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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: October 8, 2004

8 October 2004, Volume 6, Number 36
LUKASHENKA SLAMS BELARUS DEMOCRACY ACT OF 2004. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 6 October that the Belarus Democracy Act, which was passed unanimously by the U.S. House of Representatives on 4 October and the U.S. Senate two days later, is a "step of foolish pressure on our country," Belapan reported, quoting official sources. "The authorities could not get a better gift," Lukashenka said. "If you [presumably, U.S. lawmakers -- ed.] scold me for seeking internal and external enemies, why are you giving me a pretext for finding such an enemy outside the country? Why are you supplying me with such a chance?"

According to Lukashenka, the adoption of the Belarus Democracy Act by the U.S. lower house "gives the [Belarusian] authorities a 10 percent bonus." He failed to explain whether he means the electorate's backing for the government or, specifically, enthusiasm for his proposal to lift the constitutional two-term limit on the presidency in a referendum on 17 October.

"With important parliamentary elections and a questionable referendum to extend Lukashenka's rule beyond his two-term tenure set to expire in 2006, the United States has demonstrated our unwavering support for pro-democracy forces in Belarus," Representative Christopher Smith (R-NJ), chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, commented on the bill. "With passage of the Belarus Democracy Act, we send a strong signal that we stand firmly on the side of those who long for freedom."

The Belarus Democracy Act of 2004 is designed to promote democratic development, human rights, and the rule of law in Belarus, as well as encourage the consolidation and strengthening of Belarus's sovereignty and independence. The bill authorizes necessary assistance -- leaving the determination of its volume for the U.S. president -- for supporting Belarusian political parties and nongovernmental organizations; independent media, including radio and television broadcasting into Belarus; and international exchanges. The document also prohibits all agencies of the U.S. government to provide loans and investment to the Belarusian government, except for the provision of humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products.

The bill obliges the U.S. president to present annual reports to the U.S. Congress on the sale and delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies from Belarus to any country supporting international terrorism; goods, services, and credits received by Belarus in exchange for the weapons or weapons-related technologies; and the personal assets and wealth of Lukashenka and other senior Belarusian government officials.

Originally, the Belarus Democracy Act was introduced to the U.S. Congress in November 2001 -- shortly after the controversial presidential elections in Belarus -- with much harsher provisions regarding the Lukashenka regime than those approved this week. The 2001 bill proposed that the U.S. government freeze Belarusian assets in the United States, prohibit trade with Belarusian government-run businesses, and deny Belarusian officials, including Lukashenka, the right to travel to the United States. It also proposed the appropriation of $30 million to assist Belarusian democratic institutions and organizations, including funding for radio broadcasting in and to Belarus.

Another version of the Belarus Democracy appeared in March 2003, when it called for $40 million over the 2004-05 fiscal year to promote democracy and civil society in Belarus. It also projected an additional $5 million to support Voice of America and RFE/RL broadcasts into Belarus. The 2004 Belarus Democracy Act is "meeker" than its 2003 predecessor -- it does not contain provisions about the travel ban on Belarusian officials and the prohibition of U.S. strategic exports to Belarus. It also remains noncommittal about the volume of necessary assistance to democracy advocates in Belarus. And, notably, it leaves out a reference, enclosed in the 2003 version, about Russia's role in promoting democracy in Belarus.

"They have wanted to have democracy in Belarus, they have become worried about our elections and referendum," Lukashenka commented ironically on the Belarus Democracy Act on 6 October. "They have forgotten that they have enough of their own problems!" Lukashenka countercharged that the United States has "the most archaic election system" in the world. "As a result, the current [U.S.] president obtained fewer votes than the one who took second place," Lukashenka added. "Is it normal? And such people are worrying about the situation in Belarus!"

"What do the parliamentary elections and referendum have to do with the president's income?" Lukashenka wondered sarcastically, referring to the act's provision about his assets and wealth. "Anyway, I have ordered the immediate calculation of everything that I have been paid by the state and send [the result] to America. But afterwards our new parliament will convene and demand that [U.S. President George W.] Bush make public his own income. And we will compare [our incomes]."

