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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: October 3, 2000

3 October 2000, Volume 2, Number 36
CATHOLIC CIRCLES STEP UP PRESSURE ON KWASNIEWSKI. Metropolitan Archbishop of Bialystok Stanislaw Szymecki believes that a Roman Catholic "may not with a clear conscience vote for a candidate who is a supporter of abortion and demoralization," PAP reported on 28 September. Archbishop Szymecki issued a statement saying that he responded "with enormous distaste" to President Aleksander Kwasniewski's insult to Pope John Paul II. In a video shown in the presidential election campaign earlier this month, presidential aide Marek Siwiec mocked the pope by making a sign of the cross and then kissing the ground, to which President Aleksander Kwasniewski responded with amusement and encouragement (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine," 26 September 2000).

"Many people are outraged and are demanding the departure of not just the minister [who carried out the papal parody] but of the president himself," the archbishop said. He noted that the president, while stressing his contribution to improving relations between Vatican and Poland, "avoids other issues that horrify us: this is the onward rush of the president to support abortion, narcotics, and pornography."

It also has not passed unnoticed in Poland that Poland's Roman Catholic Church head, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, left the hall of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow last week when Kwasniewski was delivering a speech during the celebration of the university's 600th anniversary. The cardinal later denied that his early departure was intended as a snub to the president, but PAP reported that the audience present in the hall viewed it as an oblique sign of protest against Kwasniewski.

Last week, Krakow's City Council issued a statement proclaiming Kwasniewski persona non grata in the city. Krakow Mayor Andrzej Golas boycotted the celebration of the Jagiellonian University's 600th anniversary because of Kwasniewski's participation.

In addition, Catholic Action--Poland's biggest lay organization of Roman Catholics--issued an appeal that was read out in churches on 1 October. While not mentioning Kwasniewski by name, the appeal left no doubt that it was targeting the president, who has publicly admitted that he is a non-believer. Catholic Action noted in particular: "A declared atheist does not deserve the support of believers...because he does not take into account man's spiritual needs and will back legislation irreconcilable with Christian values.... By voting for someone representing values contrary to Christianity, a believer would come into conflict with his own conscience and religious identity."

LUKASHENKA MOBILIZES SOVIETS' SUPPORT FOR ELECTIONS. Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 29 September addressed the Congress of the Soviets of People's Deputies that the Lukashenka administration convened in Minsk for the official purpose of discussing how to increase the role of soviets (local government bodies) in the overall power system in Belarus. The meeting, however, was in fact a propaganda bid to show Lukashenka's policies enjoy broad popular support, as well as to brief the country on how to approach the 15 October legislative elections, which are being boycotted by the opposition.

Some 2,500 delegates to the congress expressed their unanimous support for Lukashenka's domestic and foreign policies. They also adopted a document urging the expansion of local soviets' powers but made no specific legislative proposals. Nobody expected the congress to do more than that. In essence, the main task of the people assembled there was to provide a backdrop for Lukashenka's 100-minute speech, which was broadcast live on national television and radio.

Lukashenka said that Belarus is "completing its post-industrial period of development and entering [a stage of] new economic, technologic, and social relations." He stressed that there is no alternative to the political and socioeconomic course that the people chose by electing him as president of Belarus.

He noted that Belarus's GDP in 2000 will be only 10 percent down on the 1990 level. According to Lukashenka, during the first eight months of the year projected growth was achieved on six out of the 10 points of Belarus's 2000 Socioeconomic Development Plan--that is, GDP, industrial output, consumer goods production, foreign trade, retail turnover, and the population's real income. He added that there is still time to catch up on the remaining four points and promised more successes in the future. "The Belarusian model for development, I believe, is an example for development of post-Soviet states on the verge of the new millennium," AP quoted him as saying.

Lukashenka also promised to double the average wage in Belarus in 2001. But while last month he had ordered his cabinet to increase the average monthly wage from the current $50 to $100 by fall 2001, this time he cautiously quoted figures only in Belarusian rubles and promised the country that the average wage in 2001 will be 100,000 Belarusian rubles, which is roughly $100 at the current exchange rate. He simultaneously pledged to keep inflation in check but did not say that the government will be able to suppress it completely.

In a clear sign of his concern that the future legislature, like the current one, be totally subservient to the executive, Lukashenka appealed to the electorate to vote for those Chamber of Representatives deputies who have chosen to seek another legislative term. "I will tell you frankly: we badly need to have at least one-third of the old parliament in the new one, in order to maintain continuity," the Belarusian leader stressed.

