk's ownership right to the plot.

This precedent verdict by the Supreme Administrative Court actually admits that the nationalization of Lemko properties 50 years ago was illegal. The verdict paves the way for other Lemkos (or their heirs) to regain what was confiscated from them by the communist authorities. According to PAP, Polish courts are currently going over some 200 lawsuits by Lemkos seeking to have their properties in Beskid Niski returned to them.

[Ed. note: Some historical background to the case. In a bid to deprive the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) -- which fought the Polish communist government in 1944-47 -- of support among Ukrainians inhabiting their ethnic territories in southeastern Poland, the Polish authorities decided in 1947 on a mass resettlement of Ukrainians to the so-called Recovered Lands (Ziemie Odzyskane) -- the former territories of the Third Reich incorporated into post-World War II Poland. The Polish army performed the drastic and violent Operation Vistula, which resettled some 150,000 people. The operation, according to the General Staff, contributed to "the final solution of the Ukrainian problem" in Poland.

The resettled people included some 30,000 Lemkos, an ethnic community with a vaguely defined ethnic identity: some Lemkos considered themselves to be Ukrainians, while some believed they were a group different from Ukrainians. Incidentally, support for the UPA among Poland's pre-1947 Lemko community was much weaker than among Polish Ukrainians.

The dispersion of Lemkos following the 1947 resettlement immensely accelerated the process of their assimilation. The Polish authorities did not give Lemkos the right to develop their ethnic identity in 1956, when Poland's Ukrainians, Belarusians, Lithuanians, and Jews were allowed to set up their own ethnic organizations to pursue some educational, cultural, and social activities. Some Lemko activists joined the Ukrainian movement but many others chose Polishness to avoid being identified with Ukrainians.

In 1949, the Polish government passed a decree on the nationalization of properties remaining after the resettlement of the Ukrainians and Lemkos. Following the decree, local authorities passed appropriation decisions with regard to resettled owners' land plots and belongings remaining on their administrative territories.]

OPPOSITION APPEALS OVER PERSECUTION. Opposition leaders have appealed to the international community for help in stopping oppression of opponents to the Alyaksandr Lukashenka regime, Belapan reported on 5 October. They claim that despite the Belarusian president's assurances that he will liberalize and democratize society following the 9 September elections, the political climate in the country has been deteriorating.

"Criminal cases have been brought against activists of a number of democratic parties and organizations," the opposition said in a statement. "Dozens of participants in the [recent presidential] election campaign have been fired from work and expelled from educational establishments. Hundreds have been subjected to psychological pressure and intimidation; heavy pressure has been exerted on the independent press.... If oppression is not stopped immediately, any public activity will be paralyzed in many regions of the country for the next few years."

The appeal was signed by Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the United Civic Party; Vintsuk Vyachorka, leader of the Belarusian Popular Front; Mikalay Statkevich, chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party; Stanislau Shushkevich, leader of the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly (Hramada); Syarhey Kalyakin, chairman of the Belarusian Party of Communists; Nadzeya Palevikova, chairwoman of the Belarusian Women's Party; Ales Byalyatski, head of the Vyasna human rights center; and Tatsyana Protska, chairwoman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee.

KYIV DENIES DOWNING RUSSIAN AIRLINER. Ukraine's Defense Ministry on 4 October denied the allegations -- made by some U.S. media citing unnamed Pentagon officials -- that a Ukrainian test-fired missile may have caused the crash of a Russian airliner into the Black Sea. A Tu-154 plane flying from Tel-Aviv to Novosibirsk with 78 people aboard exploded at 1:45 p.m. local time on 4 October, which corresponded to the time that Ukrainian air defense troops on the Crimean peninsula were firing antiaircraft missiles at artificial targets. A Defense Ministry spokesman told Reuters that neither the range of the missiles nor their direction "correspond to the practical or theoretical point at which the plane exploded."

