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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: December 9, 2004

9 December 2004, Volume 6, Number 45
CLAMPDOWN ON EDUCATION CONTINUES. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is continuing his clampdown on education and academic freedom. A new presidential decree rules that lecturers and teachers who engage in "behavior incompatible with their professional activity" can be deprived of their academic degrees, and therefore of the jobs that depend on the possession of those qualifications.

The "activities" so targeted are clearly political. As Moscow's REN TV commented on 28 November, "There have not been any debauchees or murderers among academics in the whole of the country's history, but there are enough who take part in opposition activities."

Deprivation of degrees was a penalty occasionally imposed in Soviet times on leading dissidents and Jewish activists. In these cases, however, the deprivation was symbolic, since the scholars had already lost their academic jobs and were eking out a precarious existence as janitors and the like. Moreover, the academic world outside the Soviet bloc continued to honor them as bona fide members of the international scholarly community, published their research abroad, and if they did manage to emigrate, they were able to take up appropriate posts in their specialty. Furthermore, at that time, scientists and scholars worldwide were well aware of the sufferings of their colleagues in the USSR and were well-organized for protest actions. The Soviet authorities imposed this penalty only rarely, to make a special example. But with the end of the Soviet Union, the scholarly protest networks thankfully dissolved themselves. Thirteen years on, there is no obvious scholarly "safety net" on which potential victims of Lukashenka's decree can count.

Moreover, whereas the Soviets imposed this penalty only, the indications are that Lukashenka's decree will be much more widely applied. In Belarus, as in other post-Soviet countries, higher degrees are not conferred by the universities alone; they have to be validated by the Higher Attestation Committee (VAK). And in Belarus, VAK is subordinated not, as one might expect, to the Education Ministry, but directly to the president itself. So VAK apparently has no qualms about its future role in canceling degrees. For presidential decrees in Belarus have the force of law, and, as the deputy head of VAK, Anatol Afanasyeu, told REN TV, VAK will "act strictly in accordance with the law" (i.e. with Lukashenka's instructions.)

Indeed, prior to the decree, VAK had already been assessing degree dissertations for "political correctness." Back in May, it rejected a doctoral dissertation from Ales Pashkevich, a literary historian and chair of the Union of Belarusian Writers (a politically unsound organization in Lukashenka's eyes). VAK's decision was preceded by a Stalin-era ploy: a group of World War II veterans had, it was claimed, "spontaneously" written to Lukashenka to protest Pashkevich's theme of Belarusian emigre writers (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 9 March 2004). But soon VAK began to act without the need of such scenarios.

In September, Svyatlana Navumuk, a history lecturer at Brest University, not only had her Ph.D dissertation rejected, but was also banned from teaching since, according to the VAK chairman, her choice of subject -- the life and work of Kastus Yezavitau, a military leader in the short-lived struggle of Belarus for independence in 1918-1920 -- showed that she was unfit to have contact with young people. The fact that her appraisal was phrased in cautious, scholarly terms made no difference -- according to VAK, people such as Yezavitau were not a fit subject for scholarship.

The decision left Navumuk bewildered. As she told the independent newspaper "Nasha Niva" on 30 October, according to the rules "an unsuccessful dissertation can be revised, defended again, and resubmitted to VAK. But what can I do when it is the very subject of the dissertation that VAK does not approve?" Moreover, when her academic supervisor Uladzimir Mikhnyuk lodged an appeal against the VAK decision, he too met with misfortune. At that time he was about to take over the post of director of the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences. The contract had been signed, the previous director was clearing his office. But the very day the appeal was lodged, Mikhnyuk's contract was cancelled. Mikhnyuk had hastily to find another job -- in a nonprestigious private law college. And within a month he was dead, his end seemingly hastened by stress (like several other Belarusian scholars who had come into conflict with the Belarusian state system).

