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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: May 27, 2003

27 May 2003, Volume 5, Number 20
LEPPER WANTS TO TAKE A CHANCE. Andrzej Lepper was re-elected as chairman of the Self-Defense farmers union at its congress in Warsaw on 24 May. Lepper, who was the only candidate to the post, was supported by 1,714 delegates in a secret ballot; only 14 delegates voted against him. "Self-Defense wants to take over power -- we have a program, and I'll do everything for our party to survive, and not become ephemeral," Lepper said after the ballot result was announced.

Lepper became a prominent political figure in the 1990s, primarily because of his fiercely populist rhetoric and nationwide road blockades organized by Self-Defense activists to protest government economic policies. Many of those protests were accompanied by clashes between farmers and police. In the 2001 parliamentary election, Self-Defense won 53 mandates in the 460-seat Sejm (obtaining 10.2 percent of the vote nationally) and came third after the leftist Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Union bloc (41 percent) and the centrist Civic Platform (12.7 percent). Since then, 15 deputies have abandoned the Self-Defense parliamentary caucus, primarily because of Lepper's authoritarian ways in running his party. On the other hand, the popularity of Lepper and Self-Defense among the electorate has significantly grown. Recent surveys show that Self-Defense can count on 15 percent to 20 percent support, while backing for the ruling Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Union has nearly halved since 2001.

"It is time for a new force. Give Self-Defense a chance," Lepper said at the congress in his programmatic speech. He promised that after Self-Defense takes over power, "there will be no fights for food on garbage dumps in Poland." He also pledged to the Poles: "We shall not deceive you. Self-Defense is an opportunity and we must not waste it. Let's put the Polish Republic right. Poland and the Poles are waiting for our wise, radical, and decisive actions."

According to Lepper, the erroneous financial policies pursued by all Polish governments since 1989 must end. He said he wants to rescue the ailing economy by tapping the 27.5 billion zlotys ($7.5 billion) from the National Bank's revaluation reserve and allocating a part of this sum to the printing of money. "Yes, print it, for the development of industry and farming, small and medium enterprises, for the creation of jobs," he said.

Lepper also said he wants to take money for sponsoring his planned reforms from Poland's $31 billion hard-currency reserve. According to him, this money is currently deposited in foreign banks at 1 percent-2 percent interest rates, while at the same time "the country is indebting itself, taking $2 billion of credits each year at a far higher interest rate." Lepper also wants to save money from the abolition of at least 50 percent of the currently existing government offices, agencies, and funds. "They are costing us 40 billion zlotys annually," he added.

Another way for finding money -- 12 billion zlotys according to Lepper's estimates -- is taxing foreign hypermarkets in Poland. "Our shopkeepers and traders barely get to open some little shack or boutiques and already there are taxes and burdens, Social Welfare Agency contributions, and before they have managed to start activity, they have already gone bankrupt. [The hypermarkets] on the other hand just come along and they have it fine in Poland," he explained.

Lepper did not miss the opportunity to slam one more time his deadly enemy, National Bank Governor Leszek Balcerowicz. According to the Self-Defense leader, the current law on the Polish National Bank (NBP) allows the NBP head to remain unanswerable to anybody. "He is making fun of us," Leper said about Balcerowicz. Lepper declared that he is ready to give all his parliamentary allowances so as "to send Balcerowicz to Iraq." Last week's "Polityka" reported that Self-Defense wants to amend the law on the NBP by stipulating that the NBP's principal task is to form and implement the state monetary policy, not to keep stable prices, as laid down in the current legislation. Also, Lepper's party reportedly wants to deprive the NBP Supervisory Board of the right to manage bank reserves and give this right to the Monetary Policy Council, which in its turn should seek the Sejm's approval for its policies on a yearly basis.

Turning to foreign policy, Lepper said Self-Defense is against Poland's entry into the European Union on the terms negotiated by the Polish government. He warned the EU that when Poland finds itself in the union, any unequal treatment of Warsaw on the part of Brussels will be "the beginning of the end of the European Union."

Lepper declared the readiness to cooperate with all countries, making a particular emphasis on Poland's neighbors in the east: Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. He warned diplomatic representatives of these countries who were present at the congress that they should not follow the Polish road in reforming their economies because, he stressed, this road "has brought us to the edge of the precipice."

