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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: June 25, 2003

25 June 2003, Volume 5, Number 24
A VARIETY, EVEN IF SMALL. The Main Statistics Office (GUS) published the results of Poland's 2002 national census on its official website ( on 16 June. The census, conducted between 21 May and 8 June 2002, was the first one in postcommunist Poland and, in addition, the first one in Poland after World War II to include a question about ethnicity (narodowosc) of inhabitants. The GUS provided the following definition of ethnicity in the census questionnaire: "Ethnicity is a declarative (based on a subjective sentiment) individual trait of every person that expresses his/her emotional, cultural, or genealogical (because of the parents' background) linkage to a certain nation."

The census found that Poland's population totaled 38.23 million, including 96.74 percent Poles (36.98 million), 1.23 percent individuals who declared other ethnicity than Polish (471,500), and 2.03 percent individuals who did not declare any ethnicity (774,900). Assuming that the overwhelming majority of the people who failed to determine their ethnicity were of non-Polish origin (reasons for such an assumption are mentioned below), the census confirmed the estimates widely accepted in the precensus period that Poland's minorities account for roughly 3 percent of the total population.

As to why some people might choose not to disclose their ethnic origin (if it is different than Polish), there were various suppositions voiced by national-minority activists in Poland before the census (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 5 March 2002). In general, however, those activists argued that non-Poles would be afraid to declare their true ethnicity in the census for fear that their Polish acquaintances or neighbors might subsequently discriminate against them and their relatives in the office or at school. Needless to say, the advancing cultural and linguistic assimilation of minority groups and individuals in the Polish surroundings could also hamper the task of unambiguous ethnic self-identification for many people whose ancestors once belonged to non-Polish groups.

The breakdown of the census figures into individual minorities brought considerable surprises for statisticians and minority communities alike. It turned out that the largest minority group in Poland are Silesians -- 173,200 people declared this ethnicity to census takers. It was the first time that such a minority group was officially registered. GUS statisticians are apparently in doubt whether Silesians can be treated on a par with other ethnic groups in Poland (with Germans or Belarusians, for example), since they tend to avoid referring to Silesians as "narodowosc," using the term "spolecznosc" (community) instead.

In a comment to "Gazeta Wyborcza" on 17 June, ethnographer Dorota Simonides (born in Katowice, Silesia) said the census figure regarding Poland's Silesians reflects social rather than ethnic identification of some people living in Silesia, a heavily industrialized, coal-mining region in southern Poland. "I think it is a protest against the lack of interest in Silesia on the part of the government, against unemployment and the closure of coal mines," Simonides added.

But Arkadiusz Wuwer, a lecturer at the Theological Faculty of Silesian University in Katowice, told "Gazeta Wyborcza" a different story: "I regard myself as a Silesian not in spite of Poland or Germany but because it is my way of determining my identity. I have always thought that we move among stereotypes imposed by history, not realizing that in the times of pluralism we need to think in categories that are far from nationalism. It is possible to be a Silesian of Polish culture, but [it is also possible to be] a Silesian of German culture.... People understand this, and during the census they found the courage in themselves to say who they are. It is a consequence of the freedom in which we have been living since 1989."

Germans in Poland -- 152,900 people, according to the census -- constitute the second-largest minority group. The relevant figures for Belarusians (48,700) and Ukrainians (31,000) are far below the estimates that were typically cited by minority activists before the 2002 census -- 150,000-200,000 and 200,000-300,000, respectively.

However, Eugeniusz Wappa, head of the Belarusian Union (a minority organization of Polish Belarusians), told RFE/RL that he is satisfied with the number of Belarusians determined by the census. "The number of 50,000 Belarusians is a very good result given the conditions in which we live and the situation in which the census was taken," Wappa said. "It should also be taken into account that [Poland's] other minorities, in contrast to us, have strong support in their [cultural] fatherlands. We think that this result testifies to the fact that the real number of Belarusians living in Poland amounts to 100,000-150,000," he added, effectively suggesting that the category of citizens who failed to declare their ethnicity in the census included a sizeable group of Belarusians.

