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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: August 3, 2005

3 August 2005, Volume 7, Number 28
WARSAW RECALLS AMBASSADOR FROM MINSK. Poland on 28 July recalled its ambassador from Belarus, sending diplomatic relations between the two neighbors into a tailspin. For the past two months, Poland and Belarus have been locked in a round of diplomatic expulsions. But the 28 July decision by Warsaw to recall its ambassador takes the crisis to a new level.

Poland's move comes after Belarusian police and OMON special forces in the city of Hrodna on 27 July stormed the headquarters of the Union of Poles in Belarus (SPB).

SPB Chairwoman Andzhelika Borys described what happened, in a telephone interview with RFE/RL: "Yesterday, at around 9 p.m., the police and OMON forces, carrying weapons, broke into the building of the Union of Poles," Borys said. "They began to demand that members of the Union of Poles, who were inside, leave the building. People were indignant. There were about 20 of us. On what basis was the order issued? Why were the police there? Why was OMON there? Without any explanation they began to throw people out by force."

Borys said she and her colleagues were driven to a local police station, where they were interrogated for several hours before being released at around 1 a.m.

The SPB, which represents the nearly 400,000-strong Polish minority in Belarus, has been at the center of worsening relations between Poland and Belarus. It claims an active membership of 10,000 people, making it the largest nongovernmental organization in the country. It also publishes a newspaper, "Glos znad Niemna" (Voice From Over The Niemen.)

The SPB receives financing from the authorities in Warsaw. At a congress in March, SPB members elected a new leadership as well as a new editorial staff for their newspaper.

But the Belarusian authorities invalidated the results of the congress, claiming voting irregularities. At that point, SPB members accused Minsk of seeking to subvert the organization by trying to pack its leadership with loyalists to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

The authorities in Warsaw expressed their concern at what they called the Belarusian government's interference with a private organization.

Lukashenka accused Warsaw of meddling in Belarus's internal affairs. He ordered the expulsion of a Polish diplomat and the tit-for-tat began.

On 28 July, the SPB's headquarters in Hrodna was being guarded by police, OMON forces, and the KGB, according to Borys. Former SPB Chairman Tadeusz Kruczkowski, whom the Belarusian authorities recognize as the organization's sole legitimate leader, is inside.

Borys described the situation as "insane." She noted that the building was built with Polish funds and said the Belarusian government has no right to seize the building.

She added that Kruczkowski, despite the government's claims, has no legitimate supporters. She noted that he was only able to force his way into the building with a police and OMON escort and she ridiculed the authorities' claims that there is a split in the SPB leadership.

"In the union, there is only one division: between Poles and the authorities, who are doing everything to block us," Borys said. "They used the force of arms to bring someone into the building, to install him [as chairman]. Today, none of Mr. Kruczkowski's allies were present, aside from the police, the OMON, and the KGB."

Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Jakub Wolski told the Polish parliament, the Sejm, in Warsaw on 28 July that his government continues to recognize Borys' leadership. "I want to declare from this podium that we recognize the legitimately elected leadership [of the Union of Poles in Belarus], and the Belarusian authorities obviously don't like it, because this organization has gone out of their control," Wolski said.

Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld said Poland's ambassador will not return to Minsk "until the situation changes."

A spokesman for the European Commission, Altafaj Tardio, told a news briefing in Brussels on 28 July that the EU is very concerned about the storming of the SPB's headquarters.

Tardio noted what he termed the "growing repression" by the Belarusian authorities of the media, political parties, and nongovernmental organizations. "We call on Belarus to ensure full compliance with its OSCE obligations, including the protection of minority rights," Tardio said. (Jeremy Bransten)

(RFE/RL's Belarus Service contributed to this report.)

HAS YUSHCHENKO'S HONEYMOON COME TO AN END? Some 700 Ukrainian journalists have joined forces in asking President Viktor Yushchenko to formally apologize for what they say was rude behavior during a recent news conference. The Ukrainian president was angered when a reporter pressed him to address reports about his son's lavish lifestyle. Analysts say it is not the first row between Yushchenko and the press -- but it may be the latest sign the president's political honeymoon is coming to an end.

Public regard for President Yushchenko seems to be waning.

Last year's Orange Revolution elevated him to near-hero status, prompting many Ukrainians to joke that the only difference between God and their new president was that God didn't think he was Yushchenko.

