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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: June 1, 1999

1 June 1999, Volume 1, Number 2
Illegal Employment Shrinks. The Main Statistical Office (GUS) reports that shadow economy employees in January-August 1998 totaled 1.4 million and made up 9 percent of Poland's official labor force during that period. GUS Deputy Chairman Janusz Witkowski said Poland's illegal employment is shrinking. The previous GUS study, conducted in 1995, showed that the number of illegal employees totaled 2.2 million. GUS attributes this decrease to the growing number of legal job offers in recent years.

GUS also reported that 60.3 percent of shadow economy employees work illegally because their legal incomes are too small, while 41.7 percent are unable to find regular jobs. Illegal employment is usually temporary and brief; almost two-thirds of those polled by GUS worked illegally for no longer than 20 days. The average monthly pay in the shadow economy sector--calculated on the basis of data provided by respondents--amounted to 276 zlotys ($70).

Privatization Progresses, But Does It Produce Private Businesses? The 26 May "Rzeczpospolita" reported that by the end of 1998, Poland had "transformed" under its privatization program 4,647 companies out of the 8,453 state-owned companies that had existed in 1990. The daily adds, however, that there are fewer privately owned companies than "transformed" ones. In many "transformed" companies, the state possesses a controlling interest and has a say in their personnel policy and management.

Poland is pursuing three forms of privatization: direct privatization, liquidation and bankruptcy, and indirect privatization.

In direct privatization (which applies to 36.6 percent of transformed companies), state-owned companies are either sold 100 percent, fused with an investor company, or transferred on leasing terms to a company created by the original company's employees. In either case, the state has no control over "transformed" companies.

Liquidation and bankruptcy (34 percent of transformed companies) means selling the property of state-owned companies to individuals or economic entities that are not controlled by the state. This form of privatization is usually pursued with regard to unattractive businesses.

Indirect privatization means creating new companies with the participation of private capital and the state treasury. This method is applied to transforming the largest and most attractive state-owned enterprises, which exert a major influence on the Polish economy as a whole. The state has majority stakes in most of the 1,364 companies subject to this form of privatization.

Lukashenka Decrees Punishment For Overreporting. The Belarusian president has issued a decree envisaging punishment for overreporting and/or distorting statistical data. In particular, an official who provides false data may be fined 50-100 minimum wages ($110-$220, according to the street exchange rate). If an official has done "significant harm to rights and legal interests of citizens or to the state and public interests" by providing distorted information, he can be sentenced to correctional labor or two years in prison.

Dismissal Denied Until Situation Deteriorates Further? The Brest Oblast branch of the State Control Committee has examined the work of Yakau Bukhavetski, chairman of the oblast department for agriculture and food, and concluded that his performance has been "unsatisfactory," Belapan reported on 24 May. The committee ruled that Bukhavetski "deserves" to be dismissed from his post, but it gave him only a reprimand and warned that a final decision on his future will be adopted once his performance during the whole of 1999 has been assessed.

Bukhavetski has tendered his resignation, arguing that he is not responsible for the agricultural production slump in Brest Oblast. He suggested that the 1999 agricultural results may be even worse than for any previous year, owing to spring floods, an invasion of gnats, and severe cold spells in May. However, the oblast executive committee refused to accept Bukhavetski's resignation.

Bukhavetski's subordinates, according to Belapan, are also "indignant" that he was not allowed to leave a "hot post." According to them, Bukhavetski should not be blamed for the fact that "the oblast agriculture is going to pieces, purchase prices for agricultural products are low, while those for manufactured feed concentrates and diesel fuel are high."

Communist Heroes Give Names And Prestige To Collective Land. The Brest Oblast Executive Committee, headed by Uladzimir Zalamay, has announced it will give the names of Communist heroes and activists to land plots in collective farms of the oblast, Belapan reported on 24 May. Thus, a 70-hectare land plot in the "Malech" collective farm in Byaroza Raion was named after Pyotr Masherau, former first secretary of the Soviet-era Communist Party of Belarus. Another 171-hectare land plot in the same farm has been named after Alyaksey Tsabruk, a tractor operator and Hero of Socialist Labor. The payment for work on named plots has been increased by 10 percent, compared with the remuneration for working on nameless ones. According to the oblast authorities, this increase will make collective farmers feel proud to work on such fields.

How To Pacify Belarusian Poles? "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" on 26 May reported that the State Committee for Religions and Nationalities has drawn up a document in response to the cabinet's request to provide information about the activity of the Union of Poles of Belarus (SPB). The document was signed by committee head A. Bilyk and drafted by someone identified as Uralski.

According to official data, Belarus has slightly more than 400,000 Poles, of whom some 300,000 live in Hrodna Oblast. The SPB headquarters are located in Hrodna. Two Polish-language schools have existed in Belarus since 1996: in Hrodna and in Vaukavysk. However, the SPB has not received permission to build a Polish school in the town of Navahradak, where some 1,500 residents claim Polish origin.

