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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: August 24, 2005

24 August 2005, Volume 7, Number 30
GERMAN BROADCASTER MAKES WAVES WITH RUSSIAN-LANGUAGE PLANS. In June, Germany's international broadcaster Deutsche Welle announced its plans to launch a Russian-language information program for Belarus called the "Belarusian Chronicle." Official Minsk has so far remained silent about plans for the daily show, which is scheduled to begin in October. But many of Belarus's opposition and pro-democracy circles -- who in theory could only benefit from such an endeavor -- have reacted with alarm, indignation, and even hostility. They want Deutsche Welle to speak Belarusian to Belarusians.

Media have since reported that Deutsche Welle won a European Commission tender to organize radio broadcasts to Belarus. Bidders reportedly included international broadcasters Euronews and BBC World Service. Brussels will spend 138,000 euros ($169,000) annually to support Deutsche Welle's Belarus project, which is to continue for three years. It was initially reported that Deutsche Welle would broadcast 15 minutes a day to Belarus, but Deutsche Welle's Russian Service Director Cornelia Rabitz later signaled that her team might in September come up with a 30-minute daily program in which 15 minutes would be devoted to European developments and another 15 minutes to Belarusian domestic news.

Aleh Trusau -- chairman of the Belarusian Language Society, a nongovernmental group working to support the mother tongue of most Belarusians -- was the first to urge Deutsche Welle to launch its Belarus broadcasts in Belarusian. "[Deutsche Welle broadcasts in Russian] would plunge Belarusian listeners deeper into the Russian information space and increase their isolation from Europe," Trusau argued in an open letter to Deutsche Welle in June. And in an interview with RFE/RL's Belarusian Service later in the month, he clarified his position further by saying, "There are a lot of Russian-language sections in international broadcasters -- Voice of America, BBC, Deutsche Welle -- that employ emigrants from Russia with an imperial point of view. For them, Ukraine and Belarus are not full-fledged nations."

Belarusian opposition leaders seeking the role of a joint democratic candidate to face President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in the 2006 presidential ballot were cautious after news emerged of Deutsche Welle's plans. United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka said Deutsche Welle's broadcasts in Belarusian would be a more appropriate option but immediately added, "If we cannot influence the development of events, Russian-language broadcasts are better than nothing at all." However, most opposition leaders with any chance of securing the democratic parties' presidential nomination have chosen not to comment on the issue in any way.

As for anti-Lukashenka intellectual circles in Belarus, Deutsche Welle's project has sparked a heated debate over the fate of the Belarusian language in particular, and the country's political and civilizational choices in general. Belarusian political scientist Vital Silitski, in an emotional letter published in the Minsk-based "Nasha Niva" weekly earlier this month, appealed to Belarusians to boycott Deutsche Welle's Russian-language broadcasts. Silitski argued that the choice of Russian for broadcasting to Belarus is the result of a "complete misunderstanding" of the Belarusian situation by "European bureaucrats" who, according to Silitski, are following Lukashenka in his attempts "to instill the notion in public opinion that the Belarusian language has no prospects or real demand among Belarus's citizens."

Silitski claimed that the EU decision to sponsor broadcasts to Belarus by Deutsche Welle's Russian Service is "absurd," since the service employs people "for whom Belarus is just an extra job and from whom one cannot expect a deep knowledge or understanding of processes under way in Belarus." Silitski stressed that "the revival of national consciousness is a necessary condition for democratization of any nation" and again scolded "European bureaucrats" for what he perceives as their support of "the tendencies that consolidate the dictatorship in Belarus." "Nasha Niva" called on its readers to become signatories to Silitski's appeal.

German diplomat Hans-Georg Wieck, former head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk and a staunch advocate of EU-sponsored broadcasting to Belarus, responded to this wave of protests in Belarus through RFE/RL's Belarusian Service earlier this month. Wieck said that neither Brussels nor Deutsche Welle is against Belarusian-language broadcasting. According to Wieck, there is currently no money to organize Belarusian-language broadcasts. "This is a problem of means. Now in Russian, later in Belarusian," Wieck said. "The [Deutsche Welle] new project is only the beginning." Wieck stressed that reaction to the Deutsche Welle project in Belarus is quite understandable.

Wieck, who was instrumental in uniting the cantankerous Belarusian opposition behind a single challenger to President Lukashenka in the 2001 presidential ballot, is doubtless among the most knowledgeable Western experts on Belarus. He is also one of the very few who seem to understand the important role of the Belarusian native linguistic and cultural heritage in the possible democratization of the country. In 2001, some forces in the anti-Lukashenka electoral coalition all but sabotaged the opposition campaign because of what they regarded as a disastrous choice of the opposition's single candidate. Uladzimir Hancharyk, the single candidate "imposed" by Wieck on the Belarusian opposition in 2001, was a Soviet-era trade-union functionary who remained utterly indifferent to the revival of the Belarusian language and culture. This revival, which is being ardently advocated by a significant segment of the Belarusian opposition as a sine qua non for Belarus's "return to Europe" and no less stridently opposed by Lukashenka as a major obstacle to his "back-to-the-USSR" drive, has now been dealt a serious (even if indirect and/or unintended) blow by Brussels and Deutsche Welle.

