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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: January 14, 2003

14 January 2003, Volume 5, Number 1
PARLIAMENT TO PROBE ALLEGATIONS OF BIG-TICKET CORRUPTION. The Sejm on 10 January voted 394 to one to set up a 10-member commission to investigate allegations by "Gazeta Wyborcza" that film producer Lew Rywin tried to solicit a bribe of $17.5 million from Agora, the newspaper's publisher, purportedly on behalf of Premier Leszek Miller's Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). The ruling SLD has five seats on the commission, while the Peasant Party, the Civic Platform, Law and Justice, Self-Defense, and the League of Polish Families have one seat each.

Rywin, 57, is a well-known film producer and media entrepreneur, who co-produced the Oscar-winning "Schindler's List" by director Steven Spielberg and Roman Polanski's "The Pianist," which won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2002. He owns the Heritage Films company and until last week was the supervisory board chief of Canal+ Polska, a television station and a digital platform.

According to a report in "Gazeta Wyborcza" on 27 December, Rywin approached Wanda Rapaczynska, president of Agora SA, the newspaper's publisher, in July 2002 with an offer to lobby the government for a favorable media law that would allow Agora to buy the private Polsat television. Rywin reportedly told Rapaczynska that for $17.5 million (5 percent of the estimated value of Polsat) he would be able to persuade unidentified people responsible for drafting and passing the media bill to delete a clause that would make it impossible for Agora (the owner not only of Poland's top daily "Gazeta Wyborcza" but also of 20 local radio stations and 11 magazines) to "monopolize" the media market in the country by buying Polsat. (The draft media law proposed by the government in early 2002 forbade issuing more than one license for nationwide broadcasting to one broadcaster. It also banned the owner of a nationwide daily from obtaining a license for nationwide broadcasting. Private media, including "Gazeta Wyborcza," vociferously protested the draft media bill saying it would strengthen the monopoly of state television and expose Polish media to foreign takeovers. The government withdrew some restrictions from the draft media bill in mid-2002. Now the draft is in the Sejm.) Moreover, Rywin reportedly suggested to Agora that he acted in coordination with Premier Leszek Miller and that part of the bribe would be transferred to the SLD. Rywin also said he expected a leading post in Polsat "to look after the left's interests" in the station after it was bought by Agora.

"Gazeta Wyborcza" Editor in Chief Adam Michnik reportedly told Miller about Rywin's offer on 18 July. Miller flatly denied that he had empowered Rywin to enter any talks with Agora, let alone about soliciting a bribe. Four days later, Michnik arranged a meeting in his office with Rywin and secretly taped their conversation in which Rywin repeated his offer of a bribe. "[They] want to use me to strike [a deal], to make it very kosher and clean," Rywin reportedly told Michnik during the conversation. "Because this group has power in its hands and is interested in obtaining [financial] means. Their power guarantees that it [the favorable media law] will be passed. If [you do not agree to the deal], you will sort of run a risk that there will be struggles [over the bill] in the Sejm and the Senate."

Following the "Gazeta Wyborcza" publication on 27 December, Poland's prosecutor-general, Justice Minister Grzegorz Kurczuk, ordered an investigation in the case that is now being called "Rywingate" by Polish media. There are many obscure points in this case, including the questions why Miller, after he was told by Michnik about Rywin's bribery attempt, did not ask the prosecutor-general to launch an investigation (as a state servant, Miller is obliged by law to do so). It is also unclear why Michnik decided to publish details of Rywingate only in late December, five months after the bribery scandal originated. According to reports in other Polish media, including the respected weekly "Polityka," Rywin's offer to Michnik was "unofficially" known to journalists and politicians in Warsaw long before it was publicized on 27 December.

Jerzy Urban, the editor in chief of the notorious tabloid "Nie" and a man widely believed to be well informed about Poland's backstage political life, opined that initially Miller, Rywin, and Michnik agreed not to disclose the scandal to the public. Urban suggested that Michnik broke the agreement in an attempt to overturn Miller's government.

