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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: March 4, 2003

4 March 2003, Volume 5, Number 8
THE DIFFICULTIES OF POLISH-UKRAINIAN HISTORICAL RECONCILIATION. Since the mid-1990s, the Polish and Ukrainian political classes have fostered a close partnership with the aim of building relations based on a commonality of interests, something that is a unique example of close bilateral cooperation in Central and Eastern Europe. But cooperative relations between Poland and Ukraine at the state level camouflage disquiet at the societal level, where memories of past persecution and suffering continue to alienate the neighbors from one other. In this context, the preparations to commemorate Poles who died at the hands of Ukrainians in the mid-1940s may revive old antagonisms and introduce new strains into the relationship.

The "war within a war" took place between Poles and Ukrainians in the shadow of bigger battles of World War II, when both tried to assert their control over the eastern fringes of prewar Poland, i.e., modern-day western Ukraine, in a series of bloody encounters that claimed thousands of victims on both sides. The military wing of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), conducted "ethnic cleansing" that resulted in between 60,000 and 100,000 Polish deaths. The killings, which started in March 1943 and carried on until early 1944, were intended to "cleanse" Volhynia and eastern Galicia by provoking the mass exodus of the Polish population to prepare the area for a Ukrainian takeover. It was not only the sheer scale and brutality of the killings that shocked the Poles but also the fact that the UPA units were often assisted by peasants from neighboring Ukrainian villages. In turn, the UPA actions elicited reprisals on the part of the Poles in which approximately 15,000 to 30,000 Ukrainians died.

In December 2002, in a letter to the head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, Viktor Medvedchuk, Marek Siwiec, head of the Polish Bureau of National Security, outlined the Polish view of how the events ought to be commemorated. Apart from marking and renovating the graves of the slain Poles, erecting a monument to them, and being granted access to Ukrainian archives, Poland suggested that the Ukrainian president make an appropriate symbolic gesture of apology for the atrocities. Siwiec suggested that at the culmination of the commemoration at a ceremony in Volhynia in July this year, the Ukrainian president make a historical gesture akin to that of German Chancellor Willy Brandt, who knelt before the Monument of the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1970. These plans for the commemoration are likely to have some reverberations within Ukraine and Poland, as well as the potential to adversely affect relations between the two states.

First, Polish demands elicit diverse reactions within Ukrainian society. Ukrainian political and intellectual elites, along with historians, remain profoundly divided in their attitudes to the UPA, which range from condemnation to glorification. In line with Soviet-era historiography, which depicted the OUN and UPA as bourgeois nationalists and Nazi collaborators, left-wing parties in Ukraine refuse to recognize, let alone acclaim, these organizations as patriotic. In contrast, the center-right and radical right-wing parties, which have their power base in western Ukraine, consider the OUN and UPA as a high point of the national-liberation movement. This view is shared by the population of western Ukraine and the Ukrainian diaspora, but is not, however, easily transplanted to the rest of Ukraine, where most people remain either ambivalent toward, or hostile to, these organizations. As a result, there is a reluctance to embark on exposing the wrongdoings of the national-liberation movement along the lines suggested by the Poles (who condemn the OUN and UPA as criminal organizations) at a time when their actual role is either widely unknown or questioned.

Moreover, Ukraine lacks an individual with the moral authority from within the political elite to express an apology on behalf of the nation. President Leonid Kuchma, while remaining the head of the state and coordinating the commemorations on behalf of the Ukrainian side, lost any moral right to speak in the name of the nation in 2000 when he was implicated in a killing of a journalist and other misdeeds. Also, the issue may be politicized in the run-up to the presidential elections next year. The most popular contender, Viktor Yushchenko, is strongly supported in western Ukraine, where the UPA is praised for its role in fighting for an independent Ukraine. In pursuit of political gain, the exposure of the UPA's deeds may be used to label Yushchenko as a nationalist UPA sympathizer, something that is likely to discredit him in other parts of Ukraine, where people's views of the OUN and UPA are based on Soviet-era propaganda claims of the OUN and UPA as Nazi collaborators.

