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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: October 1, 2002

1 October 2002, Volume 4, Number 37
SOLIDARITY HAS A NEW LEADER. A congress of the Solidarity trade union in Gdansk on 27 September elected 47-year-old Janusz Sniadek as chairman. Sniadek was elected after the previous Solidarity leader, Marian Krzaklewski, withdrew from the ballot following four abortive election rounds. Sniadek, a Solidarity member since 1981, was Krzaklewski's deputy and the head of the Solidarity Gdansk region. Some commentators believe Sniadek's appointment means that Solidarity, which provided political support for Jerzy Buzek's government in 1997-2001, will withdraw from politics even further and tackle purely trade-union issues. "The most important thing now is to change the face of the union, to take off its political face," Sniadek told journalists immediately after his election.

Sniadek, born in 1955 in Sopot, graduated from the Marine Engineering Department of the Gdansk Technical University with a master's degree in mechanical engineering in 1981. That same year, he began to work at the Gdynia shipyard and started his activity in Solidarity. He was active in Solidarity's underground structures during the martial-law period. Until 1989, he worked as a designer in the Gdynia shipyard's construction design office. In 1989, he was elected to the post of chairman of Solidarity at the shipyard. He held this post for three terms until 1998. In June 1998, he was elected chairman of Solidarity's Gdansk region. He became a member of the National Commission of Solidarity in 1995 and a deputy chairman of this commission in 1997.

It is not clear what role Sniadek sees for Marian Krzaklewski, who lost the election for the head of the trade union but was elected to its National Commission. Krzaklewski suggested that he could tackle Solidarity's international contacts. According to "Gazeta Wyborcza," there were rumors at the congress that Sniadek may propose Krzaklewski for the post of one of his deputies. "The situation is tricky. Janusz [Sniadek] knows that he will become fully independent only when he pushes away Marian [Krzaklewski] as far from himself as possible. He surely remembers what happened with Jerzy Buzek's government, which was managed by Krzaklewski from his backseat," "Gazeta Wyborcza" quoted one delegate to the congress as saying.

Apart from leading the Solidarity trade union during the period from in 1997 to 2001, Krzaklewski was the head of its political arm, the Solidarity Electoral Action parliamentary caucus. Krzaklewski was widely believed to be the main backstage operator on the Polish political scene at that time, actually running the government "from his backseat." His political decline began after he lost in the 2000 presidential election not only to Aleksander Kwasniewski but also to Andrzej Olechowski. Krzaklewski's political clout shrank even more after the Solidarity-rooted political forces badly lost the 2001 parliamentary election. (Jan Maksymiuk)

WRITERS REFUSE TO BOW TO THE AUTHORITIES. Belarusian writers elected 30-year-old novelist Ales (Alyaksandr) Pashkevich as chairman of the Union of Belarusian Writers (SBP) at their extraordinary congress in Minsk on 24 September, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The congress was reportedly initiated by a group of writers who wanted to replace the prior SBP leadership with a more compliant one that could provide a sort of intellectual support to the authoritarian policies of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. This attempt, judging by comments from some participants in the congress, failed. Volha Ipatava, the previous chairwoman of the SBP, said the election of Pashkevich was a "victory of the democratic forces among the literary community." But there were also other voices -- particularly from the younger generation of Belarusian writers who do not belong to the SBP -- that said the above-mentioned "victory" is quite insignificant since the SBP's influence on the current literary process in the country is very small or even "illusory."

"Our realities show that a democratic writer cannot cooperate with the current government," Ipatava told the congress prior to the election. She accused the government of introducing censorship in the SBP's weekly "Litaratura i Mastatstva" and seizing control of the SBP's literary periodicals "Polymya," "Maladosts," "Krynitsa," and "Neman" by appointing loyal people to head their staffs and banning publication of materials selected by the previous editors. Earlier this year, the above-mentioned five periodicals became part of a state-controlled "literary holding" called "Litaratura i Mastatstva" (Literature and Art). Ipatava linked the government's hostile actions regarding the SBP to the fact that the organization of writers has never filled the place that the government assigned to it in Belarus's social and political system after the 2001 presidential election.

The congress was attended by 292 SBP members out of a total of 501. Pashkevich received 159 votes, while his rival, Uladzimir Lipski, got 118. "Pashkevich is a talented, dynamic, mobile, and highly intellectual figure," poet Leanid Dranko-Maysyuk commented after the election. "His character combines traits of a manager, soldier, and diplomat."

