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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: October 26, 1999

26 October 1999, Volume 1, Number 22
Taking Revenge On Communists 10 Years Later... Last year, some 100 parliamentary deputies from the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) proposed a so-called decommunization bill intended to bring former Communist officials to account for their involvement with Poland's Communist regime.

The bill proposed that former communist party (Polish United Workers Party, PZPR) functionaries--from the secretaries of district party committees to the PZPR first secretary--be barred from public posts for 10 years. The same ban extended to communist-era high-ranking officials in the state administration, those who worked for and/or collaborated with the secret services, the Supreme Court chairman, the prosecutor-general, the General Staff chief and his deputies, military district commanders, national and regional radio and television directors, and the director of the state news agency PAP. The ban would not bar such former officials from holding posts filled by way of direct elections--that is, parliamentary deputies, senators, and the president.

The AWS-proposed decommunization bill also provided for doing away with the names of places, streets, and public institutions that commemorated Polish and foreign communist activists. A special commission for decommunization affairs subordinated to the prime minister had to decide which specific monuments and memorial plaques should be regarded as symbols of the communist dictatorship and duly removed.

Last week, on 21 October, there was a heated parliamentary debate on the bill. The following day the Sejm rejected the bill by a vote of 215 to 175 with 23 abstentions. Only the AWS and several deputies from the Movement for the Reconstruction of Poland supported the bill, while not only the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and the Polish Peasant Party (PSL), but also the AWS's coalition partner Freedom Union (UW) opposed it. The following is a representative sample of views expressed by parliamentary deputies about the bill:

Mariusz Kaminski (AWS): "The bill on decommunization lays the foundations for temporarily limiting the participation in public life of those who were most active in building and strengthening the communist dictatorship system. [It provides] the last chance to cut the umbilical cord linking the Polish Third Republic with the totalitarian, collaborationist state that was the People's Republic of Poland."

Jerzy Wierchowicz (UW): "The UW thinks that communism and socialism in our country were something criminal. Crimes of that time should be punished. However, these matters must be left for independent courts."

Marek Borowski (SLD): "When you have problems with [supplying] bread, you offer people circuses."

Janusz Dobrosz (PSL): "[The bill would draw] more division lines between Poles. It would divide the political scene into two halves: the AWS and the SLD. The former would chase the latter, and that would surely be of no use to our society."

...And Taking More Money From Them, Too? Andrzej Herman, liquidator of the assets of the former PZPR, filed suit with the Warsaw District Court on 20 October to invalidate the settlement between the Social Democratic Party of the Polish Republic (SdRP, legal successor to the PZPR) and the Finance Ministry in September 1997. That settlement, which dealt with the repayment of SdRP debts to the state treasury, was signed by the party and the government, at the time formed by the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance and Polish Peasant Party. Under that settlement, the SdRP repaid 4.5 million zlotys ($1.25 million) in June 1999. Shortly after, the SdRP dissolved itself, and most of its members joined the newly created Democratic Left Alliance.

Herman maintains that the sum paid by the SdRP was too low. According to his estimates, the state treasury's total claims on the SdRP amount to 120 million zlotys. Herman argued that the 1997 settlement was signed hastily and secretly after the SLD-PSL coalition lost the parliamentary elections and knew it would have to transfer power to the victorious right wing. Additionally, Herman cited various technical shortcomings (the document did not include all debt claims under dispute and was signed by the finance minister instead of the treasury minister) as reasons for revising the SdRP debt repayment settlement.

Eyewitness Accounts Of The 17 October Freedom March: No. 1... A Minsk correspondent for "Novye izvestiya" (20 October) quoted an eyewitness account of the opposition "freedom march" in Minsk on 17 October, which ended in clashes with riot police and arrests. The witness was journalist Ales Antsipenka, a member of the Belarusian PEN Center. Here is an excerpt:

"I was standing with a friend some 200 meters away from the place of clashes. Suddenly, people in camouflage leaped out at us from a mini bus. I was hit on the head with a truncheon, pushed over, and dragged to the vehicle. There were already people there. After several minutes the special task policemen [in the bus] were asked over the radio: 'How many bodies have you taken?' They answered: 'Four.' An order followed: 'Do not release anybody, beat the shit out of them!'

