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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: April 3, 2001

3 April 2001, Volume 3, Number 12
CREDIBILITY OF WITNESSES IN 1941 POGROM BOOK QUESTIONED. Two Polish historians have questioned the credibility of witnesses cited in the book "Neighbors" by Jan Gross on the 1941 pogrom in Jedwabne (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 6 and 20 March 2001), PAP reported on 29 March. Gross alleged in his book that on 10 July 1941, shortly after the town of Jedwabne in northeastern Poland was occupied by German troops, Polish residents of Jedwabne herded some 1,600 Jews into a barn and burned them alive. Gross's book, published in Polish last year and due to appear in English this month, alleges that the Jedwabne murder was perpetrated by Poles alone, without any incitement from the Nazi forces occupying the town. Gross claims his findings are based on the study of Polish court files and accounts of some eyewitnesses of the pogrom. But historians Tomasz Strzembosz and Piotr Gontarczyk say Gross's findings should not be taken for granted.

Gross wrote in his book that "the first and most precise account on this subject [the pogrom] is the testimony of [Szmul] Wasersztajn, dating from 1945." But Strzembosz told PAP that Wasersztajn could not have witnessed the murder of Jews in Jedwabne on 10 July 1941 because on that day he was in hiding some 500 meters from the site of the atrocity. Strzembosz added that files of the Lomza court from 1949 and 1953 (concerning trials of some participants in the Jedwabne pogrom) state that "Wasersztajn was not a direct witness" to the pogrom. Gross claims he had studied the same court files before he wrote his book.

According to Strzembosz, other less than credible witnesses cited by Gross are Abram Boruszczak and Eljasz Gradowski. Strzembosz told PAP that Boruszczak did not live in Jedwabne at all. As for Gradowski, Strzembosz said he was sentenced for theft in 1940 (during the Soviet occupation) and deported to the Soviet Union, from where he did not return to Poland until 1945 and thus "had nothing to do with the Jedwabne case." Strzembosz added that in the hearing of the case before the Lomza court in 1949, neither Boruszczak nor Gradowski were taken into account as witnesses by the court, since "they could, at most, have heard [about the crime]."

Another Polish historian, Piotr Gontarczyk, told the daily "Zycie" on 29 March that "in writing his 'Neighbors,' Gross based [his findings] on testimonies and accounts that were not credible." Gontarczyk added: "[Gross] chose those [accounts] which matched what he wanted."

Gross told journalists in Lublin on 29 March that Strzembosz's statement does not undermine his findings contained in the book. The author of "Neighbors" reiterated that he is convinced that there were no Germans present during the murder in Jedwabne, apart from a military police post. "The mass participation of Germans in this event is completely precluded," Gross stressed.

Meanwhile, the National Remembrance Institute, which launched an investigation into the Jedwabne pogrom last year, has found new evidence regarding the number of people who may have been the victims of the 1941 massacre. Historian Jerzy Milewski from the Bialystok branch of the National Remembrance Institute reported that, according to Soviet data, there were 562 Jews living in Jedwabne in 1940. "This data is significantly at variance with that which is in circulation," Milewski said. Gross wrote in his book that some 1,600 Jews perished in the Jedwabne pogrom.

State Archive Director Daria Nalecz on 26 March presented documents discovered in the archives of Lomza, which include accounts from 19 witnesses (of whom nine were of Jewish descent), PAP reported. Nalecz said all those accounts point to Germans as the perpetrators of the Jedwabne pogrom.

POLITICAL INFORMATION BACK IN SCHOOLS. RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 26 March that many schools in Minsk have recently restored the Soviet-era practice of holding "political information hours." Within the framework of these hours, teachers instruct children to watch Belarusian Television newscasts and subsequently brief their classmates on last week's political developments (naturally, as they are presented by state-controlled journalists).

The Education Ministry told an RFE/RL correspondent that the resumption of political information hours at schools is not being ordered but "recommended" by the education authorities. Heorhi Butrym, a ministry official, commented: "Nobody forces [teachers to hold political information hours]. But the school should conduct informational work. In accordance with the law on education, there should be education and cultivation. Incidentally, [the political information hours have] never been abolished. Simply, we have moved away too far from directives. Now we have analyzed the situation of the educational work and come to the conclusion that this work should be improved. You know what a battle of ideas is taking place here [in Belarus], therefore children should be assisted."

Syarhey Kruchkou, an activist of the Belarusian Language Association (a non-governmental organization devoted to the promotion of the Belarusian language and culture), told RFE/RL: "It would be better for the Education Ministry to pay closer attention to the education of children instead of dealing with nonsense [political information].... Immorality reigns supreme [in Belarus], and its is simply harmful to young souls to watch Belarusian Television, because what they show in 'The Secret Mechanisms of Politics' or in 'Resonance' verges on insanity."

("The Secret Mechanism of Politics" and "Resonance" are Belarusian Television programs notorious for airing pro-Lukashenka and anti-opposition -- as well as anti-Western -- propaganda.)

STUDENT FORCED TO REWRITE THESIS. Uladzimir Zyanko, a student at the Pinsk branch of the Belarusian Economic University (in Brest Oblast), has been forced to rewrite his dissertation in order to graduate, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 27 March.