Since then, however, a scandal over his son's spending habits and the probing of a newly freed media have forced Yushchenko on the defensive.

The president's son, Andriy, is a university student in Kyiv majoring in international relations. But he appears to have expensive tastes. He drives a new BMW and has been reported to lead a "playboy" existence.

Ukrainian media have given the story constant coverage -- even asking the president for an explanation at a 25 July press conference. But President Yushchenko angrily dismissed the questions, accusing one correspondent of subjecting his children to unfair scrutiny.

"Andriy is just a citizen like you. He wants a private life," Yushchenko said. "You try revealing your private life [to other people]. He is not a public politician. My friends, if you want to strike out at someone, strike out at me. Don't attack wives or children. You should be above that."

But the reporter, from the "Ukrayinska pravda" Internet newspaper, probed further, asking where Andriy Yushchenko worked that enabled him to afford his BMW M6 sports car -- valued at $120,000 -- and other luxury items like a $30,000 platinum Vertu mobile phone.

President Yushchenko responded by calling on the correspondent to "act like a polite journalist and not like a hit man." He went on to say his son had a job that allowed him to lease his BMW -- and that the phone was a gift from a friend.

"He has a job at a consulting company, and he also does some other things there -- honest things, which I have encouraged him to do for a long time," Yushchenko said. "It's not a lot of money, but it is enough to lease a car and hire an extra security guard [not provided by the state]."

Now 700 Ukrainian journalists have published an open letter demanding an apology from the president for what they say was an arrogant retort to a reasonable journalistic question.

Stuart Hensel of the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit said the appeal was justified, as Yushchenko is developing a pattern of rude behavior with the press. "Unfortunately, it is symptomatic of the way in which he has dealt with the press in the past," Hensel said. "He has received criticism for some of his previous press conferences, and specifically this one dealing with his justice minister, where he was very dismissive of allegations made by the press about members of his entourage. And he invited some comparisons to the previous regime [of former President Leonid Kuchma]. I think there is some disappointment, certainly, from the members of the liberal press in Ukraine."

Valeriy Ivanov, the head of the nongovernmental Ukrainian Press Academy, also signed the letter. He told RFE/RL the letter was about more than Yushchenko's coarse words at the news conference. "The president just simply refused to provide information about the behavior of one of his family members, and this behavior concerns huge sums of money," Ivanov said. "In fact, it was about hidden forms of corruption. In addition to that, he behaved rudely toward the journalist."

He said Yushchenko was breaking the promises he made during the Orange Revolution to respect the free press.

So does this mark the end of warm ties between the president and the media? Ivanov said such a period, in fact, never existed. He said the new Ukrainian government has from the start tried to impose some control over the press.

"Putting it frankly, it isn't the first problem between a journalist and the new authorities," Ivanov said. "Journalists have many claims against local authorities. [Local authorities] have sought to sack those journalists who worked before the Orange Revolution. Attempts have been made by the authorities to control Internet media."

Andriy Bychenko, the head of the sociological office of the Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies, said this latest conflict was different because those journalists who once supported the president are now assailing him.

"If you look more closely, you will see that it is unpleasant for the president -- that this topic was raised and developed by the same journalists who strongly supported him just a short time ago," Bychenko said. "For a long time, 'Ukrayinska pravda' and 'Dzerkalo tyzhnya' -- whose journalists were among those who signed the petition to the president -- were almost the only media outlets, together with Channel 5, which presented Yushchenko's and the opposition's point of view."

Bychenko said the scandal clearly showed that Ukrainian media was not doing the government's bidding -- and that while Yushchenko might love the limelight, he has little idea how to deal with an independent press. (Valentinas Mite)

RFE/RL TALKS WITH PRESIDENT VLADIMIR VORONIN. RFE/RL's Romania/Moldova Service spoke with Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin on 26 July about some of the biggest issues facing his country. Voronin addressed the roots of the Transdniester problem and his preferred path for solving the conflict, enlisting EU and U.S. help in persuading Moscow to remove Russian troops from Transdniester, and his vision of ideal relations with neighboring Romania. He also discussed the liberalization of the country's economy and political system, reform of the Communist Party, and his personal role in Europe. The following is an edited transcript of that interview.

