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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: May 11, 2004

11 May 2004, Volume 6, Number 17
DOES ARREST OF FORMER MINISTER SIGNAL A MAJOR POLITICAL CAMPAIGN? Belarus's State Security Committee (KGB) on 26 April arrested Mikhail Marynich, a former cabinet member and diplomat, who switched to the opposition before the 2001 presidential election. The KGB informed the media the following day that it has instituted criminal proceedings against Marynich, accusing him of illegal possession of classified government documents and two unregistered foreign-made pistols. The KGB also claimed to have seized more than $90,000 in cash from Marynich.

Some further details of Marynich's arrest were provided by media in the following days. Marynich, while driving a car, was reportedly stopped on 24 April by traffic police, who requested that he show them the contents of his suitcase. Marynich refused but a KGB officer, who immediately appeared on the scene, ordered him to open the suitcase and reportedly found cash in it. Marynich was told to report to the KGB -- he went there on 26 April and did not return home.

Last week Belarusian Television reported that Marynich confessed that the seized money -- part of which is allegedly counterfeit -- came from Russia and was to have been spent on financing "selected candidates" in this year's legislative election. However, the KGB has apparently found nothing criminal in the possession of such a sum by Marynich, since on 6 May he was formally charged only with "illegal actions regarding firearms, ammunitions, and explosives" -- an offense that may entail up to six years in prison. There also have been no new reports on the allegedly classified documents that were reportedly found at Marynich's dacha.

"Mikhail Afanasevich [Marynich] calls all this a politically motivated case," Marynich's lawyer, Vera Stramkouskaya, told the Minsk-based "Narodnaya volya" newspaper on 10 May. "He knows that an order was given in late 2003 to make a criminal out of him.... He considers his arrest to be a tool of pressure on him as a political activist who has planned to take part in parliamentary and presidential elections."

Marynich belongs to the so-called "old nomenklatura" in Belarus -- a group of public figures that started to make their political careers in the era before Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, during the rule of Premier Vyacheslau Kebich. Under Lukashenka, Marynich was minister of external economic relations (1994-98) and afterwards 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. Lukashenka publicly reacted furiously to Marynich's defection. Marynich did not manage to get on the ballot after the Central Election Commission ruled that he failed to collect the 100,000 signatures necessary for registration.

Following the 2001 election, Marynich set up the Business Initiative Association, an organization that promotes market-oriented reform. He has never taken up with the "nationalist" anti-Lukashenka opposition (for example, with the Belarusian Popular Front), preferring rather to associate with his sort of "old-nomenklatura" figures who have fallen out of the regime's favor. In particular, he cooperated with For a New Belarus -- an organization established by former Agriculture Minister Vasil Lyavonau, who was also persecuted by the Lukashenka regime and spent almost three years in prison.

There are several versions -- some of them complementary and some at variance with each other -- being mulled by the independent Belarusian media with regard to the true reasons behind Marynich's arrest. According to the opposition Belarusian Social Democratic Party-National Assembly (BSDP-NH), the authorities removed Marynich from public life, fearing that he could play an important role both as a candidate and campaigner in this fall's legislative election. "It is becoming evident that on the eve of a large-scale political campaign a merciless clearing of the country's political arena is implemented to get rid of significant personalities that could offer an adequate alternative to the current leader," the BSDP-NH said in a statement.

Some supplement the BSDP-NH version with the suggestion that Marynich has obtained "Moscow's backing" as a challenger to Lukashenka in the 2006 presidential election, in which Lukashenka will purportedly run for the third consecutive time following a referendum to lift the constitutional two-term restriction on the presidency in Belarus.

The private weekly "Nasha Niva" on 6 May essentially supported the aforementioned BSDP-NH version, drawing a comparison between the current situation and the 2001 presidential-election campaign. "Nasha Niva" recalled that the 2001 presidential election was actually preceded by a campaign of terror and intimidation unleashed by the authorities in 1999. In early 1999, the authorities arrested former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir, who left the government in 1996. Later the same year, a reputedly government-sponsored death squad kidnapped and supposedly killed opposition politicians Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar, former associates of Lukashenka.