Nor was this the only incident. A staffer at the Institute of History of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences was advised not to go ahead with the defense of his doctoral dissertation on the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of the 16th-18th centuries, since such a theme exhibited "Russophobia." He defended the dissertation successfully, and is now, he told "Nasha Niva," awaiting VAK's decision, which he fully expects to be negative. Another member of that institute had his dissertation on the medieval Prince Alherd rejected by VAK since that prince's policy had been one of eastward expansion against Russia. While a third had a dissertation on Napoleon's campaign of 1812 was rejected by VAK simply because it did not refer to that war (in the manner of Russian historians) as "patriotic."

There have also been cases of students warned off before completing their dissertations. One, who wanted to write her literature dissertation on the contemporary historian Uladzimir Arlou (a fine writer, whose views on Belarusian history, however, do not match the views of the current regime) was told this was inappropriate, since Arlou is "not a classic author."

Not surprisingly, the VAK "experts" who take such decisions do not need expertise in the subject at issue -- one of the assessors who rejected Navumuk's history dissertation was a veterinarian.

Now, Lukashenka's new decree extends VAK's remit not only to scholarly works but to the personal conduct of scholars. This puts at risk the degrees of scholars of whatever academic discipline who engage in politics or exhibit hostility to Lukashenka's regime -- scholars such as physicist Yury Khadyka, a member of the Belarusian National Academy of Sciences, who is deputy head of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front.

According to Yelena Slav, a REN TV reporter, the Belarusian National Academy of Sciences is "sure but not completely sure" that its scholars would not lose their posts for their political views. But the academy administration, too, is now under Lukashenka's control -- it is headed by his personal appointee Mikhail Myasnikovich, previously head of the presidential administration, and would naturally not speak directly against the presidential decree. Indeed, technically, this view may be correct. For the routine measures taken against opposition activists include terms of imprisonment for "hooliganism" (i.e. taking part in opposition demonstrations) and fines for technical breaches of the country's ever changing and retroactive tax laws. In which case the scholar would be deprived of his decree not for his political view but for the "incompatible behavior" of having a criminal record.

Indeed, according to the former president of the academy, Alyaksandr Vaytovich, not only degrees but academy membership itself may be at risk. He told Radio Liberty that at the October General Assembly of the Academy, Myasnikovich said that, "We need to consider and bring up at the next General Assembly questions of excluding members of the academy, since many of them have lost contact with the academy." The expression "lost contact" is significant: it was used on a number of occasions by Soviet propagandists in connection with academician Andrei Sakharov and other dissident scientists; indeed, when Sakharov was exiled to Gorkii in 1980, it was explained that this would help him "reestablish" contact with his proper activity -- science. But, as Vaytovich stressed, not even Sakharov was expelled from the Soviet Academy of Sciences (though an attempt was made to do so in 1973); his fellow academicians were unwilling to create such a precedent. In Lukashenka's Belarus, however, such expulsions may well be the next step. (Vera Rich)

WHO WON THE 'ORANGE REVOLUTION'? Two weeks of antigovernment protests in Kyiv by backers of opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko culminated in the passage on 8 December of legislation that appears to have ended Ukraine's political impasse and paved the way for a democratic vote on 26 December.

At a dizzying pace, lawmakers adopted a constitutional-reform bill to limit presidential powers in favor of the prime minister and the parliament, amended the law on presidential elections to safeguard against abuse and fraud, approved a bill of constitutional amendments "in the first reading" to reform local self-government, and replaced the Central Election Commission that awarded a dubious victory to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych following the flawed 21 November presidential runoff with Yushchenko.

There have been many surprises in Ukraine's political and social life over the past two weeks -- including the momentous invalidation of the runoff by the Supreme Court on 3 December -- but they pale in comparison with the events of 8 December.

Yushchenko commented that 8 December 2004 should be recorded in national annals as a day of historic compromise. He also predicted that the decisions taken on that day cleared a path for his victory on 26 December in 18-20 Ukrainian regions, presumably enough to secure a Yushchenko presidency. Given that the amended election law severely reduces the number of voters authorized to cast their ballots from home and places tight controls on absentee ballots (thus minimizing the risk of massive electoral fraud of the type that marred last month's runoff), Yushchenko's optimism ahead of the new vote is perhaps warranted.

