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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: July 8, 2004

8 July 2004, Volume 6, Number 24
LUKASHENKA SLAMS OPPONENTS ON INDEPENDENCE DAY. Belarus on 3 July celebrated the 60th anniversary of the country's liberation from Nazi occupation. The date of 3 July, in line with a relevant result of the controversial 1996 referendum, is also Belarus's Independence Day.

Many independent Belarusian observers have noted that the celebrations were very pompous and intentionally oriented by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka toward evoking nostalgia for the times of the Soviet Union, in which the Soviet victory in World War II was the most cherished topic of general education and political propaganda, responsible to a considerable degree for the overall ideological cohesion of Soviet society. Lukashenka also turned the commemoration of Belarus's liberation from the Nazis into a convenient occasion for giving vent to his impassioned oratory and settling accounts with his political opponents, which traditionally included the Belarusian opposition, NATO, and the European Union.

Lukashenka made his speech on the eve of the anniversary, before a solemn gathering of World War II veterans in Minsk. Viewers of all television channels in Belarus, including Russian ones, were compelled not only to listen to this speech, but also to view live relays of official celebrations of the anniversary on 1 July and a military parade in Minsk on 3 July.

Lukashenka said he is worried by the deployment of NATO infrastructure on the territory of Belarus's neighbors and by Ukraine's decision to seek NATO membership. "We have been reassured and told that all this [NATO enlargement] is not targeted against us," Lukashenka said. "But against whom [is it targeted]? In this regard I would like to say definitely again: Belarus is a state that can defend itself."

Lukashenka attacked the Belarusian opposition for its alleged calls to forget World War II. He explicitly branded the Belarusian opposition as adherents of fascism. "During the domination of nationalists, the main state holiday of the Belarusians was a different day, connected with the breakup of the Soviet Union," the Belarusian president said. "Thus, the ideological successors of fascist lackeys put on the same level Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union -- the union to which the Belarusian people owe their survival and development into a flourishing nation." In mentioning the "domination of nationalists," Lukashenka apparently referred to the period of 1991-95, when Belarus celebrated Independence Day on 27 July, to commemorate the adoption of the declaration on Belarusian sovereignty on 27 July 1990. The label "fascist lackeys" apparently refers to those Belarusian nationalists who collaborated with the Nazis in Belarus in 1941-44.

Touching upon the role of other European states in World War II, Lukashenka said: "If all Europeans had fought the Nazis the way the Soviet people did, the war would not have been so long and difficult, especially for us.... We cannot forget that our people were killed not only by German fascist invaders, but also by their henchmen of various nationalities, including Baltic SS officers who burned down Belarusian villages and cities. Today, being part of the most democratic European Union, they, SS veterans, stage parades and recall their combat past. While their children and grandchildren are disposed again to dictate what order Belarus should have. They went as far as to say that they are sick of stability in our country."

Lukashenka also expressed his discontent with current European policies in general. "We cannot accept the arrogance of European bureaucrats who, in company with a handful of lured oppositionists, are trying to teach Belarus a lesson for its obstinacy," he said. "Those people, aware of the Belarusians' role in the victory over fascism, aware of our Chornobyl misfortune, are seriously concerned about how to make our life worse, brake our development, limit our international contacts, and impose sanctions."

It is worth remembering here that Lukashenka during the last Single Economic Space summit in Yalta in May publicly invited his Russian, Ukrainian, and Kazakh counterparts -- Vladimir Putin, Leonid Kuchma, and Nursultan Nazarbaev, respectively -- to take part in the commemoration of Belarus's liberation anniversary in Minsk. Nazarbaev ignored the invitation completely, while Putin and Kuchma visited Minsk briefly on 1 July, where they took part along with Lukashenka in a dinner with veterans and a wreath-laying ceremony. There were no talks between the leaders, only a purely ritualistic public appearance.

