Accessibility links

Breaking News

Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: December 23, 2003

23 December 2003, Volume 5, Number 48

The next issue of "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" will appear on 13 January 2004.
A RIVAL FOR SLD? It is very likely that Poland is currently witnessing the creation of a new leftist or center-leftist political party, which may threaten the position of the ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). The emerging competitor is called the Ordynacka Association. It is now shaping its program and discussing whether to enter the world of politics and in what organizational form, or whether to remain a lobbyist.

The Ordynacka Association is an organization of former students who belonged, mainly in the 1970s and 1980s, to the Union of Polish Students (ZSP) and the Socialist Union of Polish Students (SZSP), as the ZSP was renamed during the era of Polish communist leader Edward Gierek. Ordynacka is the name of the street in Warsaw where the communist-era ZSP/SZSP had and the current ZSP has their headquarters. The ZSP was established in 1950 and operated at all Polish universities, gathering nearly 80 percent of all students. It organized cultural and sporting events as well as helped students find work and provided them with loans. However, it also cooperated with the Communist Party and government along ideological lines.

The Ordynacka Association, which is now led by Krzysztof Szamalek, was set up during its national congress in May 2001. The main declared goals of the association are as follows: creating conditions for the development of entrepreneurship and regional policies; promoting the idea of job training; pursuing constant education and taking part in cultural development; cooperating with student organizations, universities, and civic movements; supporting today's Union of Polish Students; developing cooperation among former students; and helping all members of the association.

Ordynacka is now mulling its future. A sign of the coming changes was the 27 October election of an association board, which replaced Ordynacka President Wieslaw Klimczak with Krzysztof Szamalek. The new board with President Szamalek was constituted owing to the growing number of advocates of increasing Ordynacka's political engagement. The association's rising political ambitions are focused on three strategic aims. First, in the nearest future, Ordynacka wants to create its organizational structures at the regional level and define a precise program. Second, it wants to undergo a baptism of fire by taking part in the June 2004 elections to the European Parliament. This will show the true popularity and public support of the organization. The third step, which may be of utmost importance for the political existence of Ordynacka, is its participation in the 2005 parliamentary elections in Poland.

In early 2003, the number of Ordynacka members amounted to some 5,000, but the association claims that now this figure is far greater. At the beginning of this year, 20 percent of its members were not affiliated with any party, 40 percent belonged to the SLD, and the remaining 40 percent represented other parties, even as distant from each other as the Civic Platform and Self Defense. According to the latest analysis by Ordynacka, a majority of its members are nonpartisan, and the popularity of the organization is constantly growing. Ordynacka claims that it can easily cross the 5 percent vote threshold required for winning parliamentary representation. Yet, a recent public opinion poll registered support for Ordynacka at 1 percent and showed that only 30 percent of those polled have heard of the association. This result may be viewed as a setback; however, one should remember that Ordynacka is a fairly young organization and, even if very influential, it may need some more time to be broadly recognized.

Many members of Ordynacka are still hesitant about forming a political party out of their nongovernmental organization, which wields immense influence in Poland through its activists placed in important government and corporate posts. Following a proposal by Lech Witkowski, a former co-chairman of Ordynacka's program commission, since early 2003 Ordynacka has tried to compile a civic voting list -- which could be supported by President Aleksander Kwasniewski -- for the upcoming elections to the European Parliament. However, a number of meetings of Ordynacka activists with Kwasniewski has produced no results. Another idea is to create a joint voting list with the SLD, but some fear that this would make Ordynacka at least partially dependent on the ruling party. The third option is to cooperate with other pro-European organizations, as, for example, the Schuman Foundation, which, however, seems to be reluctant to work together with Ordynacka.

The definite test for the Ordynacka Association will be the 2005 parliamentary elections. By that time, Ordynacka will have to make a clear decision whether it wants to have joint voting lists with the SLD or become a political party and run on its own. "Gazeta Wyborcza" reported that during a recent meeting in Krakow, Ordynacka President Szamalek declared that if a majority of the members agree to form a political party, then the "board will honor their decision." Lech Witkowski has even suggested the name of the future party -- Ordynacka of the Fourth Republic of Poland (ORP IV) -- which is a clear sign of Ordynacka's will to reform the entire state, currently referred to as the Third Republic. Later, however, Szamalek apparently changed his mind and publicly declared that Ordynacka will remain an association, meaning that it will not transform into a political party. On the other hand, Witkowski suggested that a majority of Ordynacka members have not yet decided whether they want to be in an association or a party.

