Accessibility links

Breaking News

Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: January 4, 2005

4 January 2005, Volume 7, Number 1
OPPOSITIONIST GETS FIVE YEARS IN PRISON FOR THEFT. The Minsk District Court on 30 December sentenced Belarusian opposition politician Mikhail Marynich, 64, to five years in a high-security prison and confiscation of property. The court found him guilty of misappropriating office equipment that the Dzelavaya Initsyyatyva (Business Initiative) association, of which he was chairman, had received for temporary use from the U.S. Embassy in Minsk. Marynich told the court in his final statement the day before his sentencing that the case against him was "fabricated by the KGB following an order from the authorities." According to Marynich, the court sentenced him to prevent him from participating in the 2006 presidential election. Marynich's lawyers have announced that they will appeal the verdict.

Marynich was arrested on 26 April, two days after he was stopped by traffic police and his suitcase searched by a KGB officer who immediately appeared on the scene. The officer reportedly found $90,000 in Marynich's suitcase. According to Belarusian Television, Marynich confessed that the money came from Russia and was to have been spent on financing "selected candidates" in the 2004 legislative elections. However, the KGB apparently found nothing criminal in the possession of such a sum by Marynich, since on 6 May he was formally charged only with illegal possession of classified government documents and an unregistered foreign-made pistol that was found at his dacha. Marynich maintained during the investigation that the pistol was planted by the KGB while the documents were not classified. The charge of theft was added by investigators in August.

Marynich belongs to the "old nomenklatura" in Belarus -- a group of public figures that started their political careers in the era before Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, during the rule of Prime Minister Vyacheslau Kebich. Under Lukashenka, Marynich was minister of foreign economic relations (1994-98) and afterward became Belarusian ambassador to Latvia, Estonia, and Finland. In mid-2001, Marynich resigned his ambassadorial post to challenge Lukashenka in that fall's presidential election. In his resignation letter to then Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou, Marynich reportedly said that he planned to work against dictatorship and toward democratic changes.

Lukashenka reacted furiously to Marynich's defection. "Don't you remember [when] you sang me songs and swore allegiance and loyalty?" Lukashenka said in reference to Marynich in the 2001 election campaign. Marynich failed to get onto the ballot after the Central Election Commission ruled that he had not collected the 100,000 signatures necessary for registration. Marynich insisted that he had gathered the necessary signatures and accused the Lukashenka government of forcing him out of the presidential race.

Eventually, the court held up only one charge against Marynich -- namely, that he stole office equipment from the organization he chaired -- and sentenced him to five years in prison plus the confiscation of his property, including the formerly seized $90,000. Marynich told the court that the trial was a brazen mockery of justice and argued that he had no intention of stealing the office equipment in question, which was temporarily stored in his son's garage only because the Business Initiative association had been deprived of its office in Minsk.

The court ignored repeated statements from the U.S. Embassy in Minsk, which was the legal owner of the equipment allegedly stolen by Marynich, that it had no claims whatsoever against Marynich. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on 30 December condemned the conviction of Marynich on what he called "a spurious charge," linking Marynich's sentence with the Belarusian government's campaign to crack down on its opponents. "The United States condemns this abuse and earlier abuses of the judicial system by the Lukashenka regime to persecute Belarusian citizens for their political beliefs," Boucher added.

Many Belarusian independent observers and opposition politicians have also condemned the sentence against Marynich as harsh and cruel retribution by the ruling regime against a politician who once dared to challenge it politically. "This is nothing new in our state," said former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir, who himself spent five months in prison in 1999 and subsequently received a three-year suspended prison term on charges widely believed to have been politically motivated. "Unfortunately, I think Marynich's appeals will have little effect with the higher courts," Chyhir added.