RFE/RL: Now that the legislature in [the Moldovan capital] Chisinau has adopted a law on the principles that will guide the future status of the regions east of the Dniester River, is there a risk of losing this territory [Transdniester] and of an irreversible consolidation of this area under the Ukrainian umbrella? There seemed to be an acceleration in the adoption of this law immediately after [Transdniestrian leader] Igor Smirnov's visit to Kyiv.

Voronin: No, by no means. There has been talk for a long time about the possibility that this territory of Moldova could be taken away from Moldova. If we recall some of the causes of the Transdniestrian conflict, perhaps this separation was at the heart of this conflict. But there is the 1976 Helsinki Declaration about the integrity of countries, of borders; and we and the entire international community are guided by this Helsinki Declaration. There is no reason why we should be afraid that after the adoption of this law, the disintegration process could develop further. [Ukrainian President Viktor] Yushchenko coordinated Smirnov's visit to Kyiv with me personally; the visit was organized to familiarize Smirnov with some of the elements of our joint Moldovan-Ukrainian declaration, which is based on the Yushchenko plan. On our request -- mine and Mr. Yushchenko's -- the European Union will soon start monitoring the Moldovan-Ukrainian border. These were the points discussed in Kyiv.

RFE/RL: How do you see, in practical terms, the dismantlement of the machinery called "Transdniester," which is controlled today by the Tiraspol KGB?

Voronin: I am relying very much on the support of European organizations, mainly the EU, on assistance from the United States; in a joint effort, we should persuade the Russian Federation to pull both its troops and munitions out of Transdniester, because the presence of the Russian military there is a political umbrella and a form of support for the separatist regime in Transdniester, even though it is not acknowledged openly. I am also relying heavily on the notions included in this new law concerning the democratization and demilitarization of the Transdniestrian regime. The fear that this KGB-style regime instills every day in the citizens of our country living in Transdniester is the biggest obstacle to resolving the Transdniestrian conflict. People there cannot openly express their opinions; they cannot participate openly in elections; nor can they participate openly in any political, cultural, social, or other activities.

RFE/RL: Several years ago, you were ready to pay for the reunification of Moldova by resigning from your post as president on condition that Smirnov resigned too. If today Moscow, in agreement with Washington, put forward such a tough condition, would you accept it?

Voronin: Any condition has to be based on something. If Smirnov and I are placed on the same scale, then I want to see some arguments why I -- a president elected by the people of Moldova in free and democratic elections -- must be placed on the same scale as these carpetbaggers and criminals from Transdniester. I think that what happened four years ago, when we didn't know what fed this separatist regime, could not happen today. Today it is no longer the case that we could be equaled -- no matter who the president is, it is not about specifically Voronin -- with a separatist, criminal regime in Transdniester.

RFE/RL: There has been a lot of speculation in the media that some officials in Chisinau could be vulnerable to blackmail -- and even have been blackmailed -- after files disappeared from the security-services offices. Have you tried to find out whether there is such evidence, which could allow Tiraspol to influence the decisions taken in Chisinau through such methods?

Voronin: Today the Information and Security Service of Moldova has no record of such files. There was no such record here in the times of the Socialist Moldova either, because files of this kind were kept at the KGB in Moscow. Therefore, neither the Information and Security Service of Moldova nor myself has any information on such files or on who they might concern. But I have to say that I don't exclude the possibility that somebody could be blackmailed. In any event, nothing has been proven so far, and we are watching the situation closely. We don't have evidence to this effect so far, but I don't exclude that such cases might exist.

RFE/RL: How could [Moldova's] relationship with Russia be improved in practical terms? Some analysts have said that since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Moscow has always interpreted the expression of friendship and good-neighborly feelings toward Moscow as an expression of vassality and submissiveness. I could say the same of the change in such feelings toward you after your visits -- during your first years in office, you were very much welcome in Moscow, and you went there with a certain type of feelings that Moscow probably interpreted as a bowed head; but more recently you have become a sort of persona non grata in Moscow. Can Russia overcome this attitude toward the former Soviet republics, and especially toward the Republic of Moldova?

Voronin: This question carries several themes. Until we raised to the appropriate level and stated firmly the Transdniestrian issue, our relations were very clear, very serene. But as soon as we started discussing very seriously, and I would even say firmly, the issues of the Russian troop withdrawal, the weapons withdrawal, the resolution of the Transdniestrian conflict, closing the borders, identifying the smuggling and trafficking in human beings, and so forth, our relationship with the Russian Federation started to deteriorate. The Russian Federation has to give up -- not only in its relations with Moldova but with all the other former Soviet republics, too -- its imperial fixation, which it still brings to the present day into all forms of interaction with our countries. If they fail to overcome this imperial fixation, there will always be problems. We are not a big brother and little brother; we are an independent country, a sovereign country, and we ought to be treated by the Russian Federation as any other independent, sovereign state.

