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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: August 31, 1999

31 August 1999, Volume 1, Number 14
Belarusian Embassy Protests Deportation. Polish police on 20 August arrested 106 foreign traders at Warsaw's largest marketplace, located outside the unused 10th Anniversary Sport Stadium, according to PAP. Belarusian Television reported on 23 August that those arrested totaled "about 300," including 25 Belarusian citizens. The Belarusians were accused of illegal trading (an activity not consistent with their tourist visas) and of not having the necessary amount of money to stay in Poland. On 23 August, they were deported from Poland and banned from entering that country for five years.

"We were brought to a place whose conditions can only be compared to those in which animals were kept. We were brought to a kind of sports hall, where [policemen] insulted us as they pleased, with truncheons, following an order," a Belarusian woman told Belarusian Television (Polish sources said the detainees were taken to a border guard center.) She also said all her belongings were confiscated.

Following complaints from six deported Belarusians, the Belarusian Embassy in Warsaw lodged a protest with the Polish Foreign Ministry, claiming that Polish police had not permitted the six to inform their embassy that they had been arrested. This, the embassy argued, violated the Vienna convention on consular relations as well as bilateral consular agreements. The Russian Embassy lodged a similar protest in connection with Russian citizens who were deported alongside the Belarusians.

Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek said he has asked "administrative and police authorities for an explanation" about the incident. Police spokesman Ryszard Pietrzykowski said international regulations allow police to hold foreign detainees up to three days without contacts with their embassies. He also denied that any personal belongings were confiscated. "We seized goods for which traders had no customs or purchase documents," Pietrzykowski said, adding that these goods were worth 2 million zlotys ($512,000).

Controversial Minister For Family Affairs Resigns. Kazimierz Kapera resigned on 25 August in what is widely seen as a reaction to public criticism of his recent racist remark. "I think there is no reason to fear that there will not be any food for the nations of the world. The only thing to fear is whether we as Europeans, as Europe, and a white race, will have a say in the future," Kapera said last month, commenting to Polish Radio on the fact that the world's population reached 6 billion.

Kapera, however, told PAP that he resigned because of the lack of "good will and sufficient commitment" on the part of a "majority of cabinet ministers" to support the family-friendly policy that he has drafted. Kapera is a member of the Association of Catholic Families, a minor component of the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS). One of his pro-family policy proposals was to boost the birthrate in Poland by subsidizing the anti-impotence drug Viagra.

This is the second time that Kapera has lost a cabinet post. In 1991, Prime Minister Jan Krzysztof Bielecki fired him from the post of an undersecretary in the Health Ministry for saying that homosexuality is a perversion.

AWS parliamentary deputy Andrzej Szkaradek, while commenting on public television last month about Kapera's racist remark, said Premier Jerzy Buzek should not dismiss Kapera but "punish" him. According to Szkaradek, Buzek should order Kapera to temporarily accept a "yellow child" into his family as a form of "punishment."

Government Pledges To Improve Human Rights Record. During a 20 August meeting at the UN headquarters in Geneva, Minsk promised to take a number of steps to improve the human rights situation in Belarus and to allow foreign observers to monitor that situation. The pledge was taken on the eve of a UN subcommission resolution on human rights in Belarus, which was expected to be stern and disapproving of the Minsk authorities. But after the 20 August pledge, the UN subcommission postponed voting on the resolution.

Belarus has undertaken the following: to invite to Minsk a UN special rapporteur on the independence of the judiciary and a special group for examining the issue of arrests; to take necessary measures to join the Council of Europe over the next year and subsequently the European Convention on Human Rights; to allow the issue of torture in the country to be examined; to implement legislative reforms oriented toward the protection of human rights and democracy; to introduce the post of an independent ombudsman; and to hold free and fair parliamentary elections and allow all political forces access to the state media.

The independent newspaper "Naviny" commented on 24 August that if the authorities meet all these obligations, there will be a complete change of political power in Belarus.

Gathering Fruits Of The Forest Becomes Harder. Mushrooms and berries have become significant sources of income for many poverty-stricken families in Belarus. But those trying to improve their family budgets in this way will find their task much harder following the introduction by the Ministry for Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of quotas and licenses for gathering the fruits of the forest.