"Chyhir's fate has been repeated by Mikhail Marynich," "Nasha Niva" wrote. "Chyhir left Lukashenka in 1996 and found himself behind bars in 1999. Marynich's way to prison also took three years for him, following his presidential bid in 2001. Everything repeats itself accurate to one month's time. What next? New political assassinations?"

True, there are also voices in Belarus asserting that the government's intimidation machine is blind to its victims' political affiliation and deals its blows equally between supporters of Lukashenka (including government officials), opposition activists, and those who try to remain "neutral." According to such commentators, it is simply the nature of Lukashenka's state apparatus to exercise terror as an efficient tool of political control over the country.

Meanwhile, political analyst Alyaksandr Fyaduta, former chief of Lukashenka's press service and propaganda section, suggested that Marynich's arrest is not linked to the upcoming political campaigns. According to Fyaduta, Marynich's incarceration is intended to send a signal to the "old nomenklatura" corps that they will not take part in the large-scale privatization that Lukashenka is allegedly planning to launch at the end of his presidential rule.

The view of the author of the "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report" on the possible motive behind Marynich's arrest is complementary rather than contradictory with regard to those already presented. In March, Lukashenka sarcastically chided the KGB for its inability to discover the channels through which the Belarusian opposition is purportedly financed by foreign sponsors. Last month, Lukashenka sacked two senior KGB officials, reportedly for their professional incompetence. Therefore, it stands to reason that in order to counterbalance such blows the KGB needed some spectacular "repair" actions to uplift its reputation.

One such action could be the arrest at the Polish Embassy in Minsk on 27 April of a diplomat who was reportedly caught in the act of receiving documents with classified military information (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 4 May 2004). It is noteworthy that the KGB resorted to a routine trick for spy-catching, allegedly using an undercover agent who played the role of a traitor. Marynich's detention also fits well into this supposed "uplifting" of the KGB's operational image. Marynich was practically presented to the public as a spy (the KGB advertised that it found classified documents and weapons with him) and a sinister oppositionist who is scheming to undermine the government for foreign money. What else is needed to prove the usefulness and vigilance of true Chekists? (Jan Maksymiuk)

WHAT IDEOLOGY IS INSTILLED IN BELARUSIAN STUDENTS? Last summer, when President Alyaksandr Lukashenka suddenly decreed the introduction of new compulsory ideology courses in secondary and higher education, the Belarusian teaching profession was completely unprepared. No dedicated textbooks had been readied, nor even course notes for the instructors. Indeed, the final tender for textbooks appears to have closed only on 15 February -- the day before the courses were due to begin.

In fact, some texts were in circulation and use before this date, though the demand for them rapidly exceeded the supply. One, A. Maykhrovich's "Ideology -- Essence, Purpose, Possibilities," was given to be published on 29 August 2003, only days after Lukashenka had announced the new courses. Another, Ya. Yaskevich's "Principles of the Ideology of the Belarusian State: Questions and Replies," was sent to the printing presses on 29 November. The print runs of both were very small -- 500 copies for the Maykhrovich, 3,100 for the Yaskevich -- and clearly cannot serve the needs of the entire Belarusian population.

Nevertheless, they were delivered to the author of this article by students as examples of what they had been given to read in connection with the courses. If these works are typical of the teaching of the new courses then one can conclude that the instructors are interpreting their task in a very broad sense and taking full advantage of the indication of Nadzeya Hanushchenka, head of the department for teaching social sciences at the Education Ministry, that the Education Ministry would not try to control the ideology lecturers or the content of their teaching (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 9 March 2004).

"Ideology -- Essence, Purpose, Possibilities," published by the Institute of Philosophy of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, is a 48-page pamphlet. Its main thrust is historical, focusing on the historical development of political ideas in Europe and later in the U.S. The subtext is one of presenting Belarus in that same Western context: 16th- and 17th-century figures like Frantsishak Skaryna and Leu Sapeha are cited as exponents of the "liberal democratic tendency" and the effect of Western "liberal democratic views" on the "antifeudal liberation movement" in Belarus in the 19th and 20th centuries is noted.

