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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: March 13, 2001

13 March 2001, Volume 3, Number 9
ART GALLERY HEAD RESIGNS OVER CHARGES OF 'ANTI-POLISH' ACTIVITY. Anda Rottenberg has resigned as director of Zacheta, Poland's most prestigious national art gallery, PAP reported on 7 March. Minister of Culture Kazimierz Michal Ujazdowski announced that a competition will be held to find a replacement for Rottenberg.

Rottenberg's step followed public calls for her resignation after scandals surrounding two exhibitions at the Warsaw gallery. Last November, Zacheta hosted an exhibition called "The Nazis," which showed photographs of Polish and foreign actors in Nazi uniforms without any commentaries (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 28 November 2000). Polish movie star Daniel Olbrychski vandalized the exhibition with a theatrical saber, saying he was outraged by his photograph being shown in the exhibition without his permission.

A much larger public outcry followed Zacheta's exhibit of a life-size figure of Polish-born Pope John Paul II being crushed by a meteorite. Two right-wing lawmakers tried to dismantle the exposition, but were prevented from doing so by the gallery's guards. Some 90 lawmakers published an open letter in the Polish press accusing Rottenberg of "anti-Polish" activity. Some newspapers published letters from indignant readers who ascribed Rottenberg's alleged "anti-Polish" stance to her Jewish origin.

Rottenberg defended her position by saying that art is open to many interpretations, and that "the way in which a subject could be portrayed was dictated only in the period of socialist realism." Minister Ujazdowski, who resisted demands to fire Rottenberg, was forced to comment that "scandal and provocation should not be criteria for choosing works of art and exhibitions displayed in a national gallery."

"Lack of education, the results of which we see now, is caused, among other things, by lack of a place where such education could take place. The way art is received now is not appropriate," AP quoted Rottenberg as saying in regard to the public reaction to the controversial Zacheta exhibitions.

NATION STILL LIVING UNDER JARUZELSKI'S MARTIAL LAW. "Our Fatherland has found itself on the verge of a disaster.... It is necessary to tie the hands of adventurers before they draw the Fatherland into an abyss of fratricidal fight," black-bespectacled General Wojciech Jaruzelski told the nation on 13 January 1981, announcing the introduction of martial law in Poland. It turns out that if the government wanted to "tie some adventurers" right now, it could do that under the same law Jaruzelski utilized. "Rzeczpospolita" on 10 March reported that the infamous 1981 martial law decree is still in force. The martial law decree, issued by the then State Council, was confirmed by a law of 25 January 1982 on special legal regulations during martial law. Article two of the law stated that the decree would remain in force until the adoption of an appropriate law on a state of war. Such a law has not been adopted, even though the president submitted a so-called "crisis package" to the parliament, including a draft bill on the introduction of a state of war. The current Polish Constitution specifies three crisis situations that may be declared in the country: a state of war, a state of emergency, and a state of natural disaster.

INTELLECTUALS PROTEST 'ANTIHUMAN' FILM ABOUT CATHOLICISM. A group of Belarusian intellectuals and scholars have protested the presentation of the film "Dushekhvaty" (Soul Snatchers) by Yury Azaronak on Belarusian Television last month, Belapan reported on 7 March. The group said the film "debases" the Catholic Church, "disgraces" the Belarusian people, and "stirs up interdenominational enmity" in Belarus. "The author tackles the subject without being familiar with either the history of the Catholic Church, or its soul-edifying activity," the group said in statement. The statement also notes that it is not clear why the film includes scenes involving NATO [and Russian politicians] Yegor Gaidar, Boris Yeltsin, and Mikhail Gorbachev, "who have nothing to do with the church." The intellectuals said it is inadmissible to show television films like "Dushekhvaty," which is of an "antistate, antisocial, anti-Belarusian, and antihuman character."

Azaronak is notorious as an author of Belarusian Television features laden with anti-Western and pro-President Alyaksandr Lukashenka propaganda. He came to prominence on the eve of the controversial 1996 referendum, when one of his television films portrayed the Belarusian opposition as the physical and spiritual descendants of Belarus's wartime collaborators with the Nazis.

