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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: July 13, 1999

13 July 1999, Volume 1, Number 7
Parliamentary Deputies Visit Compatriots In Belarus. A delegation from the Sejm, Poland's lower house of parliament, visited Belarus in late June at the invitation of the Union of Poles of Belarus (SPB).

SPB Deputy Chairman Tadeusz Malewicz told Belapan that the delegation--led by Ryszard Czarnecki, the newly elected head of the parliamentary commission for contacts with the Polish diaspora--met with both the central leadership (in Hrodna) and regional branches of the SPB (in Minsk, Brest, Vitsebsk, Mahileu, and Polatsk).

Malewicz told the Polish deputies that the SPB has virtually cut off all contacts with the Belarusian authorities because of their "utter senselessness." [Editor�s note: the Belapan report is ambiguous about what or whom this expression refers to.] The SPB also refused to accept financial support from Belarus's Ministry of Culture and State Press Committee. "Our refusal is motivated by the fact that the volume of state assistance to the SPB is considerably lower than the taxes paid by the union, and hundreds of times lower than the sums given [by the Polish government] to the Belarusian minority in Poland," Belapan quoted Malewicz as saying. The 30 June "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" reported that the Ministry of Culture earmarked 90 million Belarusian rubles ($350) to the Belarusian Poles for their cultural needs in 1999. According to Malewicz, the State Press Committee is currently attempting to assume authority over the SPB press organ--the weekly "Glos znad Niemna."

The SPB appealed to the Polish deputies to notify European human rights organizations about the problems of Belarusian Poles. Czarnecki responded that the Polish parliament "will unfailingly remind the Belarusian side about the rights of Poles in Belarus, and in particular about those concerning education in the Polish language."

Seasonal Workers Will Do Better In Germany. Poland's National Labor Office and Germany's Federal Labor Office have signed an agreement that obliges German employers to employ Polish seasonal workers on the same conditions as Germans. "The agreement gives grounds for signing employment contracts that will provide Polish workers better conditions," the 9 July "Gazeta Wyborcza" quoted Federal Labor Office chief Bernhard Jagoda as saying.

The agreement covers Polish seasonal workers employed for no more than three months in a year. It stipulates that legally employed Polish seasonal workers should be paid no less than Germans performing the same work. Those employed for more than two months should be insured by employers under Germany's social insurance system. The agreement also stipulates a "minimum standard of accommodation" and states that Polish workers should not be lodged in tents or trailers, with the exception of those employed in circuses or amusement parks. The agreement does not cover jobs in night clubs and bars where Polish women are often forced to practice prostitution.

Jagoda does not think the enhanced employment standards for Poles will increase the number of Polish seasonal workers in Germany. In 1998, 188,000 Poles found legal seasonal employment in Germany. Poles accounted for 90 percent of the entire seasonal workforce in Germany; 92 percent of them were employed in the agricultural sector.

Too Many Reforms At The Same Time? A June poll conducted by the Public Opinion Research Center found that 71 percent of Poles believe the government made a mistake when it introduced four major social reforms at the same time. Only 19 percent of respondents hold the opposite view. Since the beginning of this year, the Solidarity Electoral Action/Freedom Union coalition government of Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek has introduced reforms affecting the health care, education, pension and social security, and administrative systems of the country. The opponents of the four packages of reforms are generally made up of people with basic technical and secondary education, while the supporters of the reforms are largely well-off urban residents with post-secondary education.

Truck Drivers Protest Traffic Clog at Belarusian-Polish Border. Some 500 truck drivers on 30 June used their vehicles to block the road to the Kazlovichy checkpoint (Brest Oblast) on the Belarusian-Polish border in a protest against delays in customs controls. The line of vehicles that were forced to wait in the scorching heat on the Belarusian side extended for some 20 kilometers.

Truck drivers have long been dissatisfied with the pace of customs controls on the Polish-Belarusian border. During this latest protest, the drivers also pointed out the lack of basic amenities at the border, such as toilets, water, and shops with food and drinks.

The drivers agreed to end their protest on the road, which is the main route linking Paris and Moscow, after the Belarusian authorities promised to send more customs officers to the checkpoint. Belarusian Television reported the same day that the traffic clog at the Kazlovichy checkpoint started when border officials imposed stricter and longer cargo checks after they discovered that some drivers were attempting to smuggle Ukrainian cigarettes into Poland. However, the next day Belarusian Television blamed Polish customs officers for the traffic jam. "People of different nationalities from [the Commonwealth of Independent States] countries were convinced on the spot of Belarus�s authority," one television correspondent said in a comment on how the protest was brought to an end. The reporter added that the reason for the traffic jam should be looked for on the Polish side and suggested that Polish customs officers resorted to a "deliberate provocation in order to pressure our services." Reporting on similar traffic jams on the border in May, Belarusian Television blamed NATO for ordering Poland's customs services to impede traffic from Belarus.