Referring to Poland's involvement in Iraq, Lepper said Self-Defense "was, is, and will be against Poland's participation in any kind of occupation war in Iraq." Lepper acknowledged that one of the beneficiaries of Poland's support for the United State over Iraq may be President Aleksander Kwasniewski who, according to the Self-Defense leader, is counting on "posts in the United Nations and in NATO." (Jan Maksymiuk)

OSCE STUDIES POSSIBLE RUSSIAN, BELARUSIAN ARMS DEAL WITH IRAQ. A senior official from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) says letters discovered in Iraq about apparent weapons deals with Saddam Hussein's regime by private Russian and Belarusian firms appear to be authentic.

After an initial review of the documents, Daan Everts, the special representative of the OSCE's Dutch chairman, told RFE/RL: "I have little doubt about their authenticity. From Russia, we know that there are elements involved in this. Also Moldova."

Everts did not elaborate. He was speaking last week on the sidelines of an OSCE forum in Prague on trafficking. He said the materials must go through "proper channels" and studied carefully before any definitive conclusions are announced.

United Nations sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 prohibited the sale of weapons to Baghdad.

A spokesman for the OSCE Secretariat, Alexander Nitzsche, said the documents have been formally passed to the Russian government. "We have received the documentation submitted to us and it has been handed over [by the Dutch chairmanship of the OSCE] to the Russian delegation, which is present here at the OSCE economic forum," Nitzsche said. "You'll have to understand that this documentation has to be reviewed very carefully and thoroughly before any assessment can be made. And no doubt, a similar assessment will be taking place by the U.S. delegation. I understand this has also been sent up the chain to the United States."

Nitzsche told RFE/RL the OSCE intends to pass copies of the documents to the Belarusian government as well.

During the closing press conference at the OSCE's Prague forum on 23 May, Everts said the letters also will be sent to a United Nations' committee on sanctions violations, which he described as the "appropriate committee" to determine the authenticity of the documents and deal with the issue.

Members of Russia's OSCE delegation at the Prague forum declined a request on 23 May from RFE/RL for a recorded interview about the documents. But Anvar Azimov, deputy director of the European Cooperation Department within Russia's Foreign Ministry, said the Kremlin will study the materials closely and "respond in an appropriate manner in due time."

One OSCE official told RFE/RL that the documents "hit the nail on the head" in regard to the complicated issue of how to combat illegal weapons trafficking. The OSCE official said the materials have "stirred up a hornet's nest" behind the scenes at this week's forum in Prague.

The letters, dated June and July 2001, were obtained by RFE/RL from an Iraqi Republican Guard facility in Baghdad shortly after it was captured by U.S. troops in early April. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz was embedded with those troops and was able to roam freely within the walled compound of the Republican Guard motor pool and monitor the discovery of documents and other materials there.

One letter was written in English on the letterhead of FTW Systems Ltd., a private Moscow-based firm with a post-office box in Nicosia, Cyprus.

That letter contains a signature reading "Colonel General Vladislav Achalov, Representative of the Company." Achalov was a Soviet-era deputy defense minister who made several widely publicized private trips to Iraq in the months and years before the recent war in Iraq.

The letter offers prices in a proposed multimillion-dollar deal on new gun barrels for Soviet-built T-72 tanks, along with hundreds of new engines and heavy machine guns for BTR armored troop carriers. It also includes the promise of a guarantee from the state-owned Russian weapons manufacturer.

The other document appears to be a copy of a fax written in Russian on the letterhead of the Barysau Repair Factory -- a subsidiary of the Belarusian Defense Ministry -- and signed by that state plant's director, V.F. Sakatch. Addressed to private Belarusian businessman V.S. Rachkevich, it purportedly details three issues that were under negotiation as part of a proposed program for the exchange of military expertise and hardware. On the back, a handwritten comment in Arabic says: "Send a delegation in August."

Both Achalov and Rachkevich admit to having visited Iraq recently but deny involvement in any weapons deals. Some officials in Belarus allege the documents were planted by U.S. intelligence agents to discredit the government in Minsk.