Poland needs a new social-democratic party in place of the increasingly disliked SLD, which has recently seen its lowest popularity rating in years (18 percent) due to a number of corruption scandals. Therefore, Ordynacka might become a serious competitor for the SLD. However, one should not expect that this party could be a new and fresh quality on the political scene. This is because many prominent members of Ordynacka are at the same time members of the SLD, like National Radio and Television Council Secretary Wlodzimierz Czarzasty and Polish Television chief Robert Kwiatkowski (both allegedly involved in the notorious Rywingate scandal), SLD Deputy Chairman Jozef Oleksy, National Radio and Television Council President Danuta Waniek, and National Security Bureau chief Marek Siwiec. Moreover, President Kwasniewski is the holder of Ordynacka's membership card No. 1. Therefore, one cannot call Ordynacka a "new" party, or essentially different from the SLD.

According to Danuta Waniek, "Ordynacka is a group of people who support each other." They are present on 12 (out of a total of 17) regional boards of directors of Polish Radio and in the National Radio and Television Council, thus exerting considerable influence on the public-media sphere in Poland. Moreover, thanks to their colleagues from the government, members of Ordynacka can be found in executive posts in a majority of companies controlled by the State Treasury. In other words, Ordynacka is a huge network of former students who try to support each other's careers, valuing connections higher than competencies.

According to Interior Minister Krzysztof Janik, Ordynacka will not evolve into a political party since it is an organization of "successful people who made careers and will not risk their positions for politics." The future will show if Janik is right. Maybe Ordynacka simply needs more time to advertise itself to voters, or maybe Poles are reluctant to vote for SLD-2, which is represented by such politicians as Czarzasty and Kwiatkowski.

This report was written by Bartosz Stefanczyk, a student of international relations at the Warsaw School of Economics and of history at Warsaw University.

UKRAINE FACES CHANGES IN CONSTITUTIONAL SYSTEM. The Verkhovna Rada is scheduled on 23 December to consider three political-reform bills that were drafted to introduce crucial amendments to the Ukrainian Constitution of 1996. According to a majority of Ukrainian observers, one bill, registered in the parliament under No. 3027-1 and authored by an ad hoc parliamentary commission (which included opposition activists Oleksandr Moroz and Anatoliy Matviyenko), stands no chance of being approved. The real parliamentary debate is expected to focus on bills No. 4105 (prepared by the presidential administration headed by Viktor Medvedchuk and preliminarily approved by Communist leader Petro Symonenko, therefore referred to as the Medvedchuk-Symonenko draft) and No. 4180 (prepared by a group of pro-presidential lawmakers, the so-called Havrysh draft).

The Medvedchuk-Symonenko and Havrysh bills propose that the president be elected by parliament instead of by direct ballot, but they differ in their suggested dates of implementation of such a move. The Medvedchuk-Symonenko bill wants the president to be elected in universal ballot in October 2004 and serve until the new president is elected by the Verkhovna Rada in 2006, within a month after the inauguration of a newly elected legislature (since the regular parliamentary election is expected by the end of March 2006, such an "interim president" would serve for some 18 months). The Havrysh bill proposes that the parliament elect the president already in October 2004, the current Verkhovna Rada's term is extended by one year, and the new president is elected again by lawmakers in 2007. The Medvedchuk-Symonenko bill was reportedly supported by the signatures of 292 lawmakers (300 votes are necessary to change the Ukrainian Constitution). Ukraine's Constitutional Court recently ruled that both bills conform with Articles 157 and 158 of the constitution, which set a number of general restrictions on constitutional amendments.

The procedure for amending the Ukrainian Constitution by the Verkhovna Rada requires two steps. First, the amendments need to be approved "in the first reading" by a simple majority (at least 226 votes). Second, they must be approved by a two-thirds majority (at least 300 votes) at the legislature's next regular session. Thus, if the Verkhovna Rada wants to apply new rules to the October 2004 presidential election, it must endorse either the Medvedchuk-Symonenko bill or the Havrysh bill (or both of them, or a mix of the two) by at least 226 votes on 23 December, before its winter-holiday recess. The mustering of 226 votes for the Medvedchuk-Symonenko draft by the pro-presidential parliamentary majority seems to be an easy task, since the Communist Party is essentially in favor of strengthening the parliamentary prerogatives at the expense of presidential ones. The Communists are offering their support to the constitutional reform in exchange for the introduction of a fully proportional, party-list system of parliamentary elections.

What else may change in Ukraine's political system apart from the way of electing the country's president if the Medvedchuk-Symonenko bill is adopted in its current form? The president's right to propose the entire Cabinet of Ministers will be limited to four officials: prime minister, defense minister, foreign minister, and head of the Security Service. The prime minister will propose all other cabinet members as well as the heads of state committees. The prime minister will also nominate all regional governors. The parliament will be given the right not only to approve cabinet members and other high-ranking officials, but also to dismiss them. The president will receive the right to dissolve the parliament if it fails to form a pro-government coalition within 30 days, form a cabinet within 60 days, elect a president within three months, or convene for more than 30 days during the ongoing session. A people's deputy may be stripped of his/her parliamentary mandate if he/she fails to participate in plenary sitting for more than 60 days, quits the caucus of the party that placed him/her on the ballot, or fails to suspend his/her salaried activity outside the parliament.