Communist theory and its founders receive fairly little attention. There is a passing reference to Karl Marx's emphasis on the role of the "North Americans and French" in the development of the concept of human rights. However, the Marxist view of the nation as a phenomenon of the bourgeois era and the resulting Soviet aim of the "melding" (sliyaniye) of nations and cultures comes in for considerable criticism. (Incidentally, both this and Yaskevich's book are themselves the fruits of "sliyaniye" -- they are written in Russian, not Belarusian).

The final chapter -- "On the Spiritual-Ideological Basis of Belarusian Society and State" -- while asserting that every nation will necessarily develop the principles of "liberalism and social reality" in its own way, makes it clear that for Belarus that way should be a "developed civil society" based on "humanitarian principles" and cherishing the "fundamental values of the social and cultural life of the Belarusian nation" (patriotism, the motherland, family, tradition, and language) as well as the moral values rooted in the Christian tradition and the "principles of the work ethic, so strongly rooted in Belarus." Special emphasis is placed on "democratic organization" as a means of countering "rigid state repression."

Yaskevich, pro-rector of philosophy and cultural studies at the Republican Institute of Higher Education of the Belarus State University, presents her work in a catechetical question-and-answer style. Her professional interests are reflected in the diversity of her subject matter, which includes not only such "obvious" topics as "What Is the Role of the Spiritual Values of National Slavdom?" but also "What Values Do Belarusian Citizens Find Attractive in Buddhism?" A key chapter, "Dynamics of the Ideological Process," focuses on such issues as the role of political culture in the formation of the ideology of a democratic state; the "political socialization of the personality," types of participation in the political process, the role of the media, and the development of an open information society.

An equally important chapter, though one which students might find tougher going at first, is "Ideology of the Belarusian State and Political Risk," which includes a useful explanation of the international risk indices so often misunderstood by the leaders and political commentators of low-rated countries. A final and equally important chapter, "Ideology of the Belarusian State and the Educational and Instructional Process," focuses not, as might be expected, on purely political instruction, but the importance of the humanities in modern education and the role of national history and tradition for education in citizenship.

These books, as has already been noted, were not commissioned exclusively for the "ideology" courses, nor do they enjoy any official imprimatur. They may well be replaced at a later date by some standard work. In the meantime, those lecturers who use them as course textbooks are exposing their students to works focusing on the history of predominantly "western" political ideas, with a stress on the importance of the individual and his/her role in civil society. Unlike the set texts of the Soviet era, there are no obligatory and ritualistic citations from the "Leader" and, while both concentrate on ideals rather than the realities of today's Belarus, they also stress the importance of the students' thinking and observing for themselves.

If this is the way the courses are being taught generally, Lukashenka may have introduced a Trojan horse into the curriculum. (Vera Rich)

YUSHCHENKO SPEAKS HAZILY ON FUTURE POLICIES. Some critics of Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, who are sympathetically concerned about his chances to win the 31 October presidential election, have begun to complain that Yushchenko is too passive -- or even inexcusably late -- in promoting his presidential bid in general and presenting his vision of Ukraine after a possible victory in particular. This deficiency is particularly worrisome, they argue, considering the fact that Yushchenko, in contrast to his anticipated main rival -- Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych -- cannot count on a full-fledged and objective promotional campaign on the country's television channels and radio stations, which are mostly controlled by the government or pro-government oligarchs.

An extended interview with Yushchenko posted on the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( on 5 May was seemingly intended to calm some of the aforementioned worries. However, the interview may disappoint readers looking for clear-cut answers about how Ukraine under President Viktor Yushchenko might differ from that under President Leonid Kuchma. At worst, Yushchenko was vague, ambiguous, and nebulous in the interview and at best his pronouncements were reserved and noncommittal.

Asked whether he still hopes that Our Ukraine can field a joint presidential candidate with the Socialist Party of Oleksandr Moroz, Yushchenko said this is possible but added immediately that Moroz -- under the influence of "intrigues" -- has begun to drift away from the opposition and the accords that were concluded by Our Ukraine, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the socialists, and the Communists "nearly a year ago."

"It is natural to a certain extent that our accords were abandoned by the Communists," Yushchenko said. "There are differences between us and the Communists as regards answering the question: 'What will happen after the change of the authorities?'"

