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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: June 12, 2002

12 June 2002, Volume 4, Number 23
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT ACHIEVES LITTLE IN MINSK. The visit of Armenian President Robert Kocharian to Belarus last week was, according to the Armenian news agency Mediamax, an attempt to neutralize the program of the Armenian left-wing opposition in the run-up to the 2003 elections. In a masterpiece of poor timing, however, Kocharian found himself negotiating close ties with Belarus, just as Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka had attracted a storm of international criticism for riding roughshod over the norms of international diplomacy.

The Armenian left wants Armenia to join the Russia-Belarus Union. According to Mediamax, it hopes to capitalize on the nostalgia that many Armenian citizens have for the Soviet era. According to the left, joining the union is the only way out of Armenia's current socioeconomic crisis. By improving relations with Minsk, Mediamax opines, Kocharian wants to undermine the opposition's election platform by establishing close economic and political ties with Minsk.

However, not all Armenians share this nostalgia. As Kocharian himself told a news conference in Minsk, Armenian public opinion has an "ambiguous" attitude to the Russia-Belarus Union and see the left's desire to join the union as tantamount to the restoration of the Soviet Union, an idea that, he noted, is "not popular in Armenia." "I understand that this is not the case and know the gist of what is going on today between Belarus and Russia," he said.

In his negotiations with Minsk, therefore, Kocharian would appear to be trying to preempt the left's appeal to those citizens who would dream of a return to what they see as the economic benefits of the Soviet era, with assurances to the rest of the population who emphatically do not want a new Soviet Union, or any facsimile thereof.

Moreover, he has to consider the influential Armenian diaspora, whose goodwill and material assistance is of major importance to Armenia. These well-wishers and benefactors would be most concerned if Kocharian tied himself too closely to Belarusian President Lukashenka, who is becoming increasingly isolated from the international community. And Kocharian's visit to Belarus coincided with a major international scandal, the de facto expulsion from Belarus of Andrew Carpenter, acting head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk, and a wave of high-level international criticism of Lukashenka's policies. "It may be deduced that President Kocharian, who has declared that one of the priorities of Armenia's foreign policy is to move toward Europe, would have felt a lot more at ease during his talks with Lukashenka if they had not taken place against this background," Mediamax commented.

Moreover, prominent on the agenda for the talks was "the prospects for expanding [Armenian-Belarusian] cooperation within international organizations." But how can this be accomplished when Belarus is becoming ever more isolated from the international community? Is Armenia to become an "advocate for Belarusian interests" in international organizations from which Belarus has excluded itself through its inappropriate conduct, Mediamax asked. The very different stance taken by the two presidents regarding international affairs was highlighted by their comments on the rapprochement between Russia and NATO: Kocharian was enthusiastic about what he viewed as a removal of old "lines of division"; Lukashenka was derisive, saying that the fact that Russia would not be represented at the Prague NATO summit showed that, "although they just got married, they are already sleeping apart."

On the practical level, the meeting seems to have achieved relatively little. An agreement on visa-free travel was signed, as was a protocol on exceptions to the Armenian-Belarusian free-trade agreement of 18 January 2001. A city-to-city agreement on trade, economic, scientific, technical, and cultural cooperation was also signed between the Minsk city executive committee and the Yerevan mayor's office, and the two presidents participated in the laying of the foundation stone for a new building of the Armenian embassy in downtown Minsk.

Indeed, Kocharian was quoted by "Sovetskaya Belorussiya" as saying that: "No dramatic economic or political breakthrough should be expected from the visit. Our negotiations represent a meeting of people who trust each other and who are able to keep their word." The paper also quoted Lukashenka as saying that: "there are not only thousands of kilometers between Yerevan and Minsk. There are also common interests that are being realized on interstate and private levels."

However, the very lack of obvious practical results will inevitably focus Armenian and international opinion on the symbolic value of the meeting. And that, according to the Mediamax commentators, may well backfire against Kocharian.