Rachkevich told RFE/RL that some of his business competitors in Iraq may have forged the documents and left them at the Iraqi motor pool before the arrival of U.S. troops.

Independent experts on weapons trafficking who presented research at last week's OSCE forum also reviewed the letters and offered mixed reactions.

Phil Williams, an economics professor in graduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh, viewed the materials just before he told the OSCE forum that it is a myth that governments are interested in trying to stop arms trafficking. Williams told the forum delegates that his research shows many governments are more interested in promoting arms sales than stopping illegal deals.

"Very often, governments don't give stopping trafficking a high priority. There are all sorts of geopolitical considerations which come into play. There are domestic political considerations that come into play. And these things mean that there is a lot of rhetoric that isn't always backed up by substantive measures," Williams said.

After examining the letters yesterday, Williams offered his assessment. "None of this surprises me," he said. "I think it fits the pattern of what we have seen. I mean, what we have here are basically states which really don't have much to offer in terms of competitive exports except arms and some of the expertise that goes with it. So it is very natural, given the constraints they are under, given the limited foreign direct investment, that they take this opportunity."

But Thomas Naylor, a professor of economics at McGill University in Montreal, told RFE/RL he automatically views such documents with suspicion. Naylor, who specializes in black-market smuggling and international financial crime, said letters on arms deals are often faked by intelligence agencies as acts of "black propaganda."

"So, assuming they are real, you have here some evidence of private-sector contraband trade. Undoubtedly, because it's military, it is being monitored to some degree by the intelligence services, probably of several different sides. Because most arms deals, especially when they are black-market deals, are being monitored by the intelligence services," he said.

Naylor described the proposals in the letters found in Iraq as relatively insignificant. "I wouldn't at all be surprised if the American intelligence services were fully aware of this all along and decided to let it go through. After all, most of this stuff doesn't seem to be particularly dangerous or lethal anyway. It's standard equipment. So what? That's my reaction," he said.

Hundreds of thousands of documents from the archives of Saddam Hussein's regime still await review by international monitors and foreign intelligence services.

RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz wrote this report.

SPOT THE REFORMERS. In the last decade, a sizeable body of academics and a larger number of journalists have written negatively about Rukh and the national democrats in Ukraine. National democrats are usually described as "nationalists" who are hostile to both Russia and Russians within Ukraine.

Such views have been supported within academia because of the dominance of former Sovietologists turned Russian specialists. Another factor is that Western media are still largely based only in Moscow, as it was in the former USSR, from where they cover the entire CIS. Kyiv had a large number of journalists from most Western English-language newspapers in the early 1990s but this has dwindled to only the "Financial Times." Western correspondents in Kyiv were never salaried (which was reserved for Moscow) but merely stringers.

The newly published 300-page volume by Mikhail Molchanov entitled "Political Culture and National Identity in Russian-Ukrainian Relations" (College Station, TX: Texas A & M University Press, 2002) follows in this tradition. The volume paints a picture of a radical, anti-Russian nation-building project in Ukraine that is "ghettoizing" Russians (p.200). Ukraine's nation-building project is allegedly copying the assimilationist French model. The "nationalist diaspora," which returned to Ukraine in the early 1990s, "now spearheads the so-called national-democratic right in parliament" (p.182). Rukh is, of course, deemed to be a rabid "nationalist" organization (p.93).

Molchanov and this earlier tradition of scholars and journalists have been unable to grapple with what is the centrality of those they disparage as "nationalists" (i.e., national democrats) to blocking Ukraine's advance towards corporatist authoritarianism. They are also the main hope for Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration. In addition, the picture they paint is untrue. Between the 1989 Soviet and 2001 Ukrainian censuses the proportion of Ukrainians giving Ukrainian as their "native language" declined by 2 percent. Meanwhile, the only deaths from ethnic violence in Ukraine have been a Ukrainian singer in Lviv and Tatars in the Crimea, which in both cases were at the hands of Russian speakers.

