Accessibility links

Breaking News

Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: October 22, 2002

22 October 2002, Volume 4, Number 40
LOCAL ELECTIONS APPEAR TO BE HIGH-PROFILE AFFAIR. Poland will hold local elections on 27 October, in which voters are expected to choose 46,835 councilors at the commune ("gmina"), district ("powiat"), and provincial ("wojewodztwo") levels, as well as 2,489 administrators, including commune heads ("wojt"), town mayors ("burmistrz"), and city mayors ("prezydent miasta"). If a candidate for an administrative post does not receive more than 50 percent of the vote, then the two highest-placed candidates will take part in a runoff ballot two weeks later, on 10 November.

This is the first time in postcommunist Poland that local-government administrators are to be elected by direct vote. Previously, Poles elected only councilors, who in their turn appointed commune, town, and city boards and their executive leaders. The current election law abolishes the collegial executive-power bodies (boards) and makes a local administrator the single executive authority on his/her administrative territory. In practice, however, virtually all decisions by a city mayor must be approved by the city council. Such a requirement often produces a decision-making deadlock in situations where a city mayor and a majority in the city council are from opposing political groups, since every decision by the mayor may be blocked by the city council. A city council has no right to oust the mayor -- this can be done only by city residents in a referendum, following a motion from the city council.

The State Election Commission (PKW) has registered more than 290,000 candidates for the positions of local councilors and administrators. Seven election committees, including those of the ruling Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Union coalition and the Peasant Party, as well as the opposition League of Polish Families and Self-Defense, have registered their candidates in all of the 16 provinces. In accordance with the election law, the PKW ascribed unified numbers to these seven committees throughout the country to make it easier for voters to find candidates from these committees on ballots. Apart from this advantage, these seven committees are also entitled to a certain amount of free-of-charge airtime on nationwide channels of Polish Television and Polish Radio during the campaign. Other election committees will be allowed to campaign gratis only on regional channels of public television and radio.

Some of Poland's most noted politicians of the past decade have involved themselves in the local-election campaign as candidates, especially for the posts of city mayors in major provincial centers. In Warsaw, the post of mayor will be contested by Lech Kaczynski (Law and Justice leader, former justice minister), Andrzej Olechowski (Civic Platform leader, former foreign minister), Zbigniew Bujak (legendary Solidarity activist, former chairman of the Main Customs Office), and Marek Balicki (senator from the Democratic Left Alliance), among others. Sociological surveys say Kaczynski may be sure of qualifying for the second round on 10 November with more than 30 percent backing, where he will most likely face Olechowski or Balicki. According to some Polish media, the confrontation between Kaczynski and Olechowski this year in Warsaw is a "warm-up" exercise for both politicians before the presidential election in 2005. Except for some major provincial cities, as well as Mazowsze Province and Podkarpacie Province, Civic Platform and Law and Justice managed to strike a coalition deal for these local elections and registered joint election lists in all other regions.

In Krakow, the candidates for the post of mayor include Civic Platform lawmaker Jan Rokita and Law and Justice lawmaker Zbigniew Ziobro; in Wroclaw, Ryszard Czarnecki (former lawmaker of the Solidarity Electoral Action and former chairman of the Committee for European Integration) and Wladyslaw Frasyniuk (Freedom Union leader); in Szczecin, legendary Solidarity activist Marian Jurczyk (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 8 October 2002) and Colonel Ryszard Chwastek, who caused an enormous scandal by accusing Poland's top brass of mismanaging army reform and is now facing a court-martial for disobeying an order (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 13 August 2002; "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2002).

According to a poll conducted by OBOP on 5-7 October, 32 percent of voters want to support candidates of the Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Union coalition in the local elections, 20 percent are ready to vote for the Civic Platform-Law and Justice election alliance, and 11 percent for Self-Defense candidates. (Jan Maksymiuk)

DESPERATELY LOOKING FOR MONEY AMID 'ECONOMIC BOOM.' Speaking at an international economic conference in Minsk on 10 October, Deputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister Andrey Kabyakou stated that Belarus's economic model (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 26 March 2002) has stood the test of time, Belapan reported. Kabyakou explained that the Belarusian model combines "free private initiative and competition with an active role of the government and efficiency with a high level of social security." Kabyakou added that this economic model has allowed Belarus to "overcome a deep recession, launch institutional market reform, avoid social shocks, and consolidate the country's statehood and sovereignty."

