Accessibility links

Breaking News

Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: December 17, 2002

17 December 2002, Volume 4, Number 48

The next issue of "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" will appear on 14 January 2003.
POLAND SECURES 'GOOD DEAL' TO ENTER EU IN 2004. Prime Minister Leszek Miller held several rounds of talks with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the European Union summit in Copenhagen on 13 December over a span of 11 hours, which was the most conspicuous holdout in negotiations on financial support to candidate countries for EU membership, Polish and international media reported. "All the postulates with which we came to Copenhagen have been accepted," Miller told a news conference immediately after the talks ended. "It was a good deal. In my opinion, we can sell this in a referendum," Miller was quoted as saying by the "International Herald Tribune."

Miller listed his negotiating successes right after the conclusion of his talks with Rasmussen. "I wish to inform you that almost 6 billion zlotys [$1.53 billion] will flow directly into the Polish budget for the years 2004-2006, that is, 1.5 billion euros," he told the news conference in Copenhagen. "Direct subsidies, which are so important for Polish farmers, will in the entirety of this sum, and respectively, come to: 55 percent [of the full EU farm-subsidy level] in the first year [2004], 60 percent in the second year, and 65 percent in the third year. I would remind you that just recently direct subsidies were at 0 percent. Then, we heard that they were to come to 25 percent. Altogether recently, we negotiated 40 percent. And now we have on average 60 percent." These levels of farm subsidies also extend to the other nine EU aspirants.

Miller said Poland gained an increase in the wholesale quota for the sale of milk by 1.5 million tons to 8.5 million tons per annum, adding that this quota means that "we are not threatened with imports of milk."

The EU increased by 108 million euros the previously allocated sum of 172 million euros for the protection of Poland's eastern border. It also agreed to Poland's maintaining a reduced, 7 percent rate of value-added tax on houses until 2007. Miller also said small and medium-sized farms in Poland will be given nonrefundable EU assistance in the amount of 5,000 zlotys ($1,500) per annum for five years.

"Today, we are witnesses of a moving event: from Polish Solidarity, which achieved democracy and freedom in Central and Eastern Europe, to a real European solidarity and a solidarity of Europeans," Miller summed up his news conference in Copenhagen.

It should be noted that the deal sealing Poland's accession to the EU was struck by Poland's postcommunist premier exactly on the 21st anniversary of the imposition of martial law in Poland by the communist government of General Wojciech Jaruzelski, which resulted in a harsh crackdown on Solidarity.

Poland's last-minute EU deal was generally hailed by Polish pro-European media and political forces. The country's two largest and most influential dailies, "Gazeta Wyborcza" and "Rzeczpospolita," ran fairly enthusiastic comments on Miller's exploits in Copenhagen. Polish television channels showed "Gazeta Wyborcza" Editor in Chief Adam Michnik, a well-known former dissident and a Solidarity activist jailed under martial law, giving Miller a hearty bear hug after the latter returned from Copenhagen. Former President Lech Walesa, however, provided an acerbic comment on the occasion. "We paid a heavy price for this day. Politics is a dirty game. Those that once pulled us to the east now pull us to the west," Reuters quoted Walesa as saying.

"The Polish negotiators gained a large part of what they went to Copenhagen for. It is difficult not to have cause for satisfaction," Maciej Plazynski, a leader of the opposition Civic Platform commented to PAP. "But in general terms, it is possible to say that we are entering [the European Union] on difficult terms. It is no good laying out before Poles visions of easy years of membership, because the entirety of the terms is difficult," Plazynski added. He pledged that the Civic Platform will be encouraging people to vote 'yes' in the EU accession referendum expected in mid-2003.

However, Roman Giertych, a leader of the anti-EU League of Polish Families, told PAP that the 13 December negotiations did not improve Poland's EU accession terms at all. "It was already obvious a week ago that it would not be possible to win anything more," Giertych added. The "Nasz Dziennik" daily, which is linked to the ultra-Catholic and staunchly Euroskeptical Radio Maryja, called the Copenhagen talks "Miller's capitulation." A commentary in "Nasz Dziennik" on 16 December explained this point of view in detail.

According to the paper, the terms of EU accession negotiated by the government make Poland a second-rate member of the EU. The daily said the 1.5 billion euros that is expected to flow into the Polish budget in 2004-2006 is not additional money but sums taken from the EU's "structural funds" in order to make the deal look as a major concession on the part of Brussels.

