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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: February 27, 2001

27 February 2001, Volume 3, Number 7
WALESA'S AIDES SUSPECTED OF TAKING BRIBES FROM GANGSTERS. Justice Minister Lech Kaczynski, who is also Poland's prosecutor-general, has ordered an investigation into whether two aides of former President Lech Walesa accepted bribes to urge him to pardon a suspected gang leader. Kaczynski's order followed a television report earlier this month saying that in 1993 President Lech Walesa pardoned Andrzej Banasiak (who later changed his name to Zielinski), a major gangster nicknamed Slowik (Nightingale), who is currently on the run from police. "I might have been misled [on the act of pardon]. Someone shoved those documents on me [for signing]," visibly surprised and baffled Walesa said in the report. A day later, Walesa changed his mind and said on the TVN television channel that he signed the pardon for Banasiak deliberately because he believed him to be "a petty thief who deserved commiseration."

Lawmaker Stanislaw Iwanicki, head of the parliamentary commission for justice, asked Kaczynski to clarify if there was no criminal offence in this pardon case. Kaczynski complied with the request. "The evidence [of misdemeanor] is sufficient. It would be a crime if I did not open the investigation," he commented to journalists, adding that his decision is not a part of a "political struggle against Walesa."

Subsequently, the leftist daily "Trybuna," quoting a gangster turned state's witness, has accused two Walesa aides, identified as Lech F. and Mieczyslaw W., of taking a bribe of $150,000 each for pardoning gangster Andrzej Banasiak in 1993. Following this publication, Lech Falandysz, Walesa's legal adviser, said he will sue Justice Minister Lech Kaczynski for abuse of power and unlawful dissemination of information about pre-trial legal proceedings. Falandysz said he will also sue Kaczynski on behalf of Mieczyslaw Wachowski, another Walesa aide. Kaczynski denied handing over any materials about the bribery investigation to anyone.

More revelations followed. Polish Television reported that Walesa also pardoned another gangster, Zbigniew K. nicknamed Ali, "in unclear circumstances." Kaczynski commented that this pardon case will be looked into as well.

Walesa did not want to comment on this second pardon. "Oh, come on, be serious! How can I -- what -- did I -- did I have contact with criminals? Don't make jokes out of this! These are jokes! What -- why don't you have a go at [President Aleksander] Kwasniewski and search for things there? And then you really will see what, what the differences are between my [pardons] and Kwasniewski's [pardons]," Polish Radio quoted Walesa as saying.

Kwasniewski told Polish Radio that the presidential chancellery has the documents concerning the pardoning of Slowik and two other criminals, who were possibly associated with Slowik's criminal group, the so-called Pruszkow Gang. Simultaneously, Kwasniewski came out in defense of his predecessor, Lech Walesa: "I am absolutely convinced that it was in good faith that he received the documentation, which he signed in accordance with the decisions of his collaborators."

According to Kwasniewski, corruption in the presidential chancellery associated with the pardon procedures cannot be ruled out. He noted: "Theoretically, this is possible, because a pardon is a good that has a value."

YOUTH STAGE ANTI-LUKASHENKA HAPPENINGS. The Union of Belarusian Students and the Youth Front on 23 February staged several street performances in front of Minsk's universities and colleges to mark the holiday of the armed forces, which is officially called the Day of the Fatherland's Defenders, Belapan reported. Young people, clad in military uniforms, distributed among their fellow students plastic submachine guns and call-up papers to fight in Chechnya. The papers said their receivers "are subject to mobilization into the army of the Union State [of Belarus and Russia] in order to integrate more deeply with the fraternal nation." The papers also notified that conscripts should take with them passports, forks, and spoons, and certificates confirming their vaccination against hemorrhoids. The call-up was signed by "Supreme Commander L. Kashenka."

The other side of the leaflets bore an appeal to take part in this year's presidential elections. Belapan quoted from the appeal: "The Soviet empire disappeared long ago. But some, as earlier, want to drive the youth into trenches to protect the youth from the Western influence of rock music, computers, the Internet, freedom of expression, the possibility of honestly earning money, and traveling across Europe's 'transparent' borders. However, ours is a European country.... If the current authorities are seeking to persuade us that Kyrgyzstan's poppy fields, the Mafia in Yekaterinburg, and the Caucasian wars are closer to us than Warsaw, Vilnius, and Prague, they are not our authorities. We have the possibility of changing our future. The elections are to take place this year. Don't miss your chance!"