Furthermore, Poland's plans for the commemoration expose the asymmetry characterizing Polish-Ukrainian relations. The prevailing attitude in Poland is that it has the right to expect an apology from Ukraine. Some openly hint that Ukraine "owes" this to Poland, especially given the latter's role as Ukraine's bridge to the West. And Ukrainian President Kuchma, keen to limit his isolation, may be willing to meet Polish demands. Perhaps more disturbing for the Ukrainians is the thought that Poland is exploiting this asymmetrical relationship to impose on Ukraine its own version of history in which it depicts the Ukrainian guerrilla movement as criminal. The pursuit of "apology by diktat" threatens to alienate the proponents of Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation in Ukraine. This would be a setback for genuine reconciliation at the societal level.

Within Poland, the situation is no less complex, as Polish authorities come under considerable pressure from Poles resettled after the war from Poland's eastern borderlands, including Volhynia and Galicia. Their views on wartime events lay bare all the resentment that has been festering in the collective memory of Poles traumatized by their experiences at the hands of Ukrainians. They adhere to a scheme of Polish-Ukrainian history, which is informed by personal memories of suffering, in which Poles are viewed as victims of genocide by Ukrainian criminal organizations.

So far, the Polish political class has adopted a strategy of pushing historical grievances to one side, but this is criticized as "appeasement" by right-wing forces in Poland. Fearing a radicalization of attitudes, the Polish leadership has taken the lead in staging the commemoration to prevent an escalation of tensions. However, Poland�s decision to commemorate the death of ethnic Poles (and Ukrainians who suffered protecting the Poles) and leave aside the ethnic Ukrainians (who died at the hands of Poles in reprisals) means that an opportunity is being missed to turn the anniversary into a more inclusive, conciliatory remembrance of victims of interethnic violence.

The plans for the commemoration also testify to the difficulties that historians face in diverging from the established scheme of history that is centered on the martyrdom of the nation. While factual data on the killings have been amassed, Polish and Ukrainian historians have engaged in heated debates over the motives behind the UPA actions, and, in particular, whether they constituted deliberate genocide or not. The range of terms used to describe Ukrainian actions go from "genocide," "ethnic cleansing" and "mass murder" to the quite mild "anti-Polish actions."

At the same time, popularized accounts of atrocities continue to take precedence over debates on the reasons for hostilities in the Polish-Ukrainian borderlands. As Bogumila Berdychowska, a Polish advocate for Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation, put it, "our common history did not start in 1943"; grievances that found their violent culmination in 1943-44 accumulated over a longer period of time. The killings had their roots in the political, social, and economic background to interethnic relations, as well as wartime developments, e.g., Polish interwar policies toward the Ukrainian minority, as well as Soviet and German wartime provocations. But any acknowledgement of this complexity is largely missing from the official proclamations and media coverage of the subject in Poland.

If carefully staged, the commemoration of Volhynia may help to deal with painful historical legacies in Polish-Ukrainian relations. But the chances are that it may actually contribute to the renewal of prejudice and negative stereotypes. After nearly 15 years of independence, historical reconciliation at the societal level between Poland and Ukraine still remains a distant goal.

This report was written by Kataryna Wolczuk, a lecturer at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, European Research Institute, the University of Birmingham, U.K., and co-author of "Poland and Ukraine: a Strategic Partnership in a Changing Europe?" (London, Royal Institute of International Affairs, 2002).

PREMIER THROWS PEASANTS OUT OF GOVERNMENT. Prime Minister and Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) leader Leszek Miller threw the Peasant Party (PSL) out of the 16-month-old ruling coalition on 1 March, two days after the PSL sided with the opposition to vote down a government-sponsored bill on highway tolls (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2003). "By refusing support for government bills in the last few days, the Peasant Party has placed itself outside the coalition," Miller said in a televised address to the country the same day. "You cannot at the same time be in government and in opposition to the government. As prime minister, I do not accept this and can no longer tolerate this. I am not, and I shall not be, anyone's hostage."

