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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: February 20, 2001

20 February 2001, Volume 3, Number 6
CITIZENS' PLATFORM TO DRAW UP ELECTION LISTS IN PRIMARIES. Andrzej Olechowski, Maciej Plazynski, and Donald Tusk -- leaders of the Citizens' Platform (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 23 January 2001) -- introduced some 30 regional representatives of their organization to the public in Warsaw on 18 February. According to opinion polls, the centrist, liberal Citizens' Platform (PO) is supported by 16-17 percent of the electorate and stands a good chance of gaining strong representation in the parliament.

The PO leaders want to prepare their election lists on the basis of regional electoral conventions. The PO's 41 regional representatives (Olechowski, Plazynski, and Tusk expect that a new election law will divide the country into 41 electoral districts) are to choose 1,000 electors each in their regions to hold local conventions in order to draw up lists of PO candidates for parliamentary elections due this fall. Subsequently the lists are to be submitted for approval by the three PO leaders.

According to Plazynski, such a way for drawing up election lists will be radically different from how other political parties propose candidates for election campaigns.

Plazynski noted: "We want to transform our political [initiative] into a political party. We are beginning to build a party, but [this construction] will initially be approved by voters.... This is the proposal that should bring a different quality into political life, ensure the real influence of all [PO] supporters on the shaping of election lists, and on our future [parliamentary] representation."

(Last week, Plazynski, who is parliamentary speaker, officially resigned from the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) parliamentary caucus headed by Marian Krzaklewski. Plazynski said he is not going to resign from the post of Sejm speaker despite his departure from the AWS. "Politicians are free to make decisions: the Sejm appoints the speaker and the Sejm can dismiss him. Nothing has happened here. After all, those political proposals I support do not clash with the fact that I am Sejm speaker. I think that Poland needs these proposals," he commented to Polish Radio. Krzaklewski thinks that since the AWS proposed Plazynski for the post of Sejm speaker, Plazynski should step down from it after quitting the party.)

Donald Tusk sharply criticized a recently discussed draft bill under which political parties are to be financed from the state budget in order to avoid bribery and corruption in Poland's political life. According to Tusk, the bill is "either naive or hypocritical, or both."

Tusk pledged: "We oblige ourselves publicly, regardless of the shape of the bill [on financing political parties], that we will not...draw money from the taxpayers' pockets [for the PO]. Even if the bill will is prepared so as to give big money to political organizations, we will adopt such a formula for our action so as not to take that money."

STATE TELEVISION AT ITS BEST (IN MANIPULATION). This story began with a publication in "The Washington Times" on 9 February. The Washington newspaper wrote that Representative Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, has introduced legislation -- called the Terrorist Elimination Act of 2001 -- that "would restore the president's license to order a hit on a foreign leader, if that individual were deemed a threat to U.S. personnel or national security." The newspaper said the bill has no co-sponsors, adding that "most observers say that Congress is unlikely to do much with Mr. Barr's bill." The newspaper commented, however, that such world leaders as Moammar Gadhafi, Saddam Hussein, and Fidel Castro should "watch [their] backs" if Barr's legislation were passed.

Now comes the most obscure and mysterious part of the story. Belapan reported on 13 February that the Russian weekly "Versiya" in its 13 February issue expressed an opinion that the first people on a U.S. "black list of contract killings" -- following the adoption of Barr's bill -- may be notorious terrorist Usama bin Laden, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Belapan added that its journalists were not able to familiarize themselves with the article in "Versiya," as Russia's Federal Security Service closed the Internet site of "Versiya" because the weekly some time ago published information that was deemed to be a state secret. It is not clear from the Belapan report whether the article mentioning Lukashenka in the context of those "contract killings" was published only in the Internet edition of the weekly or in its paper edition as well. Actually, it is not clear from Belapan if that article was published by "Versiya" at all.

The same day, 13 February, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry issued a statement in which the "Versiya" publication was called a text having "an overtly provocative character," Belapan and Belarusian Television reported The ministry added: "It is no secret that today Belarusian-U.S. relations are at a difficult stage of their development. However, one has the impression that somebody would deliberately like -- by using fabrication and manipulation of facts -- to worsen these relations and undermine the search for ways of mutual rapprochement between Belarus and the U.S. The personal initiative of an unknown U.S. congressman does not deserve any comment from the Belarusian side. We are convinced that the U.S. parliamentarians and the U.S. executive authorities will have sufficient prudence and responsibility not to yield to Mr. Barr's adventurous aspirations."