"Rzeczpospolita" on 9 January suggested in an opinion piece by Piotr Semka that Rywingate indicates that there is a conflict within the SLD regarding the political future of Poland's left wing. Some SLD activists are purportedly afraid of Michnik's influence on President Aleksander Kwasniewski. Some Polish media reported last year that Michnik has ingrained Kwasniewski with the idea to form and lead a center party after his presidential term ends in 2005. Such a party, "Rzeczpospolita" opined, could be joined en masse by younger-generation SLD activists who are now politically overshadowed by activists with roots in the communist-era Polish United Workers Party. Therefore, the "old guard" of the SLD allegedly opposes Michnik's takeover of Polsat, because such a move could give Michnik a powerful tool to influence the "plebeian" part of the electorate, which is believed to be the SLD's domain. According to "Rzeczpospolita," some powerful SLD officials now distrust Kwasniewski, not knowing whether they can still treat him as an ally. The newspaper does not say on which side of this purported front line in the SLD Miller stands.

Miller, who was questioned by prosecutors last week in connection with Rywingate, denies any wrongdoing. Meanwhile, in a letter to Miller last week, Rywin said the press presented his contacts with Agora "mendaciously" and apologized to Miller for the fact that the premier's name has been exposed to "unfounded attacks" in the media in connection with the allegations. Rywin has so far refused to comment publicly on the scandal. (Jan Maksymiuk)

CLOSURE OF LITHUANIA'S NUCLEAR-POWER STATION MAY AFFECT BELARUS. Lithuania's president-elect, Rolandas Paksas, has stated that he intends to approach the European Union for help in constructing a new, Western-type nuclear-power station. This commitment to nuclear energy will have considerable implications for Belarus, which currently purchases a significant amount of its electricity from Lithuania. Moreover, Lithuania's existing (Soviet-built) nuclear-power station at Ignalina is of the RBMK type, similar to that which blew up at Chornobyl in April 1986. Ignalina is close to the Lithuanian-Belarusian frontier, and a Chornobyl-type accident there could expose northwestern Belarus to heavy radioactive contamination similar to that suffered by the southeast in 1986.

Over the past 10 years, Lithuania has been negotiating over Ignalina with the EU, which wants it closed. Some 250 million euros ($264 million) has been spent on improving safety, but the radical design faults of this type of reactor cannot be eliminated. Under pressure from the EU, the Lithuanians have promised to close down Ignalina: The first reactor is due to be shut down in 2005 and the second in 2009, with the EU bearing much of the estimated 3 billion-euro cost of decommissioning. However, Lithuanian energy and financial experts are unhappy about the closure: Ignalina at present produces 70 percent of Lithuania's electrical output and is a vital source of export revenue.

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus is likewise not happy about the impending closure. Last year, he made an apparently serious offer to buy the station from Lithuania (with necessary adjustment of the international border so that the station would be on Belarusian territory). This came to nothing. However, recent disputes between Belarus and Russia over fossil-fuel supplies have caused Belarusian energy experts to start thinking seriously again about nuclear power.

Lithuania and Belarus share the problem of insufficient energy resources of their own. But Lithuania suffered relatively little from Chornobyl fallout, while public opinion remembers vividly the Soviet fossil-fuel embargo that followed Lithuania's 1990 declaration of independence. Hence, statements such as that of outgoing President Valdas Adamkus that, "Nuclear energy is the cleanest and cheapest energy in the world, and Lithuania cannot refuse it," and his successor's commitment to a new and safer replacement for Ignalina cause no major shock to public opinion. Belarus, however, received an estimated 70 percent of the Chornobyl fallout, and as a result plans for a nuclear-power-plus-district-heating station on the outskirts of Minsk were abandoned. When, on the sixth anniversary of the Chornobyl disaster, the then-head of state of Belarus, Stanislau Shushkevich, stated that, sooner or later, Belarus would have to have nuclear energy of its own, Belarusian public opinion was shocked that the man who had done so much in the late 1980s to reveal the extent of the Chornobyl contamination should say such a thing.

Now, very cautiously, suggestions that Belarus must eventually build its own nuclear-power plants are beginning to be voiced in Belarus but only in terms of some undefined future. If Paksas's hopes of a new, EU-financed, Western-style nuclear-power plant for Lithuania materialize -- and if Belarus can continue to pay its bills for electricity exports -- then the problems, economic and psychological, of launching a nuclear-power program for Belarus can be deferred. But if Ignalina closes without the EU financing a new Lithuanian station to replace it, Belarus may have to think seriously about its own nuclear option.