"Soon we were handed over to policemen from the Partyzantski District Internal Affairs Section. This process was accompanied by searches and beatings. Next they took us to a police station. There I was presented to a man who looked like a vagrant. He was asked: 'Is this the man?' He confirmed [that I was]. Following this, two policemen immediately sat down to write a report saying they had witnessed how I had beaten a police captain who was hospitalized. This was pure fabrication. Later, having apparently viewed a video of the clashes, they realized that the accusation does not hold water. When a prosecutor came, it turned out that I was accused only of the participation in an unauthorized march, while the above-mentioned report vanished as if it had never existed.

"Once the 'investigation' was over, I was dragged to the bus and thrown onto a heap of bodies that were lying on the floor and barely moved. And then it all started. Special task policemen warmed up with extremely dirty language and, reaching an emotional climax, kicked us and beat us with truncheons. When they got bored, they began to spit on us. They stuck a truncheon into the mouth of a 30-year-old woman, a mother of three children, saying: "Here, suck it!' In general, women were beaten and insulted more than the men were. Only later I was told that in another bus special task policemen were trampling on two girls until they started to gasp for air. I saw the girls after that in a detention center: it was an appalling sight. ...

"We were traveling for a very long time, and atrocities continued all the [way]. When we got to our destination, we were told to put our hands on our heads. Then one of the policemen caught at my hair and tossed me onto the floor. We were taken to a courtyard where they beat us for nearly an hour: on our heads, stomachs, everywhere. When they found my PEN Center card, they asked what it was. When they heard that it was an international organization of writers, they announced: 'Now we will jam the door on your fingers so that you can write better.'

"Next, we were put in cells from which, after several hours, they took us to a court. There we were given sentences in a routine way, without any formalities or lawyers. Since I was detained for the first time, I got a warning. The others were punished with arrests or fines of up to 300 million rubles (approximately $500; the average wage in Belarus is some $35)."

...And No. 2. Uladzimir Charnou, who was arrested after the "freedom march" and released after spending five days in prison, spoke at a news conference in Minsk on 22 October. An RFE/RL Belarusian Service correspondent quoted him as saying:

"A group of OMON [ed. note: riot police] suddenly stormed into the room in the Partisan police precinct to which we were brought after being nabbed in Gorkii Park. They started to yell at us: 'Hands behind your head, into the bus!' They began beating us with their fists and their truncheons as we passed through the gauntlet.

"We were all still half asleep--it was six in the morning. Six or seven of the OMON beat up each of us individually. After entering the bus, everybody was piled up one on top of the other. Two women were thrown on top of the heap. As this was happening, they continued to beat us over the head, spit on us, tried to urinate on us.

"They threatened to sodomize the men with truncheons; the women were threatened with rape.

"When those at the bottom of the heap started to complain that they were suffocating, [the OMON] said they would take everybody into the forest to bury all those who oppose Lukashenka.

"En route, they forced the crying women to loudly sing songs like 'The cricket in the grass.' The prone men were forced to sing along--although it was barely possible to even breathe. Those who could not sing were beaten with truncheons.

"After being hit over the head, I lost consciousness for some time. I was taken out of the bus; two were attempting to break my arms while a third was stuffing a rubber truncheon down my throat....

"The women were forced to do stripteases. They cursed us and opposition politicians with the most offensive language. They yelled that [Interior Minister Yury] Sivakou is nobody; they recognize only Lukashenka. I then understood that this was fascism."

Kaniv Four Announces Single Presidential Candidate. The so-called Kaniv Four alliance of Yevhen Marchuk, Oleksandr Moroz, Volodymyr Oliynyk, and Oleksandr Tkachenko on 25 October announced that it has agreed to field Marchuk--Ukraine's prime minister from June 1995 to May 1996--as its candidate in the 31 October presidential ballot. "We have agreed on the candidacy of Yevhen Marchuk. The date for the others to withdraw their candidacies will be announced later," Tkachenko said. Press spokesmen for Marchuk and Moroz also confirmed that an agreement had been reached, but Moroz's representative cast doubt on the deal, saying that for now it is "just a declaration" and the other candidates do not need to formally pull out before 27 October.

Meanwhile, the situation with regard to a single candidate of the "national democratic forces" remains unclear. On 23 October, a forum of those forces adopted a statement urging the Ukrainian people to support the candidacy of Yuriy Kostenko, leader of one of Rukh's two factions, in the presidential elections. It had been expected that Kostenko and Vasyl Onopenko (a presidential candidate supported by the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party), both of whom had signed an agreement on cooperation in the campaign--would announce a single right-wing candidate at the forum. However, Onopenko did not show up at the forum. His representative, Dmytro Hunyaha, said Onopenko has "no reason" to withdraw his candidacy for the sake of anyone else. According to Hunyaha, Onopenko--"the most left-wing candidate of all the right-wing ones"--stands a better chance of winning the elections than Kostenko or other rightist hopefuls.