RFE/RL: Was Romania really ready to go to war in 1992, as the Transdniestrian leaders claim today, with reference to some [historical] files? Their most recent declarations in this respect were made by the leader of the Transdniestrian Supreme Soviet, Grigori Marakutsa.

Voronin: I have never heard this -- either in '92 or since then -- and I am not aware of such files. In the Moldovan archives, there are no documents that could confirm Romania's intention to become involved in the Transdniestrian conflict. On the contrary, all these years -- especially recently, since Traian Basescu was elected president -- Romania has been showing a very clear attitude toward the reintegration of Moldova and toward the issues linked to the Transdniestrian conflict, and Romania is supporting us in various international and European forums when it comes to this issue.

RFE/RL: How does Chisinau envisage a good relationship with Romania? What components should this relationship have? I personally witnessed you promise to develop much better relations with Romania than the previous presidents did.

Voronin: Romania and Ukraine are the two neighbors that Moldova has, and traditionally relations with neighbors have to be good; and our intention is to keep them good in the future, as well. We are ready, on our side, to take all the necessary steps to improve these relations. Moreover, we have no territorial problems with Romania; we don't face other problems that have appeared in other countries after the collapse of empires. In terms of the economy, cultural and social issues, aspects related to our European vector and in many other areas -- whether it concerns the government or the fact of us being neighbors, or whether it concerns institutions operating in both countries in various areas -- we are ready to do everything it takes to develop further our relations with Romania. Romania and Moldova ought to be the most important partners in various areas of activity and development of our countries.

RFE/RL: Can we say, then, that the old page we remember -- when the former minister of justice, Mr. [Ion] Morei, was speaking in Strasbourg about the interference of neighbors into Moldova's internal affairs -- has been turned? Is this a change of attitude only in Bucharest, or in Chisinau, too?

Voronin: I can state with full responsibility that there has been a change both in Bucharest and in Chisinau, and it can already be seen and felt by both Moldovan and Romanian citizens.

RFE/RL: President Basescu recently launched the notion of "two countries, one nation." Do you accept this formula, or have you simply not rejected it officially? Or has the discussion around it merely been postponed for another time?

Voronin: Anyone in such a position has the right to express their personal opinion. This is why I don't think I should rush to respond to this opinion. This is Mr. Basescu's opinion, while I see things differently -- we have always been and will always be Moldovans, and our country is the Republic of Moldova. But I agree with what Mr. Basescu said further down the road -- that is, we are going to meet and be together in the community of European countries. This is a clear statement of truth, for which both Romania and Moldova are preparing.

RFE/RL: Could it be said that, in the context of the European integration of Romania and Moldova, the issue of unification has disappeared? This has always been a political scarecrow, and purportedly because of it the Communists and the left in general didn't accept the notions of "Romanian language" or "Romanian nation."

Voronin: I do believe that our European integration will solve a host of problems, some of which we are not even aware of today or don't see emerging in the near future. Concerning the issues of language and national identity, they will stay, because each country has its own nation, language, history, culture, and everything else that characterizes a country. The same is true of the Moldovan nation. As two years ago we declared that Moldova was a multiethnic state, we have nothing against any nation living in Moldova, no matter what it might be -- Romanians, Russians, Bulgarians, or Gagauz. This is why these issues should not be brought into a discussion today. Moreover, when we started interacting with the new Romanian president, Traian Basescu, we talked about exactly this. Such issues are up to linguists, historians, or any other specialists -- but not up to politicians. And they should not be the basis of any sort of relations.

RFE/RL: Liberal moves in the economy and politics would not have been forgiven by colleagues and society if they had been made by other presidents. You carried through many reforms thanks to the authority that you have with your party colleagues and in society. When discussions arise, how do you handle them -- using your authority, arguments, or any other resources?