This report was written by Vera Rich, a London-based freelance researcher.

OSCE RETURNS TO MINSK WITH A NEW MANDATE. After a three-month forced absence, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is due to reopen its offices in Minsk following an agreement struck on 30 December with the Belarusian authorities.

OSCE spokesman Richard Murphy, speaking at the Vienna headquarters of the 55-member group, explained the goal of the new mission. "The new office will assist the Belarusian government in further promoting institution building, in further consolidating the rule of law, and in developing relations with civil society in accordance with OSCE principles and commitments. That's the first part. Secondly, it will assist the Belarusian government in its efforts in developing economic and environmental activities. And thirdly, it will monitor and report accurately on the above-mentioned objectives," Murphy said.

The agreement can be seen as a diplomatic victory for Portugal, which chaired the OSCE until the end of last year and which had worked hard to keep lines of communication open with the administration of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Already strained relations between the OSCE and Lukashenka were exacerbated by the organization's declining to certify September 2001 presidential elections. The atmosphere steadily worsened through 2002. Belarusian authorities refused to renew the visas of OSCE diplomats at the Minsk mission, leading to the expulsion of the last OSCE staffer in October 2002. Lukashenka accused the OSCE of actively plotting with opposition groups to destabilize his government.

It was at this point that the European Union and the United States imposed a travel ban on Lukashenka and senior cabinet members. But even after this nadir in relations, Portugal refused to join the ban, and the country's diplomats continued to work behind the scenes to encourage the Belarusian authorities to soften their stance.

Now that work appears to have paid off. While some Belarusian opposition and civil-society representatives have in the past accused the West of doing too little to press Lukashenka on democratization, those contacted by RFE/RL in Minsk welcomed the OSCE's impending return.

Mechyslau Hryb, an opposition politician and former head of the country's Supreme Soviet, had this to say to RFE/RL when contacted by telephone in Minsk: "I think it's a good thing. Unfortunately, I haven't seen the agreement itself. It hasn't been published in our media. But the return of the OSCE to Minsk is a good thing. Subjectively, I can tell you that any separation from the West for Belarus is bad. It's also bad for the opposition. It's bad for everyone. Every iron curtain, no matter what form it takes -- even a wooden or fabric curtain -- is simply not good."

Tatsyana Protska, head of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, which focuses on the promotion of human rights, agreed. "We have always thought that the mission's work in Belarus, that is, the work of the consultative observer group in Belarus, was an asset for the development of democracy, because the group's mandate gives it an opportunity not only to check on what is happening here but also to offer consultations. They have the opportunity not just to see the bad and the good but to offer us the world's experience in the area of developing legislation, democracy, and human rights," Protska said.

Protska said that this time around, she would like the OSCE office to work closely with state employees, not just the NGO sector, so that they can also gain insights into how democratic institutions ought to work. "Of course, we would like the group to be more active. We would like it to have more projects, which would be undertaken both with civil-society organizations and with state bodies. We would like to see more work with government employees, to help overcome the barrier that exists today between the state and civil society. We would like to see joint seminars where various issues of how to encourage democracy would be discussed. We would like to see joint fact-finding trips to visit institutions [abroad], because Belarus has been isolated for quite a long time now and many new government employees know very little about the experience that has been accumulated abroad," Protska said.

Protska does not share the view that having been kicked out once, the OSCE should stay out of Belarus, lest it somehow "legitimize" the Lukashenka administration. Lukashenka is a reality, she said, and however unhappy democracy activists may be with him, it is better for the OSCE to try to work with his administration than to shut him out. "This talk of 'legitimization' surprises me greatly. The regime exists, and it will continue to exist for at least another five years. And if it is isolated, it will only get stronger -- do you understand? What does 'legitimizing' mean? It's a very one-sided definition. It's another matter that this regime does not yet meet the standards of developed democracies. Naturally, it cannot be equal to these democracies, and in this aspect it is not legitimate, in the sense that it is not the equal of other countries where governments are picked in accordance with global standards," Protska said.

