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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: July 23, 2002

23 July 2002, Volume 4, Number 27
POLAND HONORED FOR FRIENDSHIP WITH U.S. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski is only the second head of state to be invited to the White House on a state visit since U.S. President George W. Bush took office 19 months ago.

At a welcoming ceremony on 17 July and during a news conference later in the day, both Kwasniewski and Bush spoke of the closeness of Polish-U.S. relations and their agreement on dominant international issues: the war against terrorism and the state of the world economy.

During the White House welcoming ceremony, Kwasniewski said the two countries may be half a world apart, but they still think alike. "Never before have we had so much in common and never before has so much resulted from these bonds. Today Poland and the Unites States, despite the big geographical distance, are partners and allies," the Polish president noted.

Later, during a joint news conference, Bush spoke of Poland's contributions to the war on terrorism and how the two countries have very similar outlooks on international issues. "America and Poland see the world in similar terms. We both understand the importance of defeating the forces of global terror, and America appreciates all that Poland is contributing to this great struggle. Our nations also understand the importance of building a better world beyond terror, one where prosperity replaces poverty," the U.S. president noted.

At the news conference, Kwasniewski and Bush said they spent two hours discussing a wide range of topics, focusing on how the two countries work together on international security and Poland's efforts to make the difficult transition to a market economy.

As a NATO member, Poland has contributed materially to the U.S.-led war against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, just as it did in 1999 in the alliance's military action in Yugoslavia.

Poland also was in the vanguard of resistance to its socialist rulers a decade before the breakup of the Soviet Union and the demise of communist control of Eastern Europe. In the past decade, it has surpassed its neighbors in developing an open economy.

In an article published on 17 July in "The New York Times," Kwasniewski expressed pride in his country's economic transformation. He wrote that in 1990, more than 70 percent of Poland's gross domestic product was produced in state-run enterprises. Today, he wrote, more than 70 percent of Poland's GDP is privately produced.

Because Kwasniewski is in Washington on a formal state visit, he was greeted at the White House with a welcoming ceremony, complete with the U.S. Marine Band performing the anthems of both countries. The ceremony also included the presentation of the countries' flags and honor guards. The visit culminated in the evening with a formal state dinner in the White House's State Dining Room.

The only other foreign head of state to pay a state visit to the Bush White House is Vicente Fox, president of Mexico. Bush honored Fox because the U.S. president hoped to increase economic and other exchanges between the two neighboring countries.

Bush said inviting Kwasniewski for a state visit recognizes the great importance that his administration places on the friendship between Poland and the United States. Thomas Carothers, who specializes in eastern and southeastern Europe at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told RFE/RL that Bush wanted to honor Poland's economic success. "It's supportive of our basic economic and political and security interests, and there's just a deep attachment to Poland's successful transition in Eastern Europe. It's a leader in that region," Carothers noted.

Carothers believes that Bush also wanted to reassure Poles that his close association with Russian President Vladimir Putin poses neither a military nor an economic threat to Poland. "Some Poles, I think, have been a little concerned about America's much more positive relationship with Russia and [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin, and possibly by giving full honors at this kind of visit, it's a way to assure them that we haven't forgotten about our very important relationship with Poland," Carothers said.

Ted Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign-policy studies at the Cato Institute, another Washington think tank, agrees that Bush is interested in reassuring Poles, but not the Poles in Poland. Carpenter told RFE/RL that Bush's invitation to Kwasniewski was a cynical move based on domestic politics. According to Carpenter, Bush wants to endear himself to Americans of Polish decent and others whose ancestors came from the region. "If one looks at domestic politics in the United States, [Bush's honoring of Kwasniewski is] an appeal to an ethnic bloc, namely that of Central and East European descendants here in the United States," Carpenter said. "I think that's probably the main reason."

At the close of the White House news conference, Kwasniewski said he and Bush also discussed ways to bring Poland's neighbor, Ukraine, into the European mainstream.

Poland has served as a kind of mediator for Ukraine in dealings with the West, particularly the United States. Carothers said Kwasniewski is doing a good job acting on his neighbor's behalf, but he stressed that there is just so much Poland can do. He said it is up to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to embrace reform if he wants his country to join NATO, much less become an integral part of a new Europe. "I don't think we're envisaging Ukraine as a member of NATO any time in the near future, so it's not so much with NATO membership per se, but more about just trying to prevent a sense of Ukraine being isolated from the West," Carothers said.

