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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: June 8, 1999

8 June 1999, Volume 1, Number 3
Lustration To Be Accelerated. Lustration prosecutor Boguslaw Nizienski, in an interview with PAP on 3 June, said the archives of Poland's communist-era secret services contain "significant circumstantial evidence" that some politicians were secret service collaborators but offer only "fragmentary proof, " which, he said, may be considered insufficient by the Lustration Court. At the same time, Nizienski said, the files of agents "in certain structures" have survived in ideal condition. Under the 1997 lustration law, all major officials in Poland are obliged to submit written statements as to whether they worked in or collaborated with the communist-era secret services. The acknowledgement of such ties, while possibly eliciting condemnation among the public, entails no legal responsibility. In particular, a confessed collaborator may continue to hold public office. Those found guilty of lying in their lustration statements, however, will be barred from holding public office for 10 years. Polish media have reported that some 300 officials submitted statements in which they admit collaboration with or work in the communist secret services. Some 23,000 officials denied such ties.

All lustration statements are checked by the lustration prosecutor, who under the lustration law is called the "public interest spokesman" (rzecznik interesu publicznego). If the lustration prosecutor deems a lustration statement questionable, he sends it to the Lustration Court--the Appeals Court in Warsaw--for scrutiny. The court may launch lustration proceedings; among other things, the secret police files of the author of a questionable statement are opened and scrutinized.

Nizienski did not say reveal how many lustration proceedings he will be able to launch against those politicians whose lustration statements he considered suspicious. "Certain materials have been destroyed, including both personal and operational [secret service] files; there are only fragmentary traces in the form of journal entries," he said.

He did say, however, that he is currently concentrating on cases about which there can be no doubt. So far, he has sent seven statements to the Lustration Court. The court has subsequently opened lustration proceedings against all seven authors of those statements: two parliamentary deputies of the opposition Democratic Left Alliance, one deputy of the opposition Peasant Party, a deputy minister in the government, and three lawyers. Their names have not been made known to the public. "I understand journalists who put the right to information above everything else, but I myself think that it will be better to wait for a binding verdict [of the Lustration Court]," Nizienski commented.

Nizienski told PAP that he has already examined some 1,000 lustration statements. He added that other statements will be checked more rapidly, and he assured the agency that lustration in Poland will not take 1,333 years, as one newspaper suggested, basing its estimate on the slow pace of Nizienski's work last year.

Popular Front Puts Off Decision On Its Leader. The board of the Belarusian Popular Front (BNF)--the most influential opposition organization in Belarus--convened on 30 May to assess the 16 May opposition presidential elections and the decision of BNF exiled leader Zyanon Paznyak to withdraw from the race. Paznyak claimed that Viktar Hanchar, head of the Central Electoral Commission, rigged election results by inflating turnout figures. He also maintained that the early voting procedure adopted by Hanchar's commission--whereby election officials visited voters at their homes during the 10 days leading up to election day--was illegal.

Paznyak's stance on the elections has sharply divided the BNF leadership. BNF leading figures such as Syarhey Papkou, the organization's deputy head and Paznyak's electoral staff chief, supported their leader and called on BNF activists in the regions to withdraw from the opposition presidential elections. Others, like BNF acting head Lyavon Barshcheuski, BNF deputy head Yury Khadyka, and BNF secretary Vyachaslau Siuchyk, maintained that Paznyak's withdrawal from the shadow elections did harm to the entire opposition. They opted for continuing with the electoral initiative until its conclusion on 16 May.

According to "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta," the BNF board meeting on 30 May avoided a split within the organization by postponing a final assessment of Paznyak's behavior in the elections until a BNF congress in July.

Paznyak, who currently resides in Warsaw, sent a fax to the session requesting that the BNF reject the OSCE proposal to participate in a meeting in Bucharest from 11-13 June between the Belarusian authorities, the opposition, and Belarusian NGOs aimed at inaugurating a political dialogue. The BNF board, however, rejected that proposal and decided to send Barshcheuski to Bucharest.

Preferential Regime For Homselmash Till Year's End. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has signed an edict providing state subsides to the Homselmash Production Association in Homel for the production of Belarusian grain harvesters. In June and July, the Agricultural and Finance Ministries are obliged to pay in advance for the first batch of some 50 KZP harvesters to be manufactured by the machine-building giant this year. The edict also includes preferential credits this year for securing the production capacity of 500 harvesters annually in 2000-2001. Moreover, Homselmash is released from paying income tax and value-added tax until the end of the year.