Protska believes the dire state of Belarus's economy means the government will be forced to open itself more to the West. And she said the OSCE's pro-democracy work goes hand in hand with economic liberalization. "These things don't exist independently of each other. The work of the OSCE group is going to influence economic restructuring, most of all on the introduction of the institution of private property. And without this base there can be no democracy. Private property creates democracy. It is a necessary precondition for democracy. Today's command economy, as it currently exists in Belarus, does not need democracy," Protska said.

Whatever happens, the OSCE's representatives in Minsk will need all their diplomatic skills as they undertake their new mission. As Hryb put it: "Their situation is difficult in that they have to maneuver between two poles. It's always a hard place to be. But I think the OSCE's return is a good step, and I think it will be useful for Belarus and the establishment of democracy." In a country that has grown used to pessimistic forecasts, it's a refreshing start to the new year.

RFE/RL Prague-based correspondent Jeremy Bransten wrote this report.

RELATIONS WITH U.S. MAY WORSEN OVER NEW ALLEGATIONS OF MILITARY SALES TO IRAQ. The London-based daily "The Times" of 10 January quoted a senior U.S. official in Washington as saying that Ukraine has sold a pontoon bridge to Iraq and that Kyiv's arms transfers to Baghdad are a "continuing problem."

At the State Department the same day, spokesman Richard Boucher told a briefing that he could not confirm the new allegations but said Washington will be looking into them. "Transfers of military equipment to Iraq are violations of UN sanctions," Boucher said. "We look into these. We have very strong nonproliferation partnerships with a number of governments, including ones in Europe and Eurasia. In the case of Ukraine, we've been working on that kind of arrangement, and we do have an obligation to look into these matters, these reports, and check up on them."

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko responded the same day that Kyiv has, in fact, exported pontoon bridges, but never to Iraq. "If there are any pontoon bridges in Iraq, our government doesn't have any responsibility for it, because Ukraine never sold such bridges directly to Iraq," Zlenko said.

But the allegations come at a delicate time for U.S.-Ukrainian relations, which have suffered since the United States alleged in September that it had proof that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma had authorized the sale of a sophisticated Kolchuga radar system to Iraq in violation of United Nations sanctions.

That incident surfaced as the United States was seeking United Nations support to disarm Iraq of its suspected weapons of mass destruction. It prompted the United States to freeze aid to Ukraine and launch a broad policy review toward Kyiv.

Boucher said the policy review is still ongoing. But a U.S. official told RFE/RL that the State Department may comment on it in the coming weeks.

Such comment is unlikely to be positive. Carlos Pascual, the U.S. ambassador to Kyiv, told a policy forum in Washington on 9 January that the Kolchuga affair is just one of several incidents over the last two years to negatively affect U.S.-Ukrainian relations. "I would characterize the relationship between the United States and Ukraine as perhaps the most difficult it's been since [Ukrainian] independence," Pascual said. "Trust has been eroded. There have been missed opportunities, and in some cases there are radically conflicting perspectives on the relationship."

While Pascual said the Kolchuga affair was the single most damaging incident to relations, he said things began to deteriorate in late 2000 when audio tapes recorded by a former Kuchma bodyguard appeared to implicate the president in the murder of opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze.

Relations have further eroded, Pascual said, as Ukraine has cracked down on the media, mishandled the accidental shooting down of a Russian airliner on 4 October 2001, and sold arms to Macedonia during peace talks and shortly after Kuchma had promised that Kyiv would not do so.

"President Kuchma assured [White House National Security Adviser] Condoleezza Rice, [NATO Secretary-General Lord] George Robertson, [and European Union foreign-policy chief] Javier Solana that Ukraine would not transfer heavy arms to Macedonia during a period of time when there were negotiations on a peace settlement," Pascual said. "And within one month of that time, there were transfers of heavy arms to Macedonia, which was a tremendous breach of trust."

But if there is distrust of Ukraine in the United States, Pascual said American criticism has made people in Ukraine question Washington's motives. He said many Ukrainians believe the United States is seeking to undermine Kuchma and replace him with someone from the opposition, such as former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko.