The document says SPB chairman Tadeusz Gawin is guilty of participation in "political activity on behalf of radical opposition forces." It also calls the problem of Polish-language education in Belarus "far-fetched." The committee's arguments against developing Polish-language education in Belarus are as follows: "The instruction of all subjects in Polish put future graduates from such schools in an unfavorable position when seeking entrance to [Belarusian] higher educational institutions.... A specific problem is also posed by those students [from Belarus] who are educated at universities in Poland. According to our experience, a majority of young people remain [in that country]." Another passage provides deeper insight into the official reluctance to endorse Polish education: "Special attention paid to [Polish-language school] students by the SPB, Poland's diplomatic missions, various Polish charitable organizations and funds, the Catholic Church, as well as the continued practice of giving gifts to students and their parents, organizing summer trips to Poland, etc., instill [in those students] a feeling of being exceptional and privileged, while in their peers instructed in the official [Russian and Belarusian] languages [is ingrained] the idea that Polish education and all things connected with Poland are more prestigious."

The document ends with a 10-point plan, which "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" calls a "program of measures to pacify the SPB." In particular, the committee advises the government "to focus on cooperation with other associations that, owing to different reasons, have split from the SPB." It also advises the cabinet to take advantage of controversies between the SPB's local branches and top leadership. It recommends "comprehensive monitoring of the SPB's economic activity [as well as its] distribution of humanitarian aid and assets obtained from abroad." The committee offers to work out amendments to the laws on political parties and on public associations in order to prohibit the political activities of ethnic cultural associations.

"We have shown our naivete in believing that the State Committee for Religions and Nationalities has been created to render assistance to ethnic cultural associations.... The committee has drawn up the letter to the Council of Ministers of Belarus in order to suppress us," Belapan quoted Gawin as saying.

Ukrainian Russians Out Of Tune With Kuchma. On 22-23 May in Kyiv, 309 delegates representing Russian organizations from 19 Ukrainian oblasts and Crimea held the First Congress of Russians of Ukraine. According to the 27 May "Nezavisimaya gazeta," the congress was primarily financed by Ukraine's Rus association, which was the initiator and organizer of the event, as well as by the State Committee for Nationalities and the presidential administration. The newspaper suggests that the congress was organized by "Rus" association activists Valentina Yermolova, Aleksandr Svistunov, and Aleksandr Oleynikov in order to seize the leadership of the Russian Council of Ukraine, an umbrella organization for Ukrainian Russians set up by the Kyiv gathering. Yermolova was elected chairwoman of the council, while Svistunov and Oleynikov became her deputies.

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reports that the congress strongly differed over a resolution on whether to support Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's re-election bid. In the end, despite what the newspaper called Svistunov's "orchestration" and "obstruction," 60 delegates voted in favor of the following resolution: "Given that the incumbent president of Ukraine, [Leonid] Kuchma, has not fulfilled his electoral promise to grant official status to the Russian language, the Congress of Russians of Ukraine announces that it is against the re-election of...Kuchma for the post of president." No one voted against the resolution.

UNIAN added an interesting detail by reporting that Ukrainian Deputy Premier Valeriy Smoliy, who represented official Kyiv at the congress, was deprived of the opportunity to extend greetings from Kuchma to the delegates. In connection with this incident, the All-Ukrainian Association "Prosvita" and some other groups issued a protest saying that the congress "has overstepped not only the constitutional and legal norms but also elementary norms of the civilized and cultural behavior." The protesters demand that the president and the government take measures to prevent an "outburst of the chauvinist forces" in Ukraine.

On the other hand, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted that the congress did not meet the expectations of those politicians in Russia who would like to have a united and strong organization of Russians in Ukraine to campaign for Ukraine's integration into the Russian-Belarusian Union. The Council of Russians of Ukraine, according to the newspaper, cannot claim that it is a widely recognized representation of Ukraine's 12 million Russians. Moreover, it did not even mention the issue of integration during its two-day congress.

Proselytizing With Cheaper Oil? "Novye izvestiya" on 21 May published an article reviewing controversies between the two Orthodox Churches in Ukraine: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, led by Patriarch Filaret, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, headed by Metropolitan Volodymyr. According to the Russian daily, both Churches are involved in a continued struggle for influence among Ukrainian Orthodox believers.

The open split appeared in 1992 after the Russian Orthodox Church had refused to grant autonomy to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Those bishops in favor of an independent church administration went on to form the Kyiv Patriarchate with some 6,000 parishes. Some 9,000 parishes, most of them in eastern Ukraine, have remained loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate. According to a poll conducted by the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, 33 percent of Ukrainians supports the Kyiv Patriarchate, while the Moscow-linked Church has only 7.8 percent backing.

The harshest clash between the two opposing Churches occurred in Mariupol in April, when Patriarch Filaret and his retinue were attacked and beaten by Moscow-linked Church believers. In response, a Synod of the Kyiv Patriarchate branded the Moscow-subordinated Church an "anti-Ukrainian and anti-state force."

