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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: July 8, 2003

8 July 2003, Volume 5, Number 26

The next issue of "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" will appear on 22 July 2003.
IPN REPORTS ON INVESTIGATION INTO VOLHYNIA MASSACRES. The National Remembrance Institute (IPN) on 1 July held a conference titled "The Crimes of Ukrainian Nationalists Committed Against the Polish population in 1939-1948 in the Light of Investigations Conducted by IPN Prosecutors." The proceedings of the conference were subsequently published on the IPN website ( One of the three reports presented at the conference touched upon an investigation into the crimes committed by Ukrainian nationalists against Poles living in Volhynia (now northwestern Ukraine) in 1939-45. The investigation is being conducted by the IPN's regional branch in Lublin. The conference took place 10 days before the planned reconciliation ceremony to commemorate the Poles of Volhynia in the Ukrainian village of Pavlivka on 11 July, which is to be attended by Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma.

"The fate of the Polish population of Volhynia and eastern Galicia doubtless made one of the most tragic pages in Polish history," IPN Chairman Leon Kieres said in opening the conference. "According to historians, from 75,000-90,000 Poles were killed due to operations of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army [UPA] in these regions. Some researchers say the number of victims could be even 100,000. Several hundred thousand people were forced to leave their own homes. Hundreds of Polish villages were totally destroyed. The UPA strove to remove Poles from the areas it regarded as indigenously Ukrainian. In the opinion of many historians, the goal pursued by the Ukrainian guerrillas was to destroy the Polish ethnic group in these areas, which can legally be categorized as genocide."

Prosecutor Piotr Zajac from the IPN branch in Lublin told the conference that the investigation into the Volhynia massacres is being conducted under Article 118 of Poland's Criminal Code, which pertains to genocide. He said the investigation is viewing two probable hypotheses regarding the reasons for the Volhynia massacres, which culminated in 1943. The first hypothesis assumes that the extermination of the Polish population in Volhynia was planned and prepared in advance by the leadership of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and its military arm, the UPA, and subsequently carried out by UPA units, groups of Ukrainian self-defense, and Ukrainian peasants. The goal of the action was to physically liquidate all Poles in the area. The second hypothesis assumes that the OUN-UPA leadership intended to drive as many Poles as possible from Volhynia, without resorting to outright extermination, in anticipation of an independent Ukrainian state after the war and a plebiscite on which country, Poland or Ukraine, should possess the area. The massacres that ensued were neither planned nor accepted by the OUN-UPA leadership which, according to this version of events, lost control over the situation.

The third hypothesis -- suggesting that the carnage was initiated solely by local Ukrainian guerrilla commanders and not coordinated by the OUN-UPA center -- was dropped by investigators as not corroborated by investigation materials, Zajac said.

Zajac said the investigation will probably never establish the exact number of victims, since in many cases of manslaughter neither witnesses nor documents confirming them survived. By now, investigators have identified nearly 1,000 locations in Volhynia where killings and persecution of Poles took place. The estimated number of slain Poles stands between 50,000-60,000. "The final result of the action initiated by Ukrainian nationalists is beyond any doubt," Zajac noted. "The overwhelming majority of the Poles in the former Volhynia Voivodship either were killed or left those areas."

According to a 1939 census, Volhynia was inhabited by 1.4 million Ukrainians (68 percent), 346,000 Poles (16.6 percent), and 205,000 Jews (9.9 percent). The interethnic situation in prewar Volhynia was tense. The state-sponsored policy of assimilation of ethnic minorities (which accounted for some 30 percent of the total population) and the compulsory conversion of Orthodox Ukrainian peasants into Catholicism by the Border Protection Corps resulted in local sabotages and killings of Polish administration officials, policemen, and soldiers in September 1939, following the outbreak of the German-Polish war on 1 September and the "liberating" invasion of the Red Army into eastern Poland on 17 September.

According to the investigation, guerrilla groups -- both Soviet and Ukrainian nationalist -- first appeared in Volhynia in the autumn of 1942. The Ukrainian nationalist groups belonged to three military formations: the Ukrainian Insurgent Army commanded by Taras Bulba-Borovets (the "first" UPA" or UPA-Borovets), guerrilla groups led by the OUN-Melnyk faction (OUN-M), and guerrilla groups led by the OUN-Bandera faction (OUN-B). In 1943, the OUN-B renamed its guerrilla units into the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and subordinated UPA-Borovets and OUN-M groups to its command.

