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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: September 10, 2002

10 September 2002, Volume 4, Number 34
INTEGRATION STORY PROCEEDS, BUT WHERE TO? Media in Russia and Belarus reported last week that Russian President Vladimir Putin had addressed his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, with a letter concerning the further integration of both states.

Putin reportedly assured Lukashenka that the development of integration with Belarus remains a priority task for the Kremlin. Putin stressed that Moscow sees three possible integration scenarios: a full merger of Russia and Belarus into a single state, a suprastate formation like the European Union, or unification on the basis of the 1999 union treaty. The Russian president proposed to set up a joint team to analyze these three integration models. Putin also said he is waiting for Lukashenka's answer to his offer on 14 August to introduce the Russian ruble as the single currency for Belarus and Russia as of 1 January 2004.

Lukashenka responded to Putin on 7 September at a news conference organized on the sidelines of the annual harvest festival (Dazhynki) in Polatsk (Vitsebsk Oblast). For starters, Lukashenka rebuked the Russian leader for allegedly making the content of the letter known to the media before it reached Minsk. "Apparently, there was the need for some public-relations action rather than a message," Belarusian television quoted Lukashenka as saying.

Lukashenka told journalists the same day that he sees no need to form a team of experts to study the three scenarios for Belarusian-Russian integration. "Those who prepared the letter -- maybe it was Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] himself -- appear to have forgotten that we already have a Belarusian-Russian joint group, which, according to the [1999 union] treaty, is working on an act that would determine the way to build the union state," Lukashenka said.

"There was nothing new in [the letter]," Lukashenka went on. "The same [old] story: dividing Belarus and incorporating it by pieces, or [pursuing integration] of an EU type. But they keep silent on the fact that they will offer EU-type integration only after we agree with Russia's proposal to abrogate the existing [union] treaty [of 1999]. If the Russian leadership wants to abrogate the treaty, let them do it, but without us. Belarus will not take part in this. This has been said publicly. Remember once and for all: Lukashenka has never moved away from his path. I have always advocated a union. And what are they proposing? Incorporation.... Russia's leadership has made clear that it does not want an equal union with Belarus," Lukashenka said.

Lukashenka also said there are many reasons why Moscow does not want an equal union with Minsk. Among domestic reasons, Lukashenka named the reluctance of officials in the Russian government "to work on an equal basis [with Belarus]," as well as the wish of "rich people in grab Belarus and criminalize the economy." Lukashenka suggested that Russia is also under external pressure not to develop integration with Belarus. "This is like a litmus test -- for the leadership of Russia, not for Lukashenka. Let's see whether the leadership of Russia will withstand this pressure on it in this situation, whether it will surrender Belarus or not," the Belarusian president said.

Meanwhile, the Moscow-based "Sovetskaya Rossiya" and the Minsk-based "Sovetskaya Belorussiya" published last week a transcript of a late-August telephone conversation between Russia's Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov and Belarus's United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka regarding possible models for uniting Russia and Belarus. Both Nemtsov and Lyabedzka have subsequently admitted that they did have such a conversation. (Nemtsov has asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to investigate how his telephone conversation could have been illegally recorded. Lyabedzka has suggested that his telephone might have been wiretapped by Belarusian special services.)

According to the transcript, Nemtsov told Lyabedzka that the Kremlin may be willing to cooperate with the Belarusian opposition in order to overthrow Lukashenka. Nemtsov asserted that Putin is totally aware that the incorporation of Belarus into the Russian Federation is not a feasible integration model. Nemtsov colorfully explained to Lyabedzka why Putin publicized his incorporation proposal on 14 August: "[Putin] decided to pin [Lukashenka] into a corner. [Lukashenka], pardon my saying, had f****d him up to such an extent that he simply decided to take a swing at him publicly, in front of television cameras and radio microphones. [Lukashenka] had speculated all the time on this union but did not want to do anything in earnest and endlessly jeered at Belarusian and Russian businesses. So [Putin] hit him where it hurts, that's all. Of course, [Putin] realizes perfectly well that the first variant [incorporation] is impossible; he is an absolutely sane man. The second variant [EU-type integration], he said, is for the West and the Russian and Belarusian democrats."

Nemtsov also explained to Lyabedzka how the Kremlin sees an EU-type integration with Belarus: "On the one hand, this variant preserves the [Belarusian] statehood and so on. On the other hand, it gives the possibility -- through a standard European procedure -- to ratify union accords connected with taxes, tariffs, customs services, and so on. I think that this variant is very advantageous to you [the Belarusian opposition], and it will allow you to put pressure on Luka[shenka] in order to oust him."