Carpenter described Poland as being a broader role model for all the former communist countries of Europe. As for specific efforts to make Ukraine ready to join NATO, Carpenter said Warsaw has a blunt message for Kyiv. "As the club continues to grow, one doesn't want to be on the outside looking in," Carpenter said. "And I think that's perhaps the message that Warsaw is conveying to Kyiv: 'You'd better get your act together [and begin reforming]; otherwise you're going to be in an unholy triumvirate with Russia and Belarus as the only countries in Europe not eventually admitted to NATO'."

Nevertheless, Kwasniewski said at the 17 July news conference that he believes Ukraine should play what he called "a more important role in the region." Ukraine, a country of 50 million people, has great agricultural and industrial resources, and, as Kwasniewski pointed out, lies at the geographical heart of Europe.

(RFE/RL correspondent Andrew F. Tully wrote this report.)

LUKASHENKA SENDS HIS MAN TO MUZZLE TRADE UNIONS. A plenary sitting of the council of Belarus's Federation of Trade Unions (FPB) on 16 July voted by 238-10, with eight abstentions, to approve deputy presidential administration chief Leanid Kozik as FPB chairman. Kozik's appointment appears to be another major step by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in his attempts to curb political dissent in the country in general and among trade unions in particular.

Last year, the FPB proposed its then-leader, Uladzimir Hancharyk, as a candidate to challenge Lukashenka in the 9 September presidential ballot. Subsequently, Hancharyk became the common candidate of the Belarusian democratic opposition. Hancharyk resigned his FPB post in December 2001 and was replaced by his deputy, Frants Vitko. Vitko gave up the post of FPB chairman earlier this month.

Vitko said at the FPB council gathering on 16 July that he stepped down "in the interests of [our] cause," adding that his resignation is the price paid for "the preservation of branch trade unions" in the FPB.

Following the presidential election, executive officials made numerous attempts -- some of them successful -- to split the FPB by pressuring leaders of trade unions in different branches of industry, or even at individual plants and factories, to leave the Hancharyk-Vitko federation and form separate trade-union organizations under the aegis of employers. Another painful "punishment" applied to the FPB for its involvement in the presidential election campaign was the government's directive requiring that trade-union dues be paid by workers themselves instead of being deducted from their wages by employers, as was the long-standing tradition. This move limited the FPB financial resources to some extent. Last week's replacement of Vitko by Kozik is a clear indication that Lukashenka eventually got the upper hand in the trade-union movement.

Kozik was responsible in the Lukashenka administration for pushing forward Belarus's integration with Russia in general and preparing a constitutional act of the Russia-Belarus Union in particular. His endeavors in this sphere ended with President Putin's quite unexpected condemnation of Belarusian integration proposals as "legalistic nonsense" (see End Note in "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 2002). Some Belarusian observers see Kozik's current assignment in the trade-union movement as an "honorable banishment" from the political spotlight in Belarus, fully in the tradition of the Soviet-era political life in which the officials who had compromised themselves in the government were relegated to trade-union posts.

REHABILITATION OF UKRAINIAN NATIONALIST GROUPS STIRS FURTHER CONTROVERSY. The announcement on 12 July that the Ukrainian government had prepared a draft bill on honoring the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and its partisan force, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), as "fighters for freedom and independence of Ukraine" has stirred another controversy within both Ukraine and Russia. The government commission, which is chaired by Russophile Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Semynozhenko, now believes that from 1939 to the mid-1950s, the OUN and UPA organized a "resistance movement" "for the purpose of uniting and creating a unified [independent] Ukraine."

The main academic research that has led to this conclusion was undertaken by the Institute of History, National Academy of Sciences, under its prolific head, Stanislav Kulchytskyy. The institute recommended, and the commission accepted, that OUN and UPA veterans should finally be classified as having been subjected to repression and therefore should fall under the law on the rehabilitation of victims of political repression in Ukraine. This would then allow them to obtain social and other privileges accorded to other Soviet veterans.

At the same time, only OUN-UPA veterans will be scrutinized under this law to see if they committed "crimes against humanity." This one-sided application of the law to only nationalist forces is in line with post-Soviet and international custom since the Nuremberg trials of Nazis where the victor, e.g. the USSR, has never been investigated for "crimes against humanity." After 1939, NKVD units in western Ukraine committed wholesale atrocities against civilians (a mass grave containing 130 NKVD victims, including children, was uncovered in a western Ukrainian monastery this month). Investigation of Soviet archives by Ukrainian historians in the 1990s found evidence that the NKVD dressed in UPA uniforms and committed atrocities against civilians in order to turn the local population against nationalist groups. The commission headed by Kulchytskyy found evidence of unpleasant actions undertaken by both nationalist and "chekist," i.e. NKVD, forces, but only veterans of the former will be investigated.

