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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: September 26, 2000

26 September 2000, Volume 2, Number 35
PAPAL PARODY VIDEO MAY COST KWASNIEWSKI DEARLY. Marek Siwiec, chief of the presidential National Security Office, tendered his resignation on 23 September after an election advertisement the previous day showed him parodying Pope John Paul II. The advertisement, prepared by the election staff of Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski, included a video in which Siwiec, emerging from a helicopter during a 1997 presidential trip to Kalisz, western Poland, makes the sign of the cross. The video also features the voice of amused President Aleksander Kwasniewski who asks: "Did the minister kiss the Kalisz soil?" Following this, Siwiec kneels to kiss the ground, as the Pope used to do on his foreign trips. "Does Aleksander Kwasniewski, a person who publicly offends the Holy Father, deserve to represent our country?" a voice on the advertisement asks.

Siwiec publicly apologized and explained that he had kissed the ground in Kalisz with enthusiasm and had not wanted to insult anyone. He added that Pope John Paul II has introduced certain kinds of behavior for which the latter has no copyright "since they have become common property." Siwiec added: "What I regret more, undoubtedly, is the clumsy sign of the cross, which was perhaps abused at that moment. There is even a commandment that applies in this matter. I think this is something that may meet with criticism, and my words of apology apply to it as well." Siwiec said his resignation is a protest "against the unprecedented action by Marian Krzaklewski's election staff, who have insulted the president and undermined Aleksander Kwasniewski's respect for Pope John Paul II."

Kwasniewski commented the same day that the video was a "desperate and dirty move." Kwasniewski said Siwiec behaved "honorably and responsibly" in tendering his resignation. According to Kwasniewski, the scene played out at the Kalisz airfield was not inappropriate and does not imitate anybody. Later the same day, the president told a crowd of his supporters in Wloclawek: "I will not use tasteless, unfair tricks, as other candidates do. They, ladies and gentlemen, show themselves up. Whoever is prepared to commit dirty tricks when fighting for power will commit even greater dirtier tricks if he gets that power. Remember that."

The primate of Poland's Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, was reluctant to comment on the video: "It's hard for me to comment. What lies deep within a person always comes out. Maybe it was a joke, maybe. I'm not commenting. If we were to react to this in political terms, then I refrain from comment."

According to Krzaklewski, the papal parody video compromises primarily the president, not his aide. "Can Poland be ruled well if the people who take the most important decisions in Poland behave in this way? [The incident] happened under the eye of [Siwiec's] boss," Krzaklewski said.

"It's not a negative campaign. We are talking facts and facts alone," Krzaklewski's election staff head Wieslaw Walendziak responded to the accusation of dirty campaigning.

According to last week's polls, Kwasniewski had more than 60 percent support, while Krzaklewski trailed in third place, with 7 percent backing. The first indication that the papal parody video has inflicted damage on Kwasniewski came in mock elections in Nysa, southwestern Poland, on 23 September. Kwasniewski won with some 54 percent of the vote, but Krzaklewski came second with 17.5 percent support. "It is a breakthrough moment in this campaign. There will be a second round, and Aleksander Kwasniewski and Marian Krzaklewski will meet in it," Walendziak commented.

POLISH, GERMAN EXPERTS DIFFER ON EU EXPANSION DATE. A Polish think-tank led by Andrzej Stepniak of Gdansk University have commented on a report drawn up by German experts on the EU's eastward enlargement and its consequences for prosperity and employment in Europe, PAP and dpa reported on 21 September.

The German report, which was prepared under the auspices of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, suggests that after the admission into the EU of the first group of candidate states, including Poland, GDP might grow by an average of 0.1--0.2 percent in the 15 EU countries as a direct result of trade liberalization. The financing of the enlargement is unlikely to pose major problems, according to the German report. However, the German experts believe that it would be more advantageous if enlargement took place at a later date, such as 2006, and if there were relatively brief transition periods that would allow the Western labor markets to adjust to the new conditions. The Germans fear that up to 700,000 East Europeans could flood the EU labor market if work restrictions are eliminated at the same time as the EU is enlarged.

The Polish experts disagree with their German colleagues, arguing that there is little danger of a cheaper Eastern European workforce flooding the West after the entry of new members. Language barriers, according to the Polish report, will significantly limit the scale of such a workforce transfer. The Polish experts also said there is little evidence that less expensive Eastern European goods would undercut more costly Western European products on the common market, pointing to the fact that those goods have cornered different market segments. "The sooner Poland and other East European countries enter the EU, the sooner both sides will benefit. Dragging out the process will not reduce costs," Andrzej Stepniak commented.

