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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: April 16, 2002

16 April 2002, Volume 4, Number 15
PROBE INTO 1946 TERROR RAID AGAINST ETHNIC BELARUSIANS. Poland's National Remembrance Institute (IPN) has resumed an investigation into atrocities committed by a unit of the former Home Army (Armia Krajowa) against the civilian population in several ethnic Belarusian villages in Bialystok Voivodship (northeastern Poland) in 1946, PAP reported earlier this month. The investigation -- initiated by the Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against the Polish Nation (KBZPNP) in 1997 -- was suspended more than three years ago because of the dissolution of the KBZPNP. The IPN -- an investigative, documentation, and research body that was established by a law in 1998 and opened in mid-2000 -- subsequently took over the functions of the KBZPNP "The primary aim of the proceedings is to document all criminal actions, determine victims, and prosecute perpetrators," prosecutor Dariusz Olszewski from the IPN branch in Bialystok said about the resumed investigation.

The investigation pertains to a bloody raid across Bielsk District of Bialystok Voivodship in January-February 1946, in which a detachment of the underground, anticommunist National Military Union (Narodowe Zjednoczenie Wojskowe, NZW) killed or burned alive more than 70 civilians (including women and children). All victims were Orthodox Belarusians, residents of several villages in this ethnically mixed borderland. The detachment in question -- called the Special-Action Alert Team (Pogotowie Akcji Specjalnej, PAS) -- under the command of Captain Romuald Rajs (underground pseudonym: Bury). Both the NZW and PAS evolved from the wartime Home Army -- an underground military force controlled by the London-based Polish emigre government -- after it was formally ordered to stop operations and disband.

Bury's deathly raid was meticulously documented in his trial in 1949, when he was arrested, sentenced to death, and executed. This author made himself familiar with the materials of the Bury case in a court in Bialystok in 1991. Below are listed the major stages of that raid by PAS:

26 January 1946 -- two peasants shot to death in the village of Augustynka.

28 January -- an incursion into the town of Hajnowka and an exchange of fire with Soviet Army soldiers at the local railway station.

29 January -- the burning of the village of Zaleszany and the killing of 14 people (including seven children); PAS herded all of the villagers it could find into one house and set it on fire, but the locked-in people managed to break the home's windows and doors and escape, so PAS shot only a few of them.

30 January -- PAS detained some 40 wagon drivers who were sent by local authorities to the nearby Belavezha Forest to bring wood for heating a school in Orla (Bielsk District).

31 January -- Captain Rajs ordered his soldiers to separate Catholic drivers (Poles) from Orthodox ones (Belarusians), send the Poles home, and execute the Belarusians; PAS shot to death 28 Orthodox drivers near the village of Puchaly Stare.

1 February -- the burning of the village of Szpaki and the killing of seven people.

2 February -- the burning of the village of Zanie and the killing of 24 people (including nine children).

There is no unanimity of views among historians and local communities in the region as regards motives for those massacres. Polish historians tend to find some justification for the atrocities committed by PAS in the fact that the population in ethnic Belarusian villages of the region supported Poland's communist authorities to a greater extent than Poles, while PAS was fighting for an independent Poland without communists. This point of view is reflected in the term used by Polish historians and media in reference to the 1946 carnage committed by PAS: the "pacification of Belarusian [or Orthodox] villages." The term seems to be completely inadequate, since the "pacification" implies a kind of resistance by those pacified against those pacifying. In this case, however, all victims were unarmed, peaceful civilians.

Poland's ethnic Belarusian historians argue that Bury's raid was what today can be called an attempt at ethnic cleansing. According to them, the raid was primarily intended to terrorize the local Orthodox Belarusian community and prompt it to resettle in the Soviet Union within the framework of an ongoing "repatriation" action. Because of the postwar shift of state borders, hundreds of thousands of Poles found themselves in the Soviet Union and were subsequently allowed to resettle in Poland. The Soviet side wanted a "reciprocal" action and campaigned among ethnic Belarusians in Bialystok Voivodship for their resettlement in the USSR. The campaign initially had poor results: The local Belarusians, who had been under Soviet rule for more than four years, preferred to remain in Poland. Bury's "pacification" sped up the resettlement of Polish Belarusians to a degree: Some 30,000 people of the estimated 150,000-strong ethnic Belarusian community chose to move to the USSR in the second half of the 1940s. So, it is not ruled out that the carnage perpetrated by PAS also played into the hands of the Polish communist authorities, who wanted to please their Soviet counterparts and record some successes in the "repatriation" of Polish Belarusians without resorting to outright deportation.