Lukashenka Dealt Another Blow By Kyiv. On his 22 October campaign trip to Kyrovohrad, central Ukraine, Kuchma criticized the Belarusian regime for its policy of self-isolation. "The path chosen by the leadership of Belarus is the way of deadlock," AP quoted Kuchma as saying. "If Russia does not help Belarus, I don't know what will happen there," Kuchma added.

Earlier the same week, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry had lashed out at Belarus for breaking up the 17 October opposition "freedom march" in Minsk. Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk reaffirmed that position on 22 October by saying Ukraine is interested in strengthening cooperation with Belarus, "but it should not be done at the expense of [tolerating] human rights violations in that country."

"I'd be ready to give myself a break. My wife is still not that bad [to look at]. But I feel myself obliged to explain the past and [to ensure that] truth will win." -- Lech Walesa on 24 October, commenting on why he is considering running in Poland's presidential elections next year. Quoted by PAP.

"The people have come out. They have surmounted the barrier of fear. And that is the most important result of today's event." -- Belarusian Popular Front deputy head Vintsuk Vyachorka, addressing the 20,000-strong opposition "freedom march" in Minsk on 17 October.

"Fascists from the opposition's paramilitary detachments tried to organize clashes in the streets of the capital today. The authorities had known that during the so-called Freedom March in Minsk, its organizers would stop at nothing to provoke clashes with law enforcement agencies. The opposition had prepared everything it thought it would need. Hard currency was obtained for transporting oppositionists to the capital. They were brought to Minsk from various regions of Belarus. The transportation was sponsored by foreign embassies and criminal groups, and the information support was provided by Russian television networks. Live broadcasts from Minsk were also sponsored, and it is the Russian NTV network that retransmits them to world television networks. The president was informed of the provocateurs' plans at 3 p.m., when Russian television networks were already broadcasting the clashes in Minsk, even though the action was anti-Russian almost from the start: the protesters burned Russian flags and stamped on their remnants. Truly fantastic figures were given for the number of protesters, some reporters even putting their number at 20,000. In fact, the number of active protesters did not exceed 2,500 people, with several hundred bystanders watching the protests from a safe distance." -- Belarusian Television commenting on the "freedom march." Quoted by Russia's NTV on 18 October.

"[The 17 October clashes] resulted also from the fact that the Minsk authorities, following instructions from the top leadership, have persistently provoked the opposition over recent years by gradually curtailing the citizens' constitutional rights and driving the opposition not only to the periphery of political life but also to the outskirts of the city. This could not have ended any other way." -- Belarusian Popular Front deputy head Yury Khadyka on 18 October, quoted by Belapan.

"My [Minsk] hotel bill for a week was 204 million rubles (ed. note--$685 according to the official exchange rate or $318 according to the street exchange rate)." -- A traveler to Belarus in the 20 October "International Herald Tribune."

"Belarus is entering a [period] of great terror because according to all parameters--political, economic, and others-- the country is collapsing." -- Belarusian human right activist Alyaksandr Patupa, quoted by Belapan on 21 October.

"Belarus today provides us with an important [illustration of the thesis] that one should not hide problems or conserve them. There are problems connected with the economy, social life, and social structure [in Belarus]. No matter how they are being concealed, they will crop up on the surface all the same. Therefore, we, too, need to air the entire system of power, all nooks of power structures in advance. Especially those connected with democratic processes. What is taking place in Ukraine during the election campaign is a very ill omen, and this may in essence initiate syndromes similar to Belarusian ones. What takes place in Belarus is infamy." -- Ukrainian Presidential candidate Yevhen Marchuk in an interview with the 21 October "Kievskie vedomosti."

"How does it become you to organize [election campaign] shows with dances and fireworks throughout the country while everyday able-bodied people commit suicide because they are not paid wages to support their families? While doctors cannot save lives of the newly born because they lack elementary medicines? While the country, which until recently was rich, is now dying in agony? How is it possible to treat ordinary people so contemptuously? What--is there no money? In the Social Protection fund alone, you have collected for your campaign more money than [Ukraine's] education and culture need for the whole year. Has everything been stolen under your patronage even there? How is it possible to go to the people and tell them stories about enormous successes of the reform under your leadership when production collapses, land is not plowed, and people remain without work?" -- Presidential candidate Oleksandr Moroz, criticizing Kuchma on national television on 18 October. Quoted by the 21 October "Tovarysh."