Translator Lyavon Barshcheuski said the congress's most positive result was that the SBP "has remained the most Belarusian and most responsible organization among all other creative unions" in Belarus. Barshcheuski elaborated: "The main [underlying] principle of the SBP is the understanding that the preservation of the Belarusian language is an indisputable question. Any authority that will try to deprive writers of their mother tongue and of their social influence in this sphere will not be supported by the absolute majority of SBP members. This is what actually took place at the congress, despite the fact that the creation of the so-called 'literary holding' was a move to lure a part of the SBP into taking the side of the authorities. Writers did not agree and said [at the congress] that they will be looking for nonstate support to publish their works and will not beg for money from the state, which hates the Belarusian language and does not give a damn about the national culture."

Adam Hlobus, a Belarusian writer who made his debut in 1988 within the Soviet-era organization of writers but in independent Belarus published his books outside the SBP publishing system, told RFE/RL that the SBP has largely lost its sway on the literary community in comparison with its Soviet-era predecessor. "Earlier, the union granted honorary titles [to writers] or made it possible [for them] to be published. Now, only an illusion remains, as there still has been the illusion that, so to speak, 'We will restore the Soviet Union.' This is not an illusion of my generation.... [The older generations of writers] still believe that the SBP may be a tool to influence activities of the people who are responsible for creating national and state ideology," Hlobus said.

The nonstate weekly "Nasha Niva," which provides a publicity forum for younger generations of Belarusian authors, commented sarcastically that the best thing Pashkevich could do "for the benefit of the national literature" would be "to break up" the SBP. According to "Nasha Niva," the SBP, which boasts of its status as a democratic organization, still thinks it has "the monopolist right to represent the entire [body of] national literature." (Jan Maksymiuk)

KUCHMA HAS NO INTENTION OF RESIGNING. President Leonid Kuchma addressed the country on the ICTV television station on 28 September and accused the opposition of resorting to violence to unseat him. "It is one thing to express one's dissatisfaction but another thing to [try to] force a violent change of power and the social system," the president said. Kuchma called for an end to opposition protests, saying that previous demonstrations have damaged Ukraine's image and stall social progress. "[Opposition leaders] must think about whether to discharge the responsibilities for which they were elected by some 50 million citizens during the elections or to execute the demands of close to 50,000 people who participated in nationwide demonstrations," he noted, adding that "I refuse categorically to resign...because I was elected by the people as the head of state, and I feel fully responsible for all that happens in the country."

It appears that the Ukrainian president is beginning to regain the controls of the political situation in the country despite the two huge antipresidential rallies in Kyiv (16 and 24 September), as well as numerous, albeit less crowded, protests in the provinces. There is also no sign that Kuchma has been affected to any degree by the recent allegations from Washington saying that Ukraine may have illegally sold a Kolchuga radar system to Iraq, following his personal authorization.

Last week, the nine pro-presidential groups in the Verkhovna Rada -- the Party of Entrepreneurs-Labor Ukraine, Ukraine's Regions, Social Democratic Party-united, European Choice, Democratic Initiatives, Popular Democratic Party, Power of the People, Ukraine's Agrarians, and People's Choice -- announced that they have created a 226-strong parliamentary majority to "assume the responsibility for legislative activities and the creation of a coalition government in accordance with the president's proposals regarding the implementation of political reform." The practical operation of such a razor-blade majority (226 is the minimum number of votes necessary to pass laws) may be very dubious -- as testified by several abortive votes on legislation in parliament last week -- but its announcement doubtless shows that Kuchma does not intend to bow to the demands of former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko that a parliamentary coalition be created around his grouping, Our Ukraine, which won the most parliamentary seats contested under a proportional party-list system in the 31 March parliamentary election.

According to Roman Bezsmertnyy, Our Ukraine's political coordinator, a viable majority in the Verkhovna Rada should consist of 270 deputies at minimum. Until now, the opposition Communist Party, Socialist Party, and Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, as well as Our Ukraine, have been able to disrupt the work of the parliament by boycotting votes. But such a tactic seems to play into the hand of the presidential administration. In his 28 September address, Kuchma accused the opposition of sabotaging the ongoing parliamentary session by refusing to participate in voting. He castigated opposition groups for failing last week to support a law on money laundering and suggested that Ukraine's international image may be severely damaged, and international organizations may impose sanctions against Ukraine, because of this failure. He also lashed out at opposition legislators for not voting on a bill that would provide assistance to the families of disabled people. These are evidently arguments of some populist appeal.