Zyanko, who wrote his thesis on the organization of small businesses in Belarus, concluded in his work that the country is in an "economic crisis" and faces "social degradation." He also predicted that the country will soon slide into abject poverty and see mass protest actions if no reforms are made. He was also as imprudent as to name the Czech Republic, Hungary, and the Baltic states as countries that have succeeded in economic reform.

Volha Malyshava, who headed a state examination commission that evaluated Zyanko's thesis, said there is no crisis or social degradation in Belarus because the country's GDP is constantly increasing (according to official data). She threatened to reject the thesis if Zyanko refused to change his conclusions. And another member of the commission said: "One should not write such things in a degree work. One even cannot speak about such things with anyone apart from one's wife."

Zyanko removed "crisis," "social degradation," and the mention of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and the Baltic states from his thesis and was promptly accepted for graduation.

PRO-LUKASHENKA RALLY BANNED. The authorities in Byaroza, a 30,000-strong city in Brest Oblast, have banned a demonstration in support of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's political and economic policies, Belapan reported on 30 March. In an official explanation of their unusual decision, the city authorities enigmatically stated: "The purpose of the demonstration, as declared in the application [for official approval], does not conform with reality, while the proposed form of the demonstration does not conform with its purpose."

Syarhey Rusetski, who intended to hold the rally with a group of Byaroza residents, said the participants were to unfold loyalist slogans, in particular: "Alyaksandr Lukashenka is the best president in the world! Thanks to his treaty with Russia wages are up, food and medicine prices are down!" Rusetski disappointedly commented on the ban: "What are we coming to? Even the executive branch no longer believes that people can genuinely support the head of state."

The Byaroza authorities were apparently alerted to the fact that the demonstration was to take place on April Fools' Day.

IS KUCHMA AFRAID OF TYMOSHENKO OR OF DIALOGUE? A strange legal fight over the whereabouts of former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko took place in Kyiv over the past week.

A Kyiv district court on 27 March annulled the warrant issued by the Prosecutor-General's Office for the arrest of Tymoshenko, who had been in jail since 13 February on charges of bribery, smuggling, and forgery. Tymoshenko denies all of the charges, dismissing them as politically motivated. Explaining the court ruling, Judge Mykola Zamkovenko said there was not sufficient reason to believe Tymoshenko would hide from investigators. Zamkovenko added that the arrest warrant was unnecessary since Tymoshenko had attended all required interrogations. Immediately after leaving her solitary confinement, Tymoshenko went to a Kyiv clinic for treatment -- she is reportedly suffering from a stomach ulcer.

The Prosecutor-General's Office subsequently appealed against the ruling of the Kyiv district court, and the Kyiv City Court on 31 March complied with the appeal and ordered that Tymoshenko be placed under arrest once more, after which guards appeared outside Tymoshenko's hospital room. Following this development, Tymoshenko's lawyers filed an appeal to the Supreme Court, and it ordered on 2 April to suspend the arrest at least until it considers that appeal.

Oleksandr Turchynov, head of the parliamentary caucus of Tymoshenko's Fatherland Party, told Interfax that the authorities are afraid of Tymoshenko. Turchynov added, referring to "informed sources," that the order to rearrest Tymoshenko came personally from President Leonid Kuchma. Turchynov said he spoke with Kuchma about Yuliya Tymoshenko's husband, who is in jail on charges of bribery, and the president suggested that Yuliya Tymoshenko's fate depends on her "behavior." Turchynov added: [Yuliya Tymoshenko] behaved badly -- the Fatherland Party voted to pass Major [Mykola] Melnychenko's tapes to Western experts for expertise." According to Turchynov, this fact contributed to the imprisonment of the former deputy premier.

Meanwhile, the Forum of National Salvation commented that the decision to rearrest Tymoshenko testifies to the fact that the authorities are not interested in overcoming the current crisis and are deliberately exacerbating the situation. Premier Viktor Yushchenko also commented that Tymoshenko's rearrest "stops the negotiation process on the way out of the political crisis." He added that the rearrest was "a demonstration of force -- unfavorable for overcoming the crisis and arranging a normal political dialogue."

"It is a great pleasure to be here, in Moscow. Did I say Moscow? It's Warsaw today." -- NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson after talks with Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek in Warsaw on 29 March, as quoted by Polish Television. Robertson must have been having a bad run on that day in Warsaw, since he persistently referred to Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski as Chaikovskii (the name of a famous Russian composer).

"The five years of the existence of the Russian-Belarusian Union have demonstrated that it is possible to declare [this union] but impossible to create it." -- The Russian daily "Vedomosti" on 28 March.

"The Russian-Belarusian Union is becoming a powerful factor of influence on the mind." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in an interview with a Russian journalist, as quoted by Belapan on 29 March.

"I am worried about the fact that Russian capital is vigorously penetrating Ukraine's economy, and that this [situation] leads to increasing Ukraine's economic dependence on Russia. We have already been permanently dependent on Russian gas supplies, and now we have signed an agreement on connecting Ukraine's electricity grid to that of Russia. They say this step was caused by the need to stabilize [our electricity grid] at the frequency of 50 kHz, and now the system has started to work. But the point is that we are going to consume Russian electricity. We are not paying for gas, so now we will also not be paying for electricity. At the same time, our own power plants are not being utilized to their full capacities. Deepening economic dependence means strengthening political dependence. This is an axiom." -- Popular Rukh of Ukraine leader Hennadiy Udovenko in an interview with the Moscow-based "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 30 March.