For the local Belarusian community as a whole, the 1946 mass murders were primarily motivated by ethnic and religious hatred of their Polish Catholic fellow citizens and neighbors (as it transpires from the court materials, Bury's PAS included many Poles from villages neighboring those "pacified" in 1946). "They killed us because we are Belarusians, because we have a different religion," a survivor from the massacre of Zanie told this author in April 1990. "You, the stinking Belarusians, should be there, near Moscow, not here, so they told us," he added.

This author interviewed four survivors from the massacre of Zanie and published those interviews in the Belarusian-language weekly "Niva" in Bialystok on 6 May 1990. "Do not write down our name [in your newspaper]. We, and our children, still need to live. Just take into account that we were shot not by guerrillas from abroad, but by our neighbors, people from nearby villages. We do not want those who shot at us then to take revenge on us today. In earlier times, they were called bandits, [but] nowadays some say they were heroes since they fought for a free Poland," one of them said.

These words proved to be a prophecy. In 1995, the Court of the Warsaw Military District in Olsztyn reviewed the 1949 case of Romuald Rajs (Bury) and rehabilitated him. The court reportedly found that Bury's "pacification" action of 1946 was essentially motivated by his struggle for an independent Poland.

In 1995, after nearly half a century, Polish Catholic residents of Puchaly Stare broke their silence and divulged that PAS shot and buried the 28 Belarusian wagon drivers at a site near their village. The same year, the remnants of the slain drivers were exhumed and reburied at a cemetery in Bielsk.

Families of the slain drivers subsequently demanded an investigation into the 1946 massacres. However, since many direct witnesses of the massacres have already died, the IPN seems rather unlikely to gather any substantial evidence in addition to what is already known.

Below is an excerpt from the "Niva" interview of 6 May 1990 with a survivor of the Zanie massacre, who asked to be identified only by the initials "A.K.":

A.K.: "I was 19 at that time. [On the night of 2 February 1946], I was with other boys in someone's house. We did not sleep in our homes because if you were caught [by Polish underground fighters], you were sure to be tortured. We heard noise and rattling of wagons. I went outside and saw that the village was being cordoned off. I asked the boys where we were to flee. Everybody broke asunder. I ran in the direction of the woods. But I lost my cap and returned to find it. And then I got caught. They led me along the village street. An old man, his name was Mikhal, looked out from his house, and he was taken with me as well. They led us outside the village, to the road leading to Svirydy [a neighboring village] and told us to lie on the ground. One of them returned to the village and stayed there for a long time. He most likely asked his commanders what to do about us. We heard shots from the village and saw it going aflame from both ends. Then the Pole who went to the village returned, unsheathed his pistol, and asked Mikhal: '[Are you] Polish or Belarusian?' 'Belarusian,' Mikhal answered. The Pole shot him twice in the head. Then he posed the same question to me. I answered in the same way. He shot at me. In the very first moment I felt as if my head was splitting into pieces and my brain exploding. But no, I was still thinking, so I must have been alive. I heard Mikhal's horrible wailing and wheezing. He must have been shot in his lungs. I saw how terribly he suffered and twisted from pain. 'Do it again to the one twisting there,' the Pole who shot told another one. And the other released into Mikhal a burst of bullets from his submachine gun. I lay there until they left us to go look at the burning village. Then I slowly crawled aside, stood up, and began to run.... I was wounded in two places. One bullet had gone through my neck [and] the other hit my shoulder and exited near the elbow. [A Belarusian from a neighboring village] bandaged me and brought me on his wagon back to Zanie in the morning. I saw my father lying dead on the street. I went into our house and saw my sister shot through her breast lying on the bed. That man took her on his wagon to a hospital in Bielsk. The doctors saved her life. That night, the Poles killed 24 people in Zanie. Many were injured. Our neighbor was trying to save his 4-year-old grandson from a burning house, but the Poles shot at him with submachine guns. The child was nearly torn to pieces with the bullets, while the old man lost both his hands. He later moved to the Soviet Union, but his daughter remained. She has been living in Zanie to this day."

ECONOMIC ACCORDS WITH MOSCOW TAKE INTEGRATION ONE STEP FURTHER. Following a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Moscow on 12 April, within the framework of the Supreme Council of the Russia-Belarus Union, the prime ministers of Belarus and Russia -- Henadz Navitski and Mikhail Kasyanov, respectively -- signed two accords on extending Russia's domestic prices for its energy resources to Belarus as of 1 May and Russia's domestic railway tariffs on shipments of Belarusian goods as of 1 June. In exchange, Lukashenka obliged himself to issue a decree canceling customs and tax preferences for Belarusian enterprises as of 1 May; thus equalizing the economic conditions for domestic and Russian producers in Belarus.