It seems that Kuchma's primary intention is to persuade Yushchenko that Our Ukraine -- if not as a whole, then in part -- should join the pro-presidential majority and provide necessary support for legislative activities of the Verkhovna Rada. Mykhaylo Pohrebynskyy, a political analyst with links to the presidential administration, told the "Ukrayinska pravda" website how Yushchenko could make such a move toward Kuchma. "[Yushchenko] could create two factions on the basis of his megafaction [Our Ukraine]," Pohrebynskyy noted. "One faction could be more resolute and consistent in pursuing [Our Ukraine's] opposition line. The other could be more prone to compromise and ready for more active cooperation." According to Pohrebynskyy, the "radical part" of Our Ukraine could "preserve room to maneuver for Yushchenko, and he would not have to go between [Yuliya] Tymoshenko, [Oleksandr] Moroz, [Petro] Symonenko, and Kuchma, but would be able to move among his own people."

It is for Yushchenko to judge whether he wants to join a majority in which he will not play the main role, as well as whether such a scheme will not actually mean a split within Our Ukraine. But it is also obvious that the time for making his crucial political choice -- moving to the radical antipresidential opposition or joining the pro-presidential coalition -- is already ripe. Any further wavering and maneuvering on the part of Ukraine's most popular politician may be fraught with grave losses of his current and/or future allies. (Jan Maksymiuk)

THE CONTINUING SAGA OVER THE 'KUCHMAGATE' TAPES. Last week's decision by Washington to block some $55 million in previously approved aid to Kyiv over suspicions that Ukraine may have illegally sold Iraq Kolchuga radar systems capable of helping bring down U.S. aircraft has once again placed the so-called "Kuchmagate" scandal in the international spotlight (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2002). The U.S. Department of Justice authenticated a section of Mykola Melnychenko's tape recordings in which President Leonid Kuchma appears to have authorized the sale of four Kolchuga radar systems to Iraq. Since the illegal-sale allegations have become a very serious problem in the current U.S.-Ukrainian relations, it appears advisable to recapitulate the main stages of the prolonged Kuchmagate case to readers of "RFE/RL's Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report."

In November 2000, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz first unveiled to parliament a portion of tapes made in President Kuchma's office by one of his security guards, Melnychenko. This portion of the tapes revealed a conversation between Kuchma; Volodymyr Lytvyn, then-head of the presidential administration and currently parliamentary speaker; and Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, about opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, the editor in chief of the Internet publication "Ukrayinska pravda."

The first reaction of the authorities was to deny the authenticity of the tapes themselves and even the existence of Melnychenko, who had by then fled Ukraine for Prague. The authorities also consistently denied it was possible to bug Kuchma's office and ridiculed the suggestion that a digital tape recorder was placed under his couch.

It was not until a video interview of Melnychenko was broadcast in parliament that it was confirmed that he was a member of the Security Service unit responsible for protecting high-ranking officials, such as Kuchma. The illegal search by customs officers of the opposition deputies who brought back the videotape was also suspicious. What did the authorities have to hide if the tapes were not authentic?

Slowly, the official view changed away from total denial of the authenticity of the tapes. One reason was because opposition deputies began to acknowledge their voices on the tapes. Eventually, Kuchma himself accepted that his voice was to be found on the tapes but claimed that Melnychenko had spliced different portions of the tapes to incriminate him. This had remained the official version concerning the tapes until recently.

Calls by opposition deputies to interview Melnychenko and to use the tapes as part of an investigation into the criminal deeds discussed on them were always refused by former Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko. This in itself was also suspicious. Melnychenko offered to take a lie-detector test to prove the tapes were genuine. Instead of dealing with the tapes and the issues they raised, the authorities swept the whole issue under the rug, hoping it would go away.

Time, however, was working against them. One of the first causes for doubting the sincerity of the authorities was the fiasco surrounding FBI experts invited to Ukraine in April of this year to investigate the Gongadze murder. The FBI agents went home empty-handed, as they were denied access to evidence.

Most of the Ukrainian elites accept that the tapes are genuine. Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko claims he never doubted their authenticity from the time they were first offered to him on 11 November 2000. Nevertheless, the Communists think along similar lines to the oligarchs and Kuchma that the taping was part of a U.S.-backed plot.

