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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: August 20, 2002

20 August 2002, Volume 4, Number 31
POPE ON HIS NINTH PILGRIMAGE TO HOMELAND. On 16-19 August, Pope John Paul II visited Poland for the ninth time. Many fear that it may have been the last pilgrimage of the 82-year-old ailing and frail pontiff to his homeland. Therefore, many reports in Polish and world media highlighted the emotional aspect of the pope's journey -- his likely last trip to the native country and the city of Krakow where he served as a priest and bishop before being called to the Vatican. However, apart from these inevitable sentimental undertones, the trip for the pope also meant "business as usual." He came to Poland to deliver a message of the head of the Roman Catholic Church, beatify four persons, and meet top Polish state officials.

In his arrival address on 16 August at the Krakow airport, the pope touched upon Poland's socioeconomic situation. "For people who are directed by the spirit of the social teaching of the church, it is not possible to remain indifferent to the fate of those who remain without jobs and who live in ever greater impoverishment, without perspectives of an improvement in their fate," John Paul II said. "I know that many Polish families, especially those with many children, many of the unemployed, and people of an advanced age are bearing not at all low costs of the social and economic transformations. I wish to tell them that I share their burdens and fate in spirit. I share [their] joy and suffering."

What makes the pope especially endearing to Poles is his ability to establish an easy rapport with the crowd by telling a joke, singing a tune, or making an unexpected remark. Upon arriving at Krakow, the pontiff made such an unscripted remark regarding his physical condition. "And I just want to apologize," the pope said. "The president is standing, the cardinal is standing, and I am sitting. I very much apologize for this. But I must also admit that this barrier has been erected here which does not allow me to stand." The crowd reacted with applause and laughter.

The pope delivered his main message of the ninth pilgrimage to the homeland in a homily read at the Mass on the Blonia meadowland near Krakow, where an estimated 2.7 million people -- reportedly the largest crowd ever gathered in Poland -- came to see and listen to him.

"From the very beginning of its existence, the church referring to the mystery of the cross and resurrection, has been teaching about divine mercy which is the guarantee of hope and source of man's salvation," the pope said. "And God has chosen our times for that, perhaps because the 20th century, regardless of its undeniable achievements in many areas, was in a particular way marked by the mystery of evil. With this legacy of good but also of evil, we have entered a new millennium. Mankind is facing new prospects of development but at the same time new threats.

"Man often lives his life as if God did not exist. He usurps the right to be the creator to interfere in the mystery of human life. He makes attempts to decide on the beginning of life, on its shape by genetic manipulations and consequently to determine death's boundaries.

"By rejecting God's laws and moral rules, we openly come out against the family. In a number of ways we try to silence God's voice in human hearts and make Him the great absentee in culture and in the social consciousness of nations."

Commenting on current affairs, the pontiff appealed for more "divine mercy" in human life and warned against "false freedom concepts," "noisy liberalist propaganda," and "freedom without truth and responsibility."

Later the same day, John Paul II bid an emotional farewell to thousands of people gathered for a nighttime vigil outside the archbishop's residence in Krakow. The crowd intoned, "Welcome, Alleluia" and "stay with us," when the pope showed his face from a window. "Unfortunately, it's a farewell meeting," the pope responded. Earlier the same day, while visiting the St. Florian Parish Church where he was a priest from 1948-50, John Paul II made rare mention of his mortality by saying, "I ask for prayers for all the current parishioners at St. Florian, a prayer for the living and the dead, and a prayer for the pope during his lifetime and after his death."

On 19 August, the pope visited the Kalwaria Zebrzydowska sanctuary near Krakow, the place that was very instrumental to forming his religious mission. "Most Holy Mother, Our Lady of Calvary, obtain also for me strength in body and spirit that I may carry out to the end the mission given me," the pontiff prayed at the sanctuary, thus -- as many commentators were quick to observe -- dismissing speculations that he may intend to resign because of his poor health.

