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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: October 8, 2002

8 October 2002, Volume 4, Number 38
FORMER SOLIDARITY LEADER CLEARED OF BEING A 'LUSTRATION LIAR.' The Supreme Court on 2 October found that Marian Jurczyk, the former leader of the Solidarity trade union in Szczecin and a former senator, did not lie in his lustration statement when he said that he was not an agent of the communist-era special services. "This is the most beautiful day of my life," Jurczyk said after the verdict, with tears in his eyes. In 2000 and 2001, the Lustration Court of the first and second instances ruled four times that Jurczyk was a "lustration liar," saying he was forced to collaborate with the Security Service (SB) in 1977-79 and signed relevant declarations to that effect. Jurczyk always denied that he had been an agent, saying that the SB deemed the information coming from him to be "operationally useless" and disinforming. The Supreme Court's ruling on Jurczyk was the first decision that has fully cleared a person who was earlier acknowledged to have been a lustration liar.

Supreme Court Judge Piotr Hofmanski, in a verbal justification of this precedent-setting ruling, said the earlier verdicts with regard to Jurczyk were "obviously unjust." The Supreme Court stressed that the Lustration Court had not addressed the evidence that showed "in a manner that arouses no doubts" that Jurczyk's activities in 1977-79 "cannot lead to the acceptance of the view that the behavior of the lustrated person constituted conscious and secret collaboration" with the SB. The court did not reveal in its verbal justification what evidence it had in mind. Judge Hofmanski stressed, however, that the information Jurczyk passed to the SB did not have any effect. "[To rule that someone was a secret and conscious collaborator of the special services,] it is necessary to ascertain unambiguously that the secret collaborator did not simulate collaboration and that the reports he supplied were used in operational activities, with a positive effect for the communist authorities," Hofmanski added.

"I am pleased that Jurczyk has defended himself," former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa commented. "We must nonetheless separate that [communist-era] reality from free Poland.... On the other hand, what is happening now [in the lustration process] already ridiculous; this is already unreal. At the start, this was somehow better aimed, but now it is not. Too many people have had access [to SB files]; there are too many manipulations."

Another founding father of Solidarity, Andrzej Gwiazda, is skeptical about Jurczyk's clearance by the Supreme Court. Gwiazda is not convinced that the information passed by Jurczyk to the SB was of no use. "He was not a nark who passed on information, but he was an agent of influence," Gwiazda noted. He added that the SB forbade the use of information from agents of influence in order not to reveal them. "At the level that [Jurczyk] occupied, he was an agent who was so valuable that it would be too costly to blow his cover. Jurczyk could render greater services by speaking on some matter than by granting information that someone was distributing leaflets," Gwiazda said.

The career of Marian Jurczyk, a legendary Solidarity leader in the 1980s, has taken many turns. In August 1980, Jurczyk, who worked in the Adolf Warski Shipyard in Szczecin, headed the strike committee in the city. On 30 August, a day earlier than Lech Walesa in Gdansk, Jurczyk signed an accord with a governmental commission that endorsed all demands of the strikers. Because of this, Walesa reportedly harbored a deep and prolonged resentment toward Jurczyk. Jurczyk challenged Walesa for the leadership of Solidarity in 1980 but lost.

Jurczyk was arrested during martial law in 1981 and released from prison in 1984. Jurczyk's son and daughter-in-law died under unclear circumstances in 1982. The authorities at that time asserted that the couple killed themselves by jumping out of a window, while Jurczyk believes the SB was behind their deaths. This case is now being investigated by the National Remembrance Institute.

Jurczyk did not accept the provisional leadership of the underground Solidarity in the 1980s, arguing that the only legal authority in the trade union is the National Commission constituted before martial law in 1981. He also believed that by entering roundtable talks with the communist authorities in 1988-89, Solidarity leaders violated the trade union's statute. After Solidarity was relegalized by the communist regime, Jurczyk founded his own trade union, Solidarity '80.

In 1997, Jurczyk ran for the Senate from Szczecin as an independent candidate and was elected by an impressive number of 125,000 votes. In 1998, Jurczyk was elected the mayor of Szczecin. His grouping, the Independent Social Movement, struck a coalition deal with the Democratic Left Alliance in the election (the Solidarity Electoral Action-Freedom Union coalition accused him of being a puppet of the left wing at that time). Jurczyk resigned the post of Szczecin mayor in 1999 after the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that it is illegal to combine the functions of a legislator and a city mayor. Following an unfavorable ruling by the Lustration Court in 2000, Jurczyk was also forced to resign his seat in the Senate.

Last year, Jurczyk was one of the founders of the League of Families, a group that later transformed into the antiliberal, ultra-Catholic League of Polish Families. In July 2002, Jurczyk organized the Nationwide Protest Committee, which groups representatives of companies threatened by bankruptcy.