Nemtsov said he arranged a meeting for Lyabedzka in the Kremlin with Vladislav Surkov, the deputy head of the Russian presidential administration, to discuss ways to promote the EU-type integration and to undermine Lukashenka's position in Belarus.

The fact that the transcript was published by Lukashenka's main press mouthpiece, "Sovetskaya Belorussiya," indicates that he was personally interested in making the content of the Nemtsov-Lyabedzka conversation public. Indeed, the conversation gives Lukashenka a strong argument in support of his well-publicized thesis that Belarusian-Russian integration -- the "people's will" -- is being hindered by backstage influences and political operators conspiring to put the Belarusian economy into the hands of Russian oligarchs. On the other hand, however, the publication unambiguously suggests that Lukashenka is now in disfavor with the Kremlin, and that the latter would not object to replacing the edgy Belarusian leader with someone more compliant.

According to the Minsk-based Independent Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Studies (NISEPI), the number of supporters in Belarus of the unification of Belarus and Russia into a single state increased from 24 percent of the population in 1999 to 32 percent in 2002. At the same time, the number of staunch advocates of Belarus's sovereignty decreased from 28 percent to 16 percent. According to NISEPI head Aleh Manayeu, these shifts in public moods in Belarus could be explained by the increasing popularity of Putin in Russia and the pro-Western policy he has launched following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. Manayeu asserts that many Belarusians now hope for the export of democratic and economic reforms from Russia, while the bulk of supporters of Belarusian-Russian integration previously consisted of those wanting a return of the Soviet Union.

Irrespective of the real reasons behind this increase in the number of Belarusian backers of unification with Russia, it appears that a change of leadership in Belarus is now more likely than it has ever been during Lukashenka's rule. The social base of support for Lukashenka has noticeably shrunk. It is hardly imaginable that Lukashenka may strengthen his position by taking a tough pro-independence position and winning the Belarusian democratic opposition to his side. According to NISEPI, more than 73 percent of supporters of Belarusian sovereignty are at the same time firm opponents of Lukashenka and his regime. And this means that if the democratic opposition fails to produce in the near future an alternative leader who is acceptable for both Moscow and the domestic electorate, then Lukashenka, in order to remain in power, may soon begin to yield to the Kremlin's pressure and integrate with Russia according to Putin's "first variant." (Jan Maksymiuk)

THREE OPPOSITION LEADERS MOBILIZE PROVINCES AGAINST KUCHMA. Last week, Ukraine saw a fairly unusual occurrence: Yuliya Tymoshenko (a former oligarch) and Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko (the most prominent defender of the Ukrainian proletariat) stood arm in arm at rallies in the Ukrainian provinces and called for people to take part in the antipresidential protest campaign that is scheduled to start on 16 September. UNIAN reported that last week, Tymoshenko and Symonenko, jointly with Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, sought support for the protest campaign in Zhytomyr, Rivne, Lutsk, Bila Tserkva, Cherkasy, and Dnipropetrovsk. As the three opposition leaders told a news conference on 2 September, the protest campaign will continue until President Leonid Kuchma and "other representatives of Ukraine's top authorities" resign their posts. The three leaders also called for an early presidential election. "We cannot wait for another 2 1/2 years [for the regular presidential election in 2004] because then we will get Kuchma or his successor," Tymoshenko commented. The state-controlled media, quite understandably, have not reported on the tour of Ukrainian regions by Tymoshenko, Symonenko, and Moroz.

The demand to oust Kuchma seems to be the only unifying factor for the three opposition leaders, who, quite naturally, have avoided mentioning their ideological differences during rallies. The "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported that at the rally in Zhytomir on 5 September, Symonenko, in line with the Communist Party program, spoke about ensuring free-of-charge education, high pensions and wages, inexpensive transportation, the repayment of savings lost due to the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the "termination of criminal privatization and the return of enterprises to the people's ownership." Moroz stressed the need for the democratization of the power system and quoted sums that were allegedly embezzled by Kuchma to the detriment of the Ukrainian people. Tymoshenko blamed Kuchma for the failure of reforms in the country. In general, all other Ukrainian failures were blamed on Kuchma as well. Moroz, the website noted sardonically, even tried to place responsibility on Kuchma for not lifting the ban on producing moonshine (unlicensed production of alcohol) in Ukraine.