Before arriving at the Krakow airport later the same day, the pope flew by helicopter over his birthplace, the town of Wadowice, and over the Tatra Mountains where he loved to walk and ski.

" "I can see the entire Motherland with the eyes of my soul and I am happy with its successes and creative plans," the pope said at the official farewell ceremony. "I showed some anxiety when I spoke about the hard toll of change, a toll most painful to the poorest and weakest, the unemployed and homeless, all those who are forced to live in steadily deteriorating and insecure conditions. In departing, I would like to entrust these issues to divine providence and encourage all who are responsible for the country to show true concern for its and its people's good."

"I'm sorry to be leaving," the pontiff said before his flight back to Rome. "Many have wished to meet me, although not all were able to do so. Maybe next time." (Jan Maksymiuk)

POLL SCRUTINIZES ATTITUDES TOWARD CATHOLIC CHURCH. As the pope's visit would suggest, the majority of Poles consider themselves to be loyal Catholics. But, according to the latest public opinion poll conducted by the Public Opinion Research Center (OBOP), they are by no means all happy about the role of the Catholic Church in politics and society.

The survey, carried out by the OBOP survey agency, gives the following results on attitudes to religion: believing and practicing regularly -- 56 percent, believing and practicing irregularly -- 30 percent, believing but not practicing -- 12 percent, non-believing -- 2 percent.

Responses to the question, "How much do you trust the Catholic Church?" produced the answers: very much -- 37 percent, fairly much -- 32 percent, while 15 percent "rather did not" trust it, and 11 percent definitely did not.

The church's involvement in politics was according to respondents: too great -- 56 percent, "as it should be" -- 32 percent, too little -- 4 percent, with 8 percent not giving a definite answer.

The "too great" category was divided between "much too great" -- 21 percent, and "rather too great" -- 35 percent.

The "too little" category was subdivided into "rather too little" -- 3 percent, and "much too little" -- 1 percent.

As to whether the government ought to act always according to the social teaching of the Catholic Church, the answers were almost equally divided: yes -- 46 percent, no -- 45 percent, with 9 percent giving no definite response.

Summing up, OBOP found that "a positive attitude to the Catholic Church and its presence in the public life of the country" characterizes a quarter of the population (25 percent). On the other hand, 19 percent exhibit "a negative attitude" -- distrust of the church, reluctance to have the principles of its teaching in political activities, and a conviction that its influence is too great. (Vera Rich)

PUTIN WANTS BELARUS TO ENTER RUSSIAN FEDERATION. Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin achieved the near impossible. He got Belarus's government and opposition to agree, albeit on only one issue, and for decidedly different reasons.

At a Kremlin press conference with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 14 August, Putin unveiled proposals to join their two countries into a union under a single president, a single constitution, and a single currency -- the Russian ruble.

Hitherto lukewarm to the idea of closer Belarus-Russia ties, Putin surprised observers by giving a detailed timetable for unification. Alternatively, he said the two countries could join together in a European Union-style arrangement.

In Moscow, Putin's abrupt about-face was seen as a sly move to outmaneuver, and ultimately sideline, his Belarusian counterpart by proposing unification on Russian terms.

Lukashenka has pushed for unification, but not on terms that would see Belarus merely absorbed as "Russia's 90th region," as he put it, and that would herald the end of his political career. He wants a confederation that would preserve Belarusian sovereignty.

Upon his return to Minsk, Lukashenka rejected Putin's plan, saying Belarusians would voice "absolute rejection" of a referendum asking if they wanted to be absorbed into Russia.

The pro-government daily "Sovetskaya Belorussiya" suggested Putin cannot seriously expect "a leader of a sovereign state, which Alyaksandr Lukashenka is, to approve a scheme that could lead to that sovereign state's crumbling. No world leader would support this kind of integration scheme."

Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Pavel Latushka said: "Our two leaders support the premise that our countries already have experience in building a [Russia-Belarus] union and they have not yet utilized all the mechanisms of the Union Treaty [of 1999], on the basis of which future relations will continue to develop. The Foreign Ministry contends that the development of the union will be based on the conservation of sovereignty and the international rights of each country."

Belarusian Constitutional Court Chairman Ryhor Vasilevich told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service that the country's laws would not allow a referendum along the lines of Putin's proposal. "In the Belarusian Electoral Code, Article 112 stipulates that a republican referendum cannot have questions that could result in violations of Belarus's territorial integrity. This is the law. And at the same time, the Belarusian Constitution is the constitution of a sovereign state, of a legal, social, democratic state. Without doubt, in order to solve these issues, it's necessary to refer to the text of the constitution, because the state is unitary, independent. Essentially, this question would be the first basis for the state to stop existing," Vasilevich said.

The opposition in Belarus has consistently opposed closer union with Russia. Zyanon Paznyak, an exiled nationalist politician, has condemned the plans as "a policy of bold occupation threats and intimidation," and called on Belarusians to fight for their independence.

Stanislau Shushkevich, the first head of state of an independent Belarus and an impassioned Lukashenka critic, told RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service that Putin's proposals smacked of imperialism. "These proposals from Putin are reminiscent of what took place in Austria in 1937, when people there were saying, 'One nation, one language, why two governments?' But just as Germany in the end was unable to swallow up Austria, Russia will also be unable to absorb Belarus. I think this proposal is demeaning to the freedom-loving Belarusian people, to a nation that is friendly to the Russian nation," Shushkevich said.

Analysts agree that Putin has called Lukashenka's bluff by presenting him with a unification offer he cannot accept. What this all means now for Lukashenka is unclear, as Belarus expert Jim Dingley of London University noted. "It's possible that Lukashenka will become a [model] Belarusian, even a nationalist, because he has no other options now. He doesn't want to become a governor of a Russian province. What other options are open to him?" Dingley said.

But in the end, rejecting Putin's proposals may leave Lukashenka, a leader already shunned by most of the West, even more isolated from the rest of the world. (Kathleen Knox)

ANTI-SEMITISM AS AN INTEGRAL COMPONENT OF SOVIET BELARUSIAN NATIONALISM AND PAN-EASTERN SLAVISM. When Western scholars and journalists have written about post-Soviet developments, they have tended to present them in two ways. Firstly, they have used Soviet-era and Russian views of "nationalism" where this notion is only associated with non-Russians and is of an exclusive, ethnic variety. Secondly, Russian and Soviet nationalism in the non-Russian republics is ignored. The only "nationalism" written about in Ukraine and Belarus is therefore that of the "nationalist Rukh," "nationalist West Ukrainians," and the "nationalist Belarusian Popular Front."

This type of analysis provides a narrow, incorrect, and lopsided view of post-Soviet developments in republics such as Belarus (and Ukraine). Nationalism appears in a variety of guises and can be sometimes "good" and often "bad." In the case of Belarus and Ukraine, this standard framework defines only a pro-Western orientation as "nationalist." In itself, this is dubious as extreme-right nationalists and fascists in Western and Central Europe are anti-EU and anti-American, and by default therefore anti-NATO. Such hostility to the U.S., EU, and NATO is only found among Alyaksandr Lukashenka's supporters and his nationalist-communist allies in Russia.

Belarus is a good case study of why this definition of nationalism should be broadened to include other types. Lukashenka was elected president in July 1994 and re-elected in a dubious election in September 2001. His regime is described as "the last dictatorship in Europe" and has developed an ideology that is a curious combination of Soviet Belarusian territorial nationalism, Soviet internationalism, and pan-Eastern Slavism. Lukashenka's ally inside Belarus is the state-favored Russian Orthodox Church which has a long tradition of anti-Semitism and pan-Eastern Slavism. Lukashenka's ideology rejects Belarusian language and culture (as did pan-Slavists and Soviet internationalists) and has no place for Belarusian indigenous Orthodox and Catholic churches. Lukashenka's ideology is propagated by the state through television, education, and organized political activities -- just as in the USSR.