President Lukashenka, who once defined his religious belief as that of an "Orthodox atheist," openly favors the presence of the Russian Orthodox Church in Belarus and strives to make Orthodoxy a "state religion" in exchange for moral support to his regime from the church hierarchy. According to some estimates, there may be some 1 million Roman Catholics in Belarus.

'AFRO-ASIANS' AS A BELARUS-RUSSIA INTEGRATION RESULT? Belarusian Television reported on 10 March that, according to official data, Belarus currently hosts some 200,000 "Afro-Asians" -- refugees from Asia and Africa who want to illegally cross the Belarusian border into Western Europe. This year, Belarusian border troops have detained 260 people from Asia and Africa attempting to cross the border in 56 separate organized groups. However, authorities admit that their efforts to cope with the increasing influx of Afro-Asians are completely futile because of the transparent Belarusian-Russian border. "A majority of ordinary trespassers, after having presented their identity cards and paid fines for the damage they inflicted [on the state], are transported at the expense of the state to a Moscow-bound train. But usually everything begins for them anew at the first Russian train stop," Belarusian Television commented.

YUSHCHENKO TO MAKE PEACE WITH OLIGARCHS? Premier Viktor Yushchenko on 10 March met with the leadership of the parliamentary majority to discuss a "political accord" between the cabinet and the legislative majority in order to define mutual obligations and responsibilities of the government and its legislative support group. Interfax reported that the meeting resulted in a decision to set up a working group for drafting such an accord.

Oleksandr Turchynov, leader of the Fatherland Party parliamentary caucus, commented after the meeting that he fully shares Yushchenko's conviction that his cabinet works in a businesslike way. Turchynov said the recently voiced signals about a crisis in Yushchenko's cabinet are only an attempt by some political forces to divert public attention from the political crisis in the country and transform it into a cabinet problem. Turchynov added that no lawmaker proposed any personnel changes in the cabinet during the meeting with Yushchenko. The Fatherland Party parliamentary caucus is against the signing of a joint accord by the government and the parliamentary majority, and is opting for a series of accords between the cabinet and each separate pro-government parliamentary group.

Yuriy Kostenko, leader of the Ukrainian Popular Rukh, told Interfax that the only possible non-leftist pro-government majority is the one existing at the present moment. Kostenko added that any attempt at changing the current lineup of the parliamentary majority will put an end to the reformatory effort of the Ukrainian legislature.

Kostenko seemed to be commenting on last month's ultimatum by first parliamentary speaker Viktor Medvedchuk, who said that unless Yushchenko forms a coalition cabinet, "the reformist parliamentary majority will create a new coalition government with a new premier." For some political observers of the Ukrainian political scene, Medvedchuk's statement clearly signaled the beginning of a major campaign by Ukrainian oligarchs to rearrange the country's top echelons of power.

The testing day for Yushchenko will be 10 April, when he is expected to deliver a report to the parliament on the performance of his cabinet. Some political analysts say the parliament is very likely to dismiss Yushchenko under the pretext of his alleged failure to fulfill the government program that was approved by lawmakers a year ago. Yushchenko may be voted out jointly by the Communists -- whose representative will subsequently head the legislature -- and some oligarchic caucuses which want Medvedchuk (or some other oligarch) to head the government.

There are three major oligarchic parties (each having its own parliamentary representation) in Ukraine: the Social Democratic Party (United) (led by oligarchs Viktor Medvedchuk and Hryhoriy Surkis); the Democratic Union (Oleksandr Volkov); and the Labor Ukraine Party (Serhiy Tyhypko, Viktor Pynchuk, and Andriy Derkach). They may have keen interests in unseating Yushchenko for at least two reasons.

Firstly, Yushchenko, assisted by courageous Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko, has managed to shift a majority of payments in Ukraine's economy from shady barter schemes to transparent cash settlements, thus depriving Ukrainian oligarchs of considerable profits. Secondly, Ukraine is to hold parliamentary elections next year, and oligarchs may simply want to have their own people in the government to obtain administrative levers of control over the situation in the country, which would better position their parties for the upcoming election campaign.

