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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: March 5, 2002

5 March 2002, Volume 4, Number 9
MINORITIES DISLIKE QUESTION ABOUT ETHNICITY IN CENSUS. Last week, Interior Minister Krzysztof Janik appealed to representatives of Poland's ethnic minorities not to be afraid to declare their ethnic origin (narodowosc) in the general census that is to take place from 21 May to 8 June. "Do not be afraid of the census. This census and its results will allow [the government] to create a special database on minorities. It will be a basis for the government, and it will make it possible to work out an appropriate position for negotiations with the European Union regarding the protection of ethnic minorities. It will also serve as a basis for talks between the government and local self-governments in order to conduct a consistent policy toward the minorities," PAP quoted Janik as saying.

Janik's appeal addressed the recently expressed fears by minority organization activists in Poland that the question about ethnicity in the census may only cause problems for those declaring a different ethnic origin than the Polish one. According to Myron Kertyczak of the Union of Ukrainians in Poland, Polish Ukrainians prefer not to disclose their ethnic identity because they are afraid of resulting consequences in the office or at school. "Minorities feel that they are treated unequally, therefore we have objections to the question about ethnicity," Kertyczak said.

Senator Henryk Kroll, who represents the German minority in Poland's upper chamber, pointed to an example of inequality in the census itself: "The census is unequal in its foundation. When a Pole declares the Polish ethnicity, he does not have to answer further questions. When he declares a different ethnicity, he has to answer additional questions; for example, about the language he uses at home."

Jan Syczewski, the chairman of the Belarusian Social-Cultural Association, cast doubt on the reliability of data on national minorities that will be obtained in the census: "We have conducted a poll in a school in which we knew all students were of Belarusian origin. The results of the poll showed that only one-fourth of the students declared their Belarusian roots. If the general census shows that there is no Belarusian minority in Poland, will it really be so?"

The Association of Roma in Poland and the Union of Polish Tatars also spoke against the question about ethnicity in the general census. "People are afraid. There are still many anxieties and prejudices, primarily among older people. They still remember their postwar experiences. So the census may not provide actual data," Union of Polish Tatars leader Selim Chazbijewicz noted.

It is estimated that some 2 percent of Poland's population -- or around 1 million people -- belong to ethnic minorities. The largest minority groups are Germans, Ukrainians, and Belarusians.

RIGHT-WING LAWMAKERS ATTACK WAR CRIMES INVESTIGATOR OVER JEDWABNE POGROM. Last week, National Remembrance Institute (IPN) head Leon Kieres reported to the Sejm on the first year of activities of his institute. The IPN was set up by a law in 1998 to investigate "crimes against the Polish nation," provide access to communist-era secret files to people wronged by the communist regime, as well as to conduct historical research and educational activities. The IPN, which was formally opened in mid-2000 but began to perform its tasks in early 2001, found itself in the public spotlight later the same year in connection with its investigation into the Jedwabne pogrom (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 6 and 20 March, 3 April, 29 May, and 17 July 2001). In December 2001, Kieres admitted that the pogrom of several hundred Jews in the town of Jedwabne in July 1941 was perpetrated by Poles without any involvement of Nazi forces. An official report by the IPN on its investigation into the Jedwabne pogrom has not yet been published.

All parliamentary caucuses, except for the right-wing, pro-Catholic League of the Polish Families (LPR), voted to approve Kieres' report. LPR lawmakers harshly attacked Kieres for the investigation into the Jedwabne pogrom in particular, and for what for they see as his bias in conducting IPN investigations in general. According to "Rzeczpospolita," LPR lawmakers accused Kieres of "being submissive to Jews, toning down crimes of totalitarianism and publicizing responsibility of Poles, preferring ethnic minorities to the detriment of Poles, and adopting an alien, non-Polish point of view."