It is understandable that the opposition wants to muster support for its "Rise Up, Ukraine!" protest action among as many people as possible. Therefore, the three leaders have appealed primarily to what seems to be the most probable motive for popular discontent: the dire economic situation in Ukraine and people's natural yearning to pin their hopes on someone who promises to improve it. But on the other hand, it is also obvious that, to a significant extent, the message voiced by the opposition is politically irresponsible and practically inapplicable. It is no wonder that Viktor Yushchenko prefers not to associate with Tymoshenko, Symonenko, and Moroz too closely. Even he -- dubbed a "Ukrainian messiah" -- would find it rather hard to accelerate privatization in Ukraine efficiently and to ensure "the return of enterprises to the people's ownership" at the same time. (Jan Maksymiuk)

MORE WATER FOR LVIV IN THE PIPELINE. The World Bank is to give Ukraine a $24 million loan to upgrade Lviv's water supply. For decades, residents of Lviv have been supplied with water for -- at most -- two periods (morning and evening) of two to three hours every day. The loan is earmarked for modernizing and replacing the equipment used in the city's water-supply and sewerage systems. Certainly, such work is long overdue. Ten years ago, it was estimated that one-third of the city's water supply is lost by leakages before it ever arrives at its destination. However, new pipes and pumps alone cannot solve the city's water problems entirely.

Lviv's water shortages are the result of a combination of geographical factors and the legacy of Soviet planning. The city stands on the main European watershed, which divides the rivers that eventually feed into the Baltic Sea from those flowing to the Black Sea. The area is, therefore, not abundant in water by nature. Lviv, however, was supplied by deep artesian wells giving the city an important strategic advantage in time of war, since an enemy would be unable to cut off its water supply. One of the first things the Soviets did once their possession of the city was confirmed was to destroy these wells. This was supposedly in the name of "progress" (wells were "reactionary" and "backward-looking" -- pipelines were "progressive" and "socialist"), but almost certainly the planners were not unaware of the security implications: Should the inhabitants of Lviv rise against Soviet rule, without their wells they would be unable to resist a siege.

The Soviets then set about a demographic reform. Just as in Poland, where the "socialist" city of Nowa Huta was built adjacent to "Catholic" and "reactionary" Krakow, Lviv was to be turned from a cultured university city, the focus of the (newly outlawed) Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, into a hive of Soviet production. New industries were to be established and a new "proletarian" workforce imported. These directives seem to have given no thought to the question of where the water for the extra population and industrial activity was to be found. To compound the problem, the industrial development focused on aluminum processing, a notoriously water-greedy technology.

When the Soviet Union fell apart, the city authorities of Lviv swiftly turned their attention to the water problem. Various expert studies were made and published, but the complexity of the situation and the post-Soviet economy effectively blocked any swift solution. Drilling new artesian wells was ruled out -- Soviet "water management" had drastically lowered the water table of the entire area. Pipe in water from elsewhere? Theoretically possible, but that would mean laying up to 100 kilometers of new pipelines from Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast. When surveyors went out to inspect possible routes and sources, they encountered vehement protests -- and in some instances menaces -- from farmers afraid of losing their own scanty supplies. Shut down water-greedy industry, and face horrendous problems of unemployment? Install new closed-cycle processing technologies, which recover and reuse their wastewater? Possible, but very expensive. "What we really need," one city official said in 1992, "is to cut the population of the city by half!" But who would decide who was to be relocated and provide incentives for them to leave? And where could they go?

Ten years later, these questions remain largely unsolved. The World Bank loan will certainly go a long way to resolving the purely financial side of the problem, but the root situation, a city too large for its readily available water supply, is not so easy to tackle. (Vera Rich)

ACTIVE CITIZENS OR LOYAL INDIVIDUALS -- WHOM DOES UKRAINE NEED MORE? Last month, Ukraine entered the 12th year of its independence, but as a state and society, it still faces a dramatic challenge that is not usually discussed in official propaganda outlets. The point is that people living in Ukraine, including ethnic Ukrainians, still do not feel that the state is their own and, as a result, they en masse do not consider themselves to be citizens of the country called Ukraine. Formally, of course, they are citizens and hold Ukrainian passports. According to surveys, however, there is no dominant popular feeling, nothing to say about pride, of belonging to the citizenry of Ukraine.