Will Brussels, as Wieck expects, think twice and take a more favorable stance toward the Belarusian language (read: find money for Belarusian-language broadcasting) in the future? Judging by all appearances, not in the not-so-distant future. Because Brussels still faces the task of crafting a strategic policy toward Lukashenka's Belarus that would map out long-term priorities, not just "emergency measures" on the eve of major political campaigns in Belarus, to which Deutsche Welle's Belarus project appears to belong.

It is difficult to imagine any "colored revolution" taking place in Belarus next year. And it has already become obvious beyond any doubt that Europe's assistance to pro-democracy activism in Belarus -- if it is to be efficient -- should not limit itself to training in election techniques but rather embrace a much wider program of activities intended to bolster Belarusians' awareness that they are not a "Russian" nation (as recently suggested by Russian President Vladimir Putin) and that they actually belong to Europe, not to Eurasia. The promotion of the Belarusian language, whether as a tool for imparting free and unbiased information or a means for attaining a stronger sense of national pride by Belarusians, arguably should be one of the key priorities in such a strategic program of European assistance to Belarus.

Deutsche Welle's Russian Service Director Rabitz told Belarusian journalists that her company should be praised rather than criticized for its Belarus broadcasting project. "It is stupid to say that Russian is bad and Belarusian is good," Belapan quoted her as saying on 8 August. Rabitz also noted that Deutsche Welle has been broadcasting in Russian to five post-Soviet countries in Central Asia, where she said these programs are valued, not criticized. Rabitz's irritation is perhaps to be expected. However, as far as opponents of Russian-language broadcasting from abroad to Belarus are concerned, both of those arguments miss the point.

First, nobody in Belarus appears to be imposing such a "bad-good" evaluation on the two languages. The protests are directed primarily against what is perceived as Deutsche Welle's emblematic support for the policies and ideology of Russification promoted by Lukashenka in Belarus. Some might ask, not without reason, why Deutsche Welle found funding five years ago to sponsor Ukrainian-language broadcasting to Ukraine -- the country Russified to a level comparable to that of Belarus -- and was unable to repeat the act with regard to Belarus.

Rabitz's implicit comparison of Belarus with post-Soviet Central Asia, her opponents in Belarus say, does not hold water either, since none of those five post-Soviet republics has launched the kind of nationally traumatic linguistic and cultural policy that Lukashenka did 10 years ago in Belarus. In no former Soviet Union republic is the situation of the titular language so pitiable as in Belarus. Although the 1999 census suggested that 73.7 percent of Belarus's population declared Belarusian as its native language and 36.7 percent said it speaks Belarusian at home, Belarusian has been almost completely replaced by Russian in public life and state-run media.

On the other hand, while many Belarusians (including many with university diplomas) find it difficult to speak or write freely in Belarusian, the overwhelming majority has no problems whatsoever in understanding the language. Therefore, a Belarusian-language broadcaster could reach the same audiences in Belarus as a Russian-language one. This was amply demonstrated by the highly successful, private, Belarusian-language Radio 101.2 in Minsk, which was closed down by the Lukashenka administration in mid-1990s because, as one commentator put it, it broadcast in the language of freedom, not that of suppression.

One of the participants in the "Nasha Niva" discussion about Deutsche Welle's planned broadcasts to Belarus said the use of Russian language strips the project of any practical efficiency. He argued that tuning in to the Deutsche Welle Russian-language program on shortwave (over which Deutsche Welle will broadcast to Belarus) would be incomparably harder than tuning in to a Belarusian-language broadcast because of a multitude of other Russian-language stations on the shortwave spectrum. Thus the use of Belarusian by Deutsche Welle would arguably be a more pragmatic option. Some in Belarus believe that argument is even more appealing than any case based on Belarusian trauma resulting from its government's linguistic and cultural policies. (Jan Maksymiuk)

POLLSTER MAPS OUT POSTREVOLUTIONATY MOODS. The Washington-based International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) recently published its conclusions from a survey of 1,265 Ukrainians in late February that was devoted to perceptions of the Orange Revolution and its consequences. Pollsters explored perceptions of last year's presidential election, attitudes toward the mass antigovernment demonstrations that followed the second round of voting on 21 November, and postelection expectations for Ukraine.

Three of the clear findings that emerge from the IFES survey are that the Orange Revolution marked a zenith in the public's attention to politics, that a partisan rift has emerged over the country's democratic credentials, and that the events of November and December boosted citizens' faith in the ballot box and its outlook for the future. But while the polling agency stressed that the events of late 2004 mark a defining moment in Ukrainian history and public opinion, it also noted significant sociopolitical cleavages that persist in the country.