The daily also explained that Brussels did not back down on the issue of direct farm subsidies, either. The new members will get 25, 30, and 35 percent of the full EU farm subsidies in 2004, 2005, and 2006, respectively; these sums will be enlarged with 20 percent of the money from rural-development funds, which will increase the effective subsidies to 36, 39, and 42 percent of the EU level, respectively. What Miller actually negotiated in this issue is the right of EU aspirants to increase these subsidies to the level of 55, 60, and 65 percent from their domestic budgets.

"Nasz Dziennik" said Poland expected that it will be allowed to produce 11.6 million tons of milk annually. The granted quota of 8.5 million tons, according to the newspaper, means that Poland will have to import milk from the West to the detriment of domestic producers.

The daily admitted that the additional 108 million euros allocated by the EU to the protection of Poland's eastern border is good news but simultaneously stressed that Poland needs at least 1 billion euros to make its eastern border -- which will soon also become the EU's eastern border -- impenetrable to illegal flows of migrants and commodities.

In a commentary on 14 December, "Nasz Dziennik" touched upon the symbolism of the date of 13 December for Poland. The daily wrote that 21 years ago, when the then-communist authorities imposed martial law, Poles had their mouths shut "for their own good." The daily added that 21 years later "these same people are signing promises in Copenhagen that will deprive us of a sovereign state...'for our own good.'" (Jan Maksymiuk)

BELARUS AS EU NEIGHBOR. A book review by Vera Rich of Ann Lewis (editor) "The EU & Belarus -- Between Moscow and Brussels," The Federal Trust, London 2002, 429 pp.

English-language works on Belarus are, to say the least, rare, and any major contribution to the field is an event of some significance. "The EU & Belarus -- Between Moscow and Brussels," which focuses on the forthcoming role of Belarus as a neighbor of the expanded European Union, was published by the Federal Trust for Education and Research, an "independent think tank" set up to "enlighten the debate on good governance." As a fairly new group, this perhaps lacks the acclaim and prestige of certain other bodies publishing in the field of international politics, notably the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Nevertheless, the Federal Trust and its publications undoubtedly deserve serious attention.

"The EU & Belarus" is the third Federal Trust book to deal with the EU's new "neighbors" -- its predecessors being "The EU & Kaliningrad: Kaliningrad and the Impact of EU Enlargement" (2000) and "The EU & Ukraine: Neighbors, Friends, Partners?" (2002). The proclaimed purpose of the current work is to "give the reader a picture of where Belarus stands more than a decade after independence, how it may develop internally, and prospects for relations with its neighbors; and to put forward a variety of ideas about the EU's policy towards Belarus and how, if at all, it might be more effective."

The core of the book consists of papers presented at a seminar organized by the Trans-European Policies Studies Association, which was held in Brussels on 5 November 2001 (not in October of that year, as Ann Lewis, the editor, states in her preface), with some updating and further essays added to cover aspects not dealt with on that occasion, by both foreign and Belarusian scholars. The former include a number of scholars and analysts who, over the past decade, have emerged as "experts" on Belarus, and include such notable names as Anders Aslund ("Is the Belarusian Economic Model Viable"), David Marples ("Belarus: the last European Dictatorship?"), and Hans Georg Wieck ("The OSCE and the Council of Europe in Conflict with the Lukashenka Regime"). Other essays came from authors who, while perhaps not personally well-known, represent or represented well-known organizations: Steven Eke of the BBC World Service ("With the State or Against the State: the Media in Belarus"), OSCE monitor Kimmo Kiljunen ("Belarus 2001 Presidential Election: Somewhat Free but Not Fair"), and Malcolm Hawkes of Amnesty International ("Belarus: An elegant Dictatorship?"), while Elizabeth Teague, who until recently headed the Belarus desk at the U.K. Foreign Office, contributed an introductory overview of Belarusian history. There is, however, a marked absence of contributions from the stalwart handful of scholars who for the past half century, from abroad, have devoted their scholarly activities to the problems of Belarus.