The reaction of the Russian authorities was swift. As with the rehabilitation of nationalist partisans in the three Baltic states, Moscow has adopted Soviet-era rhetoric in attacking the OUN-UPA. The Russian media charged Ukrainian nationalist groups with fighting alongside Chechens against Russian forces in the 1990s in Chechnya. In the March parliamentary elections in Ukraine, Russia deliberately stoked an antinationalist campaign, with the support of the Ukrainian executive, to blacken Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine among eastern Ukrainian voters (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 9 April 2002).

The seriousness with which the Russian Foreign Ministry looks at this question can be seen from its immediate and angry response to the draft government bill. The ministry demanded that the Ukrainian government condemn the activities of the "so-called UPA" and not rehabilitate its members. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko replied that this was "Ukraine's internal matter."

This move by the Ukrainian government is in many ways not surprising. It is taking place immediately after parliamentary elections, a period when western Ukrainian voters are traditionally courted by Kuchma. (The more numerous eastern Ukrainian voters are traditionally passive between elections and are only courted during elections.) The government move came after the city of Lviv wrote to Kuchma demanding that the OUN-UPA be rehabilitated. The newly elected parliament is also the least leftist of any elected since March 1990 and therefore opposition to the rehabilitation of Ukrainian nationalist groups is likely to be less difficult. In addition, Kuchma has little to lose in the rehabilitation of the OUN-UPA because he will not be standing again for re-election and may want to end his second term on a populist note. These reasons also allowed Kuchma to adopt the radical step of declaring Ukraine's goal of working toward NATO membership.

In late March, the then-head of the presidential administration and currently parliamentary speaker, Volodymyr Lytvyn, called for a "balanced approach" to the UPA. "We understand how painful this issue is not just for Russia, but also for part of Ukrainian society. We must study all aspects of the matter," Lytvyn said. Then parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch also announced his support for moves to rehabilitate OUN-UPA.

Within Ukraine, the government's draft bill has arrived after a decade of gradual public rehabilitation. School textbooks and the military media have not had the luxury of waiting a decade to research this question and they have included the OUN, and particularly the UPA, alongside other forces that fought for Ukraine on different military fronts. They therefore have placed them on an equal footing with Soviet (as well as Polish and Canadian) veterans. Rehabilitation of the Galicia Division has not taken place, and is far less likely to. The UPA has therefore long been described in textbooks and newspapers such as "Narodna Armiya," an organ of the Defense Ministry, as fighting on a "second front" in World War II.

Among the oligarchic Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o) and the former pro-presidential For a United Ukraine (ZYU), now divided into six factions, there is no opposition to the government's move. One major reason is that centrist groups lack any ideology and this is therefore simply not an issue for them. SDPU-o Chairman Viktor Medvedchuk, now head of the presidential administration, claimed to be the author of the draft government bill, which he had hoped would attract western Ukrainian voters in the March elections.

The malleability of the ideologically amorphous SDPU-o was seen when Medvedchuk denied to Crimean voters that his party supported the rehabilitation of OUN-UPA, and SDPU-o-controlled Inter Television fanned the antinationalist campaign against Yushchenko. The irony is that Medvedchuk also at the same time played up the claim that his family was expelled to Siberia because his father was a member of OUN in Zhytomir Oblast. A book published during the election campaign titled "Nartsys" (Narcissus) by Our Ukraine member Dmytro Chobit told a different story. It unearthed controversial documents that Medvedchuk's father had actually served in the German police, not the OUN.

The only opposition to the government draft bill within Ukraine has come from the Communist Party and the nationalist Russian Bloc. These groups continue to use the same Soviet-era rhetoric denouncing the OUN-UPA as still used in Russia. The Socialists (SPU) have evolved toward accepting that the OUN-UPA can be rehabilitated and that the struggle against them was a Ukrainian "civil war." Nevertheless, the SPU rejects any equality between Soviet veterans and the OUN-UPA and maintains that those who allegedly committed "crimes" should be weeded out.

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

"There is an emergency situation in the agriculture sector. Today, I ordered the government to declare an emergency situation as regards gathering crops. Today, I ask you to forget everything because we have a bumper grain crop. It's a miracle.... We have not witnessed such an occurrence in the [entire] history of Belarus." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 19 July; quoted by Belarusian television.