Belarusian Television, however, did comment on all this story in its main newscast, "Panarama," on 13 February. As previously with Belapan, it is not clear if the 13 February "Panarama" authors have seen either the original publication in "The Washington Times" or the comment in "Versiya," which caused a series of reports, comments, and statements in Minsk.

Henadz Nyavyhlas, head of Lukashenka's bodyguards, told "Panarama" that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is being reliably protected not only "from Americans but also from other ill-wishers, if there are any."

Volha Abramava, a member of the Chamber of Representatives, commented that Barr's legislative initiative can be compared to "the well-known desire to wash the boots of Russian soldiers in the Indian Ocean." (Ed. note: the wish was voiced by Vladimir Zhirinovskii.)

An astonishing statement came from Syarhey Kastsyan, deputy head of the commission for international affairs in the Chamber of Representatives. Judging by his words, Kastsyan was completely confused about the status of Barr's proposal in the U.S. Congress: "I have expected a similar resolution from the U.S. Congress, because, as you remember, last year's resolution No. 303 of 2 May by the U.S. Congress allowed the U.S. president to interfere in Belarus's internal affairs at his discretion. Therefore, such a draft law, which is proposed by a group of U.S. congressmen, confirms once again that the U.S. is becoming a fascist state (in Russian: chto SShA stanovyatsya na put fashizatsii svoego gosudarstva)."

Then "Panarama" aired an interview with Belarusian Ambassador to Washington Valery Tsapkala who said: "There is no draft law [anywhere on the globe] on the destruction of foreign leaders. This, in general, is speculation on the part of some Russian media. There is only the so-called draft law on the destruction of terrorists, which was initiated by one U.S. congressman, Barr, and which has not been supported by any other U.S. congressman."

It would seem that Tsapkala's statement should end the whole matter. But nothing is so simple for "Panarama," which apparently decided to take advantage of Barr's proposal to air some more anti-Western -- in this particular case, anti-U.S. -- propaganda. At the end of the report, a newscaster says: "And here are opinions of Belarus's residents on this issue." The newscaster did not say what question was posed to those residents, but judging by their comments, they were simply told that the U.S. is planning to authorize (or have already authorized) Lukashenka's assassination.

Comment 1: "I think it is an outrage when one state decides about the liquidation of leaders in another country. Let them sort out [things] in their own country. We have seen what they showed during the [U.S.] presidential elections. I don't think they have the right to decide about such issues."

Comment 2: "They should not consider themselves to be such a superpower which should influence all [other] states."

Comment 3: "The [United] States, as a principle, always had a somewhat impudent point of view regarding the whole world. They are too self-assured.

Comment 4: "Today they want to act so with regard to the president, tomorrow they may act so with regard to anyone of us."

Comment 5: "A piece of nonsense that contradicts all human principles. Let them sort out [things] in their own home, while in Belarus we sort out [things] on our own."

Comment 6: "Naturally, this is staggering. Particularly since this is the U.S. which considers itself to be such a civilized, democratic state."

Comment 7: "Other countries adopt laws that even prohibit touching animals, while it cost them nothing to get rid of a man."

WILL KUCHMA SURVIVE? It seems that he will. This month's two strongest anti-Kuchma protests gathered some 5,000 people each and both of them were held in Kyiv. There were some anti-Kuchma protests in the provinces within the past month but they gathered several hundred people as a maximum. As some Ukrainian commentators say, what is really wrong about Ukraine is not Kuchma's authoritarian rule and his responsibility for allegedly ordering the murder of an independent journalist but the fact that most Ukrainians do not care about who rules them and how.

Ukraine's current political unrest was provoked by Kuchma's former bodyguard, Mykola Melnychenko, who bugged the president's office for several months and subsequently publicized the tapes allegedly proving the complicity of Kuchma and other top officials in the disappearance of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, an outspoken critic of the ruling regime before he disappeared on 16 September last year.

Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz publicized the Melnychenko tapes on 28 November. It is now almost three months since the Gongadze case made headlines in the Ukrainian and world press, but nothing has been actually clarified since then.