The number of declared Ukrainians is certainly very disappointing to this minority in Poland. But it should be taken into account that, owing to historical developments, Poland's Ukrainians were in a very difficult situation as regards the cultivation of their ethnic identity. In 1947, the communist authorities expulsed some 140,000 Ukrainians from their ethnic territory in southeastern Poland and dispersed them in northern and western areas, which were taken over by Poland after the collapse of Nazi Germany. Besides, Poland's communist propaganda considerably contributed to building the public stereotype of a Ukrainian as a rabid nationalist who hates Poland and Poles. Therefore, it is very likely than many Ukrainians preferred not to disclose their true ethnic identity to census takers for fear of future problems, either refusing to provide any information on it or declaring Polish origin.

Other minorities registered by the 2002 census in Poland were: Roma (12,900), Russians (6,100), Lemkos (5,900), Lithuanians (5,800), Kashubs (5,100), Slovaks (2,000), Jews (1,100), Armenians (1,100), and Czechs (800). It is worth noting here that the 2002 census results provide an "official recognition" to the existence of Lemkos in Poland, who have so far been regarded as a Ukrainian regional subgroup. While some Lemkos undeniably identify themselves as Ukrainians, there is also a movement among them claiming that Poland's Lemkos are a distinct ethnic group with a distinct language and, thus, a party in a broader effort of building the Rusyn national identity across several state frontiers (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 11 January 2000). (Jan Maksymiuk)

LUKASHENKA SEEMS TO BACKTRACK ON MONETARY UNION WITH RUSSIA. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 18 June that Belarus will agree to adopt the Russian ruble only if the measure contributes to "further economic progress" and raises living standards in the country, Belapan reported. Lukashenka also stressed that Belarus will commit itself to a monetary union with Russia only after all other Belarusian-Russian agreements regarding the union state are implemented. "One cannot introduce a [common] currency without having resolved the issues of [common] defense [and] foreign policies, parliamentary elections, the Supreme State Council, or the issue of [whether there should be a joint] president and vice president," Lukashenka said. He added that Belarus would not mind the common currency being printed solely in Russia, provided the printing is supervised by a Belarusian-Russian interbank council in which the two countries have equal powers.

Lukashenka's pronouncements appear to contradict a recently concluded preliminary agreement on the currency union, according to which Belarus was reportedly to have "limited control" over monetary policies in the Belarus-Russia Union. Such an agreement was reportedly worked out during a visit of Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin and Russian Central Bank Chairman Sergei Ignatev to Minsk on 8 June. Kudrin said then that two additional documents will be drawn up within two weeks. "After they are signed, it will be possible to talk about the readiness of the full package of documents that is to come into force on 1 January 2005 and ensure the introduction of the Russian ruble on the territory of the two states," he added.

Several days later, Belarusian National Bank deputy head Pyotr Kalaur unveiled some aspects of the reached accord. Kalaur said both the Belarusian National Bank and the Russian Central Bank would retain their status but the National Bank would have "limited control" over the printing of money as well as over exchange-rate and monetary policies. The Russian Central Bank would supply Belarus with ruble notes after 1 January 2005, and provide the country with an interest-free loan. The agreement would require the Russian Central Bank to coordinate monetary policy with the Belarusian National Bank, but the Russian side's decisions would prevail in issues that directly affect the stability of the ruble. The Belarusian National Bank would be allowed to set the base refinancing rate, buy treasury bills and foreign currencies, and carry out other transactions within limits set by the Russian Central Bank, which would be proportional to Belarus's GDP, currently accounting for 4.1 percent-4.2 percent of the combined GDPs of Belarus and Russia. Kalaur said Belarus may ratify the agreement only after amending its constitution.

"We have been offered to set up an interbank council of nine people -- eight Russians and one Belarusian, or of 10 people -- nine Russians and one Belarusian. Pardon my saying, but nobody needs such a council," Lukashenka said on 18 June, stressing that the council supervising the printing of the union currency should be established on a parity basis. The Belarusian president went even further. "I strongly request -- since this is the most important issue, this is an issue of life and death, this is an issue of sovereignty -- that our opposition express its point of view [regarding the monetary union with Russia]," Lukashenka said. "There are two or three reasonable men in the opposition. Take [former National Bank Chairman] Stanislau Bahdankevich.... Irrespective of our attitude toward him, this man has his own point of view."

