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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: March 20, 2001

20 March 2001, Volume 3, Number 10
NATIONAL REMEMBRANCE INSTITUTE PLEDGES TO FIND TRUTH ABOUT 1941 POGROM. Last week, the National Remembrance Institute (IPN) adopted a declaration on the recently much-publicized pogrom of Jews in Jedwabne, northeastern Poland, in 1941 (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 6 March 2001). The institute, which launched an investigation into the pogrom last year, said in the declaration:

"The task of the IPN is to determine all the circumstances of the crime in Jedwabne and to indicate its perpetrators. The IPN is led by the conviction that the murder of Jewish neighbors was not carried out on behalf of our nation. The IPN will do everything to determine the truth."

The institute also pledged to publish a white book after completing the investigation. "We desire to stress that the tragic drama of the events in Jedwabne cannot be a basis for wrongful generalizations in the evaluation of the stances of Poles during the tragic years of World War II. Declaring the willingness to commemorate the tragic drama at Jedwabne, we express the hope that the memory of this will serve the reconciliation of Poles and Jews, nations that have suffered so painfully through the genocide of the 20th century," the IPN concluded.

PAP reported the same day that the evidence collected thus far by the IPN testifies to the fact that both Polish residents of Jedwabne and Germans took part in murdering all of the Jewish residents of Jedwabne. The IPN noted that some of the witnesses it questioned were between 10 and 14 years old at the time of the Jedwabne pogrom and had not been questioned earlier.

Jan Tomasz Gross, a Jewish emigre from Poland, alleged in his book "Neighbors" -- published last year in Polish -- that Jedwabne residents burned alive some 1,600 Jews in a barn on 10 July 1941, shortly after the town was occupied by Nazi troops, without any encouragement from Germans. "The 1,600 Jedwabne Jews were murdered not by the Nazis or Soviets, but the society," Gross wrote in his book, which is due to appear in English next month. According to Gross, the participation of Germans in the crime was limited mostly to taking pictures and filming.

Apart from an indignant uproar, Gross' book has also given rise to a very important discussion among Polish intellectuals and scholars -- spearheaded by Poland's most respected daily "Rzeczpospolita" -- about the nature of Polish-Jewish relations in the 20th century, Polish anti-Semitism and Jewish anti-Polonism, and responsibility for the Holocaust. There have also been important statements from state officials, most notably from President Aleksander Kwasniewski, on the need to officially commemorate the Jedwabne tragedy. Kwasniewski has pledged to make an official apology during a ceremony on the 60th anniversary of the massacre. According to Kwasniewski, the apology should be made regardless of whether the IPN concludes its investigation into the Jedwabne pogrom by that time or not.

In a move last week that signaled Poland's willingness to face the truth of Jedwabne, authorities removed a stone monument with an inscription that blamed only Germans for the Jedwabne massacre. A new monument will be erected and a cemetery will be arranged on the site of the tragedy.

LUKASHENKA DECREES CONTROL OVER FOREIGN AID TO NGOS. Last week President Alyaksandr Lukashenka issued a decree called "On Some Measures to Improve the Procedure for Obtaining and Using Foreign Gratuitous Aid." The decree practically bans the use of foreign aid (money and goods sent to Belarus by foreign organizations or foreigners) by Belarusian organizations and citizens without official authorization, and will come into force one month after it is published in the media.

Under the decree, all foreign aid must be registered and authorized by the Presidential Department for Humanitarian Aid following requests from aid recipients. Money transferred from abroad must be deposited into a Belarusian bank account within one week after entering Belarus.

In particular, the decree stipulates: "Foreign gratuitous aid in any form may not be used for the preparation and holding of elections [and] referendums; the recalling of a [legislative] deputy [and] a member of the Council of the Republic; the holding of gatherings, meetings, street marches, demonstrations, pickets, strikes; the production and dissemination of propagandistic materials; as well as the holding of seminars and other forms of propagandistic mass work among the population."

Those violating the decree will be penalized by fines, confiscation of the aid, and deportation (the last penalty refers to foreign citizens). The organizations that provide and/or use foreign aid without authorization may be banned (this penalty extends also to offices of foreign organizations in Belarus). The implementation of the decree will be enforced and monitored by an impressive number of state organizations: the State Control Committee, the Interior Ministry, the State Tax Committee, the State Customs Committee, the State Committee for Financial Investigations, and, naturally, the Presidential Department for Humanitarian Aid.

As a result, the Councils of Ministers was obliged to bring the country's legislation in line with the decree.

Mechyslau Hryb, former chairman of the Supreme Soviet, told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service that Lukashenka's decree actually intends to prevent the opposition and international community from preparing monitors for this year's presidential elections. The preparation of election monitors in Belarus has thus far been sponsored by foreign grants. Mikalay Statkevich, leader of the Social Democratic Party (Popular Assembly), also believes the decree is primarily connected with the upcoming presidential elections and aims at preventing election monitoring by NGOs.