The culmination of anti-Polish actions by the OUN-UPA in Volhynia took place in July-August 1943, when some 17,000 people were killed. UPA regular units were supported by local Ukrainian peasants, armed mainly with pitchforks, axes, and scythes. The most tragic day was 11 July 1943, when the UPA attacked simultaneously some 80 Polish settlements in two districts -- Horochow and Wlodzimierz Wolynski -- of Volhynia (the Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation ceremony is to take place on this date). "In the light of gathered evidence, taking the decision by OUN-UPA leaders about the expulsion of all Poles from the eastern territories of prewar Poland -- and in the case of Volhynia, about the extermination of all Poles -- beyond any doubt," Zajac said. According to Polish investigators, the OUN central leadership decided in February 1943 to drive all Poles out of Volhynia, to obtain an "ethnically pure territory" in the postwar period. As regards the extermination of Poles in Volhynia, this decision was most likely made by OUN-B local leaders in Volhynia, without coordination with the OUN central leadership. Among those who were behind the decision, Polish investigators see Dmytro Klyachkivskyy, Vasyl Ivakhov, Ivan Lytvynchuk, and Petro Oliynyk.

Zajac said the Polish population of Volhynia sought protection from the onslaught by Ukrainian nationalists by joining Soviet partisans in the area (5,000-7,000 people) or German auxiliary police (some 2,000 people). The Home Army subordinated to the Polish emigre government in London began retaliatory actions against Ukrainians in Volhynia in late 1943. Zajac estimates that some 2,000 Ukrainians may have died as a result of that retaliation, which is far below the estimate of 20,000-30,000 people cited by Ukrainians historians. (Jan Maksymiuk)

BELARUS'S MOST EMINENT WRITER DIES. "His life is like a potted history of Belarus." So said Judith Vidal-Hall, editor of "Index on Censorship," on hearing of the death of Vasil Bykau, the most eminent Belarusian novelist of our time. Her comment was well-founded, as a brief resume of his biography shows.

Bykau was born on 19 June 1924, in the village of Bychki in Vitsebsk Oblast of the Belarusian SSR. After an education interrupted by poverty, he served, during World War II and for about a year afterwards, in the Soviet Army. That service provided themes for his writing for decades to come.

The "Great Patriotic War" was a popular theme for novelists throughout the Soviet Union. Most of their work, however, was thematically crude, focusing on grandiose plots and stereotyped characters: valiant Soviet soldiers and partisans, treacherous collaborators, evil Nazis. Bykau, however, probed the psychology of "ordinary" soldiers caught up in the horror of an extraordinary situation, and did not shrink from revealing either the grim realism of war, nor the brutality and horror of the Stalinist regime.

His stories immediately won wide popularity in Belarus, and were soon translated also into Russian. His literary reputation throughout the Soviet Union was established with "The Third Flare" (1962), and consolidated with subsequent works such as "The Dead Feel No Pain" (1965), "Alpine Ballad" (1966), "The Accursed Hill" (1968), "The Kruhlanski Bridge" (1969), "Sotnikau" (1970), "Obelisk" (1971), and "Pack of Wolves" (1981). Yet this "union-wide" reputation was not without its snags. The early Russian translations were, in Bykau's opinion, inadequate, so that eventually he felt obliged to produce his own Russian versions of his works, after their first publication in Belarusian. These Russian versions were then translated into a number of Western languages. Again, the literary quality of these versions was not always satisfactory. Moreover, the author's name was given on these works not as "Vasil Bykau," but under the Russian form of "Vasilii Bykov." As a result, "Bykov" was widely assumed abroad to be a Russian author writing in Russian -- a particularly galling fate for a Belarusian patriot like Bykau.

The popularity of Bykau's work with its readers did not, however, save him from the attentions of the Soviet censors and guardians of political correctness. Often the censorship forced him to make pettifogging changes, while critics accused him of "defaming the Soviet system." At the same time, the literary establishment could not ignore the quality of his work, and, as time went by, he was awarded a number of top Soviet prizes and honors.

Then came the Gorbachev era. Under the relaxations permitted in the name of glasnost and perestroika, Bykau was soon at the forefront of the Belarusian patriotic and cultural revival, becoming a prominent member of the pro-democracy, pro-independence Belarusian Popular Front, and of Martyraloh, the organization established to honor the victims of Stalin's purges in Belarus. And, when Belarus became independent, these activities intensified: Bykau became founder and president of the new Belarusian PEN Center, and also president of Batskaushchyna (Land of our fathers), the cultural organization uniting the Belarusian diaspora with the homeland.