(This report was written by Vera Rich, a London-based free-lance researcher.)

WHO GOT WHAT ON PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEES. On 7 June, the Verkhovna Rada voted by 235 to seven, with three abstentions, to approve a resolution whereby Our Ukraine will head 10 parliamentary committees, the Communist Party six, United Ukraine four, the Socialist Party and the Yuliya Tymoshenko bloc two each, and the Social Democratic Party one. The vote appeared to be a compromise after the much lamented election of the parliamentary speaker and two deputy speakers (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 4 June 2002). Judging by who took part in the vote and who did not, however, it is possible to conclude that the distribution of the posts of committee heads and first deputy heads may be a source of future animosities between, and within, pro-presidential and "non-presidential" parliamentary groups.

The distribution of committee posts was endorsed by 89 lawmakers from United Ukraine, 50 from Our Ukraine, 61 from the Communist Party, and 30 from the Social Democratic Party-united. The Socialist Party and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc refused to take part in the vote. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz explained to journalists that his caucus missed the vote because of a prolonged sitting. UNIAN quoted Yuliya Tymoshenko as saying that her group refused to vote purposefully since, she argued, "getting one or two committees absolutely does not resolve the nationwide issue of overcoming the crisis in Ukraine."

Below is a list of Verkhovna Rada committees with the names of their heads and first deputy heads, respectively (in some cases there are two lawmakers who were reported by Ukrainian media as being "first deputy heads"). The full official names of all committees include the phrase "the Committee for Issues of," which is omitted in the following compilation.

1. Legal Policy: Vasyl Onopenko (Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc); Mykola Onyshchuk (United Ukraine).

2. State Building and Local Self-Government: Anatoliy Matviyenko (Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc); Viktor Slauta (United Ukraine).

3. Social Policy and Labor: Vasyl Khara (Communist Party); Vyacheslav Kyrylenko (Our Ukraine).

4. The Protection of Health, Maternity, and Childhood: Mykola Polishchuk (Our Ukraine); Mykhaylo Loboda (Communist Party).

5. Youth Policy, Physical Training, Sport, and Tourism: Kateryna Samoylyk (Communist Party); Ravil Saffiullin (United Ukraine).

6. Science and Education: Stanislav Nikolayenko (Socialist Party); Ihor Yukhnovskyy (Our Ukraine).

7. Culture and Spirituality: Les Tanyuk (Our Ukraine); Pavlo Movchan (Our Ukraine).

8. Economic Policy and Management, Ownership, and Investment: Stanislav Hurenko (Communist Party); Volodymyr Demyokhin (United Ukraine).

9. Budget: Petro Poroshenko (Our Ukraine); Valeriy Konovalyuk (United Ukraine) and Lyudmyla Suprun (United Ukraine).

10. Finances and Banking Activity: Serhiy Buryak (United Ukraine); Viktor Kapustin (Our Ukraine) and Vasyl Tsushko (Socialist Party).

11. Industrial Policy and Entrepreneurship: Yuriy Yekhanurov (Our Ukraine); Vadym Hurov (United Ukraine).

12. Fuel and Power Industries, Nuclear Policy and Safety: Andriy Kluyev (United Ukraine); Mykola Martynenko (Our Ukraine).

13. Construction, Transport, and Communications: Valeriy Pustovoytenko (United Ukraine); Anatoliy Lyovin (Social Democrats) and Stanislav Dovhyy (United Ukraine).

14. Agrarian Policy and Land Relations: Ivan Tomych (Our Ukraine); Vasyl Kalinchuk (Unite Ukraine).

15. Foreign Affairs: Dmytro Tabachnyk (United Ukraine); Oleh Hrachov (Communist Party).

16. Environmental Policy, the Use of Natural Resources, and Dealing With the Aftermath of the Chornobyl Disaster: Ivan Rizak (Social Democrats); Ivan Zayets (Our Ukraine).