Bahdankevich subsequently told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service that he advised Lukashenka not to introduce the Russian ruble in Belarus, particularly since the Belarusian ruble is becoming more and more stable and can function as a quite viable currency.

While it is highly unlikely that Moscow will allow Minsk to have a real say in printing the Russian ruble, it appears that Lukashenka's current battle of words over the currency union is aimed at obtaining as many concessions from the Kremlin in the planned monetary merger as possible. Particularly since Lukashenka's statement seemed to have been coordinated with a "controlled leak" of information about a recent "secret mission" of Belarusian Academy of Science Chairman Mikhail Myasnikovich in Washington.

The Moscow-based "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 11 June reported that Lukashenka sent Myasnikovich to Washington earlier the same month to counter Moscow's "serious psychological pressure" on Lukashenka in the negotiations on the currency union. Thus, the newspaper concluded, Minsk wanted to create an illusion that it is conducting secret talks with Washington on changing the "vector" of Lukashenka's policies more Westward.

The Stratfor intelligence group, referring to sources in the Belarusian government, reported on 16 June that Myasnikovich visited Washington and met senior U.S. officials on 7-10 June. According to Stratfor, Lukashenka promised through Myasnikovich not to sell Belarusian arms to "countries of U.S. concern," create investment preferences for U.S. companies in Belarus, and not to crack down on the opposition as long as it does not turn violent. In return, Lukashenka reportedly asked Washington to exclude Belarus from its "target list," cease anti-Belarus propaganda, and stop support of the Belarusian opposition.

The Belarusian independent weekly "Nasha Niva" commented on 22 June that Myasnikovich's U.S. trip may signal that Washington has begun to work out a new strategy of its relations with Minsk. "It is not important who leaked the information [about Myasnikovich's talks in Washington] -- Minsk, which wants to blackmail Moscow; Washington, which wants to spoil relations between Belarus and Russia; or Moscow, which wants to show that it is in the know," "Nasha Niva" wrote. "It is important that the United States agreed to this visit and to the talks that earlier seemed simply impossible, and that the Belarusian authorities made a step that seemed impossible not so long ago."

The U.S. Embassy in Minsk said on 23 June that Myasnikovich did not met with any U.S. officials during his visit to Washington, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. (Jan Maksymiuk)

WILL KUCHMA OUTWIT OPPOSITION WITH CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM? President Leonid Kuchma submitted a modified version of his constitutional-reform bill to the Verkhovna Rada on 20 June, as he pledged in a televised address to the nation the previous day. Kuchma told the nation that, guided by the public discussion of the reform draft and his will to find a compromise with Ukrainian political forces, he decided to scrap some of his earlier proposals. Opposition activists claim, however, that in pursuing the constitutional reform, Kuchma is still seeking to prolong his term in power beyond 2004.

Kuchma withdrew his earlier suggestions to introduce a bicameral legislature, reduce the number of deputies, and apply the results of national referendums directly, without seeking approval from any other branch of government. "It is these three contentious points that have spurred the most heated discussion between the president and his opponents," Kuchma said on television. "But we have no right to continue to engage in a tug of war to mark time, which is why I have removed these barriers."

As earlier, Kuchma suggests that the prime minister be appointed by parliament after his candidacy has been proposed by a "permanently functioning parliamentary majority" and submitted to the Verkhovna Rada by the president. The Verkhovna Rada should also appoint all ministers except for the foreign minister, the defense minister, and the interior minister, who are to be appointed by the president. Under Kuchma's constitutional-reform bill, the president has also the right to appoint the heads of the Security Service, the State Customs Committee, the State Tax Administration, and the State Border Committee.

The new bill stipulates that the president has the right to disband parliament if it fails to create a permanent majority within one month; if a new cabinet composition has not been approved for 60 days after the resignation of the preceding government; and if parliament fails to approve Ukraine's budget for the next year by 1 December.