Meanwhile, Belarusian independent media earlier this month cited two polling organizations, the Gallup Organization/Baltic Surveys from Lithuania and the Yurii Levada Analytical Center from Russia, which found in separate polls conducted in Belarus after the announcement on 7 September of a presidential referendum that Lukashenka's desire to run for the presidency for a third time is supported by 37 percent and 39 percent of eligible voters, respectively.

According to the Belarusian Constitution, a referendum may amend the constitution only if it is backed by more than 50 percent of all eligible voters. However, it is not clear how many eligible voters Belarus has at present. According to official data, there were 7.1 million eligible voters in the local elections in Belarus on 2 March 2003. But on 9 September, Belapan cited "preliminary data" from the Central Election Commission asserting that Belarus now has "some 6.5 million" eligible voters.

Thus, a question may arise: Where have some 600,000 voters disappeared to in the past 18 months in a country of 10 million people that did not register either a deadly epidemic or an outbreak of frantic emigration in that period? Some in Belarus worry that the "preliminary data" regarding Belarus's eligible voters may signal that the Central Election Commission is set to significantly slash their actual number in order to help the president win the referendum in an "elegant" way, as Lukashenka himself referred to his victory in the 2001 presidential ballot.

On 6 October, a representative of the opposition United Civic Party who is on the Central Election Commission with the right to a "consultative voice" proposed that election monitors be given the right to familiarize themselves with lists of voters in each constituency in order to make the 17 October parliamentary election and referendum more transparent. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the Central Election Commission flatly rejected this idea. (Jan Maksymiuk)

PRESIDENTIAL RACE BECOMES MORE AND MORE UNSEEMLY -- TO WHOSE BENEFIT? Judging by what is taking place in Ukraine's presidential election campaign three weeks before the ballot on 31 October, the chances are very slim that the election will make any positive contribution to the country's political and social stability. In the opinion of a majority of Ukrainian political observers and analysts, these are the most contentious, divisive, and dishonest elections in the history of independent Ukraine. Regardless of which of the two leading candidates -- Viktor Yushchenko or Viktor Yanukovych -- actually wins, half of the country is set to be deeply disappointed and frustrated, to say the least.

As in the 1994 and 1999 presidential elections, Ukrainian voters are also expected this year to display a clear west-east pattern of political sympathies. According to all sociological surveys, western Ukraine will overwhelmingly vote for "pro-European" Yushchenko, while the east of the country will overpoweringly back "pro-Eurasian" Yanukovych. The 10-year rule of President Leonid Kuchma has not diminished the "civilizational cleft" of the country by any meaningful degree; this fact may be seem as one of the gravest failures of Kuchma's presidential career.

Yanukovych, who is also prime minister, has clearly indicated that he is not concerned with Ukraine's deeply disturbing political and linguistic division when he announced last month that he wants to make Russian the second state language and introduce dual citizenship in Ukraine. These two proposals, an obvious favor-currying advance toward the Kremlin, in particular, and the eastern Ukrainian electorate, in general, are simultaneously an anathema to voters in western Ukraine. Apart from being politically and socially antagonizing, these two proposals are also highly unrealistic. The issues of state language and citizenship in Ukraine are regulated by the constitution, and the constitution may be changed in a fairly complicated procedure only by a two-thirds majority in the Verkhovna Rada, not by a presidential decree.

Kuchma shrugged off Yanukovych's populist proposals regarding the Russian language and dual citizenship as mere propagandistic blunders. And he simultaneously poked fun at the prime minister by recalling that Yanukovych has also promised to build a bridge over the Kerch Strait between Crimea and Russia -- a task that, Kuchma emphasized, is impossible from a "geological point of view" -- without having consulting about the feasibility of such a project with specialists. And Kuchma recalled with near pride that he himself campaigned in 1994 on a platform postulating on raising Russian to the status of officialdom in Ukraine but later backed down from this promise. "The constitution for me is [as holy] as the Pater Noster," Kuchma said. "Other comments in this regard are superfluous."