Some Belarusian observers suggested that Putin's reserved behavior during that brief visit to Minsk was intentional, as Putin, they believe, does not want to make a public impression that he supports or approves of Lukashenka's policies. Which should not be so surprising, given the fact that Lukashenka, in the heat of a gas-delivery conflict in February, accused the Russian president of applying "economic terrorism" to Belarus (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 2 March 2004). What is more, Putin quite unexpectedly proposed in late May to hold an informal summit of CIS leaders in Moscow on 2-3 July, that is, exactly when he was invited to visit Minsk. Some Belarusian commentators saw that proposal as Putin's additional affront to Lukashenka. The informal CIS summit did take place in Moscow, but without Lukashenka.

Instead, Lukashenka on 3 July presided over a parade in Minsk, which involved some 3,000 troops, tanks, armored personnel carriers, rocket launchers, tractors, trucks, and household appliances, including Belarusian-made refrigerators and television sets. Participants in the parade included student athletes clad in World War II-era uniforms, farmers driving harvesting machines, and a military band. The show also involved more than 40 civilian and military helicopters and aircraft, including a recently leased Boeing 737.

Lukashenka -- the supreme commander of the Belarusian armed forces -- made his appearance during the parade in a fanciful uniform, which was reportedly very similar to that of a Soviet marshal of the Brezhnev era. He wore a cap with a golden band and trousers with a general's stripes, and had shoulder straps adorned with national emblems. RFE/RL's Belarusian Service has tried to get information from both the Defense Ministry and the presidential press service about who devised and approved such apparel for the supreme commander but none of the addressed officials has been able to give an answer. However, presidential spokeswoman Natallya Pyatkevich divulged to an RFE/RL correspondent in Minsk that Lukashenka's military rank is not marshal or general, but just lieutenant colonel. (Jan Maksymiuk)

PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN STARTS WITH ALL MAJOR CONTENDERS JOINING THE RACE. The campaign for the 31 October presidential election started officially on 3 July. The Central Election Commission has already registered three major contenders for the post of president: Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko, and Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz. One more major competitor, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, is expected to apply for registration in the near future. This "preliminary" registration means, in particular, that a registered candidate may immediately begin his/her election campaign. The commission, however, may nullify the registration of a presidential candidate if he or she fails to provide at least 500,000 signatures in support of his or her candidacy by 20 September.

The most theatrical inauguration of the election campaign was made by opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, whom surveys put in the lead of the presidential race with 24 percent support of the electorate. On 3 July, Yushchenko with his family visited his native village, Khoruzhivka in Sumy Oblast, where he obtained his 85-year-old mother's blessing for the presidential campaign. "God help you in your good deeds," UNIAN quoted Varvara Yushchenko as saying to her son, after she made the sign of the cross over him.

Yushchenko publicly announced his intention to run in the 2004 presidential race in Kyiv on 4 July, to an estimated crowd of 50,000 people, who were gathered there by Our Ukraine activists as representatives of all of Ukraine's 35,000 settlements. "I am running for president. I will win the election, and this will be a victory of all of us!" Yushchenko said at the rally. "The authorities will work for the people. Corruption will be ended. All will be equal before the law. Bandits will go to jail," he said, outlining the main concerns of his presidency. Shortly after the rally he personally submitted the documents necessary for his registration as a presidential candidate to the Central Election Commission.

After leaving the headquarters of the Central Election Commission, Yushchenko was confronted with another crowd of his supporters, this time numbering some 35,000. This rally was conducted by Oleksandr Zinchenko -- only a year ago a bitter political opponent of the Our Ukraine leader, now manager of Yushchenko's election campaign (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 22 June 2004).

The slogan of Yushchenko's election campaign is "I Believe, I Know, We Can." The following is how Zinchenko, according to the "Ukrayinska pravda" website, decoded this phrase, speaking at the rally in front of the Central Election Commission headquarters on 4 July: "I believe! Look in Yushchenko's eyes. Is there any doubt that he believes?! He believes in God, in his parents, in Ukraine. I know! This is the man who led the National Bank and the government. And you know what a prime minister he was! We can! Everything depends on us! On 31 October we will witness an event that in modern history can be compared only with the winning of [Ukrainian] independence in 1991."