Kabyakou told participants at the conference that Belarus -- owing to its efficient economic model -- continues to experience a sort of lasting economic boom, with a 4.4 percent increase in GDP in January-August 2002, compared to the same period last year. (According to official reports, Belarus's economy grew by 4.1 percent in 2001 and by 6 percent in 2000.) Kabyakou, however, preferred to keep silent on some other aspects of the Belarusian economy that, if voiced at the conference, could significantly mar his bright vision of Belarus's economic miracle. In particular, Kabyakou "forgot" to mention that the government stimulates economic growth primarily by printing money and granting generous credits (that are usually never repaid) to antiquated factories and loss-making collective farms. Kabyakou also did not mention that the country is in desperate need of foreign investments. However, several other, less self-congratulatory, official pronouncements and ideas about how to replenish the state coffers testify to the fact that the shortage of hard-currency cash is now an extremely acute problem for Minsk.

On 1 October, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka threatened that Belarusian border guards will stop catching illegal migrants next year unless European countries reimburse Belarus for its expenses on border control. "The West wants to engage all of our financial and human resources [in combating illegal migration] without proposing anything to compensate Belarus for its expenses," the Belarusian leader said. "We should warn our colleagues and partners in the West that if [they fail to start] compensating us for our expenses as of 1 January 2003, we will not be able to fully ensure Europe's security. One must pay for everything."

Another source of hard currency was suggested on 16 October by the president of the National Academy of Sciences, Mikhail Myasnikovich, who said that Belarus might raise with international organizations the issue of receiving compensation for brain drain. Myasnikovich stressed that Western countries should compensate Belarus's government and educational institutions for Belarusian scientists lured away. He mentioned that, according to UNESCO estimates, the training of a doctoral candidate costs some $600,000.

On 17 October, President Lukashenka said at a training seminar for government officials that every enterprise and organization, private or state-owned, should contribute to the state-run social-security fund. "Why shouldn't we make everybody pay? Those [private] traders, [for instance]. You see, they staged strikes, while [claiming to be] the most advanced part of society, free-market supporters. They should understand that it is necessary to pay for everything," Lukashenka noted.

During the visit to Minsk in mid-October of the general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, Nong Duc Manh, Lukashenka called for Vietnamese investment in Belarus. "I want to declare publicly that we are ready today to offer the most favorable tax [incentives] to Vietnam. We are ready to create joint ventures in Belarus. We are even ready to sell part of our shares in the factories that today produce for the Vietnamese market," Lukashenka pledged.

Belarusian and Russian media reported earlier this month that in view of Belarus's chronic failure to pay fully into the Belarus-Russia Union budget -- Minsk's arrears now amount to some 1 billion Russian rubles ($31.5 million) -- Russia is considering lowering its contribution to this budget.

Last week, Lukashenka scolded his ministers for allowing the accumulation of some $60 million worth of wage arrears, which is more than 20 percent of the monthly wage fund in the budget sector. As on many previous occasions, he set a deadline for the cabinet to repay the overdue wages but failed to indicate where it could find the needed money. Most likely, the money-printing machines will have to work in this case as well. (Jan Maksymiuk)

CORRECTION: "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" on 8 October 2002, following the Charter-97 website (, ascribed an erroneous quote to U.S. Helsinki Commission co-Chairman Representative Christopher H. Smith by reporting that Smith expressed his "immense concern for the future of religious freedom in Belarus" because of the recently passed bill on religions in that country. Smith actually said: "This repressive legislation, targeting minority religions, clearly violates internationally accepted human rights standards. Lukashenka and his regime of handpicked legislators are obviously intent on stamping out minority religious communities, leaving only the state-recognized Orthodox Church to decide how individuals practice their faith."

PROSPECTS FOR POLITICAL DIALOGUE REMAIN VAGUE. Last week, Warsaw hosted a two-day international conference called "Ukraine in Europe," which was organized under the patronage of Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana. The forum, devoted to relations between the European Union and Ukraine, gathered representatives of the Ukrainian authorities, including presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk and National Defense and Security Council Secretary Yevhen Marchuk, and the opposition, including Oleksandr Moroz and Viktor Yushchenko, as well as participants from Romania, Slovakia, and Hungary.