Kieres told the Sejm that the IPN's activities have been affected by the Jedwabne pogrom and the issue of Polish participation in it. He recalled that the court ruled in 1949 that Poles had participated in the murder of Jewish residents of Jedwabne. "I have been accused of saying in public that Polish residents participated in the crime against their Jewish neighbors before the investigation is completed. Since the IPN prosecutors had examined the documents of the [1949] trial in depth and found no basis for its annulment, we should assume that attributing participation in the crime in the form of assistance also to Polish residents is based on truth as recorded by the legally binding court judgment," Polish Radio quoted Kieres as saying in the Sejm in response to accusations from the LPR.

LPR lawmaker Antoni Macierewicz slammed Kieres precisely for taking such a position. Macierewicz said that the 1949 trial was fabricated and that it was Germans who had murdered the Jews in Jedwabne. According to Macierewicz, Kieres has no right to accuse Poles of this crime. "It is entirely incomprehensible to me that a professor of law, the IPN chairman, and a person appointed by the nation to judge crimes against the nation and to take care of the Polish nation's memory can falsify history to such an extent by accusing his own nation of the worst crime of genocide while being fully aware of moral, legal, and also political consequences of such action," Macierewicz said.

HAS HRACH MADE CRIMEA HOSTAGE TO HIS ELECTION BID? On 25 February, a district court in Simferopol made a sensational ruling, canceling the registration of Crimean Supreme Council Chairman Leonid Hrach, the leader of the Crimean branch of the Communist Party of Ukraine, as a candidate in the 31 March elections to the Crimean autonomous legislature. The court concurred with a complaint filed by the proxy of a candidate running in the same constituency with Hrach in Simferopol that Hrach had misinformed the election commission about his income and possessions, failed to suspend his activity in the post of Crimean speaker for the duration of the election campaign period, and failed to file his registration documents to a district election commission in person, as is required by the law on the election to the Crimean Supreme Council.

Judging by Hrach's reaction in subsequent days, the court decision was a shock for him as well as for Crimean Communists, who have launched a continuing protest action on Simferopol's central square, where they have pitched a tent camp. Addressing a crowd of more than 1,000 supporters in Simferopol on 27 February, Hrach unambiguously suggested that he will appeal to Crimean residents to boycott the 31 March legislative election if he is not reinstated as a candidate. "The election in Crimea will take place only if Hrach and his bloc participate in it as candidates," he said. Hrach leads the Crimean Bloc of Leonid Hrach, which is vying for seats in the 100-member Crimean legislature against a bloc led by former Crimean Premier Serhiy Kunitsyn.

At the same rally on 27 February, Hrach also suggested the possibility of holding a referendum in Crimea to accede to the Russian Federation. "We reserve for ourselves the right to speak about a referendum in Crimea. For the time being, it is too early to speak about it," UNIAN quoted Hrach as saying. And Interfax quoted him as saying that, "if Kyiv and its vassals continue what they are doing by bringing unprecedented political and legal pressure to bear on us, we will reserve the right, in particular, to speak of a referendum." Hrach subsequently backtracked on these statements, saying in the Kyiv-based "Segodnya" on 1 March that he only had in mind that the idea of a referendum "is again fermenting" on the peninsula. "If the situation gets out of control, other forces may hold a referendum on this issue in Crimea. But I am against holding it," Hrach explained to "Segodnya."

To add insult to injury to "Kyiv and its vassals," Hrach declared that he intends to run in Ukraine's presidential election in 2004. "Let them fear me," he told the 27 February rally in Simferopol. This declaration provoked a slew of ironic remarks in Ukrainian media accompanied by calls on Hrach to explain whether he wants to run as a Crimean, Ukrainian, or Russian politician. But Hrach's pronouncements about the referendum were treated quite differently.

"Hrach should understand that, apart from political slogans, there is responsibility -- not only political -- for calls beyond the limits of current legislation," presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn commented on Hrach's pronouncements. "The call for support to a foreign state [and] allusions to a referendum are inadmissible from the viewpoint of political behavior, and they border on the area covered by the Criminal Code," National Security and Defense Council Secretary Yevhen Marchuk told journalists on 1 March. However, nobody has formally accused Hrach of attempting to undermine Ukraine's state system.