All three of the currents within Lukashenka's ideology are "nationalist" even though there is tension between them. For example, pan-Eastern Slavism has its origins in the pre-Soviet era and would agree to Russia's proposals for Belarus to join Russia as provinces. Lukashenka has always rejected such an idea as "unacceptable to Belarus" and his rhetoric in defense of his country's sovereignty sometimes sounds as strong as that of his "nationalist" opponents. The main difference between them is that Lukashenka is pro-Russian, anti-Western, and anti-Polish, while national democrats are the exact opposite.

Where Lukashenka differs from his "nationalist" opponents is in his anti-Semitism. National democrats in Belarus (and Ukraine) have no record of anti-Semitism and indeed Ukrainian and Jewish prisoners of conscience were close allies in the Soviet Gulag. In contrast, Lukashenka's anti-Semitism draws on a deep legacy found in all three variants of his ruling ideology. Pan-Eastern Slavism has a long record of anti-Semitism, which at its extreme created the infamous "Black Hundred" pogromists. In the former USSR, "anti-Zionism" was merely camouflage for anti-Semitism. Soviet Belarus was a leading incubator of "anti-Zionist" propaganda.

Not surprisingly, anti-Semitism flourishes under the Lukashenka regime. Belarusian Popular Front leader Vintsuk Vyachorka complained: "The Lukashenka regime has revived the institution of state ideology, which is a mixture of communism, xenophobia, and pan-Slavic chauvinism. The practice of anti-Semitism has been restored in Belarus; the branches of the Russian National Unity (RNO), which were expelled from Russia, feel themselves at ease under the patronage of the regime." Cooperation between the fascist RNO and pro-Lukashenka political groups reflects the kind of company the Belarusian leader likes to keep.

In 2000 the World Association of Belarusian Jewry and the Belarusian Human Rights Center Vyasna appealed to the Israeli government to refuse to have any dealings with Lukashenka, whom they accused of being anti-Semitic. They alleged that Lukashenka had refused to set up Jewish schools, or help maintain Jewish cemeteries and monuments and create memorials to victims of the Nazi Holocaust. In July demonstrators in Minsk demanded the reconstruction of a synagogue -- built in 1879, closed in the 1930s, and then reopened in the 1990s -- that was destroyed last year. Yakov Gutman, head of the World Association of Belarusian Jewry, compared its destruction to that of the Buddha statues in Afghanistan also last year.

This anti-Semitism in Belarus is very different to neighboring Ukraine, where synagogues and cemeteries have been widely rebuilt, including in Kyiv and at the birthplace of the founder of the Hassidic movement in Uman. A monument to the Babyn Yar massacre of mainly Jews in Kyiv was opened by President Leonid Kravchuk in 1992. Not surprisingly, Lukashenka has rejected charges made this month by the Union of Jewish Public Organizations and Communities that "anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi actions have acquired a massive scale in Belarus" after vandals desecrated Jewish graves at two cemeteries in Minsk.

The long tradition of anti-Semitism in the Russian Orthodox Church sits snugly alongside Lukashenka's ideology. The new law on religion adopted in June gives the Russian Orthodox Church the status of the state church in Belarus, a move which has been condemned by Belarusian Uniates and Autocephalous Orthodox as well as Protestant churches as discriminatory. In 2000 the leader of the Jewish community in Belarus sued the Minsk publishing house Orthodox Initiative "for fomenting ethnic hatred" after it had published "The War According to the Laws of Meanness" which collected together anti-Semitic articles from the Tsarist (including the infamous "Protocols of the Elders of Zion") and Soviet Belarusian media.