Last week, Yushchenko signed an important coalition accord with Yuliya Tymoshenko, the leader of the eponymous opposition bloc, to pool efforts in the presidential-election campaign in order to promote his election victory. The accord sets up a new parliamentary group, the Force of the People (Syla narodu), which will unite all lawmakers of the pro-Yushchenko coalition. The deal also proposes a program of joint actions, called the "Manifest of People's Victory," in order to "take over power in Ukraine for cleaning [the country] of criminal clans and political banditry" and build a "democratic and just state under the rule of law." The accord stipulates that in the event of Yushchenko's victory in the 2004 presidential ballot, the distribution of posts in the future government among coalition members will be carried out proportionally to their gains in the 2002 parliamentary election.

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who with backing reaching 16 percent is second after Viktor Yushchenko in pre-election surveys, inaugurated his election campaign less conspicuously than the latter. Yanukovych was formally proposed as a presidential candidate by a congress of the Party of Regions in Zaporizhzhya on 4 July. Yanukovych appointed Serhiy Tyhypko, head of the National Bank and leader of the Labor Ukraine Party, as chief of his election staff.

Oleksandr Moroz and Petro Symonenko were proposed as presidential candidates by the Socialist Party and the Communist Party, respectively, at party congresses that took place in Kyiv on 4 July. The congress of the Socialist Party adopted an appeal to the Communist Party to run a joint presidential candidate from the Socialist Party in the 2004 presidential election.

It is expected that the list of registered presidential hopefuls will be much longer. The Central Election Commission, apart from Yanukovych, Yushchenko, and Moroz, registered Oleksandr Rzhavskyy, leader of the Single Family association. Natalya Vitrenko, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, has also declared her intention to run in the presidential election, along with leaders of several other minor parties.

Ukrainian media have already registered some examples of dirty election techniques that, according to many observers, will be used profusely in this year's presidential campaign. On 2 July, three Ukrainian regions, Kharkiv, Sumy, and Poltava, were flooded with more than 3 million bogus leaflets of the Socialist Party -- titled "To Prevent the Traitor From Coming to Power" -- in which Moroz accuses Yushchenko of being "an agent of the Kremlin" and a "guarantor of the interests of Russian capital."

Moreover, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website on 6 July quoted two temnyks -- unsigned secret instructions that are regularly sent to major state-controlled and private media outlets -- that effectively tell journalists to reduce their coverage of Yushchenko's moves in the presidential campaign to factual reports, without expanding them with any commentaries. On the other hand, one of the temnyks instructs journalists to highlight the recent publication of a book whose author, described as a "medium-level tax inspector," discloses, among other revelations, that Yushchenko stole "millions of dollars" from the state in 1991-92.

"I'm looking to next year with fear," President Leonid Kuchma told journalists in December 2003. "Everybody agrees that the [2004] election will be the scariest and dirtiest ever." Given that the presidential administration led by Viktor Medvedchuk is widely seen in Ukraine as the main compiler of temnyks, Kuchma may be one of the best-informed persons with regard to what some presidential candidates should fear in the next several months. (Jan Maksymiuk)

"As soon as we find compromise, as soon as our interests coincide, I am convinced that Belarus may become a member of the European Union.... I believe the time will come when political relations between Belarus and the European Union become wonderful.... I think this time is not far off." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 6 July, while receiving credentials from Austria's ambassador to Minsk; quoted by Belarusian Television.

"Naturally, while listening [to the Russian media], you may wonder what country Belarus is and what man its president is. Is it true -- [you may wonder] -- that some turn or even a U-turn has already happened in Belarus, and that [the country] is now moving from Russia to the West? The truth, esteemed friends, is that you have come to the same country as it was 10, 15, or 20 years ago, the country inhabited by the people who hold in sacrosanct esteem their friendship and brotherhood with Russians." -- Lukashenka, addressing Russian lawmakers at a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Russia-Belarus Union in Brest on 25 June; quoted by Belarusian Television.