Officially, a body found near Kyiv and widely believed to be Gongadze's was identified by genetic tests as Gongadze's only "to the extent of 99.6 percent." And this means, that Gongadze is not dead from the legal point of view. As Gongadze's wife told the Ekho Moskvy radio station, "if there is no crime, then there is no perpetrator of the crime."

Officially, the Melnychenko tapes are believed to be a fake. The Prosecutor-General's Office in an enigmatic statement early this month (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 6 February 2001) said some conversations on the tapes actually took place but on the whole the tapes were "compiled from separate words and fragments, which is essentially a falsification." Kuchma flatly denied any involvement in the disappearance of Gongadze, telling the "Financial Times" that he did not even know the journalist. He said the bugging scandal was staged by a "well-organized force" with "a great deal of money and capabilities" but failed to identify that force.

Some 60 lawmakers and opposition politicians set up a Forum for National Salvation with the aim of impeaching Kuchma and transforming Ukraine into a parliamentary-presidential or even parliamentary republic. But the group has so far failed to muster any significant support outside Kyiv. The authorities counterattacked by arresting former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko, a prominent member of the Forum, on charges of bribery, tax evasion, and document forgery.

Kuchma simply shrugged off the current anti-presidential protests in Ukraine, saying he does not see any "civilized" opposition to himself within the framework of "Ukraine Without Kuchma" rallies. This statement may mean, among other things, that he is now ready to use not quite "civilized" means to deal with his opponents. As for the Forum for National Salvation, Kuchma said in a written statement that the group is not seeking salvation for the nation but "for themselves from political bankruptcy and oblivion...[and] criminal responsibility." Many were shocked that this statement was also signed by Premier Viktor Yushchenko, who has so far preserved the image of an independent politician, apparently not involved in shady economic deals or dirty political games in Ukraine. The Forum for National Salvation cried that Yushchenko's siding with Kuchma "contradicts both God's and human laws." This may be, incidentally, true, but Yushchenko's decision surely does not contradict the common sense of a man who is in a top place and wants to remain there as long as possible. He is 46 now, and some 50 percent of Ukrainians believe he stands a good chance to become Ukraine's next president. If Kuchma dismissed him now, his prospects to remain in the spotlight until next presidential elections would be rather uncertain.

Why may Kuchma survive the current political unrest virtually unscathed? Because neither the West nor Russia actually wants him to step down. Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent talks with Kuchma in Dnipropetrovsk signaled to many that Moscow wants to extend a helping hand to the Ukrainian president in order to seek some profits for Russia in Ukraine from the bugging scandal. The West, which has been carefully portioning its financial and moral support to Kuchma in a bid to prevent Ukraine from siding with Russia too strongly, may be somewhat baffled as to what to do now. However, the fact that there has so far not been even a hint of disapproval from major Western leaders for how Kuchma is behaving means only one thing: the West wants him to survive and continue his course.

Paradoxically, one of the victims of the bugging scandal may be Ukraine's moderate nationalist right wing, which supports Kuchma politically in the parliament in the so-called parliamentary majority. Why "national democrats" support Kuchma is obvious though, perhaps, not too often stated by commentators: because the "national democrats" traded their support for former Communist Party apparatchik Kuchma for his agreement to "Ukrainianize" Ukraine -- to establish a truly Ukrainian education system, first of all. Arguably, nobody will deny that building the Ukrainian nation not only in the corridors of powers but also in people's minds is worthy of some political sacrifices and compromises. But now a question has appeared: Is it not one compromise too far?

"We [the Poles] and the Belarusians seem to be the [only] two European nations that cannot cope with the problem of reprivatization. As regards details [of the property restitution bill], they can be disputed, but an important principle is preserved [in the bill] -- people will be given back what was taken from them. I don't see why the president wants to veto the bill, I hope he will explain to the nation why we are so different from other people in Europe." -- Andrzej Olechowski, a leader of Poland's Citizens' Platform, on the rumors that President Aleksander Kwasniewski is going to veto the property restitution bill which calls for partial compensation to former owners or their heirs for the property nationalized in Poland by the Communist authorities; quoted by PAP on 18 February.

"The present model of an authoritarian presidential republic in Ukraine has not justified itself. Unlimited presidential power did not bring prosperity to the people. Instead, it became a source of unlimited arbitrariness, corruption, and constant social instability." -- The centrist Sobor Party in a resolution on 18 February; quoted by Interfax.