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told his generals the same day that "the complicated military-political situation in the world obliges us to pay unflagging attention to strengthening the state's defense capabilities." He cited the NATO airstrikes on Yugoslavia and the recent U.S.-British airstrikes against Iraq as proof that "the recently established system of international security cannot ensure the sovereignty and security of an individual state." He pledged to take measures "to heighten the prestige of army service and to strengthen the officers' corps," Belarusian Television reported.

Meanwhile, retired Colonel General Pavel Kazlouski announced last week that he will run as a candidate in this year's presidential race. Kazlouski said he can no longer tolerate the situation in Belarus's armed forces where, according to him, the needs of military personnel are completely ignored. Kazlouski was the first defense minister of independent Belarus. He resigned in 1994, after Alyaksandr Lukashenka had won the presidential elections.

HOW LUKASHENKA TAUGHT A LESSON TO U.S. AMBASSADOR -- STATE TV VERSION. Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 22 February received credentials from U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Michael Kozak, who arrived in Minsk on 20 October 2000. Lukashenka's refusal to meet Kozak for such a long time was widely seen as a snub to Washington for U.S. criticism of his regime and policies. "Let us today draw a line under all those [past] relations between Belarus and the U.S., let us take the very best [from them].... Let us draw a line below all our deeds [and] statements, and let us try to begin our relations on a much higher level," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying during the ceremony.

Kozak, a senior U.S. diplomat who served in Cuba before his appointment to Belarus, personally angered official Minsk on several occasions. During his confirmation hearings in the U.S. Congress, Kozak said Belarus's political and socioeconomic situation reminds him strongly of that in Cuba. This statement provoked indignant comments from some Minsk officials. After arriving in Minsk, Kozak caused another storm by questioning the legitimacy of Belarus's legislative and executive branches in a press interview. Kozak told the opposition "Narodnaya volya" that there is virtually no dialogue between the U.S. and Belarus because of the illegitimacy of the Belarusian authorities. "As of today, Belarus has a parliament that we cannot recognize as a legislative power body representing the interests of Belarus's entire population. We also cannot recognize the legitimacy of the executive branch -- its legitimate term in power has already expired," Kozak noted.

Lukashenka delayed the ceremony of receiving credentials from Kozak, while different Belarusian officials and state media were repeatedly reminding the public that the U.S. envoy was not a full-fledged ambassador yet. In apparent retaliation, Lukashenka did not invite Kozak to a traditional reception to celebrate the New Year according to the Orthodox Church calendar on 13 January.

Belarusian Television's "Panarama" program on 24 February (on Saturdays, the main newscast "Panarama," called the "Analytical Panarama," is primarily devoted to comments on the past week's developments) explained to its viewers how President Alyaksandr Lukashenka confronted "the U.S. arrogance" exemplified in the person of Michael Kozak. The excerpt below is a typical example of the program's style and "political analysis":

"Official Minsk made an attempt at taking preventive measures against the U.S. arrogance during the presentation of credentials by foreign ambassadors. It is known that U.S. Ambassador Michael Kozak, who had made the Belarusian authorities lose their temper some time ago, waited for a long time in line to present his credentials to the head of state, and has lost his temper, too.

"[Kozak's] turn to present credentials came last week, but he had to do this in a group with Iraq's new ambassador. If I'm not wrong, Iraq's envoy was even the first in line on that day. Everything is extremely regulated in the diplomatic protocol, and every detail has its significance. In any case, diplomats are inclined to look for hints in every gesture. The fact that the U.S. ambassador found himself in a group with Iraq's representative and was forced to breathe down his back can be interpreted, in my opinion, that Belarus treats Baghdad and Washington equally. Simultaneously, this was a hint that Lukashenka is not going to bow to America. This can be also assessed as an obvious sign of support for Iraq. Incidentally, during his meeting with Baghdad's representative, the Belarusian president openly said that Belarus and Iraq were always together, and that Belarus categorically condemns the U.S. military actions.

"Alyaksandr Lukashenka did not touch upon the Iraqi issue while receiving Michael Kozak. The words were replaced by the above-mentioned protocol peculiarities. Michael Kozak understood everything, judging by all, he is a bright chap (Russian: ponyatlivyi paren), this was written on his face, particularly since an ambassador does not influence strategy (Ed. note: phrase as heard.) An ambassador has on his lips what Washington has in its mind. But what has Washington in its mind? I don't know to what extent the new U.S. administration will change its attitude toward Belarus, but while presenting his credentials during Bush's term, the U.S. ambassador avoided formulations that were voiced during Clinton's last days. Kozak said: I'm ready to work in order to put an end to all problems. The statement, of course, was glib and ambiguous. Who knows to what problems Kozak will try to put an end. Lukashenka, too, is a problem for the U.S."