The new bill also retains Kuchma's previous proposal that the president, parliamentarians, and local deputies be elected for five-year terms in elections held in the same calendar year. "Ukraine needs a stable electoral cycle, because one cannot regard as normal the practice where society only passes from one electoral campaign to another, while politicians literally never leave the electoral barricades," Kuchma said. "I believe that elections should be held once in five years. This is quite enough.... I have repeatedly stressed and I want to stress it again: the next presidential election should be held in 2004."

However, Kuchma did not tell television viewers how he envisages switching to this new electoral cycle. But Ukrainian print media highlighted a provision in the bill stating that the Verkhovna Rada must approve a date for the first such elections within two months of the constitutional reforms' passage. According to some Ukrainian observers, the provision is a clear indication that Kuchma is seeking to outwit the opposition and prolong his term in power beyond 2004. While constitutional amendments require 300 votes for passage, the approval of a bill setting the date for the next presidential elections (as well as parliamentary and local ones) would require just 226 votes -- well within the reach of the pro-Kuchma parliamentary majority. And this date, Kuchma's opponents argue, may be set for 2005, 2006, or even 2007.

The Socialist Party has launched the collection of signatures among lawmakers under a petition requesting the Constitutional Court to rule whether Kuchma may run for a third presidential term. On the other hand, Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine called on lawmakers to introduce a moratorium on making constitutional amendments until 2006, when a regular parliamentary election is to take place. It seems that Our Ukraine has finally decided that it is not going to take part in reforming the constitutional system as long as Kuchma is in power. Without Our Ukraine's participation in the process, it is rather unlikely that the pro-Kuchma forces in the parliament will be able to muster 300 votes necessary for the passage of the Kuchma-submitted bill, especially as the Socialist Party and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc are sponsoring a different constitutional-reform bill.

The weekly "Zerkalo nedeli" in its 21-27 June issue commented sarcastically on Kuchma's recent constitutional-reform proposal by saying that the number of scenarios allowing him to remain in power longer than two terms is constantly increasing. The weekly cited four such scenarios.

Scenario 1: The Constitutional Court rules that the Kuchma may run for a third term since he was elected in 1994 and 1999 under different constitutions (Ukraine promulgated its current constitution in 1996, when Kuchma was serving his first time). Thus, under the 1996 constitution, Kuchma is formally serving his first term.

Scenario 2: The Verkhovna Rada passes the constitutional-reform bill proposed by Kuchma and the pro-presidential majority subsequently schedules the next presidential election well beyond 2004.

Scenario 3: The Verkhovna Rada passes the constitutional-reform bill proposed by Kuchma, a new president is elected in 2004 for a transition period until 2006 or 2007, when the country is to enter the five-year electoral cycle. Kuchma does not participate in the 2004 election but chooses to run again in 2006 or 2007. The Ukrainian Constitution prohibits one person from serving more than two consecutive presidential terms, but it does not restrict the number of presidential terms for the same person!

Scenario 4: A new president and new parliament are elected in 2004. The parliament fails to form a permanent parliamentary majority or a cabinet, or to approve a budget within constitutional terms, and the president disbands it. And this automatically means that a new election cycle is to be launched in the country, and Kuchma obtains the possibility to run once again.

"It is simply amazing how it is possible for one to go hunting so many at the same time," "Zerkalo nedeli" wrote. "Will the 450 potential hunters [lawmakers] ever become tired of being game?" the weekly marveled. A good question, indeed. (Jan Maksymiuk)

"President Kuchma wants to obtain support from foreign partners and he has a 'way' with each of them. In dealing with the United States, he pretends that he wants Ukraine to join NATO. In dealing with Russia, he pretends that he wants Ukraine to fully integrate with this country. And in dealing with Poland, he pretends that he desires full reconciliation.... It will be very bad if Ukraine's current leadership, which has tiny social support, chooses to close the problem of the Volhynia tragedy in such a light-hearted way." -- Yuliya Tymoshenko in an interview with "Rzeczpospolita" on 24 June, commenting on the planned Ukrainian-Polish commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Volhynia massacres.