Anatol Lyabedzka, head of the United Civic Party, has said Lukashenka's decree on foreign aid to Belarus intends "to nationalize the activity of political parties and public associations." Lyabedzka added that Lukashenka's decree contradicts Belarus's domestic legislation and international agreements.

"This decree was drafted by some barbarian who wants to put everything under his control," former Labor Minister Alyaksandr Sasnou said to RFE/RL's Belarusian Service.

UKRAINIANS IN A STATE OF CONFUSION OVER STATE. Ukraine's Oleksandr Razumkov Center of Economic and Political Studies conducted a poll among 2,037 respondents in all Ukrainian regions in late February and early March, asking them a number of questions about their political preferences. Generally, the poll confirmed what had been known before -- namely, that Ukrainians remain deeply confused about what should be done to improve the situation in the country, as well as extremely distrustful of their leadership and political elite. However, it also showed that the current antipresidential opposition -- grouped in the "Ukraine Without Kuchma" movement and the Forum of National Salvation -- cannot count on decisive social support either.

The proposal of the antipresidential opposition that Ukraine should become a parliamentary republic with a largely ceremonial president, or no president at all, was supported by 16.9 percent of respondents; 46.1 percent were against it; while 37 percent were unable to decide on the issue. The idea of a parliamentary-presidential republic was viewed more favorably: 30.2 percent supported it; 27.4 percent were against it; and 42.4 percent did not provide a definite answer.

Answering the question about who should be afraid of the "Ukraine Without Kuchma" movement and the Forum of National Salvation, 46.7 percent of respondents mentioned President Leonid Kuchma and the state officials who were secretly taped by presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko; 13.6 percent said the groups threaten oligarchic clans; 15.6 percent mentioned society in general; 11.8 percent said the threat was directed against Ukrainian citizens; and 6.9 percent mentioned state bodies. According to 13.8 percent of respondents, the antipresidential opposition is no threat to anybody, while 12.3 percent were unable to answer the question.

The center found that the activity of Premier Viktor Yushchenko is supported by 26.7 percent of Ukrainians (27.2 percent said they do not support him); President Kuchma by 11.4 percent (negative rating: 43.8 percent); the government by 9.7 percent (negative rating: 38.8 percent); and the parliament by 4.5 percent (negative rating: 49.4 percent). Commenting on why the positive rating of Yushchenko is higher than that of the government by nearly three to one, Center of Economic and Political Studies head Anatoliy Hrytsenko said "this testifies to the fact that people do not perceive the government as a team of like-minded persons."

According to the poll, if parliamentary elections were held right now, only the Communist Party would be able to overcome the 4 percent voting threshold necessary to win parliamentary seats. The Communist Party could count on support from 14 percent of Ukrainians, while other parties would obtain far less support: the Democratic Party -- 3.7 percent; the Social Democratic Party (United) -- 3 percent; the Popular Democratic Party -- 2.9 percent; the Democratic Union -- 2.5 percent; the Popular Rukh (Udovenko) -- 2.1 percent; and the Fatherland Party -- 1.5 percent. Of those polled, 36 percent said they would support no party, while 22.7 percent were unable to define their party preferences.

The poll also found that 29 percent of Ukrainians believe Kyiv's foreign policy has recently taken a pro-Russia slant to the detriment of Ukraine's relations with the West (50.2 percent of them assessed this fact positively, 29.7 percent negatively, and 16.3 percent neutrally).

Polish Deputy Defense Minister Robert Lipka found himself in the spotlight last week after making colorful statements during a meeting with civil and military personnel of the garrison in Grudziadz, northern Poland. Some Polish media suggested that Lipka was intoxicated at that meeting. The Freedom Union called for Lipka's dismissal. Lipka subsequently tendered his resignation. Some of the deputy minister's statements were quoted by PAP.

An opening statement, after Lipka was two hours late for the meeting: "I came here to tell you that I am here."

On the Polish army: "[The Polish army] is not an army with a pig's snout."

On his army sobriquet: "I have a nickname -- Impudent Mug."

"I have [already] said that one should not be euphoric over the fact that allegedly some pro-American, pro-Western Kostunica came [to power in Yugoslavia]. I even dared to say that you will get Belarus's Lukashenka in Yugoslavia. As Lukashenka [is] in Belarus, so Kostunica [is] in Yugoslavia. You see that he is a man who primarily defends the interests of his own people. Therefore, everything I predicted has come true, and today NATO has realized that." -- Lukashenka, quoted by Belarusian Television on 15 March.