The Ukrainian position on the tapes did not budge when BEK TEK, a specialist firm that provides authentication services to the FBI and the U.S. Supreme Court, began to authenticate sections of the tapes provided by Melnychenko. BEK TEK confirmed that no sections had been spliced together, as Kuchma claimed. BEK TEK's authentication was insufficient for the Ukrainian authorities, as it was undertaken by a private company. In a similar manner, a test of the tapes made by the Vienna Press Institute early on in the Kuchmagate crisis was also ignored.

Over the course of this year, the Ukrainian authorities have been forced gradually to change their attitude toward the tapes. In August, the newly appointed prosecutor-general, Svyatoslav Piskun, ordered a test abroad of the tape dealing with Gongadze. This was coupled with new autopsies of Gongadze's decapitated body and an admission that his murder was political, something the authorities had always denied.

The Ukrainian authorities have been mainly forced to change their attitudes to the tapes through international pressure. For example, they have continued to deny that Kolchuga radar systems were ever dispatched to Iraq in contravention of the United Nations arms embargo. After the United States undertook its own official tests and officially announced their results on 24 September, the Ukrainian authorities could no longer deny that the portion of the tapes where Kuchma is heard authorizing the sale is not genuine. Whether the Kolchugas are in Iraq is still to be determined. Nevertheless, all sides now agree that Kuchma authorized their sale.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko has now admitted that Kuchma's office could have been bugged after all. What will Ukraine's next retreat be? The United States has admitted that its authentication of the tape dealing with Iraq will color their views of other portions of the tapes, e.g., one portion relates to Kuchma apparently lying to the United States about former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko. Melnychenko is to be a witness in the Lazarenko trial and the United States will therefore be conducting further official tests of other portions. Will Ukraine backtrack each time an official result is announced by the United States?

Since the Kuchmagate crisis began in November 2000, the authorities have not been honest or forthright regarding the tapes and have refused to investigate the serious allegations arising from them. Only international pressure has forced them to shift begrudgingly from total denial to selective denial (the tapes are genuine but spliced together) and now acceptance that some of them have not been tampered with.

Instead of dealing with the issues raised on the taped conversations, the authorities' gut reaction was to initiate legal action against Melnychenko and to accuse him of "treason" and "espionage." The tapes allegedly include state secrets, which Melnychenko accepts, but the Ukrainian authorities argue, therefore, that none of them should be released. Melnychenko and the authorities disagree over the definition of "state secrets." Melnychenko sticks to the traditional definition of "state secrets," which deals with foreign countries (issues pertaining to Russia, Britain, Germany, Israel, Spain, and Turkey are on the tapes). The Ukrainian authorities have a broader definition that includes all of the activities undertaken by Kuchma that were taped, including corrupt ones.

The sharp reaction of the authorities to the tape scandal reflects their incredulity that they could be caught red-handed. The lack of transparency in the executive, the sense of infallibility that the authorities would never be caught, and the unclear dividing line between the authorities and the state were all severely damaged by the tapes. Thus, the authorities are demonstrating an unwillingness to come clean and initiate an impartial investigation. (Taras Kuzio)

BEYOND ENLARGEMENT: THE EU AND WIDER EUROPE. The imminence of eastern enlargement is compelling the European Union to address the issue of relations with its future "direct neighbors" to the east, i.e., Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova. While the EU has a clear-cut strategy on the Balkans, embodied by the Stabilization and Association Process, which offers the prospect of EU membership, the EU has up until recently given the distinct impression of not knowing how to deal with Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova. The long-overdue process of devising a set of appropriate long-term policies and instruments was finally embarked on by the union in spring 2002. However, this is proving to be a troublesome task.

While the EU is keen to promote stability and prosperity in its direct neighborhood, Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova have expressed diverse aspirations vis-a-vis the EU: Relations with Belarus have all but broken down; Moldova, while expressing an interest in EU membership, is continuing to undergo internal turmoil; and Ukraine, despite being far from eligible for membership, is uncomfortably insistent on being offered the mere prospect of membership at some unspecified time in the future.

This insistence finds its roots in 1994 when Ukraine enthusiastically signed a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) with the union, the first among the post-Soviet states to do so. In some respects, the agreement, which is valid for 10 years, resembled the association agreements signed between Central and Eastern European states and the EU, which provided the legal framework and instruments for cooperation in a number of areas, including energy, trade, environment, and transportation. However, in contrast to the association agreements, the PCA did not offer the prospect of EU membership. Yet, in 1996, President Kuchma made explicit Ukraine's intention to join the EU and in June 1998, a strategy on Ukraine's integration with the European Union was adopted by presidential decree, formally establishing Ukraine's membership in the EU as a long-term strategic goal. A more detailed program for Ukraine's integration with the EU was adopted in June 2000.