"That is wrong," Pascual noted. "The United States is not trying to influence or seek to effect a change in Ukrainian politics. What our goal and our hope is [is] to promote a free and fair and open electoral process that allows the Ukrainian people to decide who they want as their leadership. But making those decisions about leadership is not in our hands."

Pascual, speaking at the private Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the United States sees Ukraine as having the potential to join NATO and the European Union one day. But for now, he said its leadership has eroded trust in the relationship and that the United States has concluded that Ukraine is not a reliable partner.

According to James Sherr of the United Kingdom Defense Academy, U.S. policy contrasts with that of the European Union, which sees its ultimate border as not including Ukraine. Sherr, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, said the EU policy has forced Kyiv to rethink its drive to join the West and has pushed it back toward Russia.

For that reason, Sherr said, the United States and other NATO countries have done well not to cut off military cooperation with Ukraine. He said that many reforms have been made in Ukraine's military through its cooperation with NATO and that it would have been pointless to stop all that, despite fallout from the Kolchuga affair.

Nicholas Burns, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, said in Washington last week that the arms sales to Iraq have, in fact, dealt a blow to NATO's ties with Kyiv. But he said in a speech at Johns Hopkins University that things could still improve. "We couldn't see elevating to a new status, a new level, NATO-Ukraine relations at a time when Ukraine was being irresponsible in its arms-exports policy toward the number-one troublemaker in the Middle East," Burns said. "But we still do hope that over the course of the short and medium term, we can work with Ukraine to try to bring it into the equation of this pattern of relationships with NATO that will keep Europe stable."

Ambassador Pascual listed four areas in which Washington and Kyiv can work to rebuild trust and relations. First, he said that if, in the end, there is no way to reach a common understanding over the Kolchuga affair, then at least the two countries could channel their energies into helping Ukraine reform its export controls.

Second, he said the United States needs to broadly engage with the Ukrainian government, including closer cooperation with ministers and stepped up relations between the U.S. Congress and the Ukrainian parliament.

Third, Washington must help Ukrainian civil society, and Ukrainian authorities must recognize and encourage the role of a democratic opposition and independent media, and interfere with neither.

Finally, Pascual said military cooperation should continue, and he urged Kyiv, which has said it wants to join NATO, to carry out the action plan it approved at NATO's November summit in Prague. He said the United States has an obligation to help Ukraine join Western institutions, such as NATO, the World Trade Organization, and the EU.

RFE/RL Washington-based correspondent Jeffrey Donovan wrote this report.

UKRAINIAN TRANSITION. A book review by Taras Kuzio of Bohdan Harasymiw, "Post-Communist Ukraine," Edmonton and Toronto, Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, 2002.

The publication of Harasymiw's 480-page study of postcommunist Ukraine in December 2002 is an important milestone in contemporary Ukrainian studies. To date, it is only the second textbook in English on contemporary Ukraine available for higher education and for the broader policy-making, media, and government market (the other being a jointly authored book by Paul D'Anieri, Robert Krawchuk, and Taras Kuzio, "Politics and Society in Ukraine," Boulder, Westview, 1999).

Both volumes will complement one another. Whereas the Westview textbook allowed three authors to focus on each of their areas of specialization, Harasymiw has surveyed in 10 chapters a much broader range of subjects with respect to post-Soviet Ukraine. Both volumes integrate the study of contemporary Ukraine within political-science theory, with the exception of Chapter 10 on foreign and defense policy in Harasymiw's study.

The first chapter in Harasymiw's book places Ukraine's postcommunist transition within a "theory of democratic transition." This is followed by four chapters that focus on state building: Chapter 2 (the constitution), Chapter 3 (the understanding of the state in the eyes of two presidents, Leonid Kravchuk and Kuchma), Chapter 4 (the establishment of institutions), and Chapter 5 (civil-military relations). Chapters 7 and 8 deal with parliamentary and presidential elections up to 1999, and Chapter 10 deals with the economy.

As with many North American political-science studies, this book relies too heavily on public-opinion polls. Although polls are an important way to gauge current views in Western society, one has to remain skeptical about the assumption that polls in post-Soviet states, such as Ukraine, play the same role. It is difficult to accept that polls have any meaning in a society where 90 percent of Ukrainians, according to an August 2002 poll by the Ukrainian Center for Economic and Political Studies, feel they have no influence on state or local institutions.

