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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: May 7, 2002

7 May 2002, Volume 4, Number 18
WILL BELARUS AVOID RUSSIA'S FATE ON TB AND HIV/AIDS? The Belarusian government has approved a World Bank plan to battle tuberculosis (TB) and HIV/AIDS infections.

The plan was approved last week and is awaiting the signature of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. It envisions the World Bank providing up to $16.8 million in loans and grants distributed over three years.

Belarus suffers from near epidemic levels of tuberculosis and one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS infection in the former Soviet Union. The World Bank plan is viewed as crucial in treating existing cases and educating the population on disease prevention.

But Lukashenka is apparently skeptical about it. Two weeks ago, in his annual address to the parliament, Lukashenka said the West "wants to spend millions of dollars in loans to flood Belarus with condoms."

Belarusian health officials say the situation is serious. Alyaksandr Tsibin, head of the Department of Medical Help in the Health Ministry, puts the rate of TB infection in Belarus at 47 cases per 100,000 people. This is just below the World Health Organization's (WHO) standard for an epidemic of 50 cases per 100,000 people.

Tsibin says because of a lack of money, it is hard for Belarusian doctors to fight particularly difficult forms of TB that are resistant to treatment.

"For us, it is very expensive because to cure the illness we need four or five drugs, and the drugs are very expensive," Tsibin noted. "The drugs are not produced in the country, so we need to buy them abroad. There is no need to lecture us on how to cure, but please give us the means to cure."

The fight against AIDS poses similar problems. According to the WHO, Belarus has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS infection in the former Soviet Union. There were 3,000 people infected with HIV in Belarus in 2000.

Uladzimir Kabanou lives and works in the city of Svetlahorsk, known as the country's AIDS capital because of its relatively high number of intravenous drug users.

For years, Kabanou has worked in a nongovernmental organization helping people infected with HIV/AIDS. He says the attitude of people toward those infected with HIV has changed, but the lack of money and medicine still hampers efforts.

"The situation in our health system is bad," Kabanou told RFE/RL. [Blood tests] are too expensive for our health system, and only in some regions are the tests conducted more actively."

Kabanou says he is afraid that in two or three years those who are infected with HIV will start developing full-blown AIDS.

Belarus officials are mindful of the fact that they must act quickly if they wish to avoid what has happened in neighboring Russia, where both TB and HIV have recently become enormous public health problems.

Murray Feshbach is a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington and an acknowledged expert on Russian demography. He says the TB infection rate in Russia is around 90 cases per 100,000 people -- nearly double the rate in Belarus.

In Russian prisons the rate is much higher -- around one in 30 inmates has TB, which translates into an infection rate of about 3,000 per 100,000 people. A third of these cases involve those TB strains that are resistant to drug treatments and are much more difficult and expensive to treat.

In terms of HIV/AIDS, Feshbach says the official figure in Russia is much higher than the 200,000 or so cases that officials admit to. "The total cumulative number of cases of HIV/AIDS in Russia is about 190,000. That's the official figure. Roughly 150,000 of that occurred during the last two years -- that is, in 2000 and 2001," Feshbach noted.

Feshbach says the real number of HIV cases in Russia is probably closer to 1 million, with most of those coming to light in the past couple of years.

Despite the dangers, the Russian government last summer blocked a $150 million World Bank loan for the treatment of tuberculosis and AIDS, a course of action that Belarus may also follow.

Feshbach says Russian authorities rejected the money because they wanted to deal with the problem themselves using domestic resources. The authorities also didn't want to increase their foreign debt by taking on more loans.

Tsibin of Belarus' Health Ministry says he, too, has doubts about the usefulness of the World Bank loan and fears the money will be wasted. "Belarus cannot afford World Bank officials using the money allocated to fight TB and AIDS for their inspection tours," he added.

(RFE/RL correspondent Valentinas Mite wrote this report.)

UKRAINE'S 'PEREYASLAV COMPLEX.' On 13 March, President Leonid Kuchma issued a decree to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Pereyaslav Treaty of 8 January 1654 between Ruthenia/Ukraine and Muscovy/Russia. Kuchma ends his second term in office in October 2004, so the commemoration would therefore be one of his final acts before leaving office. It would follow two years of "Ukraine in Russia" and "Russia in Ukraine" celebrations in 2002 and 2003.

The decree appointed Volodymyr Lytvyn, the head of the presidential administration and the For a United Ukraine election bloc, as the head of the organizing committee. Other members of the committee were drawn from the government, Academy of Sciences, parliament, state administration, and cultural sphere. The activities planned during the commemoration include academic conferences, roundtables, publication of books and brochures, cultural events, competitions for students, exhibitions, and television and radio programs. The Ukrainian and Crimean governments, and the State Committee on Information, Television, and Radio were instructed to ensure that all of these events were financed and efficiently organized.