Originally, Poland planned to organize a sort of "roundtable" discussion between the authorities and the opposition on the current political standoff in Ukraine but speedily backed down on the idea after Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma charged Warsaw with interfering in Ukraine's domestic affairs. As a result, the conference took place at a "square table" and was devoted exclusively to mulling Ukraine's place in Europe in the context of the upcoming NATO and EU expansion. Solana took advantage of the forum to voice some of the harshest criticism of Kyiv for what he said is "playing with the rules" of democracy. "We would like one day to embrace your country [Ukraine], but we have to know what country you are.... But at this time, I have to tell you this is impossible," Solana said at a joint news conference with Kwasniewski and Kuchma in Warsaw on 16 October.

As for the "two main Ukrainians" at the Warsaw forum, Medvedchuk and Yushchenko, they made statements signaling that they may look for some form of dialogue after returning to Kyiv. "A success of this conference is in inaugurating the dialogue between the [Ukrainian] authorities and the opposition," Medvedchuk told journalists in Warsaw. Our Ukraine leader Yushchenko also said the conference has proved that "dialogue is the only way out of Ukraine's crisis, the gravest in the past 11 years." Later in Kyiv, Yushchenko said Our Ukraine could sit at a negotiating table with Medvedchuk's Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o), adding that "Medvedchuk is a Ukrainian reality." And Kuchma, who did not participate in the Warsaw forum but arrived in Warsaw after its conclusion to meet with Kwasniewski and Solana, noted that he supports dialogue between the government and opposition groups but at the same time ruled out yielding to what he called "ultimatums," in an apparent reference to opposition demands for his resignation.

Thus far, however, Yushchenko and Medvedchuk have not met for any political talks. And it is not surprising why they are not eager to talk with each other. Apart from harboring a reportedly deep mutual dislike of one other, Medvedchuk and Yushchenko pursue conflicting political goals. Medvedchuk is involved in constructing a viable parliamentary majority centered on nine pro-presidential caucuses run by oligarchic clans (including his SDPU-o), whereas Yushchenko wants to split Labor Ukraine and Ukraine's Regions from the pro-presidential parliamentary alliance and build a parliamentary coalition centered on Our Ukraine. "These [three] democratic forces are able to propose the idea of a democratic coalition as an open [proposal] around which other forces could group," Yushchenko commented earlier this month. He did not mention what other forces he had in mind, but they are more likely to include the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc or Oleksandr Moroz's Socialist Party rather than Medvedchuk's SDPU-o.

Both Medvedchuk and Yushchenko have thus far seemed to be rather unsuccessful in their endeavors. Formally, a razor-thin pro-Kuchma majority composed of 226 deputies was announced earlier this month, but it has proved to be quite ineffectual in passing legislation in the Verkhovna Rada. Our Ukraine jointly with the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Socialists, and the Communists were able to effectively disrupt parliamentary work by boycotting votes. According to Ukrainian media reports, however, the State Tax Administration in Lviv Oblast (headed by Serhiy Medvedchuk, Viktor Medvedchuk's brother), has instigated a number of criminal investigations into companies owned or managed by Our Ukraine lawmakers, in an apparent attempt at pressuring some of them into joining the parliamentary majority constructed by the presidential administration chief. That this pressure is a real danger to Our Ukraine's coherence was graphically testified by a protest rally organized by Our Ukraine in Lviv on 21 October, where some 4,000 people demanded Serhiy Medvedchuk's dismissal from the post of chief tax inspector in the region.

On the other hand, there have been no clear signals from Labor Ukraine or Ukraine's Regions that they want to quit the pro-presidential majority and side with Yushchenko to form a new coalition. In essence, what Yushchenko wants is to persuade two oligarchic groups from eastern Ukraine into abandoning their "clannish solidarity" with Medvedchuk and, in effect, to leave their political alliance with the SDPU-o. If Yushchenko were to succeed in doing this, he would get a solid political foothold in eastern Ukraine and would improve immensely his chances in the 2004 presidential elections. And this is exactly the reason why any sensible dialogue between Yushchenko and Medvedchuk seems to be completely impossible. For Medvedchuk, who reportedly also harbors presidential ambitions, the emergence of a parliamentary majority centered on Our Ukraine spells the end of his political clout in the country. Therefore, it is more likely that Medvedchuk will obstruct any attempts at political dialogue in Ukraine as long as possible, simultaneously trying to split Our Ukraine and compromise Yushchenko as a political troublemaker. (Jan Maksymiuk)