Metropolitan Volodymyr recently addressed a letter to Russian State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev asking him to help purchase at Russia's domestic market price and without value-added tax 6 million tons of Russian oil for processing at the Lysychansk oil refinery. The request was prompted, according to Volodymyr, by his "concern about the worthy observance of the 2000th anniversary of Christianity. In the event of a positive answer, we will name a firm that will deal on our behalf with implementing this project," "Novye izvestiya" quoted from Volodymyr's letter. By helping with this project, the letter adds, "you will render support to the traditional brotherly relations between Orthodox believers of Russia and Ukraine."

The newspaper suggests that both Ukrainian Metropolitan Volodymyr and his superior, Patriarch of Moscow and Russia Aleksii II, have close ties with Russia's oil and gas moguls, in particular, with Gazprom's Rem Vyakhirev and LUKoil's Vagit Alekperov. The newspaper concludes that while the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate expands its ranks by appealing to supporters of Ukraine's independence, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate intends to strengthen its influence by offering cheaper gasoline.

Who Is Pulling The Strings? In April, the Kyiv-based Institute of Politics, headed by political scientist Mykola Tomenko, published a list of Ukraine's most important "oligarchs." The list included people who supposedly "control or influence at least one parliamentary caucus, group, political party, public organization, nationwide television or radio channel, or nationwide newspaper." According to Tomenko, Ukrainian oligarchs will play a "dominant role" in the presidential elections on 31 October.

The top five on the list are:

1) Ihor Bakay, who is president of the "Naftohaz Ukrayiny" Joint-Stock Company, controls the Revival of Regions caucus, ICTV television, and the newspaper "Segodnya."

2. Oleksandr Volkov, who is a parliamentary deputy and presidential aide, controls the Revival of Regions caucus, the Agrarian Party of Ukraine, part of the Democratic Party of Ukraine, and the Party of Regional Revival of Ukraine. His media empire includes Ukrainian Television-1, Studio 1+1 Television, Gravis Television, and Europa+ Radio.

3. Viktor Pinchuk, also a parliamentary deputy, wields influence through the Working Ukraine caucus and the newspaper "Fakty."

4. Vadym Rabynovych, the president of the United Jewish Community of Ukraine, controls part of the Green Party caucus, the ERA Channel on Ukrainian Television-1, NTU Television, the Uniar information agency, Super Nova Radio, and the newspapers "Stolichnyye novosti" and "Delovaya nedelya."

5. Hryhoriy Surkis, who is a parliamentary deputy and honorary president of the Dynamo Kyiv Soccer Club, wields influence through the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (United) and its parliamentary caucus, as well as Inter Television and the newspaper "Biznes."

Initially, the list also included former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, who has left Ukraine and applied for political asylum in the U.S. While in Ukraine, Lazarenko controlled the Hromada party and its parliamentary caucus, YuTAR Television, Television Channel 11 in Dnipropetrovsk, and the newspapers "Pravda Ukrayiny" and "Kiyevskiye vedomosti." According to the Institute of Politics, the Lazarenko case is a "textbook case of a struggle between competing oligarchs or oligarchic associations in Ukraine."

"Warsaw owes a statue to the author of the real end of the Cold War, Ronald Reagan." -- Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski on 25 May.

"If all Polish private companies pooled their assets to buy Microsoft's shares on the stock market, they would be able to acquire no more than 4 percent. This is an estimate of the combined power of Polish [private] capital." -- "Gazeta Bankowa" on 22 May.

"Can you tell me please in what other country [than Belarus] the opposition is allowed to mark a birthday in such a way?" -- A Belarusian Television journalist on a 24 May opposition rally to demand the release of former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir from prison. The rally's date coincided with Chyhir's birthday.

"As regards the number of criminal cases launched against well-known bankers and businessmen, Belarus is one of the indisputable leaders in the CIS, if not on the entire planet." -- The Minsk official daily "Zvyazda" on 27 May.

"It has become difficult to provide villagers with many goods that are not manufactured by Belarusian enterprises but are indispensable in life and farming: scythes, sickles, pitchforks, churns, separators [for milk], saws, files, straw cutters, milk cans, sewing needles, thimbles, and other products. All these are imported. Are we really unable to manufacture such goods? You have three months--[after that] you will report to me how many of these goods, listed as well as unlisted by me here, which are so necessary to people everyday, you manufacture in Belarus, in our talented, science-intensive industry." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 27 May, addressing the Belarusian Union of Consumer Cooperatives, an organization dealing with trade in consumer products in the countryside.

"Consider yourselves to have already been a public organization. Now you will be a state-run public organization." -- Lukashenka on the same occasion, announcing his imminent decree to nationalize the consumer trade sector in the countryside and to transform the Union of Consumer Cooperatives into a governmental agency.

"I propose to set up a council of mayoral candidates that will accumulate all the good ideas included in their election programs." -- Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko on 26 May, referring to the 32 candidates in the Kyiv mayoral elections.

"There is no democratic country with media as biased as those in Ukraine." -- Ukrainian parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko on 11 May.