The Polish and German experts are to produce a joint cost-benefit report on the European Union's future expansion by the year's end.

WILL PRESIDENTIAL VETO OF MASS PRIVATIZATION BILL ATTRACT GERMAN EXPELLEES? The ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) warned on 20 September that President Aleksander Kwasniewski's recent veto of an AWS-sponsored mass privatization bill (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September 2000) could encourage former German property owners in western and northern Poland to seek to reclaim their property, PAP reported.

Tomasz Wojcik of the AWS, who is one of the bill's authors, said mass privatization would protect Poland from having to return state property to its former private owners--in many cases Germans--after joining the EU. Wojcik mentioned a German citizen's recent claim for the restitution of property he once owned in Szczecin as an example of what could happen without mass privatization. "The halting of mass privatization lies more in the interest of German expellees than [in that of] the Poles," he argued.

Adam Biela, the bill's other author, said the veto "opened a political Pandora's Box over western and northern Poland" as it would provide Germans who previously inhabited those areas with a realistic chance of reclaiming their former property.

Under the vetoed bill, every adult Pole would be given a share of state assets, including stakes in funds managing state property, shares of the proceeds from future sales of state companies, and ownership rights to state-owned apartments and plots of land. The bill was widely seen as a propaganda ploy by Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski in his presidential bid.

POT SMOKERS RIDICULE SOLIDARITY LEADER'S CAMPAIGN SLOGAN. A group of 60 young people demonstrated outside the parliament's building on 17 September to protest the lawmakers' intention to ban the possession of all drugs in Poland, including small amounts of soft drugs like marijuana, dpa reported. The protesters were holding posters that read "Krzak Tak" and wore T-shirts adorned with pictures of green cannabis bushes. They took Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski's presidential campaign slogan as a catch phrase to promote their cause. "Krzak Tak" translates as "Bush Yes." Pictures with a smiling Krzaklewski and the phrase "Krzak Tak"--which was coined as an abbreviation of his name--have been plastered on billboards throughout Poland prior to the 8 October elections.

The parliament, however, took no heed of the protesters and voted by 367 to 18 with two abstentions to amend the 1997 anti-drugs law, PAP reported on 21 September. The bill sets jail terms of up to three years for those possessing any quantity of drugs, including soft ones. It also stipulates up to two years in jail for owners of bars who fail to notify the police about drug transactions on their premises. The bill must now be approved by the Senate and signed by the president.

BELARUS-RUSSIA UNION ADVANCES BACKWARD. Last week, Belarus took a decisive step backward in its integration with Russia when it announced it is re-introducing customs checkpoints on the Russian border as of 1 October. The action applies to commodity shipments by third countries, while the movement of Russian shipments will continue to be free. The Belarusian side says the move is in response to the similar measure taken by Russia earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 18 April 2000).

Russia re-introduced customs control on the border with Belarus after it had become apparent that owing to lower Belarusian duties, many exporters to Russia brought their commodities to Belarus, paid customs duties there, and subsequently re-shipped those commodities for sale in Russia. Moscow said it suffered heavy losses owing to this practice and resolved to put an end to it.

"Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" reported on 20 September that following the Russian move, the shipment of goods from Russia to Belarus has remained at the previous level, while from Belarus to Russia have fallen threefold. This means, the newspaper concluded, that Belarus's revenues from customs duties have fallen by approximately the same factor.

"Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" also reported that Moscow has more unpleasant surprises for Minsk in store: Russia is soon to simplify the rules for collecting customs duties on some 2,000 commodity items. The Belarusian newspaper commented: "The point of the Customs Union for our country was in the fact that our duties would be lower, while the system of levying customs tariffs simpler. It has become clear in the end that Russia will not make any concessions [to Belarus in the sphere of customs regulations], so Belarus's State Customs Committee finally decided to re-establish customs checkpoints."

There have been no customs checkpoints on the Belarusian-Russian border since 1995, when Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and then Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin dug out a border pole in a symbolic ceremony that was broadly publicized in both countries' media. "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" reported that Minsk is planning no ceremony for repositioning the former border poles.