According to Belarusian experts, the KZP harvester will be less expensive than foreign harvesters available on the Belarusian market and will replace antiquated Russian machines currently used by most Belarusian collective farms. Belarusian Television reported on 11 May that the average age of harvesters in use on Belarusian collective farms is 10-11 years.

Fruits of the Wood to Be Checked for Radiation. Under a Belarusian government resolution on "additional measures for monitoring radioactivity in exported products," as of 1 July the export of Belarusian mushrooms, berries, and herbs to EU countries must be accompanied by radiation safety certificates attesting that these products conform with EU radiation safety norms. Alyaksandr Hardzeyeu, an official from the State Standardization Committee, told the 29 May "Zvyazda" why the government has had to adopt such a resolution.

According to Hardzeyeu, the resolution was preceded by a "rather big scandal" last fall, when the EU Commission for Consumer Policy and the Protection of Consumers notified the Belarusian Foreign Ministry that a shipment of Belarusian mushrooms contaminated by radioactive cesium had been exported to the EU. The commission demanded that Belarus take measures to prevent any such occurrences in the future, threatening that otherwise it would introduce an embargo on all Belarusian exports to the EU.

Under the adopted resolution, all shipments of Belarusian mushrooms abroad will be checked for radioactivity in the 1,400 or so authorized laboratories of the Belarusian Union of Consumer Cooperatives, the Ministry of Forestry, the State Standardization Committee, and the Health Ministry.

Hardzeyeu said that it cannot be ruled out that unmonitored radioactive mushrooms gathered in areas contaminated by fallout from the 1986 Chornobyl accident will increase supplies on the domestic market.

According to official data, Belarus exported 80,000 tons of mushrooms last year.

Belarus Builds Ice Hockey Fields for Lukashenka. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is known for his passion for ice hockey. Some independent sources report that he spends two hours a day playing the game. According to the Moscow daily "Segodnya" of 2 June, indirect proof of his sporting passion is reflected everyday in the large number of police troops in Minsk's Gorkii Park, where a covered ice hockey field is located. In order to provide entertainment for the president during his trips to the provinces, Belarus's six oblast governors have ordered new ice hockey fields built and old ones renovated in their oblasts. "Segodnya" reports that the "most imposing" covered hockey field is being built in Brest Oblast. Despite the lack of design documents and protests by constructors, the president has personally ordered that the Brest facility be put into operation by the end of this year. Its cost is estimated at 2 trillion Belarusian rubles ($8 million, according to the official exchange rate).

But the daily reports that the greatest construction activity can be observed in Shklou, a raion town of 10,000, where Lukashenka worked during the Soviet era. Shklou will host a nationwide harvest festival in September, and the authorities are rushing to complete the construction of an ice hockey field and the renovation of a sports complex before the festival. Those projects are financed by the Agricultural Ministry, which has allocated some 70 billion Belarusian rubles to the Shklou agricultural sector "for [unspecified] measures intended to protect plants," according to "Segodnya."


With Supreme Council Chairman Oleksandr Tkachenko's 29 May announcement that he intends to run in the October presidential elections, the political climate in Ukraine has considerably heated up. Some analysts believe that Tkachenko may be the most serious challenge to President Leonid Kuchma's re-election bid.

Despite widespread speculation in the Ukrainian media to the contrary, Tkachenko had been assuring until the very last moment that he would not run. His change of mind, he says, was prompted by Kuchma's recent anti-parliament rhetoric about "dissolving the Supreme Council" the day after his re-election. "As parliamentary chairman, I must take appropriate decisions [in such circumstances]," Tkachenko concluded.

Tkachenko's candidacy was formally proposed by the Peasant Party of Ukraine (SelPU) at its congress on 29 May. "We shall win. Truth is with us. Millions of people back us," SelPU Chairman Serhiy Dovhan told the enthusiastic delegates. Some right-leaning newspapers have ironically commented that not long before the congress, Dovhan had been promoting Petro Symonenko, presidential candidate of the Communist Party. Those same newspapers recalled that Dovhan's party entered an alliance with the Socialist Party in last year's parliamentary elections. Now the SelPU candidate will compete against Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz in the presidential polls.

The fourth major leftist hopeful is the sharp-tongued and populist Nataliya Vitrenko, chairwoman of the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine. So far, polls in Ukraine have suggested she is leading the presidential race, with 17-20 percent backing. Some observers believe that Vitrenko's bid is strongly supported by the presidential administration in order to split the leftist vote and facilitate Kuchma's re-election.