In the opinion of many Polish commentators, the idea of lustration in Poland has proved to be largely unsuccessful. The lustration law, passed in 1997, obliges Polish officials to make written statements about whether they collaborated with the communist secret services from 1944-1989. Those who fail to admit to collaborating but are found guilty of having done so by the Lustration Court are to be barred from holding public office for 10 years. The admission of collaboration does not entail any legal responsibility. The application of the lustration law raised many objections particularly during the rule of the Solidarity-led government in 1997-2001, when many lustration cases were widely believed to be attempts at publicly compromising political opponents (and sometimes allies) rather than at finding the hidden truth about the communist past.

The verdict in the Jurczyk lustration case last week overshadowed another event that went almost unnoticed by Polish media. The Senate approved the amendments to the lustration law that remove intelligence- and counterintelligence-service officers from the list of officials subject to the lustration process. "[If President Aleksander Kwasniewski signs the amended lustration law,] he will not only strip the law of its significance, small as it is by now, but, still worse, he will block the way to the truth," "Rzeczpospolita" commented on 3 October. (Jan Maksymiuk)

BUT SOME ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS. A new, discriminatory bill ironically titled "On the Freedom of Denominations and Religious Organizations" was passed on 2 October by the Council of the Republic (upper house of the Belarusian National Assembly -- a "parliament" that consists exclusively of supporters of the authoritarian president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka). The bill had previously been passed by the Chamber of Representatives (lower house) on 27 June. Opponents of the bill had tried to make use of the respite provided by the summer recess to campaign against it, but they did so in vain. For the bill had the backing of President Lukashenka, who sees the Orthodox Church (subject to the Moscow Patriarchate) as an important ally in his political aim of union with Russia.

The bill stresses "the decisive role of the Orthodox Church in the historical progress and development of the spiritual, cultural, and state traditions of the Belarusian people." It lists the other "traditional" faiths of Belarus as Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, and Islam, but in effect discriminates against them, and even more so against nontraditional faiths.

New restrictions include a ban on organized prayer except by registered religious communities. To register, 20 Belarusian citizens must sign an application, which in the political climate of today's Belarus requires a considerable level of commitment and courage. (Under the previous legislation, only 10 citizens' signatures were needed.) All religious publications will require government approval before they are distributed or placed in libraries. Faiths that have had a presence in the country of less than 20 years will now be prevented from publishing literature or carrying out missionary work. (Ironically, this category will include the "Greek Catholic" or "Uniate" Church, which from 1596 to 1839 was the mainstream faith of Belarus but was subsequently suppressed by the tsarist regime. The Soviets followed suit, and this church emerged from the catacombs only in 1990.)

The head of the Belarusian Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk, not surprisingly hailed the new law, which gives his church such a privileged status. Spokesmen for the civil authorities likewise praised it. Interestingly, they all concurred in maintaining that the law in no way infringed international human rights covenants or European democratic practice. Thus, Filaret asserted that, "There is nothing undemocratic about the preamble of the law that is causing the fight." The bill, he said, recognizes the "determinative role" of the Orthodox Church in the historical development of the spiritual, cultural, and governmental traditions" of Belarus and also acknowledges the historical role of the Roman Catholic Church and the "inseparability of Evangelical Lutheranism, Judaism, and Islam from Belarusian history." The opposition to the bill expressed recently by Protestant churches is, Filaret said, a "fuss caused by fears that Belarus will unite with Russia and thus establish a pattern for other former Soviet republics to follow."

Likewise, Mikalay Charhinets, the chairman of the legislative Committee on International Affairs and National Security, claimed that many European countries limit the number of recognized religions and said that while religions should be equal before the law, they cannot play an equal role in society. The mayor of Minsk stated that local officials consider Orthodoxy to be the dominant religion in Belarus and that the Russian Orthodox Church, "unlike the Roman Catholic Church, has never attempted to replace the secular authorities."

These avowals, however, can be justified neither by the restrictive nature of the new law nor by the manner of its drafting. In a presentation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on 27 September, Vintsuk Vyachorka, the head of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front, stressed that, in spite of the constraints it would impose on faiths other than official Orthodoxy, "no consultations with the overwhelming majority of religious denominations took place while the bill was being drafted."

Vyachorka further noted that "many in Belarus and abroad regard it as discriminatory against religious minorities" and that "the leaders of such faiths as the Evangelical, Baptist, Pentecostal, the Church of the Full Gospel, the Adventist, Greek Catholic, Lutheran, and Krishna Consciousnesss faiths, as well as Progressive Judaism and others, expressed their concern that the passing of such a law would lead to growing intolerance." Already, Vyachorka said, there has been a perceptible growth in "religious tensions incited by the authorities." As examples, he cited the recent demolition of a newly built parish church of the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (a body independent from Moscow, which, during the Soviet period, could exist only in exile) and the jailing of members of the Hari Krishna movement for staging a peaceful protest against the "religious-freedom" bill.

Vyachorka's presentation (made on behalf of the entire pro-democracy Belarusian opposition, and which covered the whole gamut of human rights abuses in Belarus) met a firm response from PACE: The latter passed a resolution condemning the "stagnation" of democratic reform in Belarus and a refusal to renew its "special-guest status" at PACE until there was considerable progress. Lukashenka and his team tried to dismiss the condemnation, with suggestions that PACE is simply a lackey carrying out the orders of the United States, but the attempts of the president's supporters, including Filaret, to present the bill as "democratic" suggests that the PACE criticism did, in fact, strike home.

