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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: March 11, 2005

11 March 2005, Volume 7, Number 11
WHO HAS THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE? The Minsk-based "Narodnaya volya," the biggest opposition daily in Belarus, carried a front page manifesto on 19 February of a new political movement called Will of the People (Volya naroda).

The manifesto was signed by Alyaksandr Kazulin, former rector of Belarusian State University (BDU), and more than 80 others, made up of university people and writers from Minsk but primarily a motley group of unknown public activists or ordinary workers and peasants from the provinces.

The same day Kazulin addressed a joint convention of Belarus's two cantankerous opposition parties -- the Social Democratic Party (Popular Assembly) and the Social Democratic Assembly, where he emerged as the probable leader of a new, united organization of Belarusian social democrats. In the following days, Kazulin gave a number of interviews to nonstate newspapers, which have fueled rumors that he may challenge Lukashenka for the post of president in 2006.

The rather mildly worded manifesto of the Will of the People movement essentially criticizes the current authorities in Belarus (without mentioning President Lukashenka at all) for pursuing a policy of self-isolation in the international arena and sowing national discord at home. "[Will of the People] will help to map out many necessary ways of economic, social, and cultural development, and will manage to promote tens of new national leaders out of the masses," the document says, in what appears to be the most specific passage relating to the new movement's plans. However, the manifesto remains silent on whether Belarus's new ways should go eastward, westward, or lead in some other direction.

Kazulin's subsequent interviews have not dispersed the fog shrouding his movement's aims and aspirations. "Lukashenka has done a lot of good for our country," Kazulin told the Internet website "Belorusskiye novostei," run by the Belapan news agency. "But the accumulation of consequences of his erroneous decisions and his reluctance to make compromises have already led to the situation that we are left without allies and friends.... With this leader the state does not have any more prospect of serious, dynamic growth and development."

Kazulin, born in Minsk in 1955, studied mathematics at BDU, served in the USSR Navy, and subsequently worked in the ranks of the Communist Youth League (Komsomol) and at the Education Ministry. In 1994, when Lukashenka was elected president, Kazulin was already deputy education minister. He was appointed BDU rector by Lukashenka in 1996 and reelected by BDU professors to the same post in 2000. Kazulin was known for referring to himself as "the president's man" at that time. In 1998-2001 Kazulin had the rank of a minister of the Belarusian Cabinet of Ministers.

As BDU rector, Kazulin developed a lot of commercial projects intended to turn BDU into a profit-making entity. He also set up a university-run FM station. He was fired by Lukashenka in November 2003 following a scandal involving two managers of BDU's largest affiliated enterprise, Unidrahmet, which had a monopoly license to extract precious metals from scrap metal. The two managers were charged with misuse of some $300,000, while Kazulin's complicity in the case has never been detected or corroborated.

Lukashenka, who is known for using very abusive language with regard to his political opponents or people who dropped out of his favor, maligned Kazulin in July 2004 when summing up his decade in the post of president. "I found him in the garbage, took him out of there, washed up, and made a rector," the Belarusian president said about Kazulin at that time. According to some Belarusian commentators, Lukashenka was also refering to Kazulin on 22 February when he vilified the opposition as West-sponsored "hobos" without a "country of their own" and said the following: "I know that a search is under way for people who are ostensibly not linked to the opposition or the authorities, in order to propose them as independent [and wanting] to capture power in Belarus."

Kazulin, who appears to be just such an "independent," has been met with reserve or even distrust among the established democratic opposition, which has already proposed half a dozen potential contenders for the presidency in 2006. The opposition claims it will select a single democratic competitor against Lukashenka in an as yet unspecified procedure, presumably involving some wider social strata than opposition activists in Minsk and some oblast centers. Some Belarusian newspapers have reported that Kazulin and his unexpected incursion into antigovernment rhetoric is seen by some as part of a plan concocted by Lukashenka or his advisers to promote a fake oppositionist in order to split the anti-Lukashenka forces and disorient voters in the 2006 presidential election, thus minimizing the chances of a repeat of Ukraine's Orange Revolution in Belarus.

True or not, Kazulin's former cooperation with the Lukashenka regime indeed offers a lot of food for suspicious speculation about the essence of his political "recovery of sight." "At some point the totalitarian style of thinking prevailed to such an extent that Lukashenka, with his strong authority, has become a brake on the development of Belarus," Kazulin told "Belorusskiye novosti." Hundreds of thousands of Belarusians made such a conclusion as soon as November 1996, when Lukashenka embarked on an autocratic style of governing following a rigged constitutional referendum. Therefore, some now may rightfully wonder why Kazulin, doctor of mathematical and pedagogical sciences, needed no less than 10 years to figure out exactly what Lukashenka was up to. (Jan Maksymiuk)

IS NEW PRO-YUSHCHENKO PARTY MORE THAN PARTY OF POWER? More than 6,000 delegates gathered in Kyiv on 5 March to set up a party called Our Ukraine People's Union (NSNU), which is to provide political support to the government of President Viktor Yushchenko and vie for a substantial parliamentary representation in the 2006 general elections.

The congress elected 120 delegates to the party's council, chose Deputy Prime Minister Roman Bezsmertnyy as head of the council and lawmaker Yuriy Yekhanurov as head of the party's executive committee. Yushchenko, who reportedly signed up for the new party as an ordinary member and got membership card No. 1, was made the party's honorary chairman.