But there was also a bitter undertone to his address to 100,000 orange-clad supporters on Kyiv's Independence Square on 8 December when he interpreted what happened in the parliament earlier that day and thanked the public for its decisive contribution to Ukraine's "orange revolution."

The constitutional reform suggests that the balance of power in the country will be radically shifted from the president to the parliament and the prime minister. Most Ukrainian commentators agree that Ukraine is poised for a transformation from its current presidential system to a parliamentary one. If Yushchenko eventually becomes the head of state, he will thus have significantly curtailed his prerogatives in comparison with those of outgoing President Leonid Kuchma. The power shift will occur on 1 September 2005 if the Verkhovna Rada approves the bill on local self-government "in the second reading" prior to that date, or, failing such passage, it will automatically go into effect on 1 January 2006. Yushchenko is apparently disconcerted with that prospect. He avoided any reference to the constitutional-reform bill while recounting the events of the day to his sea of orange on Independence Square. Indeed, he even was not among those 78 deputies of his parliamentary caucus who supported the package of bills intended to resolve the political crisis. What's more, the parliamentary caucus headed by his staunch political ally and prominent firebrand Yuliya Tymoshenko voted against the reform bill.

Ironically, it was Kuchma -- whose handpicked successor was denied the presidency on the strength of opposition outcry and subsequent events -- who assumed the role of a victor on 8 December. Kuchma claimed the lion's share of the credit for the historic political compromise as he signed the reform bill immediately after its passage. Kuchma and his aides devised the political reform as a stratagem for remaining in the political game beyond 2004 through their leverage in a parliament reinforced with extensive powers regardless of who wins the presidency. At first glance, everything appears to point to a scenario in which a Yushchenko victory is offset by a parliament filled with Kuchma cronies: Yanukovych has arguably lost credibility in the eyes of voters, and the parliament is set to become a pivotal player in the country a year from now. But what of the Ukrainian people, whom the "orange revolution" has miraculously transformed from a pliant electorate into mature and responsible citizens? It is difficult to imagine them allowing Ukrainian politicians to play backstage political games on the scale of the Kuchma era.

The belief that the Ukrainian president will become a figurehead following the implementation of the constitutional reform is an obvious misconception. This misconception might have originated and been nourished for both domestic and foreign consumption by Yushchenko's camp, which entered the 2004 election campaign in an "all-or-nothing-at-all" mood. True, the president loses the right to nominate all cabinet ministers under the constitutional reform. But the president retains the right to propose the country's prime minister, defense minister, and foreign minister for parliamentary approval. No less important, the president has the sole right to appoint all regional governors. And the president's right to dissolve the parliament if it fails to form a viable government coalition can be an effective tool for defusing political conflicts and shaping government policy.

On the other hand, the reform offers an increased set of checks and balances in government, making many important decisions dependent on concerted agreement between the presidency, the legislature, and the cabinet. What can be seen as an impediment to an efficient presidency is in fact an indisputable gain for Ukrainian democracy. It appears that in the long run, the most important achievement of Ukraine's "orange revolution" in 2004 will be neither the democratized presidential-election law (that can be changed at any time by a simple majority in the Verkhovna Rada) nor even Yushchenko's likely presidency. The key accomplishment just might be the constitutional reform that seeks to dismantle the authoritarian executive system of power, so characteristic of many post-Soviet states, and recast it into something more similar to European-model democracy.

Last but not least, providing the parliament with a decisive voice in most political decisions in Ukraine seems the best possible way to heal the country's troubling east-west divide. That rift is more likely to be healed if the responsibility for such decisions lies with 450 deputies elected all across Ukraine, rather than by one man elected by half the country.

It was thus unwise for Yushchenko to remain silent about constitutional reform on Independence Square, implying that the reform represents a Kuchma victory within a broader "orange revolution." First and foremost, it was a victory for hundreds of thousands of Yushchenko supporters who have been taking to the streets for the past two weeks despite the cold and snow. And the political reform fits well indeed into the stunning transformation of Ukrainians, for whom Yushchenko's likely installment as president will be only one stage -- albeit a crucial one -- on their path toward Europe. (Jan Maksymiuk)

UKRAINIAN CRISIS STRAINS U.S.-RUSSIAN RELATIONSHIP. In recent days, top Russian officials have repeatedly lashed out at what they perceive to be unjustified U.S. interference in foreign affairs.