"Undoubtedly, Oleksandr Moroz seems to be a sympathetic political partner," Yushchenko continued. "But his behavior in recent months has allowed...those in the top echelons of power to begin serious manipulations regarding the use of the Socialist Party during the election." Yushchenko rejected the opinion that for the opposition "it will be very difficult or even impossible" to win the presidential election without a coalition with Moroz.

Asked whether he is ready to offer the post of prime minister to Yuliya Tymoshenko in exchange for her block's backing of his presidential bill, Yushchenko said "everything is possible" but remained noncommittal. "I will say openly -- bargaining for posts do not harmonize relations [between politicians], while principled do," Yushchenko noted. "If I took out a paper from my drawer and publicized prepared initiatives, and if these initiatives became my position or the position of my bloc, we would become witnesses to some unhealthy things."

Asked whether he will launch a process of "reprivatization" -- redistribution of property in Ukraine because of many allegedly unlawful privatizations in the past -- after his possible presidential victory, Yushchenko said he does not like words such as "nationalization" or "reprivatization." "I am convinced that the election will be won by the politician who will say: 'The esteemed ones, I am not so much interested in history as in what will happen after 31 October in this country," Yushchenko said. "I am speaking about principles. I do not want people to think that I personify problems in this country," Yushchenko added in response to the suggestion the he might punish -- with "reprivatization" -- his most bitter political opponents, Viktor Medvedchuk and Hryhoriy Surkis, after becoming Ukrainian president.

The Our Ukraine leader declared that he would pursue a political reform in the country if he was elected president. "I think the most efficient way [to pursue the reform] would be to formulate principles of political reform and time frames for its implementation as well as sign accords with partners for its realization in parliament and publish these documents before the presidential election," Yushchenko said.

Asked whether he could offer guarantees of security and protection for Kuchma after his departure from the post, Yushchenko suggested that this issue should be regulated in a wider context of democratization in Ukraine. "This is the main principle, which has a lot of details, including that connected with a law on security and social stability of the man whom we call the president of Ukraine," Yushchenko said. "I am speaking not about President Kuchma but about the president of Ukraine.... You know, many countries have a law that regulates the status of the president. Ukraine does not have such a law, and its adoption could provide answers to a number of detailed things." (Jan Maksymiuk)

TWO SAILORS CONTINUE TO LANGUISH IN IRAQI PRISON. Last summer the "Navstar-1," a Panamanian-flagged vessel belonging a United Arab Emirates company, was detained off the southern coast of Iraq. Its Ukrainian crew was arrested and charged with smuggling Iraqi oil from the port of Umm Qasr.

Most of the crew was eventually released. But the ship's captain and second in command, Mykola Mazurenko and Ivan Soschenko, respectively, were brought to trial. The two men denied knowing that the 1,100 tons of oil on board the "Navstar-1" were banned for export. But in October, an Iraqi court sentenced the men to seven years in jail and fined them $1.2 million each.

Since then, Mazurenko and Soschenko -- both in their 60s and suffering from poor health -- have been languishing in Baghdad's Abu Ghurayb prison complex. Infamous under Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein as a place where opponents of the regime were routinely tortured and murdered, Abu Ghurayb is at the heart of a new controversy involving abuse of Iraqi detainees by U.S. forces.

The recent publication of photographs detailing the abuse has outraged the Arab world and put the United States on the defensive. It has also alarmed the families of the two Ukrainian detainees and raised questions in Kyiv about how the men are being treated.

The Ukrainian prisoners' wives told RFE/RL they have been unable to speak to their husbands by phone since February. Mazurenko's wife said her husband had complained of a sinister atmosphere at Abu Ghurayb, saying he was being held in cramped conditions and that prison guards had attacked some detainees.

A spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said diplomats had not been able to visit the two men for some time because of continued fighting between coalition forces and Iraqi insurgents.

At the end of April the Ukrainian ombudsman for human rights, Nina Karpachova, asked the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, John Herbst, for his country's diplomatic support to enable Ukrainian diplomats to visit the two sailors and assess their conditions. Karpachova reiterated her call last week after the abuse photos from Abu Ghurayb were aired. She said she "could not exclude absolutely" that the two Ukrainians were not being subjected to similar treatment.

Patricia Guy, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, said embassy officials were looking into the matter. "We have seen the letter from ombudsman Karpachova about the 'Navstar' crewmen and we are inquiring into the situation of the Ukrainian seamen," Guy said.