"The regime is afraid of politicians who could present a personal alternative to Lukashenka," Youth Front leader Pavel Sevyarynets commented. "The regime wants to intimidate [such politicians] with the Marynich case. Five years of prison for Marynich is like another five years of Lukashenka's presidency after he is reelected in 2005 or 2006. It is a signal for the entire society." (Jan Maksymiuk)

FORGING POLITICAL ALLIANCES IN THE NEW UKRAINE. Ukraine's Central Election Commission has announced that Viktor Yushchenko won 52 percent of the vote in the presidential ballot on 26 December compared to Viktor Yanukovych's 44 percent, according to its preliminary figures. Yanukovych has contested the results with the Central Election Commission and the Supreme Court, claiming that amendments to the presidential election law introduced between the abortive second-round runoff on 21 November and its repeat on 26 December were unconstitutional and deprived millions of disabled Ukrainians from exercising their right to vote from home.

Yushchenko's victory was so convincing, however, that even Yanukovych's election staff does not appear to believe that the Central Election Commission or the Supreme Court will sustain the complaints. So Yushchenko is likely to be inaugurated by mid-January.

But the man who has led Ukraine's amazing political rebirth and survived potentially deadly dioxin poisoning still faces serious political threats.

Apart from awakening grand hopes both at home and abroad that democracy might take deeper root in Ukraine, the "Orange Revolution" has instilled in millions of Ukrainians the firm belief that Yushchenko is truly capable of ousting "criminal clans" from power in Kyiv and making the lives of ordinary Ukrainians better in the short rather than long term -- as he pledged during the election campaign. He will have to deliver substantially on his election promises in 2005 if he wants to improve his political position ahead of the parliament-approved reductions in presidential powers that will take effect in one year and the March 2006 parliamentary elections. Arguably, 2005 will be a year of primarily domestic concerns for Yushchenko. Kyiv's relations with Moscow and Brussels will likely remain on the back burner as Yushchenko grapples with the political legacy of outgoing President Leonid Kuchma. And the domestic problems that Yushchenko will face in the coming year appear immensely complex.

To begin with, Yushchenko needs quickly to build a parliamentary coalition and propose a prime minister who might be acceptable to such a coalition. Both tasks will present major headaches. The main problem is that his parliamentary base, the Our Ukraine bloc, along with its current political allies -- Oleksandr Moroz's Socialist Party, the eponymous political bloc of Yuliya Tymoshenko, and Anatoliy Kinakh's Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs -- has just 150 deputies, which is well below the 226 votes needed to pass most resolutions in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada.

The "Orange Revolution" has prompted numerous defections from previously pro-Yanukovych parliamentary caucuses, but these defectors -- who include a group of some 50 nonaligned deputies -- need yet to be effectively courted by Yushchenko. Still, even absolute success would translate into a total of 200 votes rather than the required 226. Yushchenko must therefore draw at least two other minor parliamentary groups into his camp in order to form a new government on solid footing. Presumably, such parliamentary maneuvers will lead to offers of government posts to people who appear distant from the ideals of the "Orange Revolution" -- or even who stood by his rival's side when the revolution was taking place.

Choosing a prime minister is a difficult problem, too. Yuliya Tymoshenko has made little secret of her willingness to accept the job. The same applies to lawmaker and businessman Petro Poroshenko, who supported Yushchenko's "Orange Revolution" both financially and propagandistically (Poroshenko owns the Channel 5 television station that took much of the credit for having promoted Yushchenko's presidential bid consistently throughout the campaign).

Tymoshenko is widely perceived as a radical and a bitter enemy of pro-Kuchma oligarchs, so her potential premiership could exacerbate tense relations between Yushchenko and the deep-pocketed elements from eastern Ukraine who supported Yanukovych and control a hefty segment of the national economy. Poroshenko is seen as a moderate in comparison to Tymoshenko, but his strong business connections arguably weaken his credibility as a fair-minded political dealer in the post-Kuchma era.

Yushchenko might indeed decide on a less colorful, less controversial, and less politically known than Tymoshenko or Poroshenko for the job of prime minister.

On the other hand, Yushchenko during his presidency will certainly face strong opposition from the political camp of his presidential rival, outgoing Prime Minister Yanukovych. Some 12.8 million Ukrainians voted for Yanukovych on 26 December, and his defeat appears to have inflicted a sort of personal trauma on many of them. The 2004 presidential election has doubtless made Yanukovych a natural opposition leader in Ukraine.