OPPOSITION BID FOR AIR TIME YIELDS HATEFUL RESPONSE. Vintsuk Vyachorka, leader of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front Party, which is boycotting the 15 October legislative elections, asked Belarusian Television for air time in order to be able to explain to the country his party's position on the upcoming ballot. Even in terms of the generally low ethical and intellectual standards of the Belarusian state media, the "Panarama" main newscast's response on 19 September was surprising in its hateful tone, disparaging content, and primitive and illogical reasoning. It seems that under its newly elected chief, Viktar Chykin, Belarusian Television is exhibiting new degrees of hatred toward the opposition. The program's commentator Ya. Myaleshka said:

Television viewer Vintsuk Vyachorka, who shares this function with that of chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front Party, has sent a letter to the leadership of national television in which he asks that he be granted air time to present his position [on the elections] and quotes strange rationales [for his request]. According to Vyachorka's logic, a boycott of the elections is a form of participation in them. Most likely, Mr. Vintsuk [Vyachorka] remembered how some time ago, under the watchful eyes of his staunch Bolshevik-Leninist father (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 5 September 2000), he studied at night scientific communism with dialectical materialism. As the saying goes, you cannot ruin your talent, even if you drink too much. [The knowledge of] Marxist dialectic is a special talent. However, it is a double-edged sword. For example, Vyachorka did not participate in the parade of homosexuals in Minsk, despite the fact that the organizers warmly invited opposition leaders. The invitation, incidentally, was explained by the fact that abroad, main oppositionists to the regime [ed. note: it is not specified which regime is meant] behave very tolerantly toward sexual minorities. However, Vyachorka, so to speak, boycotted the invitation from the queers. Here is a question: If you were told that Vyachorka did participate in the parade of homosexuals, but in a particular form, would that be an offense to him?"

It should be added that the above-mentioned parade, as well as other events planned within the framework of the "Gay Pride 2000" festival in Minsk, did not take place because the authorities disrupted the planned festival (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September 2000).

THE MOST DIFFICULT YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE. A poll conducted by the Ukrainian Center for Economic and Political Studies from 28 July to 10 August among 2012 Ukrainians showed that nearly half of Ukrainian citizens believe 1999 and 2000 have been the most difficult years in the nine-year history of Ukraine's independence. Of those polled, 26.5 percent pointed to 2000 as the most difficult year, 22.6 percent to 1999, 7.8 percent to 1998, and 6.6 percent to 1991.

The poll found that 32.3 percent of Ukrainians would like to emigrate from Ukraine and settle in another country, while 61.5 percent said they would prefer to stay at home. The difficult economic situation was quoted as the main reason for leaving Ukraine forever (81.7 percent).

The main reason for the dire economic situation was believed to be the lack of professionalism of the country's leadership (36.6 percent), the disruption of old economic ties (25.8 percent), and the non-observance of laws (13.8 percent).

The poll also found that Ukrainians are very distrustful of their political elite: 72.1 percent said they cannot think of anyone who could be given the title "the conscience of the Ukrainian nation," while 2.7 percent suggested Premier Viktor Yushchenko, 2 percent Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, 1.7 percent Minister of Culture Bohdan Stupka, and 1.5 percent President Leonid Kuchma.

"The fact that you have put all processes [in Kalmykia] under [your] control is in my opinion a guarantee of your success. Everyone thinks that the market means [no rules], one does as one pleases oneself. No, there are rules that should be established by the state." -- Lukashenka to visiting Kalmykian President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov on 19 September. Quoted by Belarusian Television.

"Market means primarily dictatorship, a dictatorship of authority." -- Ilyumzhinov responding to Lukashenka.

"Best wishes to you from the people of the Republic of Kalmykia. Everyone [there] knows you, everyone likes you and your firm position on the creation of a union state. Russia and Belarus should be together. Here is a gift from the leadership of the World Chess Federation (FIDE)--please play chess [with this chess set]. Literally two days ago, I was in Riga where I chaired a FIDE leadership conference. The FIDE leadership, knowing that I would go to meet you, asked me to pass [this gift to you] from all 160 national chess federations." -- Ilyumzhinov to Lukashenka. Quoted by Belarusian Television on 19 September.

"You see, it is namely this rich and fat Europe, not Belarus, that has been mostly shattered by the [fuel] crisis." -- Lukashenka to workers in Orsha, Vitsebsk Oblast, explaining why he will not change his administrative command economy for a market one. Quoted by Reuters on 22 September.

"I can say nothing bad about oligarchs: if someone offers himself for sale, they buy him. Everything takes place in such a manner [in the parliament]--votes and transfers [of deputies between parliamentary caucuses]. This parliament is rotting inside so strongly that one can smell this from far, far away. A migration has begun to the pro-presidential majority as well. Each caucus wants to have as many deputies in this majority as possible, in order to be a 'trendsetter' there." -- Former pro-presidential parliamentary majority head Leonid Kravchuk, explaining in the 21 September "Den" how the current majority might expand to 300 deputies necessary to approve constitutional amendments in line with the 16 April referendum.