Miller's decision came after an emergency meeting on 1 March with Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister Jaroslaw Kalinowski (PSL) and Deputy Prime Minister and Infrastructure Minister Marek Pol (Labor-Union, UP) failed to patch up the coalition's policy differences. Now, the SLD-UP bloc controls 212 votes in the 460-seat Sejm, i.e., it is 19 votes shy of an outright majority. Polish commentators suggest that the SLD-UP minority government can count on parliamentary support from four lawmakers of the Peasant Conservative Party, two lawmakers of the German minority, and some eight nonaligned deputies. But these votes also do not add up to the 231-vote majority.

Despite this lack of safe legislative support, however, Miller's cabinet appears to be well-set to survive at least until the parliamentary budget debate by the end of this year. To depose the current government in the so-called constructive vote of no confidence, the Sejm would have to build up a new coalition and mobilize 231 votes in its support. Under the current array of forces in the Sejm, such an option is highly improbable. Another option for a political turnaround, the self-dissolution of the Sejm, needs a two-thirds majority to be approved, which is also quite unlikely. However, if the government fails to convince the parliament to pass the 2004 budget, the president may dissolve the parliament, and an early parliamentary election may be held already in March 2004.

What remains at stake in the near future, however, is the outcome of a referendum in June on Poland's membership in the European Union. Polls show that a majority of Poles will vote in favor of the country's entry into the EU, but there are serious worries that turnout may fall below 50 percent, thus casting doubts on the validity of the plebiscite. If the PSL, which has so far not taken an official stance on how it will behave toward the EU referendum, joins anti-EU forces in Poland, the government's hopes to win the EU referendum will become much dimmer.

On 3 March, Miller designated Adam Tanski as new agriculture minister to replace Kalinowski and Czeslaw Slezak as new environment minister to replace Stanislaw Zelichowski from the PSL. Tanski and Slezak reportedly have no party affiliation. President Aleksander Kwasniewski approved the nominations and assured Miller's cabinet of his unceasing support. "We must act efficiently and with competence and together seek allies. We also must not confine ourselves to the ruling circles exclusively but also to extra-governmental and opposition circles. I believe that Mr. Miller and his government will make such efforts so that we will implement those tasks and pass those difficult exams that Poland is facing as best as we can," Kwasniewski said.

Miller confirmed on 3 March that Poland's EU entry remains a top priority of his government. "Our first task is to enter the European Union on favorable terms and to absorb EU aid efficiently," Polish Radio quoted him as saying on 3 March. "The second task concerns economic growth, so that we can fight recession and unemployment efficiently. The third task concerns specialization in areas that might become Poland's trump card -- I mean, above all, Polish culture and science. And finally, the last task concerns future perspectives for new generations, equal opportunities for their development." (Jan Maksymiuk)

CURRENCY UNION WITH RUSSIA: A PROJECT WITH DANGEROUS CONSEQUENCES. Ever since former Belarusian Prime Minister Vyacheslau Kebich first floated it in 1993, the idea of a currency union between Belarus and Russia has itself been a currency, helping to earn political capital in exchange for integrationist rhetoric. As such, though, it stood a small chance of implementation. This may now be changing. As promised by Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Minsk on 20 January, the union could become a reality by 2005.

What can possibly make the two countries forgo such an important part of their sovereignty as their national currently? The only economic reason is convenience: Currencies create obstacles to trade and tend to fluctuate, thus creating financial instability. Eliminating these inconveniences is practical, but it comes at a high cost. A tradable national currency enables the state to exercise monetary policy by controlling the quantity of money in circulation on its territory. That can level the effects of natural cycles of expansion and contraction on the country's economy. By reducing the money supply, the government decreases the purchasing power of its citizens, which cools economic activity and reduces inflation. Expansion of money supply stimulates the economy, but it also increases prices. If the national currency is surrendered and replaced by a currency union, the state's monetary policy is no longer independent. It is transferred to the central bank of another state or to a specially created central bank of the union.