NUCLEAR-POWER SECTOR IN DIRE STRAITS. Ukraine's nuclear-power industry, which satisfies close to 50 percent of the country's energy needs, is in serious financial trouble. The Chornobyl power station, the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster in April 1986, is a constant strain on the state budget. The last of the working reactors there (No. 3) was ceremonially closed under pressure from the West in December 2000. But until the plant is finally decommissioned, it will need a constant input of money for water, gas, electricity, and the wages of the maintenance staff. But there is no money. Instead, there are only debts that now exceed 20 million hryvnyas ($3.8 million). Recently, the water supply was cut off, although after an appeal from the staff about possible consequences, the Vodokanal supply company agreed to reconnect it. But the draft Ukrainian state budget for 2003 allots to Chornobyl only funds for the staff payroll. According to Oleksandr Antropov, the presidential representative at Chornobyl, it may be necessary to reduce the safety level at the plant.

This is no easy decision. There are, Antropov said, "many millions of curies of radioactive" waste at the site, and the "sarcophagus" enclosing the ruined No. 4 reactor is in a "critical" state, with nuclear fuel still inside. Following the accident, a whole range of monitoring devices was installed, but there is no money to run them. Now, some Ukrainian lawmakers, in particular, members of the Parliamentary Committee for Fuel and Energy, are suggesting that, although the closure of Chornobyl was politically correct, it was economically premature, and they are urging that the No. 3 reactor be restarted to provide the necessary electricity.

Almost immediately after the accident, there was worldwide pressure for the permanent closure of the Chornobyl power station. However, the Soviet authorities, and later those of independent Ukraine, maintained that they could not manage without the electricity from the surviving three Chornobyl reactors. Back in 1986, the G-7 countries agreed to provide "compensation" for the lost generating capacity by helping fund the construction of two additional reactors, one at the Khmelnytskyy power station and one at Rivne, a project known as K2R4. The extra electricity is definitely needed. Yuriy Kostenko, Ukrainian environment minister in the early 1990s, told the author of this note that closing or not closing Chornobyl was a matter of having to choose between the putative death toll of a possible new explosion at Chornobyl or the certainty of many thousands of deaths from hypothermia in the coming winter.

Eventually, the Chornobyl station was closed, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development began negotiating a $215 million loan for the completion of K2R4. But, just when the negotiations seemed about to be finalized, the Ukrainian side expressed a reluctance to meet the bank's conditions. During the visit of EBRD President Jean Lemierre to Ukraine in mid-October, Ukrainian Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh expressed a desire to renew negotiations. Lemierre was shown on Ukrainian television saying that the bank and the Ukrainian government had "agreed to renew talks" on the project.

In the meantime, however, the parameters and costs have changed, and the details of the project will have to be renegotiated. Moreover, Lemierre stressed the importance for K2R4 of cooperation between Ukraine and the International Monetary Fund, saying that K2R4 is "a big long-term project, and it will have an impact on the energy sector in general." Lemierre added that the project "will require long-term energy policy, and we'll talk both with the prime minister and the IMF on this subject." An IMF delegation is due to visit Ukraine at the end of October to discuss a new "standby" agreement. However, it may well be some time before the projected loan for K2R4 materializes.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian nuclear industry is strapped for cash across the board. At all the country's five operating nuclear stations, safety levels are imperiled by lack of money. There is a massive brain drain. According to Aleksandr Bilychenko, the director of capital construction at Ukraine's national nuclear-generating company Enerhoatom, over the past three years, 280 specialists with top qualifications in nuclear power have left Ukraine, while 60 percent of those still at their posts want to leave. To stem the outflow, Enerhoatom drew up at the end of September what it describes as a "social policy program" for its employees. But this would cost an estimated 91.8 million hryvnyas to implement, which would mean trebling the present tariff for the sale of electricity to the energy market.

Yet, such is the state of the Ukrainian labor market that almost simultaneously with Bilychenko's announcement of the nuclear brain drain, it was revealed that at the Rivne nuclear station (the "R" of K2R4), at least 10 senior engineering and administrative posts were held by unqualified people, whose diplomas in "nuclear engineering and thermal-power stations" from Odesa Polytechnic University were forged. (When purchased three years ago, the going rate for such documents is said to have been $500 to $600 apiece.) The Rivne Oblast prosecutor has now started criminal proceedings under Ukrainian Criminal Code articles 358 (deliberate use of false documents) and 367 (negligence in the workplace). Not surprisingly perhaps, Rivne has had in recent months a record of malfunctions, breakdowns, and emergency stoppages that, in spite of assurances from the station management that no escape of radiation was involved, built up into a worrying picture that eventually led the prosecutor to instigate an investigation.

