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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: June 15, 1999

15 June 1999, Volume 1, Number 4
Polish Germans Dismayed by Bonn's Aid Cut. Germany has reduced this year's aid for Germans living in Poland by 8.5 million German marks ($4.5 million). Announced by Jochen Welt, the German government official responsible for affairs related to the German minority in Poland, in Opole on 8 June, this move has dismayed leaders of the Social and Cultural Association of Germans (TSKN), PAP reported. TSKN head Henryk Kroll said he will seek to have that decision changed, adding that reduced financial support from Bonn might result in a mass exodus of Germans from Poland. "I am surprised at the decision," Kroll said. "Only a year ago I spoke with Gerhard Schroeder when he was still running for chancellor and he promised me that support for Germans in Poland would remain unchanged."

According to the Katowice-based "Trybuna Slaska," Welt sought to encourage Polish Germans in Gliwice during his visit to that town, noting that now they will be more dependent on themselves and the Polish authorities. "You have taken advantage of the possibilities of [taking part] in Poland's public life," he commented, noting that there is no precedent for the way in which the local ethnic Germans assumed responsibility for people and the region following local elections last year in Poland. In that ballot, several hundreds of Polish Germans were elected to local self-governments in the Opole region. Some, however, remained unconvinced. "If we cease to receive support [from Bonn], the Polish government will not meet our expectations. We have requested support from the [Polish] Ministry of Culture, but the minister has given [only] 5,000 zlotys ($1,250) for a 90,000-strong community," "Trybuna Slaska" quoted German activists from Bytom as saying.

Successes and Failures of the Last Decade. According to a recent poll conducted by the Center for Studying Public Opinion (OBOP), some 92 percent of respondents believe that shops full of goods, unrestricted travel abroad, and the pullout of Soviet troops from Poland are the country's most significant successes in the last decade. More that 80 percent of Poles include the revelation of the truth about Katyn (where Polish officers taken prisoners by Soviet troops in 1939 were murdered en masse by the NKVD one year later) and the abolition of censorship to the list of successes. Poland's NATO entry, the promulgation of the post-communist constitution, and the 1989 round-table negotiations between the communist authorities and Solidarity are also among the top 10 of Poland's biggest achievements in the post-communist era.

The largest failures include unemployment (93.6 percent of respondents), the situation in agriculture (90.5 percent), the housing situation (85 percent), the low level of public security (79.4 percent), the increasing gap between the rich and the poor (78.3 percent), and the introduction of education fees (75.6 percent).

The most controversial events of the last decade include Lech Walesa's presidency (43.9 percent consider it to have been a success while 41 percent deem it a failure), privatization (35 percent versus 44 percent), and Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz's "shock therapy" plan for economic reform (32 percent versus 42 percent). OBOP commented that Balcerowicz's plan received a negative assessment mainly from pensioners and peasants, while garnering praise from managers and entrepreneurs.

Most Poles Pessimistic about Prospects. Another recent OBOP poll says 55 percent of Poles think that "things in Poland are going in a bad direction," while only 35 percent believe the opposite. Sixty-one percent believe that the Polish economy is in crisis, while 35 percent think it is developing correctly. Forty-three percent of respondents said living standards in Poland will worsen, while only 21 percent are optimistic in this respect.

A recent poll conducted by the Public Opinion Research Center (CBOS) shows support for Poland's EU membership has dropped to 55 percent, down from 64 percent last December. Expressing concern over the dwindling support for the government's pro-EU policies, Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek commented, "Knowing the logic of statistics, one may ask: what next?"

Mastermind of Belarusian Economy Arrested. At the end of May, the Belarusian police arrested Eduard Eydzin, head of the Independent Consulting Group and author of many economic projects implemented by the Belarusian government in recent years. According to "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta," it was Eydzin who proposed the term "socially-oriented market economy" to replace "market socialism," coined by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. It was also Eydzin who suggested the policy of large soft credit emissions by the National Bank to resuscitate the Belarusian economy.

Both "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" and Belapan suggest that Eydzin was arrested in connection with his project to replenish Belarus's gold reserve. According to that scheme, the National Bank issued credits to the Minsk-based BelAZ vehicle plant for the production of heavy trucks. Those vehicles were subsequently delivered to Kazakhstan, which paid for them in gold. Following the transfer of the precious metal to a Swiss bank account, the state settled accounts with BelAZ, while Eydzin and his consulting firm were paid a commission for brokering the deal. According to "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta," the authorities allege that Eydzin took some part of the gold for himself.

"Eydzin believed that it is possible to overcome the economic crisis [by] printing money and to replenish the country's gold reserve by selling commodities, but he did not understand that it was more important to attract hard currency than gold to the republic," former chief banker Stanislau Bahdankevich told Belapan.

"Narodnaya volya" reported on 9 June that investigators have already interrogated National Bank Chairman Pyotr Prakapovich, who closely cooperated with Eydzin on the scheme to replenish the country's gold reserves. The newspaper suggests that both Eydzin and Prakapovich may be used by Lukashenka as prime "scapegoats" for Belarus's economic failures.

Phoning for Cash From a KGB Prison. Two officials from the Babruysk Hydrolytic Plant who were recently sent to a KGB prison on charges of abuse of power and grand larceny asked for cellular phones to be brought to their cells in order to "alleviate their fate," Belarusian Television reported on 8 June. They phoned their friends to ask for money to repay the losses they had inflicted on the plant. According to the KGB, this "first experiment" with cellular phones was a success. Within 24 hours, friends of the two men under investigation brought 8 billion Belarusian rubles ($31,600) in a box used for packing television sets to the KGB directorate in Babruysk.