Ukraine's political spectrum conveniently falls into three camps. The center-right national democrats, oligarchic-controlled centrists and the left (moderate Socialists and neo-Stalinist Communists, the KPU). The entire opposition are in different ways opposed to the creeping authoritarianism supported by the executive. The KPU, though, refused to support the protests that arose out of the "Kuchmagate" crisis in November 2000 and backed the oligarchs in voting no confidence in the Viktor Yushchenko government in April 2001. Former Prosecutor-General and KPU deputy Mykhaylo Potebenko provided the key one additional vote that gave the pro-presidential majority the minimum 226 votes to elect presidential administration head Volodymyr Lytvyn as parliamentary chairman.

There is no doubt about the Socialist Party (SPU), led by Oleksandr Moroz, which has shown a wholehearted commitment to democratization and staunch opposition (unlike the KPU) to executive-driven authoritarianism and corruption. If ever there was a genuine leftist party in Ukraine deserved of an invitation to join the Socialist International, it is the SPU. The SPU, unlike the oligarchic Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o), was invited to the May congress of the German Social Democrats. Nevertheless, the SPU is not committed to market economic reform (including land reform) and Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration.

What then of the centrists as an alternative to "nationalists" (i.e., national democrats). In Ukraine there is not a single major centrist party that is not controlled by oligarchs. The last genuine centrist reformist party, Volodymyr Hrynyov's Inter-Regional Bloc of Reforms (which was part of Leonid Kuchma's 1994 election bloc and the failed SLON bloc in the 1998 elections), was absorbed by the oligarchic Popular Democratic Party (NDP) in 2001, led by discredited former Prime Minister Valery Pustovoytenko.

Oligarchs have either captured established, dormant centrist parties (e.g., the Green Party, PZU) or launched internal coup d'etats and gained control of parties by pushing out genuine reformers (e.g., SDPU-o and NDP). Reformers who were pushed out of the SDPU-o and the NDP moved to the national democrats. Other centrist parties were created from scratch, such as the Agrarians (AU), Labor Ukraine (TU), and Regions of Ukraine (RU).

These centrist parties have three factors in common. First, many of them are Russian-speaking, making them more similar to the KPU than the Ukrainophone SPU and national democrats. The two exceptions are the AU and the NDP. Nearly all of the newspapers created by centrist parties are in Russian (e.g., "Kievskii telegraf" and "Fakty" by the TU, "Segodnya" by RU, and "Kievskie vedomosti" by SDPU-o).

Second, all of them are pro-presidential. This means they prefer the authoritarian political system increasingly evident in Ukraine during Kuchma's second term in office since 1999. This reflects the strong domination of Soviet political culture found among them, which prefers a "hybrid" system combining elements of the Soviet and Western political-economic systems. In the foreign domain this has translated into a vague and constantly shifting "multivector" foreign policy.

Third, centrists are ideologically amorphous. Ideology plays second fiddle to short-term economic and political gain and power. Centrist parties are top-down fake parties with forcibly conscripted memberships.

What of former oligarchs who have turned against the executive? Both former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko and Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko joined the radical opposition. In both cases their parties, Hromada and Fatherland respectively, had no choice but to align themselves with the SPU and national democrats in populist opposition to centrist oligarchs.

Consequently, the only genuine political and economic reformist movement in Ukraine is the national-democratic Our Ukraine bloc led by Yushchenko. The popularity of the pro-Western reformist Our Ukraine, as seen in its victory in the 2002 elections, and Yushchenko's personal popularity, makes Ukraine different from all other CIS states. Without the national democrats Ukraine would be closer to an archetypal CIS state, such as Russia. More importantly, progress in Ukraine's reform process and integration into Euro-Atlantic structures is dependent on the "nationalist" national democrats. The SPU and Tymoshenko bloc are their allies in blocking centrist authoritarianism.

Centrists are the main driving force supporting an authoritarian regime in Ukraine. Sadly, there are no genuine centrist parties left who would stand in opposition to them.

This report was written by Dr. Taras Kuzio, resident fellow, Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto, and visiting fellow, Institute for Security Studies-EU, Paris.

"Thieves sit down with thieves on television and argue about which thief has stolen most from Poland." -- Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper at a Self-Defense congress on 24 May; quoted by PAP.

"[Gifted students] are a priceless treasure of our state. They are more precious than [our] oil, gas, forests, and potash fertilizers taken together." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 23 May; quoted by Belarusian Television.