KUCHMA DISMISSES TARASYUK. President Leonid Kuchma on 29 September relieved Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk of his duties "in connection with his transfer to another position," Interfax reported. The agency quoted Kuchma as saying the following day that he will appoint Anatoliy Zlenko as new foreign minister. Zlenko, who is 62, was the first foreign minister of independent Ukraine. He was replaced in 1994 after Kuchma was elected president. Kuchma praised Tarasyuk's performance but noted that the situation in Ukraine has changed and the country needs a new foreign minister, "a calm person, a diplomat to the roots." Zlenko has been Ukraine's ambassador to France since 1997.

Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz told Interfax that Tarasyuk was dismissed because of his "relatively" high degree of independence and authority. According to Moroz, such people cannot remain long in power and should be replaced by "manageable" ones who are unable to aspire to "an independent role in the political establishment." Ukrainian Popular Rukh leader Yuriy Kostenko said Tarasyuk was ousted under pressure from Russia. Kostenko noted that Tarasyuk seeks Ukraine's integration in "the European and Euroatlantic structures" and added that Russia perceived that policy as "extremely disadvantageous" to itself.

Mykhaylo Pohrebynskyy, director of the Center of Political Research, said Ukraine's foreign policy is unlikely to change under a new foreign minister. "Ukraine has no choice, the policy will be pro-Western no matter who is minister. The only thing a new minister could change is establishing closer economic ties with Russia, but not political ties," AP quoted Pohrebynskyy as saying. Interfax quoted unidentified Ukrainian experts and analysts as saying that Kyiv is hardly likely to change its foreign policy in a radical way. They noted at the same time that Ukraine's relations with Russian may improve under the new minister because "they cannot be worse [than they are now]." According to Yuriy Kostenko, however, Ukraine's "multidirectional" foreign policy is likely to become "pro-Russian" under Tarasyuk's successor.

Tarasyuk, 51, had served as Ukraine's envoy to NATO before he took over as foreign minister in April 1998. He was widely seen as one of Kyiv's pro-Western politicians. But his dismissal came just hours after he had summoned diplomats from the Canadian and the U.S. embassies as well as a representative of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in Kyiv to protest their interference in Ukraine's domestic affairs. Tarasyuk's protest was triggered by a letter from the Canadian and U.S. ambassadors as well as the Kyiv-based representatives of the EBRD and the World Bank to President Leonid Kuchma. That letter, which was published in the Kyiv-based newspaper "Fakty" on 28 September, said Kyiv's recent decisions--in particular, the 2001 budget draft submitted by the government to the parliament--suggest that the government is moving away from the reform program it has pledged to implement. An unidentified source "close to Kuchma's administration" told Reuters that the dismissal had nothing to do with the letter and Tarasyuk's diplomatic protest.

"You remember, no longer ago than last year, we all and primarily myself were being criticized for [our] model...of multilevel integration in the post-Soviet area. There was much ado and noise! But what do the Europeans say today, while creating their union, [while] expanding their common European Union? They have taken our model of multilevel integration. The core of that European Union, they say, will consist of today's members of the European Union. The second level will be made up of those developed states that will be accepted into the European Union. And the third level will include those that will be adapting themselves to accession to that union at a slower pace. Is there anything new for us here? Absolutely nothing [new]. So, was there any reason to subject us to severe criticism for the concept that had been proposed by Belarus some time ago regarding integration in the post-Soviet area?" -- Lukashenka in an interview with Russian journalists; quoted by Belarusian Television on 30 September.

"You are allowed to appear on television and show your stupidity or big brains, to present your program. From 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., all [candidates] have been given the possibility to present their program in five-minute spots; they lash Lukashenka and others there. Do it to your heart's content, nobody listens to you anyway! I have told them beforehand that nobody will listen to them if they are going to shout that it is necessary [to develop] programs for preventing AIDS. It was Kalyakin's Communists [ed. note: Syarhey Kalyakin heads the Belarusian Communist Party] who proposed this slogan when they were asked [how to deal] with the AIDS problem in one city. They say we need programs. I say to them that it is necessary to have a condom in your pocket, but they [nonetheless] say we need a program." -- Lukashenka in an interview with Russian journalists; quoted by Belarusian Television on 30 September