The state-controlled and oligarchic electronic media continue to present Yushchenko primarily as a radical nationalist, while stressing Yanukovych's pro-Russian sympathies. As a rule, they provide either positive or neutral coverage of Yanukovych and predominantly negative coverage of Yushchenko. Moreover, the tone of election coverage in the Ukrainian media has been set not by some public debate around the political platforms of more than 20 presidential candidates, but by Yushchenko and Yanukovych accusing each other of murderous plots. Yushchenko accused the authorities of poisoning him, while Yanukovych counteracted with charges that Our Ukraine supporters wanted to kill him during a campaign meeting in western Ukraine. The language used by Yushchenko and Yanukovych as well as by their rivals is often harsh and indecorous.

Yanukovych refused to take part in televised presidential debates before 31 October, and Yushchenko followed suit. While Yanukovych's decision is fairly comprehensible -- he is obviously not an intellectual and orator -- Yushchenko's refusal is astounding and inexplicable. Given that most electronic media in Ukraine treat him very unkindly, Yushchenko could use the public debate as a chance to send his election message straight to the electorate, without manipulations and denigrating comments in the media servicing his main rival. Ukraine's election campaign has lost an opportunity to become a little bit more civilized, if one may say so.

This past week added another shameful stroke to the already disgusting picture of the presidential race in Ukraine. Yushchenko's supporters discovered at several warehouses in Kyiv, according to their estimates, several million copies of posters and leaflets smearing and caricaturizing Yushchenko as a puppet in the hands of the United States. One leaflet depicts Yushchenko in Uncle Sam garb with the following: "Are You Ready for Civil War?" Another shows U.S. President George W. Bush's face superimposed on Yushchenko's with an inscription below: "Yes, Bushchenko!" And the same stock of slick campaign materials included a poster depicting Taras Shevchenko, Ukraine's national poet of the 19th century, with a printed appeal: "Yankee! Go Home!"

Some in Ukraine fear that the 2004 presidential ballot -- the first one in which the ruling regime has a genuine democratic alternative in the person of Yushchenko -- may not come to fruition at all. The gloomy picture of the election campaign has spawned a number of more or less improbable speculations and conspiracy theories maintaining that President Kuchma and his administration chief, Viktor Medvedchuk, are pondering a scenario under which the 2004 ballot, due to its dirty character and anticipated falsifications of the vote, may be declared invalid, thus creating a need for a repeat election. In such a potential repeat election, the adherents of conspiracy theories assert, Yushchenko and Yanukovych as the candidates already "used-up" in the previous campaign, will have no chance against a new centrist candidate fielded by Kuchma and Medvedchuk (some say, namely, that Kuchma is the best choice under such a scenario) as the "guarantor of stability" for a society polarized by the Yushchenko-Yanukovych rivalry.

Some of Ukraine's most prominent politicians view such a scenario for derailing the current election as realistic. "There are obvious signs of Ukraine's moral humiliation at a critical level, and the mood of uncertainty and hopelessness is being spread among people in the hope that they will accept the disruption of the election indifferently or neutrally," parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn commented on 28 September. "The artificial polarization of public opinion, the organization of confrontation between regions, the attempts to split this country, the provocation of conflicts between presidential candidates, and the strengthening of mutual distrust among them have become all too obvious."

Yushchenko, too, does not exclude such a development. "I'm increasingly inclined to think that derailing the election is not just an option, but a working scenario," he said on 2 October. "The authorities have definitely gone for the strong-arm electoral option. It may end in falsifications and the declaration that the elections in many regions are invalid."

On the other hand, if the elections eventually take place and put forward a new president, be it Yanukovych or Yushchenko, it is not difficult to predict that he will in no way be accepted as the leader of the entire nation. Therefore, the erstwhile political campaign Ukraine Without Kuchma may have a continuation under a new name -- Ukraine Without Yanukovych or Ukraine Without Yushchenko, depending on the circumstances. (Jan Maksymiuk)

THE RISE AND 'FALL' OF YEVHEN MARCHUK. Yevhen Kyrylovych Marchuk, the recently fired Ukrainian defense minister is, without a doubt, one of the most interesting and enduring personalities in the Ukrainian political spectrum. He is also one of the most controversial and mysterious figures in a land where conspiracy theories often replace hard news in the media.

He is also a very adept operator. As a young Soviet KGB officer who spoke fluent English and German, Marchuk's dream of being posted abroad as an agent did not pan out and instead he was assigned to work with Ukrainian dissidents. He did his job so well that after Ukraine declared independence these former dissidents, now members of parliament, all voted in favor of him becoming the head of Ukraine's newly formed Security Service, the SBU.