According to the determined norms, an individual can collect no more than 20 kilograms of mushrooms and 30 kilograms of berries a day. Anyone exceeding those limits will be fined, while individuals wanting to legally gather mushrooms and berries on a larger scale must apply for state licenses once they have received permission from appropriate local administration bodies and local inspectors. One license costs the equivalent of two minimum wages (some $7 according to the official exchange rate) for an individual and 15 minimum wages for a legal entity. It will be issued for a period of five years. Those applying for such a license must have either a specialized secondary education or higher education.

Hitching A Lift To Get Home. There is an old anecdote about the failed attempt of a Spanish tramp to get from Madrid to Moscow on foot. The tramp succeeded to walk all the way, except for a narrow strip of land on the Polish-USSR border. According to Soviet regulations, only an individual in a four-wheeled motor vehicle or on a train can cross the Soviet border. Pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists were all banned from entering the USSR. The same regulation applied to leaving that country.

The above-mentioned rule is still in force in today's Belarus. "Rzeczpospolita" on 24 August reported on a characteristic scene at the Polish-Belarusian border crossing at Terespol, which has some 6,000 inhabitants and also serves as a shopping center for 300,000-strong Brest, located in Belarus, just across the Bug River.

The border checkpoint is on the Warsaw Bridge spanning the river. Many Belarusian women, after shopping in Terespol, stand on the road leading to the bridge, thumbing a lift to Brest. But such a lift costs $3-$5 (a sum equal to the average monthly pension in Belarus), depending on the driver. Local trains travel from Terespol to Brest three times a day. However, many Belarusians prefer a lift in a car or truck to a railway trip, because the "dirt, overcrowding, and customs checks on trains are an affront to human dignity," according to Terespol commune council head Krzysztof Iwaniuk.

Kuchma Lists Independent Ukraine's Achievements. Speaking in Kyiv on the eve of Ukraine's Independence Day (24 August), President Leonid Kuchma summed up the results of the last eight years. Ukraine's main achievements in that period, he said, were the promulgation of the constitution, the maintenance of civic peace and accord, the creation of a "security belt" around Ukraine, the signing of the treaty on cooperation and good-neighborly relations with Russia, the halting of the decline in production, the introduction of the hryvnya (national currency), the creation of equal conditions for the country's all ethnic and religious associations, as well as granting official status to the Ukrainian language and ensuring that Russian and other ethnic minority languages can be used in the country.

A recent poll by Socis-Gallup on Ukrainian sentiment toward independence yielded the following results: 31 percent of respondents said they "absolutely support" Ukraine's independence, 30 percent are "inclined" to support it, 16 percent are "inclined" to oppose it, and 11 percent "absolutely oppose" it.

Russian Bolsheviks Arrested For Hooliganism In Sevastopol, While Ukraine's Right To Crimea Queried. A Sevastopol court on 25 August sentenced 15 members of Russia's National Bolshevik Party (led by writer Eduard Limonov) to 15 days in jail for hooliganism. On 24 August, Ukraine's Independence Day, the 15 broke into a club belonging to the Russian Black Sea Fleet, climbed on to the roof, hoisted their party flag, threw leaflets, and shouted "Sevastopol-Crimea-Russia!" The leaflets said Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma "will choke on Sevastopol." They also protested Ukraine's jurisdiction over the city and demanded the revision of Sevastopol's status. The Bolsheviks, who came from Moscow and Smolensk, were arrested by Russian Black Sea Fleet guards and handed over to local police.

Meanwhile, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" (which is sponsored by Russian financial mogul Boris Berezovskii) continues to question Ukraine's legal rights to Crimea, despite the fact that the Russian-Ukrainian treaty on friendship, cooperation, and partnership--which guarantees the territorial integrity of both signatories--went into effect on 1 April. According to the newspaper, the ratification of the treaty breached the Russian Constitution, because although Crimea was transferred to Ukraine in 1954, it de jure remained in Russia. Therefore, Russia can claim the treaty "partly invalid" on the basis of the Vienna convention on international agreements.