It is unclear for the time being how the case of Hrach will be resolved. Hrach has reportedly appealed against the annulment of his registration in Crimea with Ukraine's Supreme Court, but the court's reaction to this move is not known. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has made only one comment, saying that the situation around Hrach is a consequence of the imperfection of the judicial system in Crimea. According to Kuchma, a district court should not be the last instance in cases involving the registration of electoral candidates. Kuchma added, however, that such a judiciary system was installed in Crimea "on purpose."

Some Ukrainian commentators believe that Kuchma wants to end the long-lasting standoff in Crimea between Hrach and Kunitsyn by eliminating Hrach from Crimean politics. The others argue, however, that Hrach may cause more problems by trying to undermine the election on the peninsula than by participating in it. They argue that even if Hrach fails to organize a general boycott of the election in the autonomous republic, he is quite capable or invalidating it in some constituencies, including the one in which he was registered as a candidate. And this means that he might be able to reregister in order to run in a repeat election.

Hrach's political clout in Crimea was clearly demonstrated on 26 February, when the Crimean Election Commission canceled the registration of 30 candidates from two blocs opposing Hrach's -- the Kunitsyn Team and the Transparent Government Civic Committee. This step was generally perceived as revenge for Hrach's ouster from the race. True, two days later the commission backpedaled on its decision by saying that two of its members "withdrew" their votes, thus making the decision on the annulment illegitimate because of lack of a quorum. However, the commission promised to gather at some later time to decide once again on whether to oust the 30 candidates from the election.

The current situation in Crimea is especially tricky for Kyiv in view of the involvement of some Russian politicians in the controversy around Hrach. Last week, a group of prominent Russian political leaders -- Sergei Shoigu, Yurii Luzhkov, Gennadii Zyuganov, Boris Nemtsov, and Gennadii Raikov -- appealed to Kuchma to "restore justice" with regard to Hrach by giving him the opportunity to take part in the upcoming election. "The removal from the electoral campaign under invented pretexts of Leonid Hrach, the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Republic [of Crimea], is evidence of the activation of the forces that intend to undermine the relations between Ukraine and Russia," they wrote in the appeal. Some Ukrainian politicians have already termed this appeal as interference in Ukrainian internal affairs.

If Kuchma steps into the Hrach case and takes his side, he will surely be accused of giving way to "Moscow pressure," let alone of interfering with the realm reserved for the judiciary. On the other hand, if the court upholds the annulment of Hrach's registration in Crimea, this will in no way mean the end to all trouble. Hrach remains No. 14 -- an indisputably winning position -- on the list of the Communist Part of Ukraine in the election to the Verkhovna Rada in Kyiv. In the 1998 election, Hrach was elected a deputy to both the Verkhovna Rada in Kyiv and the Supreme Council in Simferopol. He chose Simferopol, where he was awarded the post of speaker by his comrades in the autonomous legislature. In Kyiv he cannot count on the top parliamentary post, but he may find a niche there to remain in the public spotlight long enough to give Kuchma a major and protracted headache.

"In my understanding, this war in Afghanistan, which is called an antiterrorist operation, is nothing else than profanation. Nothing has changed there [in Afghanistan], whereas our friends from Central Asia said point-blank: 'We are waiting for a subsequent outbreak [of warfare], more powerful than before, because there are 80,000 Taliban fighters there. They have gone into hiding with their arms." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, commenting on talks at the CIS informal summit in Kazakhstan on 1 March; quoted by Belarusian Television on 2 March.

"We even came to the conclusion that if we are thinking about preserving the CIS, let us start preserving it. But if we are not thinking about doing that, we do not need to torment each other about it." -- Lukashenka, commenting on talks at the CIS informal summit in Kazakhstan on 1 March; quoted by Belarusian Television on 2 March.

"My belief that the Ukrainian election will be fair and democratic is falling every day." -- Former Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yushchenko on 2 March; quoted by Interfax.