But the election of Alyaksandr Lukashenka as president of Belarus in 1994 meant that such pro-Belarusian initiatives no longer had the approval of the ruling powers. Official policy now emphasized the "indebtedness" of Belarusian culture and traditions to Russia, the Belarusian language was de-emphasized and the more "cultured" Russian promoted, and Belarus was politically committed to "integration" with Russia in a "union state" that to patriots like Bykau threatened a loss of not only political independence for Belarus but also its national and cultural identity.

Government controls intensified and freedom of expression came increasingly under threat. Under Bykau's leadership, the Belarusian PEN Center fought these trends, issuing formal protests against the harassment of writers and editors and, in September 1995, hosting an international conference on freedom of expression. The government retaliated with various forms of bureaucratic harassment, and eventually evicted the PEN Center from its office in Minsk's "Writers' House."

The government's pressure increased, however, and at the end of 1998, Bykau left Belarus under the auspices of the "Cities of Refuge" scheme which provides a respite abroad for writers for whom the political situation in their own country is suffocating their creativity. He went first to Finland, then to Germany, and finally to the Czech Republic at the personal invitation of Czech President Vaclav Havel. What was to prove Bykau's last work, "The Long Way Home," appeared while he was already abroad. Meanwhile, in Belarus, Lukashenka put in his own appointees as editors of the leading literary journals and issued them with a list of writers whose works they must not publish -- with Bykau's name at the head.

Bykau constantly stressed, however, that he was abroad only "temporarily" and was not seeking political asylum. However, his health was declining, and in March he was operated on for cancer. As soon as he was sufficiently recovered, he returned to Belarus. Soon, though, he had to be hospitalized again. He died on 22 June, the anniversary of the outbreak of the German-Soviet war that played such an important role in his literary work.

His death posed a problem to the regime. Lukashenka found it necessary to express his condolences, but his message bore a subtext of political disapproval. The minister of culture attended the funeral ceremony but left when Bykau's family insisted on removing the Soviet-style "official" Belarusian flag from the memorial hall. And it was under the traditional and currently outlawed white-red-white flag of Belarus that Bykau's coffin was borne to its final resting place.

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

REFORMS STALL AS KYIV STRADDLES POLICIES OF EAST AND WEST. A chilly wind blew over Ukrainian-Western relations last autumn. Kyiv was accused of covertly selling military equipment to Iraq, and President Leonid Kuchma received a cold reception at the NATO summit in Prague.

But less than a year later, things appear to be on the mend. Ukraine is committing some 1,800 troops to peacekeeping efforts in Iraq. It has set its sights on membership in NATO and the European Union. The World Bank last week boosted slightly the country's credit rating, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has also praised Kyiv's pace on reforms.

But observers say little of substance has actually changed in Ukraine's political and economic life. Kyiv, they say, is still trying to strike a delicate balance between Russia and the West.

Roy Allison heads the Russia-Eurasia program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. He said any praise from the World Bank and IMF is worth celebrating, but such remarks can't hide the fact that Ukraine remains mired in economic inertia and reforms are slow-moving.

"As an environment for significant investment -- external investment, foreign investment -- Ukraine does not look very promising. Its political orientation is not seen as clear in foreign-policy terms. Some of the priorities are evident, but Kuchma is someone who seems to have lost the trust, I think, in many senses, of Western partners," Allison said.

The IMF has generally criticized drawbacks in Ukraine's tax system, as well as insufficient transparency in its privatization process and an underdeveloped banking sector. Allison said Kyiv has made little progress in these areas, and has made no headway in trying to better position itself to benefit from the 2004 EU enlargement. Concrete economic reforms in Ukraine, he said, are still a thing of the future.

Marius Vahl is an analyst with the Brussels-based Center for European Studies. He said the government is responsible for the delay in the reform process. "I mean, they are [conducting reforms] at a rhetorical level," he said. "But to a large extent they are not doing it in practical terms. And of course [the problem is] Kuchma's credibility -- [he's] been saying that he wants to do reforms for many, many years and quite little has been done, especially compared to most of [Ukraine's] neighbors."

Analysts agree that political instability remains a major obstacle to real change in Ukraine. The country remains polarized between pro-government groups and a diverse and sometimes fractious opposition. Kuchma's years in office have been marred by a series of political scandals and charges of serious abuses of power.