Belarusian Deputy Premier Leanid Kozik told Belarusian Television viewers on 13 April that, thanks to the first accord, Belarus's budget will get a windfall of more than $140 million a year, since the price of 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas for Belarus will be lowered from $30 to $21.17. The second accord will allow Belarusian enterprises to save some $70 million a year on railway shipments in both Russia and Belarus.

Lukashenka also claimed to have agreed with Putin on Russian gas transit across Belarus. "We also agreed with Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] -- and the prime ministers sealed this agreement by signing an intergovernmental accord on the creation of a single system of gas provision not only to our country but also to Western Europe -- regarding the gas transit across the Republic of Belarus," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying. "Such a system will be created in the near future. The Belarusian and Russian sides are vitally interested in this issue," he added.

Once again, Deputy Premier Kozik explained: "Today we pump some 28 billion cubic meters of Russian gas [per year] through our [pipeline] system. A part of this amount remains in Belarus [and] a part goes to Europe. The main bulk of Russian gas goes to Europe across Ukraine. You know that the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline is being built [and] you known that talks are being conducted with Poland to construct a link [bypassing Ukraine] [see story below]. That is, according to our calculations, in the future we will pump 60 billion cubic meters of gas. It means profit for us from gas transit. Nothing is done free of charge."

Meanwhile, Belarusian independent economics expert Leanid Zlotnikau told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 12 April that the officially advertised success of Lukashenka in forcing the two economic accords with Moscow is not as big as it seems at first glance. "There is a financial gain for Belarus [connected with the accord on gas pricing], but it is small, equal to some $100-115 million [a year]," Zlotnikau noted. "On the other hand, the sides have not agreed on collecting indirect taxes. Because of the lack of such agreement, Belarus's losses amount to some $180 million [a year]...which is more than the gain owing to the lowering of the gas price.... For the sake of comparison, I may say that the monthly wages and pensions of the Belarusian population total $500 million. Saving $100 million a year means almost nothing for the country. This sum does not resolve any problems today."

OFFICIAL RESULTS OF PROPORTIONAL PARLIAMENTARY POLL. The Central Election Commission on 15 April released the official results of the 31 March parliamentary election in the poll in which 225 seats were contested under a proportional party-list system, UNIAN reported. Our Ukraine obtained 23.57 percent of the vote (70 seats), the Communist Party 19.98 percent (59 seats), For a United Ukraine 11.77 percent (35 seats), the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc 7.26 percent (22 seats), the Socialist Party 6.87 percent (20 seats), and the Social Democratic Party-united 6.27 percent (19 seats).

The 4 percent voting barrier to qualify for parliamentary representation proved too high for 27 parties and blocs, including the Nataliya Vitrenko Bloc (3.22 percent of the vote), Women for the Future (2.11 percent), Winter Crop Generation (2.02 percent), the Communist Party (reformed) (1.39 percent), the Greens (1.3 percent), Yabluko (1.15 percent), and Unity (1.09 percent).

KYIV COUNTS ON 1O-YEAR GAS-TRANSIT DEAL WITH MOSCOW. Fears have risen again in Ukraine over Russia's plans to find other transit routes for natural-gas exports to Europe. But all signs suggest that Moscow cannot afford to pursue major pipeline projects for the time being.

Last week, Russia's decade-old effort to secure outlets for its vital gas exports seemed to be moving on several fronts at once with talks in Moscow, Warsaw, and Weimar (Germany).

The problem of access for gas exports has been a preoccupation for Russian leaders ever since the Soviet breakup left the main Progress pipeline system in the hands of Ukraine.

Since taking office two years ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been relentless in pursuing strategies to gain control of the transit pipelines through Ukraine or to bypass the country with new lines through Poland and Slovakia.

Aside from oil, natural gas is Russia's biggest hard-currency earner. Russia supplies one-fourth of Europe's gas, while 90 percent of the flow goes through Ukraine. The route has been a source of both cheap gas for Ukraine and endless disputes with Moscow. Charges of pilfering from the pipeline and Ukraine's $1.4 billion gas debt were supposed to be settled last October, when a deal was reached to restructure the debt over 12 years.