From Belarus itself, the lineup includes the "establishment" in the persons of Syarhey Martynau, Belarusian ambassador to Belgium and head of the Belarusian mission to the EU and NATO ("The EU and Belarus, Time for a New Start"), and Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou (�The Foreign Policy of the Republic of Belarus: Meeting the Needs of the Time"), countered by such figures as Vital Silnitski of the European Humanities University in Minsk ("The Change Is Yet To Come: Opposition Strategies and Western Efforts to Promote Democracy in Belarus') and Leanid Zlotnikau, one of the founders of the opposition United Civil Party ("In the Noose of Populism: Eleven Years of the Belarusian Economic Model /1991-2001/").

Overall, the book gives an impression of sound academic quality. There are, of course, minor flaws: Belarusian proper names are spelled throughout as if Russian. David Rotman et al. ("Value Systems and Social Transformation in Belarus"), in their discussion of religion, make no mention of the revival of the Belarusian Eastern-Rite Catholic ("Uniate") Church or the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, bodies that, though still small in numbers, offer the possibility of preserving the Byzantine religious tradition in Belarus without subjugation to the Moscow-ruled Belarusian Orthodox Church, which is favored by the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Nor do they take note of the restrictive new law on religion, though, at the time the book went to press, this law had already been passed by the lower house of the Belarusian legislature, and its passage by the upper house was already a foregone conclusion. And one paper, Margaret Bamford's "From Aid to Foster-Care: A Case Study," though interesting in itself, seems oddly out of place in this volume. But these cannot detract from the overall importance of this book, not only for all those concerned with the problems of Belarus but for political analysts worldwide.

Nevertheless, one ought to note the rather strange circumstances of its official launch. On 13 December, a half-day seminar was held in London to mark its publication. Participation was by invitation only, and the Belarusian Embassy was represented by no fewer than four people -- a somewhat large presence, perhaps, in a gathering of fewer than 50 participants -- including the new ambassador, Alyaksey Mazhukau. There was, however, no formal representation from the opposition. Moreover -- and this surely threw further doubt on the balance of the meeting -- one of the two sessions was chaired by Ambassador Mazhukau himself! In opening the session, he very properly stated that his function, as ambassador, was to propound the views of his government. However, throughout the session, he used his "chairman's privilege" to give a lengthy response to the views of each speaker, leaving in effect no time for discussion or questions from the audience. One should not, perhaps, fault the ambassador for doing what he perceived to be his job (the premature recall from London of his predecessor is widely believed to have been due to having devoted less effort to promoting the Lukashenka regime than to such practical matters as boosting trade turnover). Nevertheless, his chairmanship of the session does raise a certain question as to precisely how the Federal Trust perceives "balanced view" and scholarly impartiality.

This report was written by Vera Rich, a London-based freelance researcher.

PARLIAMENT MULLS MEDIA FREEDOM. The Verkhovna Rada held a hearing titled "Society, Media, Authorities: The Freedom of Expression and Censorship in Ukraine" on 4 December. The hearing was initiated by the parliamentary Committee for the Freedom of Expression and Information.

It was the fourth parliamentary hearing on media freedom in independent Ukraine. It seems that this time the debate did not resemble a ritual talking shop as on previous occasions. The hearing not only summarized the problems faced by the media and professional journalism in Ukraine recently but also proposed some measures to remedy the chronically ailing and weak Ukrainian democracy.

A majority of participants, above all journalists themselves, pointed to a visible limitation of the freedom of expression in Ukraine because of the increasing political pressure on media and open censorship exercised by the authorities in the situation of a latent political crisis in the country (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 8 October 2002).

Quoting many independent expert studies, reported facts, and accounts by journalists in his address to the Verkhovna Rada, Committee for the Freedom of Expression and Information head Mykola Tomenko clearly proved the existence of political censorship in the media sphere in Ukraine. According to a poll conducted last month by the Oleksandr Razumkov Center for Political and Economic Studies among 727 Ukrainian journalists, 61.6 percent of respondents said they have come into contact with "manifestations of political censorship." Governmental officials present at the hearing, including newly appointed Deputy Prime Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk, were also forced to admit that, despite the constitutional ban on censorship, it exists de facto in Ukraine's media sphere.

Among the various methods of censorship used by the authorities, Tomenko mentioned "temnyky," secret verbal instructions and written directives from the presidential administration regarding editorial policy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2002); fiscal and economic pressure on media outlets; and lawsuits against opposition publications with the aim of ruining them financially. Because of imperfections of the current Ukrainian legislation, which does not define the maximum limit of financial compensation for defamation, and because of the absence of a truly independent judiciary system in the country, this instrument is effectively used by the authorities and powerful ruling clans against the opposition press. For example, the opposition newspaper "Vechirni visti" is currently facing 15 defamation suits with requested damages totaling $15 million.