In India last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized Washington for trying to impose what he termed a "dictatorship of international affairs." And yesterday, after meeting in Moscow with U.S.-backed interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, Putin took a shot at a key U.S. foreign policy goal -- fair and free elections in Iraq next month.

"I honestly say that I cannot imagine how elections can be organized under a full occupation of the country by foreign troops," Putin said.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday suggested at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that the West uses the OSCE as a tool to influence politics in former Soviet states. He did not mention Ukraine, but the reference was clear.

Lavrov's remarks sparked an immediate rebuttal. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters at the OSCE conference in Sofia that Kyiv's election crisis must not be viewed as a struggle between Russia and the West. Rather, he said the issue there and in other post-Soviet nations is about letting people choose their own leaders.

The comments by Powell and Lavrov highlight growing strains in the U.S.-Russian relationship.

For Russia, the United States, and the West are meddling in Ukraine and other post-Soviet states. But for the United States and the West, Russia backed a nondemocratic vote in Ukraine, the Ukrainian people rebelled and the West now stands on the side of the democrats. Moscow interfered, not the West.

But analysts in Moscow say that for the sake of U.S.-Russian relations, Washington needs to understand that Putin sees it differently. Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Institute in Moscow says that Putin views the events in Ukraine as a personal affront.

"Putin considers what is happening in Ukraine to be a premeditated, intentional operation by the United States with the aim of eliminating the current regime in Ukraine and replacing it with a pro-Western, pro-American regime and if possible, splitting Ukraine away from Russia and diminishing Ukraine's links with Russia and other republics of the former USSR and turning Ukraine into a Western foreign policy staging base at Russia's very border," Trenin said.

Whether this is an objective analysis can be debated. But Trenin says it shows that the conflict over Ukraine has the potential to do great harm to the broader U.S.-Russia relationship.

"For the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, I have the feeling that the 'Cold War model' is not just a phrase but something that could turn into reality, under certain circumstances. I think what happened in Ukraine and what is happening in Russian-American relations as a result is very serious. I think this is not realized clearly enough in Washington," Trenin said.

Viktor Kremenyuk of the U.S.A.-Canada Institute in Moscow shares that view.

"I don't think we have already reverted to a Cold War model. But the danger that we may return there exists. And it is a relatively serious danger. If leaders on both sides do not understand this and don't think they need to take urgent measure to prevent a Cold War return, then we may slide into one," Kremenyuk said.

The question for Washington now is whether it can satisfy Moscow -- without sacrificing its support for democratic reforms in Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries.

So far, the Bush administration acknowledges no serious strains with Moscow. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli commented yesterday after Powell and Lavrov's remarks in Sofia.

"There are a lot of very important, very significant positives. There are also, as in any relationship, issues where we see things differently. But it is the mark of a mature, nuanced, sophisticated relationship that you can engage in international fora, such as the OSCE, or engage bilaterally, as Secretary Powell did in the last two times he's been to Russia, on issues where you don't see eye-to-eye," Ereli said.

Analysts in Washington say the administration is trying to pull off a delicate balancing act.

Ted Galen Carpenter is a scholar with the Cato Institute, a private think tank in Washington. Carpenter tells RFE/RL that the Bush administration wants to stay on good terms with Putin because it believes Russia can help Washington on a host of key issues, such as the war on terror, support in the United Nations Security Council and nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran.

"We have gone to great lengths not to drive a wedge between the West and Russia. And although we might want to see the reform forces win in Ukraine, we don't want that victory to come at the expense of creating serious tensions with Russia. So it's a delicate balancing act that the administration is trying to carry out, and so far, rather skillfully," Carpenter said.

But others are more critical.

James Goldgeier is a professor of politics at George Washington University and an analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations. Goldgeier believes that Washington must not worry about alienating Russia by taking a stand on democracy and human rights in the post-Soviet space.