In order to survive this surrender of monetary control, member countries of the common currency need to have economic cycles that move in similar phases. Otherwise, a monetary policy designed to constrain inflation in one country would create a recession in another, causing a drop in demand, output, and jobs. An illustration of this state is today's Germany, with the euro-zone interest rate too high for the German economy, which is experiencing a recession. The union also needs to permit free movement of labor to allow workers from depressed areas to move to booming ones and a common fiscal budget to allow for the direct transfer of cash from economies in expansion to those in recession. These factors, the existence of which make up what is known as an optimal currency zone, determine the success of the common-currency undertaking.

At this time, it is impossible to know if Belarus and Russia qualify as an optimal currency zone. While Russia, with all its faults, is already a market economy with a relatively independent central bank capable of implementing modern monetary policy, the Belarusian economy is still entirely state-controlled. Not only does it not have institutions for implementing monetary policy, it does not have an economy that would react to that policy one way or another -- Belarus is still to experience its first business cycle. Its economy follows the cycle of administrative distribution and centralized price setting rather than fluctuations of demand and supply that are natural to a market economy. The National Bank of Belarus is fully subordinate to the president's administration for which monetary policy means printing money to ease the fate of loss-making state industries and agricultural companies and thus support political constituencies associated with them. Predictably, this policy has produced only one result, an inflation rate that was the fifth-highest in the world in the past decade, on par with Angola and Congo, and second-highest in 1999-2000. Moscow's refusal to delegate any monetary authority, let alone the emission center, to such an inflation-prone government is easy to understand.

Few currency unions, however, are created for purely economic purposes. Indeed, the majority, including the euro-zone, have been created for political reasons. In the case of the euro-zone, those reasons were France's and Germany's hopes to influence each other's economic policy via a common currency, which coincided with the desire of the new generation of politicians from the south to import German financial discipline. Any monetary tightening will be accompanied by job losses in many parts of the electorate, so new leaders in Southern Europe have found it easier to impose austerity, if it came as a requirement of the popular process of European integration, rather than a domestic policy that was guaranteed to be unpopular.

Unlike its Southern European counterparts, the Belarusian government did not mean to import Russian economic management. Rather, it walked into its own trap. The unification project still generates much political capital among the Russian electorate, but the problem for Putin has been its unacceptable cost. The currency union, or, realistically, the absorption of the Belarusian ruble into the Russian one, would be an elegant solution that would generate political capital with little economic cost. It would engage Belarusian businesses and state enterprises into the Russian financial system, limiting the Belarusian regime's control over their ultimate ownership. It is not coincidental that discussions about a common currency intensified simultaneously with Russian attempts to gain Belarusian industrial assets.

It is this potential to create political gain at little economic cost that suggests that this time the project may be seen to completion. Consequences for Belarus would be dramatic. On the one hand, the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka would be certainly weakened. It would be left without its main tool to maintain its political power base, the ability to print and inject generous amounts of cash into old industries. On the other hand, this weakening would hardly help Belarusian independence. Besides the monetary tools, economies are also managed by fiscal instruments, which, in the case of Belarus, have always belonged to its neighbor. Subsidized energy prices are a pure form of fiscal transfer to the state-owned Belarusian economy and, as such, the most powerful fiscal instrument one can imagine. The transfer of the monetary power over Belarus to Moscow would also be logical.

