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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: November 28, 2000

28 November 2000, Volume 2, Number 44
BREAKTHROUGH IN POLISH-RUSSIAN RELATIONS? Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov traveled to Warsaw last week for the first visit by Russia's top diplomat in four years. Moscow has practically frozen high-level diplomat contacts with Warsaw since March 1999, when Poland joined NATO. Tensions in bilateral ties were exacerbated further in January 2000, when Poland expelled nine Russian diplomats on spying charges. Russia reciprocated by ordering nine Polish diplomats to leave the country.

"Without exaggeration, we are on the threshold of a qualitative change in our relations. It is the strategic will of Russia," Ivanov noted, following his talks with President Aleksander Kwasniewski.

"This visit is a new opening," Polish Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski said.

However, some Polish commentators believe Ivanov's comment about a "qualitative change" to have been nothing but a diplomatic cliche. "Both sides reiterated obvious things. The Russian minister said that Poland is a sovereign country, and nothing can be built on its territory without Warsaw's approval: neither a gas pipeline nor a fiber optic cable (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 21 November 2000). This is obvious to the point of banality," Grzegorz Kostrzewa-Zorbas, an expert in Poland's eastern policies, told "Rzeczpospolita."

Touching upon the controversial project to build a gas pipeline via Belarus and Poland to bypass Ukraine, Ivanov said that "this will be Poland's sovereign decision." "It is good if we have a deal. But we have alternative solutions," Ivanov added.

The sides agreed to intensify exchanges of information and international issues as well as to lay the groundwork for Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Warsaw next year. No documents were signed during Ivanov's visit.

ACTOR SMASHES EXHIBIT PHOTOS WITH SABER. Minister of Culture Kazimierz Ujazdowski on 22 November ordered the closure of an exhibit in Warsaw that included photographs of Polish and foreign actors in Nazi uniforms they wore in anti-Nazi films. The exhibition, shown in the prestigious Zacheta gallery, was called "The Nazis" and had no explanatory text whatsoever. It was prepared by Polish-born artist Piotr Uklanski, who now lives in New York. Before Warsaw, Uklanski showed the exhibition in several cities in the West.

Ujazdowski said the exhibit may re-open if an "appropriate commentary" is added to explain its meaning. "Zacheta is a state institution open not only for adults who know what Nazism was. It is visited by young people, children, so the commentary I demanded is something natural.... The exhibition also caused controversy in the West. But Poland's historical context is specific, as the Nazis committed their crime here, not in New York," Ujazdowski commented.

Uklanski protested that the ministry's order was "nothing less than censorship of my exhibit," PAP reported. He did not agree to provide a commentary for the exhibition.

The controversy over the exhibit flared on 21 November, when Polish movie star Daniel Olbrychski took a theatrical saber and smashed several photographs of himself and his colleagues in Nazi uniforms. Olbrychski's protest action was shown on Polish Television. Olbrychski said he was outraged that Uklanski had used a photograph showing the actor in a Nazi uniform without asking permission. He added that he was particularly distraught when youngsters who had seen the exhibit asked him if he had actually been a Nazi. Prosecutors are still considering whether to bring charges of vandalism against Olbrychski.

Olbrychski's protest action has drawn more praise than censure and appears to have been interpreted in Poland as defending moral values. Polish Television quoted a letter from Jean-Paul Belmondo, whose photograph was also on display at the exhibit, as saying he would have done the same as Olbrychski.

NATO TO UNSEAT LUKASHENKA? The Moscow-based "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 21 November that NATO will render financial support to a candidate of the Belarusian democratic opposition during next year's presidential elections in Belarus. A London correspondent for the daily wrote that this proposal was made by NATO official Jamie Shea during his address to "the Cambridge Club, one of the most influential discussion clubs in Great Britain." According to "Kommersant-Daily," Shea told the club that NATO helped the Yugoslav opposition elect Vojislav Kostunica and wants to use a similar method in Belarus. The newspaper quoted Shea as saying: "I think that Belarus is the next country in Europe where NATO should apply a similar tactic. We should financially support the democratic opposition to the Lukashenka regime during the elections."