But Ukraine's anxiety has continued over Russia's long delay in accepting bonds to back the debt scheme and its continued campaign to find bypass routes.

On 9 April, an energy expert warned Ukrainian officials in Kyiv that the country could lose more than $1 billion in transit fees if Russia succeeds in building an alternate pipeline through Poland, AP reported. Volodymyr Saprykin of Ukraine's Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies said, "It means the loss of Ukraine's monopoly for gas transit," adding that "it may not happen today, but it's possible in five to seven years."

But the possibility may be less threatening after a meeting in Moscow between prime ministers Anatoliy Kinakh of Ukraine and Mikhail Kasyanov of Russia. Kinakh said after the meeting on 10 April that the two countries will sign a 10-year gas-transit deal by June. Kasyanov confirmed the plan, saying that the sides are also considering ways of making the pipelines secure.

Kasyanov said, "By June, specialists from the two countries will have provided a set of measures to become the foundation of the bilateral document," Russia's official news agency RIA-Novosti reported. Kasyanov also said the debt problem is "practically solved," a phrase that has prompted worries in the past because Russia has yet to explain the reason for delays in approving the bonds. He said only one legal "snag" remains, without elaborating.

But according to RIA-Novosti, Ukraine has agreed to honor the debts if the national-gas company Naftohaz Ukrayiny fails to pay them off. That point has been critical for Moscow in the past.

While the terms of the transit deal are unknown, the 10-year commitment suggests that Russia may be resigned to Ukrainian transit, even if it develops other routes in the long term. The Progress system still has vast unused capacity, which would be costly to recreate somewhere else.

The biggest hindrance may be that Russia's Gazprom lacks the funds to fulfill its bypass plans. Last month, Gazprom joined with Germany's Ruhrgas and Gaz de France in a $2.7 billion deal to buy 49 percent of Slovensky Plynarensky Priemysel, the Slovakian gas system. The move again stirred fears in Ukraine of a pipeline detour. But Gazprom's partners supplied all of the cash, because the company's finances are strapped.

Last month, the industry newsletter "Petroleum Argus" quoted an unnamed official of the Polish Oil and Gas Company as saying that "Gazprom has dropped its plan for a pipeline bypassing Ukraine" due to a lack of funds. A link to Slovakia would cost an estimated $1 billion. Russia has also delayed plans for building a second branch of its Yamal Peninsula gas line through Poland, because the first already has unused capacity," according to the newsletter.

In Poland, the gas issue is both financial and political. On 11 April, Gazprom Chairman Aleksei Miller held talks with officials in Warsaw about Polish demands to ease the terms of a 1993 "take-or-pay" contract because Poland's gas consumption has lagged. Gazprom has been pressing Poland to spend $200 million to finish the first Yamal line.

But the government has also been sensitive about the effect of a bypass on Ukraine. In addition, the daily "Gazeta Wyborcza" reported on 11 April that prosecutors in Gdansk have launched a probe into Poland's losses from construction of the Yamal project.

During Putin's talks on 10 April with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Weimar, the issue of gas exports also surfaced. At a meeting with business people, Putin voiced concern over new European Union competition rules that limit the share of energy that a member country can import from a nonmember to 30 percent. Putin said, "If we are talking about a common economic space, we should take measures and change the rules, and put Russia in the picture too," RIA-Novosti reported. Russia has been highly critical of the EU regulations, arguing that they threaten Gazprom's long-term contracts. The issue may be one more reason why Moscow may be becoming more cautious about new investments to build pipelines around Ukraine.

(This report was written by RFE/RL correspondent Michael Lelyveld.)

"If it were not for Alyaksandr Ryhoravich Lukashenka, we would have had to leave with no results yesterday. For two or even 2 1/2 years, our government struggled to resolve these issues but succeeded in nothing. We could not agree with our Russian colleagues... But yesterday, in the course of 10 hours, Alyaksandr Lukashenka did what we were unable to do in three years. He convinced them that these steps should be made, that these accords should be fulfilled. And he showed them what Belarus would obtain and what Russia would obtain. And I am telling you, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin was forced to agree. Even [Russian Premier Mikhail] Kasyanov, a big mathematician -- who pushed like a battering ram from the Russian side -- was forced to agree as well, when the [Belarusian] president took a pen and showed him how to calculate the cost of gas extraction." -- Belarusian Deputy Premier Leanid Kozik on the meeting of the Supreme Council of the Russia-Belarus Union in Moscow on 11 April; quoted by Belarusian Television on 12 April.