According to a poll conducted within the framework of the nationwide program Monitoring Ukrainian Society by the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Sociology in April and May among a representative sample of 1,800 respondents, only 41 percent of respondents considered themselves to be "citizens of Ukraine." Almost the same proportion of respondents identified themselves as inhabitants of their localities and regions. And nearly 13 percent of respondents, who belonged primarily to older generations and lived predominantly in eastern parts of the country, still considered themselves to be "citizens of the USSR."

Perhaps, one would not dramatize this rather massive "noncitizenship" of the Ukrainian population mainly because of the short historical period in the formation of a new political entity: the Ukrainian nation. But two aspects of this poll should be given serious attention.

First, there is a trend toward steadily diminishing the share of Ukrainian population that now identifies itself with Ukrainian citizenship in comparison with whose who considered themselves Ukrainian citizens at the beginning of the 1990s.

Second, as an analysis of the survey has shown, respondents understood their citizenship as mostly a formal attachment to the country where they are physically living rather than a stance of active social and political engagement in Ukrainian society. The survey revealed that only 9 percent of the respondents who identified themselves as "citizens" believed in their ability to protect their own rights against the state. (For comparison, 11 percent of the respondents who identified themselves as "representatives of their ethnic group" and 12.5 percent of those who identified themselves as "people of the world" said they believe in that ability.) In other words, the dominant type of Ukrainian citizens is that of a politically inert individual who is reluctant to resort to actions of protest against any possible unjust decisions by the authorities.

This makes one believe that the reason why people distance themselves from Ukrainian civic identity lies not only in the mass psychological frustration of socioeconomic expectations regarding prospects of the Ukrainian state in the early 1990s. There are clear signs of the alienation of the Ukrainian population from the state. Why is this the case?

The Ukrainian state, or more accurately, the political circles representing the state machinery, in its relations with people, actively reproduces the logic of its communist predecessor, which used to dictate and instruct "from above." The result of this activity is the formation of a "state-centered" (or, to use a French term, "etatic"), rather than civic, identity, i.e., an individual identity that is shaped and controlled by the state.

It is possible to form the identity of an inert individual and to induce mass culture of apathy by means of indoctrination involving mass propaganda and psychological manipulation in the state-controlled media. But one can never construct in such a way a civic Ukrainian identity implying people's social engagement and political participation. The vital issues of Ukraine's "unfinished revolution" (Taras Kuzio, "Ukraine. The Unfinished Revolution," in "European Security Study" 16, London, Institute for European Defence and Security Studies, 1992), such as an undeveloped civil society and the lack of social cohesion and solidarity, can also be explained by this distorted interaction between the state and its citizenry.

Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph I used to say when someone was recommended to him as a patriot of Austria, that "he may be a patriot of Austria, but the question is whether he is a patriot of me." Today's dilemma of Ukrainian citizenship may be reflected in the following paraphrase of the emperor's saying: Does a future Ukrainian democracy need careerists loyal to the authorities or active citizens who are capable of promoting changes and reforms in Ukrainian society?

As testified by comparative international sociological surveys conducted in 11 postcommunist countries (Claire Wallace, "Xenophobia in Post-Communist Europe," Glasgow 1999), citizens of successful postcommunist democracies were usually proud of their nationality, while this was not the case in countries experiencing difficulties in their transformation, like Ukraine. Those surveys obviously imply that either successes in postcommunist transformation boost national pride or that national pride is a necessary condition for such successes or that both factors are operational simultaneously.

It seems that the real challenge to political reform in Ukraine does not lie exclusively in the change of the governing system from a presidential to a parliamentary republic, as was recently declared. This challenge is rather connected with the need for a reform in the way the state interacts with its citizens. Such a reform would have to switch the state machinery from the propagandistic and predominantly command style of its current public-relations policies to a much more cooperative and partner-like model.

(This report was written by Dr. Viktor Stepanenko, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Sociology, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, and the director of the Center for Public Policy Development.)

"I was unable to look at these people [Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Premier Leszek Miller] sitting in front of me during Mass [served by the pope in Krakow on 18 August]. I didn't know what to do in this situation: [Should I] turn my back on them or go out? I needed to wash off this dishonor as soon as possible." -- Former Solidarity leader and President Lech Walesa, commenting on why he set up the Solidarity Council -- an organization of Solidarity founders and veterans -- on 19 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2002); quoted by "Polityka" on 31 August.