On 5 October, the Defense Ministry renewed its denial, saying that "the missiles were fired exclusively within a restricted zone, 30 kilometers out to sea from the shore, while the tragedy with the aircraft occurred 250 kilometers from the area where the exercises were taking place." In addition, Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk publicly demanded that that U.S. intelligence services provide evidence to Ukraine supporting the allegations that the plane had been downed by a missile.

The same day, however, Ukrainian Premier Anatol Kinakh -- while speaking with editors of the Kyiv-based "Segodnya" -- said the theory that Ukrainian air forces shot down the airliner by accident "has a right to exist." Later the same day, Kinakh's press office explained that the prime minister only meant that "several versions have the right to exist" in the investigation of the airliner tragedy.

President Leonid Kuchma told journalists in Poland on 6 October that the targets against which missiles had been launched were one kilometer up in the air and some 30 to 40 kilometers away from the firing range. "The azimuth of firing did not coincide at all with the place where the plane was," Kuchma said, adding that the 4 October missile launches from Crimea were monitored not only by Ukrainian but also by Russian officers. "Ukraine will be grateful if any country can provide satellite data, including about the trajectory of the missile's flight," Kuchma said.

A fresh denial came from the Defense Ministry on 8 October, when Ukrainian air forces Commander Volodymyr Tkachov presented to journalists and diplomats in Kyiv video recordings of the live-fire exercises that overlapped in time with the crash of the Russian airliner. He admitted that one S-200 missile had been fired at the time of the plane crash and landed in the Black Sea about 80 kilometers from the shore, retreating from the Defense Ministry's earlier assertion that all 23 missiles fired had remained within a 30-40 kilometer zone of the launch site. Tkachov gave no reason for this discrepancy and emphasized that the plane had crashed much further than 80 kilometers offshore.

A Russian commission is currently investigating the crash of the airliner.

KYIV SUCCEEDS IN RESTRUCTURING GAS DEBT TO RUSSIA. Ukrainian Premier Anatoliy Kinakh and his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kasyanov on 4 October signed an agreement to restructure Ukraine's $1.4 billion gas debt. "Russia and Ukraine put a full stop in the history of gas problems, which disturbed societies of both countries for two years," ITAR-TASS quoted Kasyanov as saying in Kyiv. "The agreement is a vivid example of a compromise aimed at ensuring long-term cooperation," Kinakh commented.

Kasyanov told journalists that the debt was rescheduled over 12 years with a three-year grace period. He added that the interest rate was set at LIBOR plus 1 percent (at present, LIBOR does not exceed 4 percent). Russia initially wanted to set the interest rate on the debt at 10 percent. Both sides recognized the $1.4 billion debt as a corporate debt of the state-owned Naftohaz company. Naftohaz is to issue Eurobonds to cover the debt.

Most Russian commentators and analysts admit that Moscow made considerable concessions to Kyiv in the gas debt problem in order to contribute to what Kasyanov called "the aim of establishing real brotherly relations with Ukraine." Apart from agreeing on the very favorable conditions for debt repayment, Moscow dropped its demand that the corporate debt of the state-run Naftohaz be made a sovereign obligation. Moreover, the agreement on the debt restructuring does not prohibit Ukraine from reexporting Russian gas -- a clause for which Moscow reportedly pressed Kyiv to the very last moment before signing the deal. "The [Russian] government has bowed down to Ukraine on all counts and in the end doesn't really know for what purpose," "The Moscow Times" quoted an expert on Ukraine as saying on 8 October.

It is not immediately clear what Moscow expects from Kyiv in return for this generous settlement. Some commentators hint that Kyiv will make concessions in talks with Moscow on the status of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine, as well as on the situation of Ukraine's ethnic Russian population.

"If we, deputies of the parliament, are in the same boat with you, Alyaksandr Ryhoravich [Lukashenka] -- as you have said it once -- then 100 percent of us should back the choice you made and approve the nomination of [Henadz] Navitski as prime minister at a session of the Chamber of Representatives." -- Lawmaker Vasil Khrol, in a typical outburst of Belarusian legislators' warm feelings toward the president; quoted by Belarusian Television on 5 October 2001.