Belapan on 2 July drew attention to other dangers lurking at the Kazlovichy checkpoint: the previous night unidentified perpetrators cut canvases on more than 50 trucks and stole spare wheels and fuel cans from some of them. At least three explanations were offered for the incident. According to one version, the perpetrators were pimps with border prostitutes whose services were rejected by the protesting drivers. According to another version, it was just one more episode in the ongoing war between Belarusian and Russian drivers--this time featuring Russians protesting against the alleged favoritism that Belarusian customs services display toward local drivers. Some drivers thought, however, that the misdeed was committed by someone carrying out an order from truck canvas repair firms.

Hastening to Kill Them All Before Merger With Russia? Ivan Famin and Syarhey Zababuryn, who had been found guilty of murder by a Belarusian court, were executed on 23 June, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The cases of Famin and Zababuryn drew a storm of protests from human rights organizations both within and outside Belarus. The human rights groups accused the investigators of overstepping the bounds of their authority and the judges of neglecting a great deal of evidence. In particular, Famin was reportedly forced to confess his guilt under torture, and investigators failed to question several witnesses in connection with the charges against him. Meanwhile, Zababuryn was sentenced to death despite the fact that another man pleaded guilty to both murders for which Zababuryn was tried.

On 23 June, the mothers of Famin and Zababuryn were received by Uladzimir Kanaplyou, deputy chairman of the Chamber of Representatives, who promised to "do something" for their sons. However, when Famin's mother came to see her son in prison the next day, she was told that he had been executed the day before. The prison authorities did not allow her to attend her son�s burial nor did they say where he was buried.

In Belarus, the death penalty is applied by shooting the convict in the head in a special prison cell. The families of people who have been executed are never told where the convicts are buried. Citing unofficial sources, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported that the bodies of executed convicts are taken at night to the Northern Cemetery in Minsk. The cemetery wardens must not leave the cemetery administration building until prison gravediggers have done their task. The gravediggers remove the upper layer of turf in a marshy part of the cemetery, throw the bodies into the quagmire, and cover the grave with the turf in order to camouflage the burial place.

"I think that every mother has the right to see her son before his burial, to know where he was buried in order to be able to visit his grave. Mothers should not be punished.... If they deny this right to us, they could at least cremate the bodies and give the ashes to us, so that we could bury them ourselves," Famin's mother told RFE/RL.

According to an RFE/RL Minsk correspondent, four more people were executed in Minsk on the same night as Famin and Zababuryn. Previously, no executions were carried out in the summer, according to the RFE/RL correspondent. Recently, however, authorities have started executing convicts every day because they want to carry out all pending death penalties before the union treaty between Russia and Belarus is signed. The treaty is supposed to entail a moratorium on the death penalty in Belarus.

Kazakh Bolshevik Seeks Shelter in Belarus. Utegen Kabaziev, the leader of the Kazakh Party of Bolsheviks, has asked the Belarusian Embassy in Kazakhstan to grant him political asylum in Belarus, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 2 July. At a news conference in Almaty, Kabaziev said that since 1991 the authorities have "systematically persecuted" him for his Bolshevik convictions. He added that he has already been "arrested nine times." In addition, Kabaziev said the authorities are doing everything in their power to make the life of pensioners in Kazakhstan "unbearable." As an example he cited the recent cancellation of benefits for pensioners, including free public transport. Kabaziev says Belarus has a "major Bolshevik organization" and he hopes to continue his political activity in that country.

Illegal Immigration On The Rise. According to the State Border Guards Committee, there are about 60,000 illegal immigrants in Ukraine. The authorities are preparing to deport 2,630 of them on suspicion of prostitution, drug trafficking, and other crimes. Most of the immigrants listed for deportation are from Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, and Vietnam. The committee has asked the government to allocate $1.8 million to have the immigrants put on a ship and dispatched to a port in China or India.

Since 1991 there has been an increase in the number of immigrants from poor Asian countries passing through Ukraine on their way to Western Europe. Last year, Ukrainian border guards detained some 12,000 illegal immigrants.

Privatization Of Land Proceeds At Sluggish Pace. The privatization of land is taking place at a sluggish pace in Ukraine, according to the "Eastern Economic Daily" on 8 July. So far, some 27 million hectares of land have been privatized, with an average of 4.2 hectares per landowner. The main factors holding up the process are the lack of appropriate legislation and the negative public attitude toward land privatization. A recent poll found that 37 percent of Ukrainians are opposed to the privatization of land.

End of Duty-Free Trade With Belarus. The Ukrainian government has abolished the regime of duty-free trade with Belarus under which the VAT tax was not imposed on goods imported to Ukraine from Belarus. The decision came in response to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's February decree imposing a VAT tax on Ukrainian exports to Belarus. The duty-free trade regime between the two countries lasted for only one year.

Ukrainian Russians Form Another Umbrella Organization. A new umbrella organization of Ukrainian Russians--the Russian Community--was established in Ukraine in late June by delegates from 18 regions at a congress in Kyiv. The Russian Community founding congress pledged to defend the Russian language as well as ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking citizens in Ukraine.