Ukraine's declarations did not go down well either in Brussels or in the capitals of EU member states. While the EU had embarked on protracted negotiations with candidate states, it persistently refused to offer any prospect of membership for Ukraine and Moldova. This is because the EU believes that rapprochement with, rather than membership for, these eastern states is sufficient for managing the "soft" security issues emanating from the region. Instead, the EU set about providing a framework for relations with Ukraine by adopting a common strategy on Ukraine at the Helsinki summit in December 1999, which cautiously "acknowledges Ukraine's European aspirations and welcomes Ukraine's pro-European choice," but went no further than that, much to Kyiv's chagrin. The common strategy signaled that while Ukraine was important enough to the EU to merit a purpose-made document, it was not important enough to justify the introduction of potentially binding commitments.

In light of the retrogression that has taken place in Ukrainian politics since the late 1990s, not only has the EU's stance on Ukraine been vindicated, but many in the EU have also begun to view Ukraine as a hopeless case. Yet ironically, at the same time, Kyiv has flooded EU capitals with a series of initiatives for tightening cooperation, the only effect of which has been a sense of "Ukraine fatigue" in the EU. The failure of Ukrainian officials to get the attention of their Western counterparts is beginning to elicit a sense that Ukraine is being excluded from "EU-Europe."

To counter this problem, the EU is currently in the process of devising a more comprehensive strategy and a set of more clearly articulated goals. A joint paper titled "Wider Europe," written by Christopher Patten of the European Commission and Javier Solana, the EU's foreign-policy and security chief, outlines ideas for the EU's relations with its future neighbors. While relations are to be based on a shared set of political and economic values, the "one-size-fits-all" approach is deemed inappropriate. At the same time, however, clear limits are to be put on relations with eastern neighbors, limits that will "stop short of full membership or creating shared institutions" (other than for the Balkans). Ukraine is singled out as meriting "a more concrete recognition of [its] European aspiration," yet, significantly, "without closing any options for the more distant future." The paper proposes that Ukraine and Moldova be offered a new form of "proximity agreements" accompanied by a new kind of "proximity instrument," which would overcome the limitations of the Tacis program.

In sum, the recognition of Ukraine's and Moldova's European aspirations are finally beginning to take on a tangible format. But it remains to be seen, first, how far the EU will take this initiative and, second, how satisfied Moldova and Ukraine will be with it. The EU has to strike a balance between responding to the challenges arising from enlargement and the "needs arising from the newly created borders of the union." The latter has resulted in efforts on securing and hardening EU borders in order to make them impermeable to soft security threats emanating from the east. This stance has dominated the Justice and Home Affairs agenda of the EU irrespective of the implications for countries on the other side of the new border. This is amply exemplified by the EU's insistence on the introduction of a visa regime for Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, and Russia, despite the hardship it will invariably cause.

The chances are that Ukraine, in particular, will be disappointed by "Wider Europe." Despite the positive stance of the document, anything short of acknowledging Ukraine's prospect for EU membership tends to be seen by Kyiv as a distinctly second-best option serving only to intensify Ukraine's suspicion that the EU takes a real interest only in countries that it sees as future members. Underlying the above is Ukraine's primary fear, namely that any window of opportunity for membership will close upon the 2004 enlargement.

Despite efforts to put relations on a new footing and promote stability on its eastern border, the EU may still fail to nurture Moldova's and Ukraine's "European choice." It is therefore in danger of contributing to instability on its new eastern border, in spite of all its growing concerns.

(This report was written by Kasia Wolczuk, lecturer at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, the University of Birmingham, and at present Jean Monnet fellow, the European University Institute, Florence, and by Roman Wolczuk, researcher on Ukrainian foreign and security policy. They are the authors of "Poland and Ukraine: A Strategic Partnership in a Changing Europe?" (London, Royal Institute of International Affairs, forthcoming October 2002.)

"Only those who are not sufficiently informed about with whom we are being proposed to conduct this dialogue may believe in some soft forms of dialogue with the authorities. When people say the word 'authorities' in civilized societies, they mean parliament, government, [and the] president. As for Ukraine, there is only one authority: Leonid Danylovych Kuchma." -- Our Ukraine's political coordinator, Roman Bezsmertnyy, in an interview published by the "Ukrayinska pravda" website on 27 September.