It was most likely President Alyaksandr Lukashenka who suggested the idea of "phoning for cash" from prison. At a 9 March conference on how to retrieve dubious foreign credits granted by Belarusian bankers, Lukashenka instructed law enforcement bodies on how to deal with those guilty of issuing such credits. "[Put them] in a solitary confinement cell, [give them] a cellular phone, and [let them] call their families and relatives in the near and far abroad to collect the [unpaid] money. This is a directive for you, and remember--this will be the main point for me in monitoring the performance of the law enforcement bodies and the judicial system," Belarusian Television quoted the president as saying at the time.

Belarusian-Speaking Children Considered Mentally Retarded? Nataliya Prymakova, a logopedic specialist from Homel, has diagnosed five-year-old Frantsishak Yauseyanka as "linguistically and emotionally underdeveloped" and has ordered him transferred to a kindergarten group of mentally retarded children, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 4 June. The reason for such a diagnosis was the fact that Frantsishak, who is is being brought up in a Belarusian-speaking family, speaks virtually no Russian. Prymakova, who speaks no Belarusian, tested Frantsishak in Russian when his parents were not present. She concluded that the child's orientation is weak because the boy cannot name some things in Russian.

Volha Tsyareshchanka, Frantsishak's mother, took the boy out of the kindergarten and sent a letter to the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHK), complaining that the kindergarten's management has violated the constitution by denying her son an education in his native language (Russian and Belarusian are the constitutionally-recognized official languages in Belarus).

The BHK commented that in Frantsishak's case it is difficult to present his problem to the international community because international human rights activists are not in a position to understand why the Belarusian government is not interested in promoting the native language of the Belarusians. "According to the BHK's knowledge, there is no Belarusian-language kindergarten in the country," BHK activist Svyatlana Kurs told an RFE/RL correspondent. "The approach to a Belarusian-speaking child is fully dependent on his/her teacher and logopedic specialist. Therefore, the child may become morally and emotionally traumatized in his/her early childhood, owing to the uncivilized behavior on the part of an adult or to the Belarusophobia that, unfortunately, is now being enforced."

According to the BHK, since President Alyaksandr Lukashenka came to power in 1994, some 600 Belarusian-language schools have been transformed into Russian-language ones.

Kuchma's Rivals Count on Regional Media. Four presidential hopefuls--Oleksandr Tkachenko, Oleksandr Moroz, Petro Symonenko, and Yeven Marchuk--participated in a nationwide conference of regional and local media heads in Kyiv on 31 May. The 5 June "Region" reported that in addition to spewing out anti-government and anti-Kuchma rhetoric, all the hopefuls were seeking to curry favor with regional media in order to enlist their support in the presidential campaign.

In particular, Socialist Party leader Moroz told the conference: "You have not been bribed, unlike media in the capital. ...How long do we have to watch all those "Mornings" and "Breakfasts" [on nationwide channels]? They are so bad that they make one's heart bleed. But in Kryvyy Rih, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Lviv, and other cities, I have watched other programs which were made in a really skilled way. We ourselves are to be blamed for living in an atmosphere of information terror. We have come to the point where objective information about Ukraine can be obtained only through foreign media. ...If one wants to tell the truth, one has to address Radio Liberty, Voice of America, Deutsche Welle, or the BBC. ...A junta is in power [in Ukraine]. ...Ukraine's salvation is in deposing the incumbent president. Let us unite and break the information blockade."

Ukraine's regional media leaders adopted a statement protesting political pressure exerted on regional media by state control and monitoring bodies. "We are doing everything to ensure that the presidential elections are honest and fair. We will give the floor to all candidates who are capable, under the legislation in force, of paying for services provided by broadcasting companies," the statement added.

"Standing on the threshold of a new period in history, we all must examine our consciences regarding responsibility for the existing divisions. We must admit the committed faults and pardon one another in turn. ...On the eve of the third millennium, we must move quickly toward full and fraternal reconciliation." -- Pope John Paul II at a 10 June ecumenical mass in Drohiczyn, eastern Poland, attended by Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians as well as by Muslims.

"If [Serbian President Slobodan] Milosevic needs our support [including granting him political asylum], we will always render him this support. But I do not think it will go that far. They [in the West] have declared many people to be criminals. If anybody does not agree with them, their democracy declares him to be a criminal. [Milosevic's] is the same case." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 10 June.

"There is such a form of strike or sabotage as continual reforming." -- Syarhey Posakhau, Belarus's permanent representative in the CIS bodies, commenting on the session of CIS prime ministers in Minsk on 4 June.

"Prakapovich, I think, is innocent, he simply loves his president too much. That love is so boundless that it can prompt him, without special difficulty, to change his chair in the National Bank for a cot in prison." -- A columnist in the 9 June "Narodnaya volya," commenting on the interrogation of National Bank Chairman Pyotr Prakapovich in connection with Belarus's scheme to replenish its gold reserve.

"They are idlers. They have neglected their land, knifed their livestock and eaten it. And, in addition, they are not willing to work." -- Belarusian Prime Minister Syarhey Linh on peasants on collective farms facing bankruptcy.

"In my opinion, [presidential candidate Nataliya Vitrenko] is a strong rival of the incumbent president. It is expected on Bankova Street [where President Leonid Kuchma's office is located] that Vitrenko will attract votes of the left-wing electorate. That's a mistake. Vitrenko's electorate consists of marginal and declasse people, not of voters gravitating toward the Communists or the Socialists. Lukashenka in Belarus has a similar electorate. Vitrenko's nomination [as a presidential candidate] is very dangerous for all political forces in Ukraine." -- Artur Bilous from the Reforms-Center parliamentary group in the 10 June "Segodnya."

"No matter what people say, Marx and Lenin today are topical and right as never before; their conclusions find confirmation in the present-day capitalization of Ukraine according to a 19th century model." -- Ukrainian Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko in the 10 June "Komunist."