Some Ukrainian commentators jokily described the Our Ukraine People's Union as the country's first "party of power" that is simultaneously a "people's party." Which is true to a large extent if one takes into account the party's current membership. The delegates to the constituent congress, who automatically became full-fledged NSNU members, comprised both current government officials from Kyiv and rank-and-file activists of the 2004 Yushchenko presidential campaign from the provinces.

However, some circumstances under which the NSNU came into being and some developments during the congress have left many wondering whether the pro-Yushchenko party is not primarily poised to prefer the interests of the government to those of the people.

It was widely expected that Yushchenko would build a new political force based on parties participating in his Our Ukraine parliamentary bloc. This, however, did not happen. The NSNU constituent congress was organized by the public movement "For Ukraine! For Yushchenko!" coordinated by the president's older brother, Petro Yushchenko, as well as by some government officials from Kyiv and regional governors. President Yushchenko had apparently failed to mobilize his major allies from the Orange Revolution -- notably Yuriy Kostenko's Ukrainian People's Party and Borys Tarasyuk's People's Rukh of Ukraine -- for the idea of a single party.

It is also not known for the time being whether the Our Ukraine Party (formerly the Reforms and Order Party) led by current Finance Minister Viktor Pynzenyk will join the NSNU. Pynzenyk reregistered his party last year under the new name, which is commonly associated with Yushchenko and the Orange Revolution, in the apparent anticipation of the emergence of a united pro-Yushchenko force after the 2004 presidential election. Pynzenyk most likely expected that his renamed party would serve as a basis for such a consolidation. However, he was not given any role in forming the NSNU, and Yushchenko did not even mention Pynzenyk's Our Ukraine Party in his address to the 5 March congress.

What Yushchenko did mention was an expected election coalition of the NSNU with the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and the Agrarian Party of Ukraine led by parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn. "Today and many times [earlier] I told Yuliya Volodymyrivna Tymoshenko -- we see you in 2006 in one team with us," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website quoted Yushchenko as saying. "Volodymyr Mikhaylovych Lytvyn! We see [us] in 2006 in one team [consisting of] the Our Ukraine People's Union, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and the Agrarian Party of Ukraine."

As regards the hitherto allied parties that evolved from Vyacheslav Chornovil's Rukh -- Kostenko's Ukrainian People's Party and Tarasyuk's People's Rukh of Ukraine -- Yushchenko did not leave any doubt that they may either be absorbed by the NSNU or go their own way. "I have been saddened by the [intention] of our two partners, the Ukrainian People's Party and the People's Rukh of Ukraine, to go for the 2006 election on their own," Yushchenko said. "This is a mistake, but these people had the right to adopt the resolution they adopted.... Our doors will remain open." But he immediately qualified his "open-door policy" by reiterating his vision of a pro-presidential political alliance in 2006: "There will be a single coalition of the three forces [NSNU, Lytvyn's party, Tymoshenko's bloc]. This is our credo on which we stand."

The election of the NSNU's leading bodies, the council and the executive committee, reportedly took place by an undemocratic procedure -- delegates to the congress were provided with a list of 120 members for the NSNU Council, which was prepared in advance by unknown people, and approved the list in one single vote, without discussing individual candidates. Delegates from Donetsk Oblast tried to protest the candidates proposed to the NSNU Council from their region but were reportedly outwitted by those who presided over the congress -- the Donetsk delegates were promised a repeat vote during a later stage of the congress but this never happened.

The NSNU's "Political Bureau" -- the 21-member Presidium of the NSNU Council -- includes such persons as Deputy Prime Minister Roman Bezsmertnyy, Youth and Sports Minister Yuriy Pavlenko, Justice Minister Roman Zvarych, Emergency Minister Davyd Zhvaniya, Culture Minister Oksana Bilozir, top presidential aide Oleksandr Tretyakov, National Security and Defense Council Secretary Petro Poroshenko, Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko, and a group of pro-Yushchenko lawmakers.

In short, the NSNU looks very much like a party of Ukraine's newly established nomenklatura or like the Popular Democratic Party founded as a "party of power" in 1996 for the Kuchma era. Today, the Popular Democratic Party, which still has a dozen deputies in the Verkhovna Rada, seems to be nearing an unavoidable political demise in the 2006 election, when only parties winning no less than 3 percent of the vote nationally are to be rewarded with parliamentary seats.

The pro-Yushchenko NSNU, as a party based on time-serving political interests rather than on a consistent ideology and program, may well repeat the fate of the pro-Kuchma Popular Democratic Party, though this is unlikely to happen in 2006. It seems that Yushchenko can be sure of a considerable gain of parliamentary seats in 2006 for his supporters in the planned coalition with Tymoshenko and Lytvyn. What happens after that is anybody's guess. But the fact that Yushchenko's is following Kuchma's footsteps in building a political base for his presidency is already troubling, to say the least. (Jan Maksymiuk)

"For me, you, too, are people. You are people. Even if you number a mere 60,000. It is not many from the viewpoint of politics." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to small retail traders at a market in Minsk on 10 March; quoted by Belarusian Television. President Lukashenka is known for referring to Belarusian market vendors in the 1990s as "lousy fleas."

"We are not going to try and force Europe to accept us. What we are going to do is make Europe ask us to join." -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on 7 March; quoted by dpa.

"Before God, before the people, before Gongadze, I'm clean." -- Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, on 4 March, referring to the allegations that he may have had a role in the kidnapping and assassination of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000; quoted by Reuters.