The first nationwide gathering of ethnic Russians in Ukraine was held in May to establish the Congress of Russians of Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 1 June 1999). Another meeting, calling itself the Congress of Russian Organizations of Ukraine, was held in early June and nominated its head, Oleksandr Bazylyuk, as a candidate in the presidential elections.

Ukrainian Response to Viagra? The State Scientific Center for Pharmaceuticals and the Borshchahovskyy Chemical and Pharmaceutical Plant in Kyiv have developed and started producing a new drug designed to cure male erectile dysfunction, "Den" reported on 30 June. Svetlana Hladchenko, a pharmaceutical specialist from Kharkiv, said the drug called Yohimbex-Harmony might become an alternative to Viagra, which is produced by the U.S. pharmaceutical firm Pfizer. According to Hladchenko, clinical research has shown that Yohimbex-Harmony is a highly effective cure for erectile dysfunction in men between the ages 20 and 60. After taking the drug for three weeks, 53 percent of the patients on which the drug was tested demonstrated fully stabilized erections, while 93 percent were able to have sexual intercourse. Yohimbex-Harmony will be relatively inexpensive: a package of 20 pills will sell for the equivalent of $3 at wholesale rates.

"Polish workers are particularly sensitive to the sound of firearms used against them." -- Lech Walesa in a letter to Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek, protesting the government's use of force against a rally of armament workers in Warsaw on 24 June.

"The Russians, particularly their leaders, have the impression that we in Belarus have just climbed out of trees where we have eaten all the bark and leaves, and today have noting [else] to eat, and therefore our one desire is to unite with Russia. This is a wrong notion that offends our national dignity. I cannot follow this path anymore. You may consider my speech at this assembly today to be the last proposal for deep integration between the two nations." -- Alyaksandr Lukashenka addressing the 2 July session of the Belarusian-Russian Parliamentary Assembly in Minsk.

"Our people and our country are part of European civilization, and we should not remain on the sidelines of European integration. Therefore, I state today with full responsibility that Belarus is ready not only to normalize relations with European countries and the EU, but also to make the most resolute steps toward European integration. The new Foreign Ministry has been asked to carry out these tasks. [Editor�s note: the ministry was reorganized last year.] I think nobody doubts that, thanks to its intellectual and cultural potential, Belarus is capable of becoming a full-fledged member of the EU." -- Lukashenka on 2 July, addressing a solemn gathering to commemorate Belarus's Independence Day. In a highly unusual move, Lukashenka delivered his address in Belarusian.

"Staying in power beyond the term established by the constitution can be construed as a state crime. Moreover, such an act would bring about mass civil disobedience to an authority that has lost its legitimacy. All responsibility for such a course of events will rest with you and your government." -- The Belarusian Supreme Soviet, reminding Lukashenka that his legitimate presidential term expires on 20 July.

"Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia can preserve their sovereignty and independence only in unity. If we remain on opposite sides of the barricades, we will have no independence, no sovereignty. We will simply be cracked, one by one, as Yugoslavia was recently." -- Lukashenka in an interview with Russian Public Television on 30 June.

"Apart from finances, we have everything." -- Belarusian Central Electoral Commission Chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna on 1 July, commenting on Belarus's readiness to held a referendum on unification with Russia.

"We think that only China, Russia, and Belarus are able to counter NATO expansion." -- Belarusian Council of Republic Chairman Pavel Shypuk on 1 July.

"I am now paying for my proximity to the authorities, for my illusions [that it was possible to cooperate with them].... Along the path of all kinds of compromises, big and small, I have approached the moral borderline that may not be crossed." -- Belarusian poet Uladzimir Nyaklyayeu, chairman of the Union of Belarusian Writers, now in Warsaw, having decided to seek political asylum in Poland. Cited by "Narodnaya volya."

"I have never thought...that the very use of the Belarusian language would mean belonging to the opposition." -- Uladzimir Nyaklyayeu, cited by "Narodnaya volya."

"In contrast to a career lawyer, [my wife] cannot lose any license to practice law, as often happens in our state [to lawyers representing] members of the opposition." -- Jailed former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir, commenting to "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" on why he chose his wife to act as his lawyer.

"While the West intensively discusses the idea of writing off Russian debts, Ukraine is not mentioned in this context. This testifies to the absence of a strategy not only concerning Ukraine, but also the future of Europe." -- Leonid Kuchma on 25 June.

"The recent events in Yugoslavia have opened many people�s eyes: we are witnessing the approach of a new world order in which violence will be the rule. Those unwilling to submit to a foreign diktat will suffer heavily. Mind you, this is only the beginning. As for the world government, it exists in actual fact even if some try to present it as a bluff.... The real levers for ruling the world are in the hands of 500 people--they are the world government. Believe me, the policy of these 500 will not make our country flourish. Having left the embraces of Russia, we will find ourselves in an even tighter grip from which it will be difficult to break out." -- Borys Oliynyk, head of the Ukrainian Supreme Council Committee for Foreign Affairs and CIS Relations, in the 6 July issue of "Segodnya."