Yanukovych leads the Donetsk-based Party of Regions, which draws its support primarily in Ukraine's eastern and southern regions. But this regional party has every chance to become a major national player after the 2006 parliamentary elections, which are to be held under a fully proportional party-list system and a 3 percent threshold to qualify for parliamentary representation.

The Kyiv-based Razumkov Center conducted two interesting polls recently, one from 6-9 December and the other from 14-19 December, on voter preference on a hypothetical parliamentary ballot. The first poll offered respondents a list of 20 parties, while the other presented the same list of parties with the names of their leaders attached. The first poll found that just four parties -- Our Ukraine (with 28.8 percent backing), Yanukovych's Party of Regions (14.5 percent), Petro Symonenko's Communist Party (6 percent), and Oleksandr Moroz's Socialist Party (4.5 percent) -- could count on overcoming the 3-percent barrier in the current environment.

But the second poll -- with a list of parties and their political leaders -- painted a somewhat different picture. It suggested that six parties would have deputies in the Verkhovna Rada: Party of Regions-Viktor Yanukovych (20.5 percent backing); Our Ukraine-Viktor Pynzenyk (17.1 percent); Socialist Party-Oleksandr Moroz (8 percent); Fatherland Party-Yuliya Tymoshenko (6.7 percent); Communist Party-Petro Symonenko (6.2 percent); and the Popular Agrarian Party-Volodymyr Lytvyn (3.5 percent).

First, the Razumkov Center's December polls highlighted the crucial role of leaders in Ukrainian politics: Party stripes do not appear to be of paramount importance to Ukrainian voters.

Second, the polls disclosed a startling and little-known reality: that the Our Ukraine "brand" belongs legally not to Yushchenko but to his political ally, Viktor Pynzenyk. Pynzenyk appears to have managed to re-register his former group -- the Reforms and Order Party -- with the Justice Ministry under the name of Our Ukraine while everyone else from Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc was busy preparing and implementing the "Orange Revolution."

The "appropriation" by Pynzenyk of the Our Ukraine name could became an additional source of political grief for Yushchenko in 2005, after he forms a new government and starts to think about securing political support for himself in the 2006 legislative elections. It is highly unlikely that other parties from the Yushchenko camp would be delighted either to allow Pynzenyk to participate in the election under the victorious bloc so closely associated with the "Orange Revolution" or to agree to field their candidates on Pynzenyk's party ticket. Besides, as the polls suggested, support for Our Ukraine might be significantly lower once voters realize the astounding fact that the Our Ukraine party is not run by Yushchenko.

In other words, Yushchenko should perhaps be as mindful of his allies in 2005 as of his opponents. It is still unclear which side could cause him greater troubles. (Jan Maksymiuk)

CORRECTION: In the 23 December issue of "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," the sum of additional election spending by Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych, as quoted by analyst Taras Kuzio, should be $600 million, not $6 billion.

"I know that the Ukrainian people had only a few decades of real independence in the last 800 years. Burial mounds of heroes, who fought for Ukraine's independence, are scattered all over the Ukrainian land. We have been independent for 14 years, but we have not been free. Today we are independent and free. I would like to congratulate you on this, my Ukrainian people." -- Ukrainian President-elect Viktor Yushchenko on Independence Square in Kyiv on 31 December; quoted by Channel 5.

"My dear fellow countrymen: I want to say to all those living in the west, east, south, north, and center of the country, in the towns and villages of Ukraine, and I appeal to you as the single and undivided Ukrainian people. There will be a new president in Ukraine in 2005. And the whole of Ukraine, each region and every citizen should receive this democratic choice as their very own choice. This person will need your support." -- Outgoing Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in his New Year's address on 31 December; quoted by UT-1.

"I have taken the formal decision to resign. And I think it will be impossible for me to hold any official position in the new government. This is my personal view.... I will remain in politics, and will act as an independent politician who legitimately won the elections on 21 November. My team and I will participate, in a legitimate and proper way, in both political and civil activity." -- Outgoing Prime Minister and apparently failed presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych in a televised address on 31 December; quoted by RFE/RL.