17. Legislative Support to Law-Enforcement Activities: Volodymyr Moysyk (Our Ukraine); Oleksandr Bandurka (United Ukraine).

18. The Struggle Against Organized Crime and Corruption: Volodymyr Stretovych (Our Ukraine); Ivan Vernydubov (United Ukraine).

19. National Security and Defense: Heorhiy Kryuckov (Communist Party); Borys Andresyuk (Social Democrats).

20. Regulations, Deputy Ethics, and the Organization of Work of the Verkhovna Rada: Valentyn Matveyev (Communist Party); Vasyl Havrylyuk (United Ukraine) and Serhiy Sas (Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc).

21. Freedom of Expression and Information: Mykola Tomenko (Our Ukraine); Serhiy Pravdenko (Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc).

22. Human Rights, National Minorities, and Interethnic Relations: Hennadiy Udovenko (Our Ukraine); Mykla Shulha (Communist Party).

23. Pensioners and Disabled Persons: Petro Tsybenko (Communist Party); Valeriy Alyoshyn (Our Ukraine).

24. European Integration: Borys Tarasyuk (Our Ukraine); Oleh Zarubinskyy (United Ukraine).

25. The Special Monitoring Commission for Issues of Privatization: Valentyna Semenyuk (Socialist Party); Lyudmyla Kyrychenko (United Ukraine).

The same resolution appointed Valentyn Zaychuk as chief of the Verkhovna Rada administration staff.

DENIAL OF FAMINE-TERROR CONTINUES UNABATED. In April and May, a curious and, at times, highly charged discussion raged over the "Internet List H-Russia" on the 1932-1933 famine in Ukraine that led to the deaths of anywhere from 5-10 million people. The discussion is curious in that it was taking place a decade after the USSR collapsed and Ukraine established itself as an independent state.

The continued denial in this discussion of the artificiality of the 1932-1933 famine in Ukraine reflects widespread double standards.

First, there is a strong refusal among academics and journalists to place Soviet and Nazi crimes against humanity on the same level. The ideological preferences of some academics are allowed to interfere with their scholarly research. How else can we understand Western scholars whose decades-long infatuation with economic changes in the 1930s has included trying to explain away Stalinist crimes against humanity and the 1932-1933 famine as neither "artificial" nor part of a drive against "Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism?" The Soviet project, unlike the Nazi one, allegedly had "good intentions" that were warped by Stalin.

Second, objective discussion of the Ukrainian famine suffers from continued Russophile domination of Western history writing on Russia and in Western European post-Sovietology (primarily area studies). As with recent Ukrainian studies of the famine, Western historians have largely ignored the radical changes in post-Soviet Ukrainian historiography and continue to be influenced by 19th-century Russian nationalist writing where Ukraine (and Belarus) are treated as subsidiaries of the Russian (read East Slavic) nation. Oral memoirs on the famine collected from Ukrainian emigres "are highly unreliable," West Virginia University Professor Mark Tauger claimed in the "Internet List H-Russia" discussion. Yet, scholars do not deny the authenticity of oral memoirs for studies of the Holocaust.

The Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU), then still a republican subsidiary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, came under pressure between 1987-1990 from the cultural intelligentsia, informal groups such as Rukh and Memorial, and investigative journalists in Moscow and Ukraine who sought to unveil "blank spots" in Soviet Ukrainian and Ukrainian history. Finally, in February 1990, the KPU acknowledged that a famine had taken place in Ukraine that it blamed on "Stalinism." The covering up of the famine, the KPU claimed, had "hindered scientific understanding and an objective, moral, and political assessment of a national tragedy."