The introduction to this book calls upon Belarusians to reject both the West and the "Jew-Masons who have occupied Russia." Again, this is a favorite theme of Lukashenka who (like Russian nationalists and communists) remains convinced that Russian reforms have lost Russia its sovereignty. As early as 1997, Lukashenka offered Russia advice that it "should make an effort to employ our model of reform as soon as possible. We are showing Russia how an economy should be reformed, with a view to Russia's mistakes." In June 2002, Lukashenka admitted that he was in favor of Belarus going to Europe. But he refused to pay the same "price" that Russia had paid in this endeavor.

A Minsk district court rejected the libel suit filed by Jewish organizations against the publisher of the Orthodox Initiative book. "There is nothing surprising in this court's decision given the fact that the [Belarusian] president has publicly eulogized Hitler," Gutman said. Soviet and pan-Eastern Slavic nationalism and its close ally, anti-Semitism, officially flourish in Lukashenka's Belarus. (Taras Kuzio)

"I envisage the following [referendum] question, and I believe it should be the same for Belarus and Russia: Do you agree with the unification of Russia and Belarus as a single state on the basis of the following principles: 1. guarantee of rights and freedoms of citizens of the unified state; 2. equality of the regions or Russia and Belarus as subjects of the common state; 3. the creation of common governmental structures of the single state in accordance with the Constitution of the Russian Federation. I want to stress this point, and I'll tell you why. It's not that we don't like the Constitution of Belarus. It can be an exemplary model for many other countries, it is a constitution of a democratic state, but, unlike Russia, Belarus is a unitary state, while Russia as well as the future common state can only be a federal state. Therefore, I cannot imagine that this may be done in a different way." -- Russian President Vladimir Putin, at a news conference following his meeting with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Moscow on 14 August; quoted by Belarusian television.

"If [one were] to translate [the Putin-proposed referendum question] into [plain] will sound to Belarusians this way: 'Do you agree to dividing Belarus into seven parts, including these parts into the Russian Federation, and granting to these seven Belarusian parts equal rights with Russia's regions? What will Belarus's citizens answer? It is not hard to guess. A categorical rejection, a categorical 'no.' Therefore, there is no sense in discussing this variant. It is unacceptable for Belarus. The point here in not even in incorporating Belarus as one entity into Russia, but in dismembering and incorporating it." -- Lukashenka at the Minsk airport on 14 August, upon returning from Moscow; quoted by Belarusian television.

"None of Belarus's leaders has ever manipulated Russia's leadership to such an extent and obtained such dividends as Lukashenka. Now the master of the Kremlin said 'enough.' It's time to separate flies from cutlets [Editor's note: Putin's pronouncement in June regarding Belarus's integration proposals]. And Lukashenka, who is such a brave fighter against dissent, did not have the guts to answer Putin on the spot. He presented a miserable sight in Moscow. But once back in Minsk and behind his fence, he began to crow again." -- Mechyslau Hryb, the chairman of Belarus's Supreme Soviet in 1993-94; quoted by "Kommersant" on 16 August.

"What do we need such a foolish, arrogant political partner for? Lukashenka has strived only to improve his financial matters at the expense of Russia. But we have proceeded in the issue of the [Russia-Belarus] union thus far that Putin was forced to present Lukashenka with a choice. I'm very glad that there will be no union in the form proposed by Lukashenka. But this is not the end, there will likely be more haggling." -- Russian Duma Deputy and human rights activist Sergei Kovalev; quoted by "Kommersant" on 16 August.

"Lukashenka has stirred the Russian bear by pressing [Putin] for 10 hours [in June] with his own scenario for developing the union state. Lukashenka's calculation was based on the premise that the Kremlin, while not having a candidate for Lukashenka's successor or serious support within the circles of Belarusian nomenklatura, will agree to concessions. This has not happened, and now the Belarusian leader is facing serious problems. Moscow has presented him with an ultimatum by making public the Kremlin's plan of actions with regard to Belarus. By this [ultimatum], Putin has stripped Lukashenka even of his integration rhetoric." -- Belarusian United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka on 15 August; quoted by Belapan.