There is little doubt that the constitutional reform was primarily devised by the presidential administration either to prevent Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko -- the country's most popular, Western-oriented politician -- from becoming the president in 2004 or to limit his possible presidential term to a year and a half. The presidential administration is seemingly aware that none of the potential candidates from the "party of power" -- be it Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk, or National Bank head Serhiy Tyhypko, for instance -- is able to beat Yushchenko in a nationwide presidential ballot. On the other hand, President Leonid Kuchma and his aides turned out to be masters of backstage maneuvering when after the 2002 parliamentary election, which was won by Our Ukraine, they managed not only to form a fairly viable pro-government coalition without the Communists, but also to reduce the role of Yushchenko's bloc in parliament to that of political extras. Apparently, the presidential entourage expects that it will be able to retain its current leverage in the country through controlling the future parliament as well.

No less surprising than Kuchma's ingenuity in developing different schemes to diminish the political clout of his adversaries is Yushchenko's lack of a vision of what is he going to do in Ukrainian politics and with whom. To the disappointment of many in Ukraine, he failed to create a parliamentary coalition and run a government in 2002 following the victory in the parliamentary election. Now many fear that he is set to lose the fight for a full-fledged presidency.

One of his most natural potential allies, Yuliya Tymoshenko, is becoming more and more impatient and irritated by his reluctance to strike a cooperation deal with her bloc (possibly, Yushchenko is afraid that Tymoshenko's public image of an oligarch involved in dubious financial machinations may do him more harm than good). Another potential ally, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, has apparently received no reasonable proposal of cooperation from Yushchenko, since the Socialists seem to be generally in favor of the Medvedchuk-Symonenko constitutional-reform plan, even if some of them object to electing the president by parliament. And judging by recent examples of the hostile reception of Yushchenko in eastern Ukraine, he has failed to convince any of the country's influential oligarchs to take his side in politics. On top of that, there have been no reports testifying that Yushchenko tried or even signaled his willingness to strike a kind of Yeltsin-Putin deal with Kuchma, whereby he would guarantee the current Ukrainian president (and some of his aides) quiet retirement from politics and immunity from prosecution in exchange for his smooth takeover in 2004.

Instead, Yushchenko is apparently pinning his hopes on ordinary voters. He has launched a campaign to collect signatures in support of the demand that the president continue to be elected in a universal ballot. The petition reportedly has so far been signed by more than 3 million people. Public surveys show that more than 80 percent of Ukrainians want to exercise their right to elect the president directly. Good for Yushchenko.

But what will happen if the authorities fail to heed this demand? The Kyiv-based Razumkov Center found in a poll in November that if the authorities launch a campaign of repression against the opposition and abolish the direct presidential election, no more than 27 percent of respondents would find the courage to provide "active" support to the opposition. Some 27 percent were unable to answer what they would do in such a situation, while 30 percent said they would do nothing at all. As testified by the "Ukraine Without Kuchma" and "Rise Up, Ukraine" opposition protest campaigns in 2000-02, the political apathy of Ukrainians, or their reluctance to publicly demonstrate their discontent with the authorities, was even greater than that suggested by the above-mentioned poll. There is no reason to believe at the present moment that the implementation of the Medvedchuk-Symonenko constitutional overhaul may provoke an uprising against the Ukrainian authorities. On the other hand, this possible overhaul also will not spark any significant public enthusiasm or instill the nation with new hope for a better life. The planned reform is not about a better life for the people but for their rulers. (Jan Maksymiuk)

"Let's for a minute close our eyes and look at the map. Ukraine and Poland. Together that's 90 million people. That's a power in Europe. If we can agree with each other, everyone in the world will have to speak to us completely differently. They will have to treat us in a completely different way. We'll stop being a fringe. We'll become an irremovable political factor both in Europe and in the world. A Ukrainian-Polish coalition -- modeled, let's say, on the Benelux -- is a power which could secure peace, economic development, and democracy in this part of Europe." -- "Gazeta Wyborcza" Editor in Chief Adam Michnik at a conference on Ukraine's European aspirations in Warsaw on 18 December; quoted by Polish Radio.

"I'm looking into the next year with fear. Everybody agrees that the [2004 presidential] elections will be the scariest and dirtiest ever." -- Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 19 December; quoted by Interfax.