Voronin: I would introduce even more liberalization of the economy, but the bureaucratic obstacles make it very difficult -- old norms, old concepts, and even the opinions that developed based on old knowledge. All this hampers very much the further liberalization of the Moldovan economy. Nevertheless, we do make progress. You probably know that in a World Bank assessment of a series of countries, made for 2004, Moldova's economy was among the 10 most liberal ones in terms of legislation. But we still have a lot to do. If I am to speak about other areas of development -- not only the economy, where we made certain steps that sometimes nobody either in this country or outside expected from us -- we were guided by two principles, one of which is very important: argumentation. I provide arguments for all the proposals that I make in various areas. I hear out all the parties and their arguments, then I make a decision based on which option is supported by the majority. When the arguments alone are not enough for me to make the decision, then I have to use my authority as chairman of the party and as president of the country.

RFE/RL: Every now and then the question arises, whether Moldova is a parliamentary or a presidential republic. What is your response to that question?

Voronin: My response is very serious and it is based on my experience during my first term in office as president. No matter what the constitution says -- a presidential or a parliamentary republic, or half-half, and there is also talk about the need to have the president elected directly by the nation, and I have nothing against it if such a decision should be made -- but regardless of whether the president is elected by the parliament or the people, if he doesn't have the support of a clear parliamentary majority, then he can't do much. Neither the president nor the parliament can do much work then, and in such situations it is the government that gets the sharp end of the stick. This is why there must be a parliamentary majority. No matter whether the country is a presidential or parliamentary republic, without a parliamentary majority neither the president nor the government can do their job. This is my absolute conclusion.

RFE/RL: But they say that there will be no other comfortable parliamentary majority, as this is a unique situation. Moldova has to learn to work as a coalition. Do you have solutions for such situations, too?

Voronin: This is very true. Moreover, in the current parliament and during my second mandate as president I have started working with all the factions in the parliament. And you have probably noticed that a series of issues of strategic national importance have been passed unanimously. Many laws have been approved with the support of other factions and not only by the majority that our party holds in parliament. So, we are learning. In the previous parliament we [Communist Party] had 71 percent, now we have 56 percent, and God knows it might happen that we will end up with less than 50 percent in the next parliament. You know, voters have become fed up with seeing the same people in government and are looking for something new in politics and parliament. This is why we are preparing ourselves to be able, based on the most important national strategic interests, to create a parliamentary majority even when voters do no grant our party a majority in elections.

RFE/RL: Who gave up more -- the opposition or the authorities -- during these discussions and the radical decisions that were made?

Voronin: Why not turn this question around -- let's speak about who gained more? Perhaps it is more appropriate to speak about who gained more: it is the Republic of Moldova that stood to gain, and the authority of the parliament and -- don't take this as a lack of modesty -- of the president, because I persuaded the others to join our efforts on those issues. We all stood to gain, because the changes to the Moldovan legislation that have been made in the last several days are based on the requirements contained in the EU-Moldova Action Plan. And since we have committed ourselves to carrying out this plan we have to be conscientious and find the consensus in parliament needed to pass these laws. So, I believe that we have all benefited.

RFE/RL: What is the final objective of the reform in the Communist Party? I am asking this because we have to speak about some parameters -- are you giving up the left-wing doctrine, do you remain liberals regarding the economy while continuing to be left wing in politics? There are also allegations made to the effect that your party is a nationalist one, and this is a right-wing doctrine while the left has always been more internationalist. You seem to be a Moldovan nationalist in your relations with the outside world. How and when are you going to tackle this type of issues?

Voronin: It is absurd if a party that is in government for a second term begins internal reforms while in office. If it's doing well enough, then why try to improve anything? The main goal of our party reform is to strengthen the party even more -- to turn it into a new-style pro-European party and secure as wide a support as possible in society. This is our final goal. Of course, our party is not going to jump quickly to the center then to the right. It will remain a left-wing party, although given our liberal economic policies it might shift a little bit to the right, but it will always remain on the left side of the spectrum. Our doctrine will be based on a number of criteria and on the global practices of many left-wing parties, including the Communist Party in China, and the social-democratic parties in Sweden, the Baltic States, Central Europe, and in many other countries. But most importantly, we will be guided by our national interests. It is in this context that I use the word "national" -- that is, the goal of our nation, of our Moldovan society. And you were very right in saying that when I go abroad as president of the country I become a strong nationalist because I am fighting for the interests of the country, the interests of our nation and of the Republic of Moldova. Inside, Moldova is a multiethnic country, where many nationalities live together, and I am promoting this policy inside the party as well -- the composition of our party is very close to the national composition of our country. We are guided by the principle that all nationalities have equal rights both in becoming members of our party and being promoted inside the party as well as in the country as a whole, with no discrimination or other issues linked to nationality.