"We can talk about Ukraine, we should be able to talk about Ukraine, without talking about Russia. This is not a Cold War issue. This is not an issue of, 'The U.S. would win and Russia would lose.' This is an issue of a chance for Ukraine. And Putin has chosen to talk in Cold War terms. He is using the language of division. There's no reason we have to buy into [accept] his approach," Goldgeier said.

Rejecting Carpenter's analysis, Goldgeier says Russia is actually not acting as a good partner to the United States on key global issues.

As a result, he believes their bilateral relationship will eventually have to be redefined. (Andrew F. Tully and Jeremy Bransten)

"I came to this [parliamentary] hall when the constitution was being adopted, and I am coming again today with the hope that a decision that is vital, not only for any part of parliament but for the entire country, will be made." -- Kuchma in the Verkhovna Rada on 8 December, shortly before the vote on a constitutional-reform bill and amendments to the presidential election law; quoted by an RFE/RL correspondent.

"Today, I can say openly that two types of state power have existed in our country for the last two years -- old power and new power. So our citizens should make their own conclusions whether Yanukovych is a candidate of the new power or the old power. I am sure that Yushchenko represents an attempt by the old power to seek revenge." -- Yanukovych on 6 December; quoted by an RFE/RL correspondent.

"We proved that there is a civil society in Ukraine." -- Yushchenko to his supporters in Independence Square in Kyiv on 3 December, following the invalidation of the 21 November runoff by the Supreme Court; quoted by an RFE/RL correspondent.

"We are told, my dear friends, that we are divided by our history, that one part of Ukraine was for 300 years under one empire and western Ukraine was under another empire. But I don't want the past to tie our feet. I want to speak about today. And I want to affirm that people who were born in the east of Ukraine -- including myself, which I am happy about -- and people born in western Ukraine are not divided by anything.... Ukrainian citizens should be able to speak Ukrainian because it's their mother tongue. Ukrainian citizens should be able to speak Russian -- those who need to -- because there is a strategic partner to the north of us, a northern neighbor that will be there forever, that is called Russia. Ukraine has colossal interests there, and if we want to be successful, we must realize that we should know, speak and use the Russian language." -- Yushchenko to his supporters in Independence Square in Kyiv on 2 December; quoted by an RFE/RL correspondent.

"The country [Ukraine] is entirely Russian speaking, both in the west and in the east. One can say without exaggeration that every other family in Ukraine, if not more, has personal and family ties with Russia. Everything that happens there concerns us, and this has become an issue of Russia's domestic politics." -- Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting with Kuchma in Moscow on 2 December; quoted by an RFE/RL correspondent.

"A repeat of the second round [of the presidential election in Ukraine] may fail to work too. Will it have to be held three, four, or 25 times then, until one of the parties gets the desired result?" -- Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting with Kuchma in Moscow on 2 December; quoted by an RFE/RL correspondent.

"The [Donetsk] Oblast Council has decided, taking into consideration the political situation threatening public security, the constitutional system, the lives and health of citizens, in order to prevent the breakup of Ukraine and to preserve it as a single and indivisible state, to hold on 9 January 2005 a regional consultative referendum on the regional council's decision to propose changes, in accordance with part 13 of the Constitution of Ukraine and the existing laws, to the Constitution of Ukraine giving the Donetsk region the status of a self-governing constituent within a federation, while respecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine." -- Donetsk Oblast Council Chairman Borys Kolesnikov on 1 December in Donetsk; quoted by an RFE/RL correspondent.

"A repeat vote [of the election's second round] would be a farce. I cannot look at it in any other way. I will never support such an option." -- President Leonid Kuchma in Kyiv on 1 December; quoted by an RFE/RL correspondent.

"No, thank you." -- Yushchenko in Kyiv on 30 November, answering to Yanukovych's offer to become prime minister under his presidency; quoted by an RFE/RL correspondent.

"I propose that neither Viktor Andriyovych Yushchenko, nor I run for president if it is proven legally that the elections have been falsified." -- Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko in Kyiv on 30 November; quoted by an RFE/RL correspondent.