Nor was PACE alone: The international human rights community has been vocal in its condemnations. To quote but two responses, Article 19, the global campaign for freedom of expression, called the new bill "highly restrictive and totally unjustified" and "bound to exert a chilling effect on the right to freedom of expression." Congressman Christopher H. Smith, co-chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, expressed his "immense concern for the future of religious freedom in Belarus" in the light of the bill. (Vera Rich)

JOURNALISTS STAND AGAINST POLITICAL CENSORSHIP. The absence of the freedom of expression is a painful problem in postcommunist Ukraine. In recent years, Ukraine's executive authorities have been regularly mentioned among the top regimes "honored" with the title of "enemy of the press."

The ongoing political crisis, activities of the antipresidential opposition, and the new turn in the "Kuchmagate" scandal associated with Ukraine's alleged sale of radar systems to Iraq have exacerbated the problem of the freedom of expression in the country.

The chronicle of events that triggered the "information crisis" and generated a new wave of public debates on the freedom of expression in Ukraine can be reconstructed as follows.

At the beginning of September, the chairman of the parliamentary Committee for the Freedom of Expression and Information, Mykola Tomenko, publicized secret instructions by the presidential administration regarding the news coverage on main national television channels controlled by pro-presidential business clans.

The secret media regulations appear to be a regular practice known to many Ukrainian journalists as the "temnyk," a jargon word that refers to secret orientation of journalists by the authorities as regards the presentation of news topics. In his open letter to the country's leadership, Tomenko directly connected the activation of the "temnyk policy" with the appointment in June of Viktor Medvedchuk as the head of the presidential staff.

On 23 September, on the eve of a major antipresidential rally in Kyiv, opposition leaders occupied the UT-1 television headquarters in a futile attempt to present their position to Ukrainian viewers. Official media outlets subsequently portrayed this desperate effort by the opposition to gain an opportunity to speak freely as "political extremism" and a "criminal action by political outsiders."

On 1 October, journalists of the independent news agency UNIAN accused its new executive director, Vasyl Yurychko, of censoring their work and refusing to run any reports that could be construed as portraying President Leonid Kuchma unfavorably. The conflict was settled when Yurychko and the disobedient journalists signed a declaration in which the supervisor promised not to interfere with their work.

On 3 October, the journalists' growing resistance to the official media policy resulted in composing a "Manifesto of Ukrainian Journalists Against Political Censorship." The manifesto, which is open for signing by any journalist in Ukraine, was prepared by some 60 representatives of various media outlets.

The signatories of the manifesto say they "welcome the tendency that, under circumstances of the growing political censorship in Ukraine, journalists are switching from individual protests to collective actions of solidarity." The manifesto declares the readiness of Ukrainian journalists to organize a countrywide strike and to stand for the rights of those colleagues who were fired from their jobs for political reasons.

The significance of this document can hardly be overestimated. For the first time in Ukraine's modern history, the vicious circle of narrow corporate interests of journalists belonging to different media groups has been broken.

The history of post-Soviet media -- in particular, the example of Russia's NTV television, which many observers claim was suppressed by the authorities last year for political reasons -- shows that the lack of professional solidarity among post-Soviet journalists is a major factor that makes the fight for the freedom of expression in post-Soviet countries a very problematic task.

Another impeding factor is the peculiar post-Soviet way of pursuing businesses that, in order to be successful, have to maintain political loyalty to the authorities (or pretend to do so). That is why, as a rule with rare exceptions, even private post-Soviet media outlets have not yet constituted themselves as really independent information businesses. They have largely become mouthpieces for publicizing the propagandist justification of the political and economic domination of governing clans. And quite often, these clans own or control major media outlets. In such a case, journalists become hostages to the clans' "editorial policy." It is not surprising that in Ukraine this policy is pro-presidential.

Andriy Tychyna, a journalist at the nationwide 1+1 television network (controlled by the Viktor Medvedchuk-Hryhoriy Surkis clan) admits that "the news coverage [in Ukraine] is ceasing to be a reflection of real sociopolitical events but is becoming a generator of some virtual reality," "Zerkalo nedeli" reported on 28 September.

Can the Ukrainian media sphere transform itself from the tool of oligarchic control over public opinion into a social institution that could be sensitive to public interests? The recent protest actions by Ukrainian journalists seem to be making an important contribution to such a transformation. (Viktor Stepanenko)

"Small traders are [still] able to work with some profit in the current situation, and for this reason alone, the authorities should have supported them. But it seems that for Lukashenka, the ideal of a citizen is [that of] a boozer who sits in a gutter, does not do anything, is not interested in anything, and does not aspire to anything." -- A Belarusian outdoor-market vendor commenting on the ongoing strike of Belarusian small traders against what they say are the government's fiscal and administrative attempts to destroy small business in the country; quoted by the Moscow-based "Novye izvestiya" on 3 October.