After all, it is possible that Belarus and Russia are indeed an optimal currency zone and that, integrated into the Russian financial market and privatized by Russian oligarchs, Belarus would quickly catch up to the Russian economic cycle. Labor mobility is also conceivable, and fiscal reign over Belarus already belongs to Russia. But the consequences for Belarus, as a country, would be dramatic: Incorporation of its economy into the Russian realm would create firm grounds for subsequent political incorporation. This is exactly why it is so attractive to expansionists in the East.

This report was written by Siarhej Karol, a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies who currently works at AIG, a global financial-services company.

OPPOSITION TO REVIVE EFFORTS TO TOPPLE KUCHMA. A congress of opposition legislators of all levels in Kyiv on 2 March called on Ukrainians to take part in protests to depose the current ruling regime. The congress, which attracted some 2,000 people (including 1,405 opposition deputies as delegates), was organized by the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc. Deputies from Our Ukraine, including its leader Viktor Yushchenko, attended the congress as guests.

The three opposition parties are planning on 9 March to renew their 2002 "Rise Up, Ukraine!" campaign, which was intended to force President Kuchma to resign from his post and to call early presidential elections in the country. In an adopted declaration, the three parties pledged to organize "local headquarters of the unified opposition forces" in order to coordinate antigovernment actions at the regional level and to establish a regional network of "people's control" over the authorities.

Another adopted declaration calls for the consolidation of opposition forces. "We declare the consolidation of opposition forces at present and for subsequent political steps," the document reads. The document, however, was not signed by Our Ukraine. Our Ukraine is reportedly planning to organize a separate congress of opposition forces in early April. It is clear that Yushchenko does not want to identify himself too closely with the radical slogans of the Communists, the Socialists, and the Tymoshenko Bloc, as well as with their drive to get rid of Kuchma at any cost. Most likely, Yushchenko does not believe in the success of the "Rise Up, Ukraine!" campaign, i.e., in ousting Kuchma before the end of his term, and is positioning himself for the regular presidential election in 2004.

Addressing the congress, Yushchenko called on opposition forces to unite "at any price," UNIAN reported. He did not say, however, whether Our Ukraine would take part in the restarted anti-Kuchma campaign and reacted coldly to the proposal that Our Ukraine together with the three opposition groups ignore President Kuchma's annual address to the Verkhovna Rada and fail to appear in the session hall during Kuchma's speech. "The best thing at this congress would be to speak from the rostrum in the language of reason," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website quoted Yushchenko as saying at the 2 March gathering of opposition lawmakers. "Let emotions speak on the streets. Now we must take every opportunity to speak about what unites us."

Yuliya Tymoshenko told journalists that the problem of fielding a joint presidential candidate from the opposition will be tackled only after the official announcement of a presidential race.

Meanwhile, as if to counterbalance the propagandistic impact of the opposition congress on 2 March, presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk told last week's issue of the Kyiv-based "2000" weekly that if he wanted to gather all deputies of all levels who belong to his Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o), he would need a stadium. According to Medvedchuk, the SDPU-o has some 10,000 legislators of all levels, beginning with the Verkhovna Rada and ending with rural councils.

Medvedchuk also told the weekly that, as regards the executive branch, the SDPU-o has two ministers, three oblast governors, and 166 district heads.

"The authorities today are as strong as never before," Medvedchuk noted. "I will put it this way: The more active the opposition is, the more effective and powerful the authorities become." (Jan Maksymiuk)

"Chirac's France is obsessively seeking to gain the status of a superpower. This is the reason for [its] anti-American gestures; impudent reprimands to the Poles, the Bulgarians, or the Hungarians; and exotic alliances with the Third World's dictatorships. The French people are aware that, of course, they are a superpower, but only in production of wine, just as Belgium is a chocolate superpower. However, they continue daydreaming about being a superpower. But in actual fact, by manifesting its extreme arrogance, Paris has revealed its deeply set complexes." -- The Polish weekly "Wprost" on 2 March, commenting on French President Jacques Chirac's impolite criticism last month of candidates for EU membership from Central and Eastern Europe for their support to the U.S. policy with regard to Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2003).