Shea rejected the "Kommersant-Daily" report in a letter to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, which was made public by Foreign Ministry spokesman Pavel Latushka in Minsk on 22 November. Shea wrote that "Kommersant" had "fully fabricated" what he was alleged to have said at the Cambridge Club, adding that he neither referred to Belarus nor spoke about NATO interference in the domestic affairs of other countries. Latushka, for his part, said that the report in "Kommersant-Daily" was "a provocation of the first order." "One need not pit the Republic of Belarus against NATO, which is one of the world's most influential organizations," Latushka added.

Belarusian Television's notorious "Panarama" newscast the same day took advantage of the canard in "Kommersant-Daily." Before reporting on Shea's denial and Latushka's comment, the program presented Shea's alleged pronouncement on Belarus as an indisputable fact and broadcast comments from two members of the Chamber of Representatives and Russian Duma Deputy Frants Klintsevich, who criticized NATO for its plans to interfere in Belarus's domestic affairs.

As for "Kommersant-Daily," it maintained on 24 November that its 21 November story was true. This time, however, Shea's alleged pronouncement was presented as follows: "Incidentally, I think that Belarus might become the next country where a similar tactic can be applied."

KUCHMA MOVES TO IMPLEMENT REFERENDUM BY BILLS. President Leonid Kuchma has submitted two bills to the parliament to implement the results of the 16 April constitutional referendum, Interfax reported on 22 November. The overwhelming majority of Ukrainians said "yes" to all four of the plebiscite questions proposed by the president. Kuchma had asked the country the following: to give the president the right to dissolve the parliament if it fails to pass a budget within three months or form a majority within one month; to abolish lawmakers' immunity from criminal prosecution; to reduce the number of parliamentary deputies from 450 to 300; and to introduce a bicameral legislature in Ukraine.

Last week's bills are related to the first two questions on the referendum. They were endorsed by a special commission set up by the parliament and the presidential administration after the referendum in order to implement its results. The commission is headed by deputy parliamentary speaker Viktor Medvedchuk and presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn.

The bill on the early dissolution of the parliament stipulates that the president may take such action if the parliament fails to form a majority within one month or adopt a budget within 92 days of the government's submitting that document. The cabinet is obliged to submit a budget draft no later than 15 September. Additionally, the bill provides for the parliament to be dissolved if that body fails to hold a plenary sitting within 30 days of the inauguration of a parliamentary session.

The bill on the lifting of lawmakers' immunity from criminal prosecution is proposed in the form of amendments to the law "On the Status of People's Deputies of Ukraine." Under the provisions of that bill, a lawmaker can be detained or arrested only following a "substantiated" decision by Ukraine's Supreme Court. Criminal proceedings against a lawmaker can be instigated only by the prosecutor-general. On the other hand, the bill stipulates that "the immunity of the people's deputies of Ukraine is guaranteed" and says that "the people's deputies of Ukraine are not legally accountable for how they vote or what they say in the parliament or its bodies, except for insults or defamation."

Kuchma commented on 23 November that he will have to look for "additional means" to influence the people's deputies if they fail to endorse the bills on the implementation of the constitutional referendum. He did not elaborate.

Socialist Party leader Oleksander Moroz commented on 24 November that the parliament should not consider Kuchma's two bills before the adoption of the legislation amending the constitution in line with the 16 April referendum. That last bill was submitted by Kuchma earlier. "As long as the constitution is not amended, there should be no talk about those draft laws. The world has not yet known the practice of replacing a constitution with a law," Interfax quoted Moroz as saying.

"What are the objectives of a radical reform [in the agricultural sector]. To divide land and put a farmer on each plot. Is this realistic today? [I am asking] you, the people who came here from the fields, is this realistic today? Where will we find so many farmers? And how will we divide land?...The question arises--what are we to do in today's agriculture? One needs to set one goal in agriculture: to milk [the cows] and to feed [them]." -- Alyaksandr Lukashenka to the Chamber of Representatives on 21 November; quoted by Belarusian Television.