Before Tkachenko announced his presidential bid, Kuchma's biggest challenge had appeared to be preventing Moroz from reaching the second round of voting. Kuchma seems to have succeed in reaching that goal, since Moroz has been unable to reach an understanding with both Vitrenko and Symonenko to set up a leftist election coalition. Moreover, enmity between Ukraine's Communists and Socialists has recently intensified, and neither side seems disposed to back the other in a possible runoff against Kuchma.

The emergence of Tkachenko has changed the electoral prospects of leftist candidates. Presumably, it has also led Kuchma to reconsider who his main rival will be in the presidential campaign.

On the one hand, it appears that Tkachenko's bid has weakened the potential of the leftist anti-Kuchma electorate by splitting the left-wing votes still further. Tkachenko, the 60-year-old career Communist with links to the agricultural sector, can count on votes in the countryside in both eastern and western Ukraine. However, those votes will not be enough to secure him a play-off with Kuchma, let alone victory. Therefore, he will need votes from the traditional communist/socialist electorate.

On the other hand, if Tkachenko were to beat Moroz, Symonenko, and Vitrenko in the first round, he would be the most dangerous rival for Kuchma in the runoff. It is almost certain that the defeated leftist candidates would ask their voters to cast ballots for Tkachenko. Despite political and personal animosities, which prevent them from supporting one another, Symonenko, Moroz, and Vitrenko have a strong dislike of the incumbent president and that dislike is shared by their electorate. To face Tkachenko in the second round of voting would be the worst-case scenario for Kuchma. The best one would be to compete with Symonenko and to deal with him the way Yeltsin handled Zyuganov in the 1996 presidential elections in Russia: namely, by referring to the "red threat" and mobilizing votes under the slogan, "Better the Incumbent than the Communists Again."

The irony of Ukraine's 1999 presidential polls is that it was Kuchma and his aides who helped Tkachenko gain the post of parliamentary speaker in 1998 and become a major political figure. Their aim was to remove former speaker Moroz from the spotlight of Ukrainian politics and thus to neutralize, as was widely believed, Kuchma's biggest presidential rival. Now it looks as if fate has played a nasty trick on Kuchma, pitting him against yet another speaker.

"You have very correctly placed Belarus in the center of all events. On the one hand, [there is] NATO expansion eastward. Most likely, as a result of these activities, [we are witnessing] the unpunished bombing of Yugoslavia, of a very good and beautiful country. On the other hand, on Belarus's eastern border--unfortunately, [we are witnessing] instability in the Russian Federation, which was reflected in the subsequent dismissal of the subsequent Russian government and the formation of a new one.... Furthermore, take Ukraine--a presidential election campaign has begun there. And in the north, take the Baltic countries, which have so far been unable to define their position or, to be more precise, have defined it and are dying to join NATO. Therefore, we have certainly found ourselves, as you have very correctly noted, in the epicenter of unfavorable events." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, speaking to Czech journalists in Minsk on 28 May.

"The poorer we live and the lower Lukashenka's popularity rating, the more fetes for the population and concerts for the youth are organized.... Why are there numerous police troops at opposition rallies? Why do the police not pay appropriate attention to excited and drunken crowds at large fetes? Why do we need so many large fetes, parades, and harvest festivals when people do not have enough food for their families? Why is vodka the most easily available product in terms of price? Why does the government of the republic pursue such a policy of intoxicating people and profaning popular support for the president?" -- Lyudmila Hraznova, a deputy of the opposition Supreme Soviet, commenting on the stampede in a Minsk metro passageway following a beer festival on 30 May. According to official figures, 52 people, mostly young women, died and some 100 were hospitalized.

"We have been too careless with regard to these marches [and] escapades. Democracy [means]: let's walk until someone gets suffocated somewhere. But if the president as much as raises a finger somewhere, everybody [claims that] the president is a dictator." -- Lukashenka, commenting on the same stampede.

"The incompatibility of human economic behavior and the economic behavior of the Belarusian government is becoming increasingly obvious." -- Belarusian economic analyst Yaraslau Ramanchuk.

"He will build communism for the people and capitalism for himself." -- Attributed by the Kyiv daily "Den" to a member of President Leonid Kuchma's entourage commenting on Ukrainian parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko's presidential election program.

"The countryside is the cradle of Ukraine." -- Oleksandr Tkachenko's campaign slogan.