Marchuk was born in the village of Dolynivka in the Kirovohrad region of Ukraine in 1941 and graduated in 1963 from the Kirovohrad Pedagogical Institute. After a brief stint as a teacher of Ukrainian language and literature in Poltava, he joined the Committee for State Security, the KGB, and by 1990 was promoted to the post of first deputy chairman of the Ukrainian KGB. From 1991-1994, during the presidency of Leonid Kravchuk, he served as the head of the SBU. This was followed by a number of different postings, including a short term as prime minister (June 1995-May 1996), after which he was elected to parliament where he joined the Ukrainian Social-Democratic (united) faction. In 1999 he ran against Leonid Kuchma for president and, after withdrawing from the race, Kuchma, as payback for Marchuk's support, appointed him head of the National Security and Defense Council. On 25 June 2003, he was appointed by Kuchma as defense minister. On 22 September 2004, he was fired.

In his 13-year career in an independent Ukraine, Marchuk has been involved in many controversial events. While a candidate for president in the 1999 elections, he authored a book titled "Five Years of the Ukrainian Tragedy," which was a severe indictment of the "corrupt regime of Leonid Kuchma." Despite his harsh words for Kuchma, Marchuk agreed to serve the reelected president as national security and defense head. This astonished many of his supporters who could not understand how he was able to work for a man whom he had criticized so roundly only a few months earlier.

Marchuk has been vague when discussing this decision, as he tends to be when discussing any of his actions. Some versions allege that he took the job in order to prevent Kuchma from doing too much harm to the country. Others claim that he did so only in order to further his career.

When Marchuk took over the Security Council, the SBU came under the control of Leonid Derkach, one of Kuchma's colleagues from Dnipropetrovsk. By 2000 the SBU under its new chief once again became very active in domestic surveillance and "dirty tricks."

In November 2000, it became known that Kuchma's office had been secretly bugged by Major Mykola Melnychenko, an SBU officer serving in the presidential security detachment. The recorded conversations, some of which have been authenticated by the FBI and private Western audio laboratories but consistently denied by Kuchma, often featured Derkach briefing the president on the contents of illegal wiretaps and informants' reports about opposition politicians. By 2002, rumors began circulating in Kyiv that Marchuk was somehow involved in what came to be known as "The Tape Scandal." Despite numerous articles in the press speculating about his involvement, Marchuk has yet to reply to these charges.

In 2001-2002, Marchuk became the target of an unrelenting series of articles attacking him for allegedly profiting from illegal arms sales on a website controlled by Andriy Derkach, the son of Leonid Derkach. Marchuk denied the charges and accused the younger Derkach of involvement in shady schemes in the energy business. This controversy still simmers on some Ukrainian websites.

As head of the National Security and Defense Council, Marchuk came to be known as an ardent supporter of Ukraine's membership in NATO. And while he seemingly had the support of Kuchma for this, by the spring of 2004 the official Ukrainian position on NATO and EU membership was beginning to backslide. As the 2004 presidential election campaign heated up, presidential hopeful Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych stated that he was opposed to Ukrainian membership in NATO. This placed Yanukovych, who was relying heavily on the support of Kuchma and his "party of power," directly at odds with Defense Minister Marchuk.

Another factor which might have contributed to Marchuk's sudden dismissal was his refusal during an interview for the BBC to support any of the candidates running for president. Given the tense atmosphere in Kyiv and the almost obligatory support given to Yanukovych by high officials, this refusal was seen by some as a dangerous deviation.

Many in Kyiv have speculated about why Marchuk did not join with the heads of the other "power ministries" in signing a statement warning the opposition not to attempt a "Georgian"-type rebellion if their candidate lost the elections. Some analysts see this refusal as the reason for Marchuk's demise.

Whatever the real motives Kuchma had for firing his old nemesis/friend Yevhen Marchuk, it is doubtful that Yevhen Kyrylovych will disappear from the Ukrainian political scene -- regardless of who wins the presidential race.

Too many high-ranking officials in Kyiv suspect that Marchuk, the former SBU chief, has too much compromising information on them and their activities in various illegal schemes for him to be left out in the cold. (Roman Kupchinsky)