The survey was the IFES's 13th nationwide survey in Ukraine since 1994 and was sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

IFES found that more Ukrainians believe the 31 October and 21 November presidential vote was unfair than think it was mostly or completely fair, with distrust of the 21 November balloting more than double the level of trust. Meanwhile, a majority of Ukrainians (57 percent) believe the repeat vote in late December was fair, according to IFES.

Nearly two of three respondents support the replacement of the Central Election Commission after the 21 November vote. More than half say the new commission performed better, but there is a sharp divide depending on political loyalties: The overwhelming majority of Viktor Yushchenko supporters (82 percent) say the new commission was nonpartisan, while just 8 percent of those who report voting for Viktor Yanukovych express such an opinion -- unsurprising perhaps, given Yanukovych's subsequent failure in the vote.

The IFES drew a number of broad conclusions from its survey that suggest Ukrainians are following political events more carefully in hopes of seizing on a more participatory system.

The IFES noted that the Orange Revolution marked a sea change in the public interest in politics in Ukraine. The survey found that after the elections, 72 percent of Ukrainians claim to possess at least a moderate level of interest in politics, while that level was 59 percent shortly prior to the presidential election.

But there is a partisan divide over whether Ukraine is a democracy, according to IFES. Those who live in oblasts where Yushchenko won an especially high number of votes are more likely to say that Ukraine is a democracy than those who live in regions with a strong preference for Yanukovych (77 percent versus 28 percent). Curiously, a pre-election survey showed the opposite results: In October, those living in areas that supported Yushchenko were much less likely to describe Ukraine as a democracy than oblasts with strong preferences for Yanukovych (14 percent versus 34 percent).

The Orange Revolution has also strengthened Ukrainians' faith in the power of the ballot box. A majority of Ukrainians (53 percent) now say that voting gives them a chance to influence decision-making in the country. In October 2004, the same proportion of people said voting can make a difference as disagreed with that view (47 percent each).

Regarding expectations for the future, IFES concluded that 43 percent of Ukrainians believe the 2004 presidential election placed Ukraine on a path toward stability and prosperity, while 12 percent believe that Ukraine is headed toward instability. Economically speaking, 57 percent of Ukrainians describe the situation as bad or very bad, while just 9 percent perceive it as good or very good. In the 2003 survey, 86 percent described the economy as bad.

The Orange Revolution also appears to have ushered in widespread optimism, IFES found. Majorities expect to see at least some improvements in relations with Western countries (70 percent), the economy (65 percent), the fight against corruption (63 percent), respect for human rights (59 percent), and political stability (54 percent) over the next two years.

Institutions that played key roles in the Orange Revolution have seen an improvement in their public standing since the Yushchenko victory. More Ukrainians now express positive impressions of the Verkhovna Rada, the judicial system, the media, and nongovernmental organizations than before the presidential election in October. Four in 10 Ukrainians now have a better impression of the media than they did at the start of the election process, versus 11 percent who view the media more negatively and 38 percent whose views have not changed substantially. Impressions of the legislature, Verkhovna Rada, have improved among 42 percent of Ukrainians versus just 15 percent whose opinions have worsened and 33 percent who say their perceptions are unchanged.

IFES found in February that 65 percent of Ukrainians have confidence in President Yushchenko, while 25 percent say they have little or no confidence in him. (Among those who voted for Yanukovych, just 17 percent say they have confidence in the new president.) Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko enjoys the confidence of 57 percent of Ukrainians.

While the IFES concluded that the Orange Revolution marks a defining moment in Ukrainian history and Ukrainian public opinion through a major shift in social attitudes toward democracy and a more active participation of citizens in politics, the pollster also noted important sociopolitical cleavages in Ukraine's public opinion regarding the events of November-December 2004

In its analysis of these cleavages, IFES chooses the self-explanatory terms "Revolutionary Enthusiasts" (48 percent of the population), "Revolutionary Opponents" (23 percent), and "Revolutionary Agnostics" (for those holding the middle ground between the previous two groups and characterized by a wait-and-see attitude; 29 percent of the population). According to IFES, there are no major differences based on gender or education among those three groups. In terms of ethnicity, the Revolutionary Enthusiasts tend to identify themselves as ethnic Ukrainians, while the majority of the country's ethnic Russians falls into the Revolutionary Opponents group. The Revolutionary Agnostics are an ethnically diverse group. Pensioners and the elderly are overrepresented among the Opponents, while the Agnostics include a larger proportion of students than is found among the general population.

In terms of political geography, Revolutionary Enthusiasts live mainly in oblasts with moderate or strong support for Yushchenko and in the western regions of Ukraine. Revolutionary Agnostics tend to live in oblasts with moderate support for both candidates, fall nearly equally on the side of Yushchenko or Yanukovych, and a plurality lives in the eastern part of the country. Revolutionary Opponents tend to live nearly exclusively in the east, in oblasts with strong or moderate support for Yanukovych. (Jan Maksymiuk)