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" went on to argue that since Russia has renounced its rights to Crimea under the treaty with Ukraine, Turkey could now demand the "return" of Crimea to its jurisdiction. According to this line of argument, when Crimea was incorporated into Russia in 1783, Russia signed an agreement with the Ottoman Empire (Turkey's legal predecessor) stipulating the Ottoman Empire can demand Crimea back after Russia gives up its rights to the peninsula.

Tax Inspectors Assault Rocket Army For Taxes. Colonel-General Volodymyr Mychtyuk, commander of the 43rd Rocket Army, has sent a letter to Ukrainian Premier Valeriy Pustovoytenko, warning him that the implementation in Ukraine of the U.S.-sponsored Collective Threat Reduction Agreement (known also as the Nunn-Lugar agreement) is threatened. He explained that the threat comes from tax inspectors who have begun to question the tax breaks enjoyed by some 500 Ukrainian firms that, in their capacity as subcontractors of U.S. firms, are involved in the scrapping of SS-18 and SS-20 missiles as well as the destruction of those missiles' silos and launching pads.

Chief State Tax Inspector Serhiy Merezhka published an article in the State Tax Administration bulletin arguing that Ukrainian firms should pay a 20 percent tax on the amount they receive for dismantling nuclear weaponry. According to the 21 August edition of the Ukrainian-based "Segodnya," some tax inspectors regarded this article as a normative act and tried to enforce unpaid taxes. Thus, a group of masked and armed tax inspectors (called a "unit of physical protection") terrorized the staff of the 43rd Rocket Army and confiscated virtually all documents under the pretext of "elucidating all circumstances" related to the payment of taxes.

Moreover, the Strum enterprise in Vinnytsya was fined 486,000 hryvni ($108,000) for not possessing the documentation entitling it to tax breaks from the Defense Ministry. The enterprise produced the required document after paying the fine but was not reimbursed. Premier Pustovoytenko's bid to intervene with the State Tax Administration proved futile: tax inspectors fined Strum once again, this time for 768,000 hryvni.

"Segodnya" suggests that tax inspectors are so eager to impose fines because they take a 30 percent cut for themselves. If a court finds that a fine was illegally imposed, the money is returned not from the State Tax Administration's budget but from the State Treasury. This practice of enforcing taxes is threatening the disruption of the Collective Threat Reduction program in Ukraine, according to "Segodnya."

"Whatever one may think, thanks to this reform today's Poland is neither Ukraine nor Belarus." -- Polish parliamentary deputy Stefan Niesiolowski on 23 August, commenting on the sweeping economic reform launched by Poland's first non-communist government, formed 10 years ago under the premiership of Tadeusz Mazowiecki.

"The ancient town of Brahin [in the radioactively contaminated area of Homel Oblast], whose population was 80 percent Belarusian only 20 years ago, today bears witness to a rather different ethnic situation. All Jews have left the town, many Belarusians were resettled following the Chornobyl accident, and now a majority of Brahin residents consists of illegal and half-legal migrants from the Caucasus and Asia. They have seized our houses (including my own), [they] are building a mosque. ...They have brought with them not only Islam and Turkic languages, but also drugs and crime. They are given various assistance (including humanitarian aid for those affected by the Chornobyl accident), virtually all of them have no jobs and pay no taxes." -- Letter in the 23 August "Nasha niva" from a reader in Homel.

"We have come to a firm conclusion: 31 October 1999 will not be a day of regular elections, it will be a turning point in Ukraine's history. The citizens must elect not a president but a savior of the state. Judging by all appearances, if the incumbent president stays in power, the state will be ruined completely, Ukraine will lose its sovereignty. We appeal to all people of good will: Let us unite! The Fatherland is in danger! Your children and grandchildren face slavery in the future. We address Leonid Danylovich Kuchma with a categorical demand: Stop mocking at the good, hard-working, and patient people! Over the six years of your premiership and presidency, Ukraine has lost more than during the Nazi occupation. Report immediately to the people on your rule. Confess your guilt. Ask the people for pardon. Such a step is the only good deed that you still can do for Ukraine." -- From the 24 August appeal of four presidential hopefuls--Yevhen Marchuk, Oleksandr Moroz, Volodymyr Oliynyk, and Oleksandr Tkachenko. The four pledged to choose one joint candidate from among their ranks in order to beat Kuchma in the first round of the 31 October elections.