As of now, President Leonid Kuchma seems to be in full control of the situation in the country, but it is also obvious to everyone that he is currently more concerned about what takes place on Kyiv's streets and squares than about developments in parliamentary lobbies and government offices. Taking advantage of the president's political troubles, the oligarchs -- who have so far influenced developments in Ukraine from behind Kuchma's back -- now appear to be prepared to take the reins of power directly in their hands.

Yushchenko's immediate and defiant reaction to the oligarchs' move indicated that he is aware of the looming political takeover in Ukraine. On 28 February he commented on Medvedchuk's threat that "the government will never participate in a dialogue of ultimatums with any political force." Yushchenko added that Medvedchuk's statement is "a prologue for destabilizing the situation in Ukraine" and "an attempt to change Ukraine's future." Speaking on behalf of his cabinet, which discussed the domestic political situation during a closed-door session, he noted: "We are convinced that this is a purely clannish approach toward organizing Ukrainian politics."

Last week, however, Yushchenko proposed that talks be held between the government and the parliamentary majority on signing a political accord that could regulate mutual relations. Some see this proposal as an indication that in the meantime the premier unsuccessfully tried to get support from Kuchma to strengthen the cabinet's stand against oligarchs. True, Kuchma publicly declared he is not going to dismiss Yushchenko's cabinet. But he added, however, that the government should be efficient and depend more on the parliamentary majority. Yushchenko apparently treated this pronouncement as less than comforting, and made an attempt at concluding a separate peace agreement with the oligarchs.

It may sound paradoxical to many, but the question of whether Kuchma survives the current political unrest in Ukraine seems to be of secondary importance in comparison with the question of Yushchenko's survival. Yushchenko's possible ouster in April may not only disrupt the current positive economic trends in the country, along with the government's reformist course, but also make a much more gloomy prospect a reality. Ukraine may soon find itself left to the full discretion of those who contributed enormously over the past 10 years to the plunging of the country into all-encompassing corruption, economic inefficiency, and abject poverty.

"More calm over that coffin." -- Former Polish President Lech Walesa, answering the question by Radio Zet about what should be done in regard to the alleged murder of 1,600 Jews by their Polish neighbors in Jedwabne, northeastern Poland, in 1941; quoted by PAP on 10 March.

"There are Jewish and other unlucky bunglers who scratch [old] sores, who live only on writing books and antagonizing these nations [the Jews and the Poles], which have suffered so much. This is abominable, we should have put an end to that long ago. The nations that have paid such a high price must be considerate of each other, they must understand that there were scoundrels on both sides." -- Walesa, ibidem. The Jedwabne pogrom was recently publicized by the book "Neighbors" written by Jan Tomasz Gross, a Jew who left Poland after the anti-Semitic propaganda campaign of 1968 and now teaches at New York University.

"He should apologize for communism and for the fact that he was on the other [communist] side, while leaving those matters [the problem of guilt for the Jedwabne pogrom] to God." -- Walesa, answering the question of whether President Aleksander Kwasniewski should officially apologize to Jews for the Jedwabne pogrom; ibidem.

"Yuliya! Ukraine! Freedom!" -- The slogan chanted by some 1,000 demonstrators in Kyiv on 8 March, who demanded the release of former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko from jail.

"While staying in solitary confinement, it was possible for me to feel the impact of a large-scale plan by pro-presidential media to vulgarize and pervert the consciousness of the people. During the initial several weeks, I was allowed only to listen to radio and to watch UT-1 (ed. note: state-controlled broadcasting).... After I had listened to and watched what our nation listens to and watches every day, I realized that the president may succeed in everything he has planned to do.... I became convinced once again that the first and foremost reform that has to be implemented by democratic authorities is that of the media. The success of all other reforms is a consequence [of this media reform]." -- Yuliya Tymoshenko in an interview from jail published in the 8 March "Zerkalo nedeli."