Guy said the U.S. government condemned the way some of its soldiers had treated the Iraqi prisoners, but she said the situation of the two sailors was different. "We have no information suggesting that the crewmen are not receiving proper care. If we were to receive such information we would address these concerns with the appropriate authorities," she said.

Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Markiyan Lubkivskyy said the U.S. military allowed Ukrainian diplomats on 2 May to visit Mazurenko and Soschenko, who were deemed to be in satisfactory condition. "According to the information that our diplomats got directly from the Ukrainian sailors, there are no complaints about the behavior towards them of other prisoners or the guards," Lubkivskyy said.

He said the two sailors had been transferred to slightly better conditions than the ones they were initially held in. However, he said the conditions were still extremely grim. "Mazurenko and Soschenko have been transferred to a cell for older people," Lubkivskyy said. "There are 56 people in that cell -- you can imagine they all sleep on mattresses on the floor next to one another. Therefore, conditions are not straightforward even from the point of view of their accommodation. Even though from the point of view of food, the information we get is that they receive food regularly and there are no complaints on that count."

Lubkivskyy said that the health of the two men is poor. The ministry spokesman said Captain Mazurenko, who is 66, is at particular risk because he suffers from diabetes but reportedly is only able to receive medicine when his symptoms become acute. "The state of their health in these conditions and the understandable stress they are undergoing causes us concern," he said. "They do not have regular contact with doctors. Doctors have restricted access to the prison. Therefore, we are troubled by this situation and we have called the attention of both the Iraqi transitional government and the effective [U.S.] authorities to the situation of our sailors.

Lubkivskyy said the two men, who are awaiting a second appeal of their sentence, have become a top priority for the Foreign Ministry. He said Ukraine, which is contributing 1,650 troops in Iraq, hopes the United States will lend its weight to help the two sailors in their forthcoming appeal.

"The Iraqi courts will have the last word. But at the same time we rely on the support of the Americans as our partners in the coalition. I think that they are listened to and their role and their influence will not be the least important factor in the resolution of this issue," he said. Lubkivskyy hopes that even if the appeal is unsuccessful, a deal can be worked out to allow the two sailors to serve their prison sentences in Ukraine. (Askold Krushelnycky)

"Do not tell me, [Deputy Prime Minister] Uladzimir [Drazhyn], that we have such, pardon my word, wretched collective farms that are unable to plow 15 plots of land. If so, then yoke the manager to a plow and let him plow the land on his own. This is the only solution I can suggest to you." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 5 May, instructing government officials to take care of impoverished World War II veterans in the countryside; quoted by Belarusian Television.

"Sources in [Belarus's] presidential administration inform that a decision to hold a referendum on a new term for [President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka has indeed been made. The referendum will be held simultaneously with [this fall's] election to the Chamber of Representatives. Purportedly, the referendum will include no question about the Russia-Belarus Union.... If the referendum asks straightforwardly about the extension of [Lukashenka's] powers until 2009, the people will not accept this [option]. If it touches upon giving Lukashenka the right to run one more time, his victory in the referendum will not automatically entail an election victory for him in 2006. [Even] the most unpredictable authority, if it has kept on repeating the same schemes for 10 years, is becoming more and more foreseeable, thus depriving itself of good luck in the sphere of irrational politics. And Lukashenka is unable to pursue a predictable policy." -- The Belarusian independent weekly "Nasha Niva" website on 6 May.

"The first thing that comes to my mind [in connection with anti-Americanism in Belarus] is simply tradition. Those being at the top of our power system have been educated on anti-Americanism. Because in the Soviet era, Russia -- in the form of the USSR -- wanted to rule the world. And the United States was its principal rival. Enmity toward the United States was being formed not because the United States was a capitalist country. It was because the United States was pursuing the same goal as Russia but more successfully. I think this folly with our state-sponsored anti-Americanism is of Russian origin. Russia will continually make us quarrel with the West, even after Lukashenka ceases to be the head of state. And on the other hand, Moscow will pretend to help Belarus defend its interests." -- Belarusian philosopher Valyantsin Akudovich, quoted by RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 7 May.