RFE/RL: Some people who followed the development of the party were saying that a breakup was imminent, because allegedly there were wings and factions inside the party and even personal political foes of President Voronin, who could precipitate the breakup. Has this threat passed, or are there still fears in this regard?

Voronin: What I wish upon many of my political opponents, especially leaders of parties existing today in Moldova, is to work and build professional parties. A party should always be active. Party members should always have tasks to accomplish, have a workload, so to speak. That is, they have to be busy. The parties that appear and work only from election to election are not professional. Today one has to conduct politics professionally. A professional party, having discipline, wisdom, and conscientious members can never be broken up, can never have traitors, and can never suffer things that somebody wishes upon it from outside. There has always been talk about our party -- that it is about to collapse, that the deputies in parliament are about to betray it, as are the local councilors, and that they will all vote for somebody else and so on. But this can never happen because we have agreed from the very start to build a professional party that will respond to all the concerns of society and cater to the interests of the majority of our society rather than respond to issues of the moment or act only for election purposes.

RFE/RL: The breakup of the Soviet Union started with the war on privileges, then transparency and perestroika sped up the process, only to achieve -- as some analysts say -- a situation in which the privileges have been legalized, where there is a market economy that looks very much like the accumulation of the first million dollars, a phase experienced by capitalist countries, too, and a sort of unfair social competition. And now many people are asking themselves: "What has actually happened to the Soviet Union?" I am interested in your view -- as a participant in the breakup processes, which were practically inevitable for the Soviet Union -- what actually happened to the Soviet Union? How could this phase, what is happening now with the nations of the former Soviet Union, be described -- is this a return to the normality we missed before 1917 or is this a new cycle of historic mistakes that these nations are making?

Voronin: First of all, I did not participate in the breakup of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party; we have all been eyewitnesses to this event. Secondly, as myself and my colleagues created the new Communist Party in our country we couldn't but think about the reasons why the Communist Party of the Soviet Union broke apart. One of the reasons was the split of the party hierarchy from the party masses. This is a major threat for any party, no matter whether it is a communist, Christian democratic, or I don't know what other party. Also, the struggle for peace that was always going on in the Soviet Union -- which in reality meant a Soviet Union that was increasingly more heavily armed -- ruined the economic foundation of the country and social issues could no longer be dealt with, and any expectations that the Soviet citizens had were in vain. This led to major discontent, and when Yeltsin issued the decree under which he banned the Communist Party, none of the members tried to defend it. If we fail to draw conclusions from those tragic historical moments, then the same will happen to us, if not in one year then in 10, and not only to the Communist Party but to any party. All parties are built the same way -- it's like building a house. It all depends on the ideology and the people entering and populating the house that is the party. These threats are valid for any party, and this is what is actually happening in Europe. If we are to think about the point that we have returned to today, this is not a return to 1917 nor to 1991. Today we are building a completely new society, a completely new country based on totally different principles. The principles that were clearly described by Lenin at the turn of the 19th and the 20th centuries are not only obsolete, they have to be completely overhauled based on the current realities. If we fail to learn from those theories and from what happened to the Soviet Union, then what are we doing in politics? So, what we have to do is, first, draw the right conclusions and, second, look and see that it's the 21st century already -- with a totally different mentality, a totally different society, totally different citizens of our country with totally different expectations. And we, those in politics and those heading parties or just regular party members, ought to respond to these expectations, for otherwise we are going to lag behind life itself.

RFE/RL: In 2001, after you had won the parliamentary elections, the guests to the Party Congress -- from Belarus, Ukraine and other countries -- which was a congress of the victors, saw you as and wished upon you to become a Fidel Castro of Europe. What role do you see for yourself today -- perhaps a Gandhi?

Voronin: I see you are well-informed, because I think I did tell somebody that I was reading Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. I am very interested in the struggle for independence that took place in India. But I don't see myself in this role, by far. It just so happened -- and this is the history of Moldova and probably my personal history as well -- it just so happened, under the influence of positive and negative circumstances, that I became president of the Republic of Moldova. In this role I see my obligation in defending the country's interests and developing the country within the community of the modern European states -- this is our current task, a quite ambitious one, and by this I am referring to European integration.