On the foreign-policy front, Kuchma remains attached to Russia -- Ukraine's paternalistic larger neighbor to whom Kuchma has repeatedly turned when ties with the West have weakened. The Ukrainian president is also currently serving as the chairman of the CIS council of heads of state, something that brings him further into the Eastern fold.

So why has Kuchma offered 1,800 Ukrainian troops for peacekeeping missions in Iraq following a war that Moscow stoutly opposed? Vahl of the Center for European Studies said Ukraine is trying to straddle two horses at once. "This should be seen in the context of the relationship between Russia, the West and the U.S. And the problem of the Ukrainian multivector policy -- which is the foundation of Ukrainian foreign policy -- [is trying] to do both: opening toward the West and opening toward the East, cooperating with the East at the same time. When Russia and the West are cooperating this becomes the natural extension for Ukraine," Vahl said.

Vahl said Kyiv, rather than adopting an independent policy of its own, is largely reactive -- adapting its stance to reflect broader changes made by the West and Russia.

Oleksandr Sushko is the director of the Center for Peace, Conversion, and Foreign Policy, a Kyiv-based think tank. He told RFE/RL that Ukrainian foreign policy functions like a pendulum. "We can find tendencies of pro-Western policy and also the tendencies which have the opposite character. There is no ground to say that this tendency will change in the next year," he said.

Sushko added that although economic growth may be increasing slightly, the general situation remains stagnant. "There is no foundation for a serious breakthrough. Serious changes can take place only when the character of power is changed, when the system is changed, when the main personalities leave the political scene. Without that, only cosmetic changes can occur and these are the changes that are taking place now," Sushko said.

Sushko said next year's presidential elections will be a critical test for the country. "It will be interesting to see if the authorities interfere with the election campaign or let it be free and fair. The elections will show the real direction the country is heading in -- not the fact we're sending peacekeepers to Iraq," he said

Kuchma completes his second term at the end of 2004, and is prohibited by the constitution from seeking a third. Elections are to be held in October.

RFE/RL correspondent Valentinas Mite wrote this report.

"I pose the question: Where are the guarantees that our state sovereignty will not be violated, that our people will be independent [after entering a currency union with Russia]? What is independence without money? And we have posed a great deal of other questions to the Russian side. But not all of them have been answered to us.... [I will negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin] so as not to do any harm whatsoever to the interests of our people, avoid the collapse of our economy [and prevent] the loss of this land, this forest, this territory on which our Belarusians live." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in an interview with Belarusian Television on 30 June, backing down on the planned currency merger with Russia; quoted by the Moscow-based "Izvestiya" on 2 July.

"We have refused to follow the IMF's prescription, that disastrous market theory, primarily because our society was not ready to accept all those sharp market transformations. Russia has followed that path, and you know the result.... We see what that disastrous privatization has led to -- enterprises were ruined, closed down.... Russia has been turned into a supplier of raw materials to the high-tech West and the United States.... Belarus has high-tech branches, we should develop them.... But the so-called oligarchs, who are already sharpening their sabers close to our borders and darting [greedy] glances at our enterprises, they are ready to grab these enterprises. Do you want them to come here [to Belarus] -- former physical-education teachers who have become billionaires, or former Komsomol functionaries who at the age of 30 own properties worth tens of billions?" -- Lukashenka in an interview with Belarusian Television on 30 June; quoted by the Moscow-based "Izvestiya" on 2 July.

"[Lukashenka's backing down on the currency merger with Russia] has not surprised me a bit. Lukashenka constantly cheats the Russian side. And the explanation for this is simple: Lukashenka does not need any union with Russia, because he wants to be an absolute dictator in his country. A union with Russia means a restriction of his dictatorship. The introduction of a single currency might become the beginning of the end of his dictatorship. And he realized this perfectly well. I think that Russia should conduct a policy of integration with Belarus but act simultaneously as the Americans behave toward the regimes that do not meet their obligations. That is, [to act] harshly. It is time to stop currying favor with him. If the president of Belarus drives our businesses out of his country, we need to take retaliatory measures. If he fails to meet his obligations regarding the transportation of [Russia] gas across his territory, we should sell him this gas not dirt cheap but for a full, market price. Then everything will immediately be put in its place." -- Russia's Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov; quoted by the Moscow-based "Novye izvestiya" on 2 July.