YUSHCHENKO MOST POPULAR IN 2000. A poll by the Oleksandr Razumkov Ukrainian Center of Economic and Political Studies conducted between 22 January and 2 February among 2,000 adult Ukrainians found that Premier Viktor Yushchenko was the most popular Ukrainian politician in 2000 (32.5 percent of respondents mentioned his name). President Leonid Kuchma obtained 14 percent backing, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz 5.8 percent, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko 5.8 percent, Fatherland Party leader Yuliya Tymoshenko 2.8 percent, Progressive Socialist Party leader Natalya Vitrenko 1.9 percent, former President Leonid Kravchuk 1.7 percent, former Premier Yevhen Marchuk 1.3 percent, lawmaker Hryhoriy Surkis 1 percent. The popularity rating of other politicians was below 1 percent.

The center also found that 88.6 percent of respondents have heard about the country's bugging scandal -- 60.5 percent of them are dissatisfied with how the scandal is presented in the media, 53.6 percent believe the authorities will do everything to make people forget this scandal as soon as possible, 16.25 percent think the political regime will become even more repressive, while only 14.1 percent believe the authorities will conduct an objective investigation into the bugging case.

KILLING OF UKRAINIAN IN POLAND POINTS UP OLD ENMITY. The killing four weeks ago of a Ukrainian citizen in Poland has caused much outrage -- but not much surprise -- in Ukraine.

Serhiy Kudrya was driving across Poland to Ukraine with his pregnant wife on 25 January when he was stopped by Polish police for speeding -- and shot. According to the police, Kudrya refused to identify himself and tried to flee the scene. But Kudrya's wife says he complied with police demands and was nonetheless shot at point-blank range.

For many Ukrainians, especially in west Ukraine, the incident has only reinforced historical enmities. The area -- known as Galicia under the Austro-Hungarian Empire -- has been fought over for centuries by the two countries. Their troubled history of war and cultural repression is never far from the surface in Lviv, west Ukraine's unofficial capital.

Andriy Stetskyy works for the non-governmental Citizens' Foundation for Law and Democracy, which demonstrated in front of the Polish consulate in Lviv to demand a thorough investigation into Kudrya's death. Stetskyy says Kudrya's death tapped Ukrainian resentment of its more successful post-communist neighbor.

"Many Ukrainians are envious of Poland, which has managed to get through the economic crisis and now enjoys a standard of living higher than Ukraine. And such incidents do sharpen attitudes and feelings, so that at such moments [Ukrainians] remember our historical problems in [bilateral] relations," Stetskyy told RFE/RL.

Since Ukraine attained independence in 1991, many of the estimated 500,000 to 2 million Ukrainians who seek to work abroad each year find jobs in Poland. And Poland remains a top destination for Ukrainian small traders traveling across the border to buy goods. Poland has postponed implementing the European Union requirement that it impose visas on Ukrainian citizens because it is afraid of destroying this trade, on which much of eastern Poland relies.

But Poles do not always look kindly on Ukrainian workers and traders. Most Ukrainians working in Poland do menial jobs, and many are there illegally, which does not help foster respect for them. In the past two years, 270 Ukrainians have died in Poland, most because of their involvement in criminal groups.

Stetskyy says both Polish and Ukrainian authorities should regulate the massive labor migration and protect Ukrainians from exploitation and violence. But the Polish consul in Lviv, Krzysztof Sawicki, says Poles doing business in Ukraine have an equally hard time. Sawicki acknowledges there is little economic cooperation between the two countries today, with Polish investment in Ukraine to date amounting to only $56 million.

Sawicki, too, refers to history when explaining why. He says Poles have a built-in fear of their eastern neighbors, which present-day Ukraine does little to allay.

"People ask why our economic relations with Ukraine are so weak. But picture to yourself a small, average businessman from Poland who goes to Ukraine. And on the road to Lviv or Kyiv he is stopped many times by the police, and they all want something. They hold on to him and take his identification papers. The result of this police behavior is that many Poles have developed a pathological fear [of Ukraine]," Sawicki said. (Lily Hyde, an RFE/RL corespondent based in Kyiv)

"Mickey Mouse [Is a] Pederast!" -- A slogan chanted by some 40 ultra-leftist picketers of the U.S. embassy in Kyiv on 23 February, who protested the supposed U.S. interference in Ukrainian domestic affairs; quoted by AP.