Enerhoatom has had its own troubles. On 5 June, the cabinet of ministers dismissed Enerhoatom Chairman Yuriy Nedashkovskyy, replacing him with former Fuel and Energy Minister Serhiy Tulub. Nedashkovskyy immediately filed a lawsuit against the cabinet of ministers, claiming illegal dismissal, and the trade-union committee of Enerhoatom also protested his ousting. At the beginning of July, President Kuchma convened a three-day conference to sort out the "serious" problems (financial and otherwise) of the nuclear industry and, in particular, instructed the government to set up an interdepartmental working group to look into Enerhoatom's finances (a grim record of unpaid debts, overdue wage bills, and money earmarked for work on new reactors and upgrading safety measures failing to materialize). A few days later, Kuchma in effect called for a purge of the company. "We must sort it out, and name 'the heroes.' The enterprise should work for people, not for the small group of people who have brought it to bankruptcy," the president said.

Then, in August, the Kyiv-based newspaper "Den" announced that several former officials (unnamed) of the company had been charged under Article 364/2 (abuse of power with grievous consequences). Interfax quoted Volodymyr Hohol, who was described as "acting head of a department of the Prosecutor-General's Office," as saying that the accused had caused damage to the state in the amount of some 200 million hryvnyas over the period from 1998 to 2001, when, as managers of Enerhoatom, they had "concluded a number of contracts that they knew were not advantageous to the state in selling promissory notes through commercial banks, causing enormous losses to the company." Furthermore, the harm done by corruption may have been compounded by incompetence. "Den" quoted a "source close to Enerhoatom" as saying that in one deal, the company lost profits "because of simple forgetfulness: Someone failed to take into account the payment for the transmission of electricity." Considerable sums of money, "Den" claimed, had "evaporated" beyond the borders of Ukraine in some rather strange deals, including the case of 500 tons of uranium concentrate, which Enerhoatom received in 2000 from the Ukrainian Ministry of Fuel and Energy at a price of 352 hryvnyas per kilogram and then sold on to a Russian enterprise for only 97.2 hryvnyas per kilogram!

Under Tulub's leadership, the situation has apparently improved. The whole commercial side has been separated into a new department, and a tender committee has been established with the aim of lowering the cost of buying equipment, materials, and services. A new social policy program has been drafted, even if it is not clear where the money will be found. Work on the K2R4 reactors has been speeded up. Tulub seems determined that the reactors will be built eventually, with or without the EBRD loan. But on both safety and financial counts, Ukraine's nuclear industry is still far from healthy. (Vera Rich)

"We should not adapt our education system to [European standards], since we have completely different conditions [in Belarus].... The school should remain not only a cultural but also a political center." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 18 October; quoted by Interfax.

On 17 October, "Ukrayina moloda" published an interview with Kyiv Court of Appeals Judge Yuriy Vasylenko, who opened a criminal case against President Kuchma last week, accusing him of violating a dozen articles of the Criminal Code. Excerpts:

Ukrayina Moloda: What legal consequences may the opening of this case entail?

Vasylenko: None, of course. I opened the case; they will close it. But I could not fail to open it since there were enough reasons laid down in the motion of [opposition parliamentary] deputies and additional materials for opening [this case].

Ukrayina Moloda: Is it against the law to close a case without an investigation?

Vasylenko: Under the law, this is impossible. In other words, appropriate investigative steps must be taken to ascertain if there is evidence for bringing the accusation, or if there is evidence indicating that the accused man is not implicated in the crime.

Ukrayina Moloda: What are the legal scenarios for concluding this criminal case?

Vasylenko: Taking into account how justice [in Ukraine] is administered now, there are virtually no such scenarios. In theory, there are four scenarios as a minimum: 1) prosecutors close the case without explanation (a realistic scenario); 2) prosecutors launch a real investigation (a fantastic scenario); 3) prosecutors suspend the pretrial investigation for an indefinite time (a realistic scenario, too); 4) different political forces find a compromise and agreement (but this is not a legal solution).

Ukrayina Moloda: Do you believe that the case will take the course it has to take, not the course ordered by Kuchma?

Vasylenko: Do I look like an idiot? Of course I don't believe that.