Political censorship combined with threats of physical violence against journalists is particularly severe at the regional level, as testified at the hearing by regional media representatives. Ukrainian ombudsman Nina Karpachova said in her address that there are Ukrainian regions where even mentioning human rights issues in local media is a rarity. According to Karpachova, some 70 percent of Ukrainians are served by non-free media.

Tomenko believes that an illegitimate, centralized system of control over media information has been created in Ukraine, with the office for information policy of the presidential administration at the top of a censorship pyramid. In order to restore the constitutional norms and to protect the freedom of expression, the parliamentary Committee for the Freedom of Expression and Information has proposed an action plan, which calls for amending current legislation to enhance the protection of citizens' right to have access to information and journalists' rights in their professional relations with the state and media owners.

But, perhaps the most positive development demonstrated at the hearing is the start of activities organized by journalists themselves to fight for their professional rights and against political censorship. Andriy Shevchenko, a representative of a newly created independent trade union of journalists, referring to his personal experience and documentary evidence, testified that the authorities are increasing political censorship in, and pressure on, the media. "In actual fact, television news coverage in Ukraine is made in a remote-control mode. Someone else, not journalists, edits news programs, shoots and disseminates videos, writes texts, and selects comments by governors, which are subsequently sent to all channels," Shevchenko told lawmakers.

Shevchenko called directly on Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun, who also took part in the hearing, to protect journalists' constitutional rights and to institute criminal proceedings in connection with reported facts of political censorship in the country. Shevchenko confirmed the readiness of Ukrainian journalists to stand up for their rights and to organize a countrywide strike in the event the practice of political censorship is continued. He and his colleagues agree that there are two main directions in their fight for the freedom of expression in the country: toughening legal sanctions for political censorship and developing activities aimed at increasing journalistic solidarity.

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

"Gazeta Wyborcza" on 13 December published a lengthy interview with Jerzy Urban, the infamous press spokesman of Poland's communist government in 1984-87. Urban is now the editor in chief of the financially successful tabloid weekly "Nie." Excerpts:

"Gazeta Wyborcza": [As the government spokesman], you were hated for jeering at people who stood in lines to buy a piece of meat, who were sacked from their jobs, who were beaten and arrested. [You were also hated for the fact] that you had a lot of fun while jeering at them.

Urban: I have a lot of fun [doing the same] even today. I take pleasure in screwing people up. Apparently, such are the unseemly motors that keep me going....

"Gazeta Wyborcza": You do everything [today] to make parliamentary democracy look ridiculous and vulgar.

Urban: Nothing of the sort.

"Gazeta Wyborcza": So, what is the magazine "Nie" for?

Urban: It is the only place where we -- often as the first [publishers] -- reveal scandals and unmask corruption.

"Gazeta Wyborcza": I agree, but you do that using primitive language and reasoning. What role do four-letter words play in your magazine?

Urban: A provocative one. We do not follow traditional conventions; we snub them. We speak the language used by society.

"Gazeta Wyborcza": No. You elevate this gutter language in your magazine when you sling mud at both the honest and the dishonest. Don't you understand that?

Urban: No.

"Gazeta Wyborcza": You wrote that the pope -- who is apparently the last-instance authority in Poland and simply an honest man -- is ugly, old, and sick, and that is why he should quit. You did it in a gutter-language style.

Urban: Yes, I did.

"Gazeta Wyborcza": What for? To show off?

Urban: Exactly.

"Gazeta Wyborcza": To make people talk about you?

Urban: Right. Is this not allowed? And today I have a wish to f*** up the president. I want to write that....

"Gazeta Wyborcza": I'm not interested. Are you feeling well, Mr. Urban?

Urban: Excellent.

"Poland is a cocktail: of France for its spirit of grandeur, of Britain for its Euroskepticism, and of Spain for its brutal negotiating tactics," an unidentified EU official on Poland's stance in EU talks; quoted by Reuters on 10 December.

"Arabs and Jews, Unite Against Zionism and Imperialism!" -- A slogan displayed at a demonstration held by Belarusian communist and leftist groups in Minsk on 12 December to protest "aggressive plans of imperialism and Zionism against Arab nations"; quoted by Belapan.