Harasymiw's volume brings the study of postcommunist Ukraine up to the middle of 2000. Thus, it excludes mention of the Kuchmagate scandal that began in November of that year. This also means that it mostly misses the beginning of economic growth in 2000 following a decade of slumping, and it also misses the Viktor Yushchenko government of December 1999-April 2001, which was Ukraine's only reformist government and the one credited with extracting Ukraine from its socioeconomic crisis.

Proceeding from his area of specialization within political science, Harasymiw's study focuses on transition from the standpoint of democratic theory. While this is undoubtedly important, it ignores the more broader understanding of "transition" in post-Soviet states. The very variety of chapters in the book indicates that transition in Ukraine (and in the former Soviet Union in general) is multifaceted.

By focusing on "democratic transition," however, the volume narrows the breadth of change that countries such as Ukraine are undertaking. Transition in Ukraine, Belarus, and elsewhere refers to a transition to democracy that also involves state and nation building. This fact is what makes transition in Ukraine so different from that undertaken in established nation-states in Latin America and Southern Europe (the exception being Spain with its minority and regional problems). Therefore, some scholars have defined postcommunist transition as "triple" -- democratization, marketization, and state building -- or even "quadruple" -- democratization, marketization, state building, and nation building -- as this author does.

The chapter on nation building is one of the shortest in the book. It sees Ukraine in the traditional manner as divided between East and West. This may have been the case based on the outcome of the 1994 presidential elections but not based on the elections of 1999. Nation building is also far broader than the author understands. Ukrainianization in education has continued under Kuchma. At the same time, the Ukrainian language has declined in favor of Russian in the media and book publishing. In the realm of national historiography, there has been no change under Kuchma. The Mykhaylo Hrushevsky school, which, for example, lays sole title to Kyivan Rus as a proto-Ukrainian state, is dominant throughout the educational system and in history writing in general.

The existence of "600,000 Rusyns" in Trans-Carpathia is presented in the book as a fact. Unfortunately, we simply have no data to say if this is the case, especially as the December 2001 census (the first since 1989) did not provide the possibility of even registering as a "Rusyn." No Rusyn movement was vocal or gained support in elections in Trans-Carpathia in the 1990s.

Harasymiw concludes his study of postcommunist Ukraine by arguing that its transition was "path dependent." Ukraine's transition began with baggage from its totalitarian and imperial legacies. This is certainly something with which this author would agree, but it represents a minority viewpoint within political science.

When talking about democracy, Harasymiw writes that, "there is little reason now to doubt the commitment of the country�s leaders to that goal" (p.427), adding, however, that this "will continue to be a long, hard, uphill struggle" (p.432).

As Harasymiw points out, "Progress towards democracy can still be made even after a bad start" (p.429). Unlike some other CIS states, Ukraine is not a hopelessly lost case. At the same time, this is precisely because of the national question, which is ignored in Harasymiw�s "democratic theory of democratic transition." Particularly since the Kuchmagate scandal began and during the 2002 elections, the main defenders of democracy in Ukraine have been national democrats who are traditionally either ignored in democratization studies or denounced as "nationalists" and therefore understood to be inimical to democracy

Using political-science terminology, Harasymiw defines Ukraine as a "corporatist" state and a "pseudo democracy." Today, three years after the manuscript was completed and only a year before the post-Kuchma era, grounds for Harasymiw's pessimism are certainly stronger. In response to Harasymiw's conclusions about Ukraine's transition being path-dependent and that democratization is not a complete dead-end, those who study postcommunist Ukraine should be asking two questions. First, is "transition" still the correct term to define the country, and, if it is, do we know where it is heading? Second, if Ukraine is no longer in transition, then, is it consolidating a new type of political system that is now being increasingly referred to as a "hybrid regime," which combines elements of the former Soviet and Western political-economic systems? If the latter is the case, then we have greater grounds for pessimism about Ukraine's road to democracy.

This review was written by Dr. Taras Kuzio, resident fellow, Center for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.