In the Soviet era the Pereyaslav Treaty was commemorated as the "reunion" of two "brotherly peoples" who were united in the medieval state of Kyiv Rus and later torn apart by foreign intrigue but fated to be always in union. This was to buttress the argument of Soviet nationality policy that Russia was the "elder brother" and the sole inheritor of the Kyivan legacy. An association of equals with Ukrainians was therefore out of the question as they were "younger brothers" and junior partners. As "union" was the natural state of affairs, the desire of post-Soviet Belarus to reunite with Russia is understood as normal while Ukrainian independence is confusing, abnormal, and unlikely to last. A view still held by the majority of Russian citizens asserts that Ukraine was never an independent state and Ukrainians are not a separate nation to Russians.

A small group of Russophiles in Ukraine has continued to promote such a historiography. Former Crimean President Yuriy Meshkov celebrated the anniversary of the Pereyaslav Treaty in January 1994, the same month he was elected. This year the Russian Movement of Ukraine appealed to President Kuchma to make 8 January "the day of Russian-Ukrainian union." The Communist Party of Ukraine also continues to hold similar views.

Only political forces that oppose Ukrainian statehood continue to subscribe to this Russophile and Sovietophile historiography, which makes Kuchma's decree on commemorating the Pereyaslav Treaty even more baffling. In post-Soviet Ukraine, historiography is dominated by the statist school that discusses the Cossacks within the framework of national-liberation terminology and refers to the 1648 uprising led by Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky as a "Ukrainian national revolution."

Historiography in Russia, coupled with historiography of Russia in the West, has not changed its views on the Pereyaslav Treaty. In contrast, Ukrainian historiography has undergone a radical rewriting since the late Soviet era on such issues as the Pereyaslav Treaty. Just after being elected president and the holding of the referendum on independence on 1 December 1991, Leonid Kravchuk said the empire that had existed since 1654 had ended because of Ukraine's independence. "For me this is a source of great personal pride," Kravchuk added. On the 400th anniversary of Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky's birth in 1995, Kuchma defined the Pereyaslav Treaty as giving birth to a new state, Ukraine, which was independent of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In other words, not submission to, or "reunion" with Russia as the treaty was traditionally understood.

Post-Soviet Ukrainian historiography defines the Pereyaslav Treaty as a "confederal military alliance" undertaken with Muscovy as the lesser of two evils, a treaty between two states that were very different in language, culture, and ethnicity. The treaty was not, therefore, unilateral submission, as the tsars understood it, or "reunion" as it was defined in the USSR, but a contractual relationship of two equals between Ukraine and the Muscovite monarchy. Hetman Khmelnytsky demanded that the Muscovite tsar take an oath to them, in the same manner as had Polish kings, a step rejected by the tsar. Ukrainian historiography also now stresses that the treaty provided for a great deal of autonomy. In Ukrainian eyes, therefore, the treaty was similar to the 1707 treaty between Scotland and England; the major difference being that England respected the contractual arrangement of two equals and Muscovy/Russia reneged on it.

Kuchma's decree is especially confusing because of the widely shared view among the intelligentsia and the elite that the Pereyaslav Treaty was a disaster for Ukraine. In contrast, Russian/Soviet historiography lauded the Pereyaslav Treaty as Ukraine's salvation from Polish Catholic assimilation. This viewpoint of the treaty as a disaster influences Ukraine's foreign policy because of the fear that too close a relationship with Russia, as in the case of Belarus, would be again harmful to Ukraine. Yevhen Marchuk, the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, saw the treaty as a complete disaster that led to a decline in Ukraine's national consciousness. The treaty led to the transfer of the jurisdiction of the Kyiv Orthodox Metropolitan to Moscow in 1686, a factor that has contemporary relevance because the largest of Ukraine's three Orthodox Churches is still subordinated to the Moscow Patriarchate.

Over a century after the treaty, Ukraine's autonomy was completely destroyed. In the 1830s its system of city self-government based on the Magdeburg law was abolished and the Ukrainian Catholic (Uniate) Church was made illegal in central Ukraine. A few decades later any publication in the Ukrainian language was banned, a step that was not applied to any other language in the tsarist empire.

Kravchuk, Marchuk, and the Ukrainian intelligentsia must be therefore baffled as to what there is in the Pereyaslav Treaty to commemorate. Its commemoration is a sad reflection of the schizophrenia found in Kuchma and some sections of the former Soviet Ukrainian elite, a disposition that negatively impacts their ability to decide, once and for all, whether Ukraine belongs to Europe, Eurasia, or straddles both as a "bridge." The Pereyaslav Treaty removed Ukraine from the European family of nations, the newspaper "Ukrayina moloda" argued, and its commemoration at the state level "signifies that in the near future [Ukraine] will not return to this family." This is certainly true as long as the current elite remain in power.

(This report was written by Dr. Taras Kuzio, a research associate at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.)