After Ukraine became an independent state in January 1992, the famine question became the subject of countless books and scholarly articles, memoirs, and documents based upon hitherto closed KPU archives. A "Black Book on Ukraine" consisting of 1,000 pages of documents was published by Prosvita in Kyiv in 1998. In the first half of the 1990s, Ukrainian scholars redefined the famine as "genocide" or "terror-famine," and a monument was erected in central Kyiv. In September 1993, then-President Leonid Kravchuk called the death of one-fifth of Ukrainians "genocide." In November 2001, on the Day of Remembrance for these crimes, President Leonid Kuchma talked of "tens of millions" of Ukrainians who died in war, the "famine-terror," and the Gulag.

American-born Professor James Mace, who formerly headed the Washington-based U.S. Commission on the Ukrainian Famine in the 1980s and is currently at the Kyiv Mohyla Academy, wrote in 1995 that the famine was "the central question" for Ukrainian history. Mace remains convinced that the famine was primarily directed at Ukrainians. After the U.S. commission closed, Mace was unable to obtain academic employment in the United States; his cards had "been marked" as a "biased Ukrainian nationalist emigre."

Many Western academics at that time, and at present, continue to see studies of the famine published in the 1980s by Robert Conquest as "replete with errors and inconsistencies" and as "another expression of the Cold War," Professor Tauger argued in the "Internet List H-Russia" discussion. Mace responded in the discussion by describing Tauger's "baseless statistical circumlocutions" as "garbage."

Reading the "Internet List H-Russia" and Western, English-language academic publications on Eastern Europe leads to the impression that the large number of post-Soviet Ukrainian studies on the famine listed in the 2001 book "The Famine-Terror in Ukraine, 1932-1933: A Bibliography" published in Odesa-Kyiv are mainly ignored by Western scholars working on the Stalin era. The fact that these works are in Ukrainian, and not in Russian, the traditional language of Sovietology and post-Soviet studies, is no excuse not to use them. Unfortunately, there is still a stubbornly held view that Russian is sufficient for research into, and writing on, Ukraine (and Belarus).

Famine denial fails to deal with the question of why, if the famine took place throughout the former USSR, it has only left an imprint on Ukrainian consciousness. Ukraine was sealed off by the authorities, foreign journalists were prevented from visiting famine areas, foreign assistance was refused, and grain continued to be exported during the famine. Why is such a memory of the famine not present in the Russian consciousness if it was not just directed at Ukrainians?

On the 60th anniversary of the famine, President Kravchuk described the aims of the famine as an attempt "to uproot the entire Ukrainian soul," adding that "unacceptable living conditions were created to destroy a nation." Western scholars have yet to appreciate the extent to which denationalization in contemporary Ukraine and Belarus is the product of the famine and Stalinist terror in the 1930s to 1950s.

In a 1991 book published in Kyiv, Lidia Kovalenko defined the famine as "dukhovna ruyina" (spiritual ruin). The destruction of the Ukrainian village, the national communist intelligentsia, and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church; an end to "indigenization" (Ukrainization); and a return to Russian nationalism in historiography all occurred at the same time in the first half of the 1930s.

According to a study by Raphael Lemkin published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, genocide can also refer to selective state actions "aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of life of national groups" in areas such as language, culture, religion, national feeling, and dignity. This view of genocide directed against Ukrainians in the 1930s was presented at the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes of Genocide in 1998 by Ukrainian Permanent Representative to the UN Volodymyr Yelchenko.

"To deny the genocide of Jews quite rightly brings opprobrium. Surely to deny the terror famine of 1932-33 ought to provoke the same response," Professor Elizabeth Haigh of Saint Mary's University argued in the "Internet List H-Russia" discussion. Famine denial, however, continues unabated. This is a fact that led Canadian Dr. Bohdan Krawchenko, vice rector of the Academy of Public Administration Under the Ukrainian President, to describe the discussion on "Internet List H-Russia" as "absurd and fundamentally immoral" and a "total abrogation of the responsibilities of intellectuals."

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

"Around 80-90 percent of Russians, according to the results of different surveys, are for a closer union with Belarus." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's remark that, according to opinion polls, some 50 percent of Belarusians do not want their country to lose its sovereignty while merging with Russia; quoted by AP.