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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: May 29, 2001

29 May 2001, Volume 3, Number 20
BISHOPS APOLOGIZE TO JEWS. The chairman of the Episcopate's Council for Dialogue with Other Religions, Bishop Stanislaw Gondecki, said the Polish Roman Catholic Church wants to acknowledge the truth and express its grief and repentance over the crimes committed in Jedwabne in 1941 and in other places, PAP reported on 27 May (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 3 April, 6 and 20 March 2001).

Roman Catholic bishops, led by Cardinal Jozef Glemp, gathered on 27 May at All Saints' Church near the former Warsaw ghetto to pray in apology for wrongs done by Poles and Catholics to Jews in Jedwabne, northeastern Poland, and in other places.

"We are deeply disturbed by the actions of those who caused Jews to suffer and even murdered them in Jedwabne and in other places over the ages," Bishop Gondecki said. The bishop stressed that the Church took a stand on the Jedwabne crime also in order to be able to counteract the evil still present today. "Once again we condemn all signs of intolerance, racism, and anti-Semitism, which, as we know, are sinful," he declared.

The prayer meeting was attended by Sejm Speaker Maciej Plazynski, Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, and National Remembrance Institute head Leon Kieres. The rabbi of Warsaw and Lodz, Michael Schudrich, declined an invitation to attend, saying the gathering was held at the beginning of the observance of the Jewish holiday Shavuot.

LAWMAKER TO BE DISCIPLINED FOR SPEECH AT LUKASHENKA'S 'POPULAR CONGRESS.' The Second All-Belarusian Popular Congress convened by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Minsk on 18 May (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 22 May 2001) has been widely discussed in the Polish media after the media learned about a speech delivered to that gathering by Jan Syczewski, a Sejm deputy from the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). Syczewski, an ethnic Belarusian born in Poland, is chairman of the Belarusian Social-Cultural Association in Poland, an organization based in Bialystok, northeastern Poland, which pursues cultural and educational activities among Poland's Belarusian minority. In 1997 he was elected to the parliament on the SLD ticket.

Syczewski's address to the congress -- made in Belarusian and, as can be inferred from its style, not prepared in advance on paper -- was broadcast by Belarusian Television's main newscast program "Panarama" on 18 May. Below are translated excerpts:

"It is painful to see for me that relations between the Polish Republic and the Republic of Belarus -- primarily at Poland's fault -- are not developing as they should develop, and that their level has so far not been very civilized. The point is that there is transformation under way in our countries -- social, economic, and political [transformation]. There are processes of privatization and democratization of life under way. I have come to the conclusion that...the notion of democracy is ambiguous. There is a definition in Poland saying that democracy is people's power, but [exercised] at the command of other states. I think you know which states I have in mind.... Poland's democracy is going in exactly such a direction and has such content, while privatization has been carried out in such a way that -- according to experts and scientists -- [national] property was sold off at a tenth or a fifteenth of its real value....

"While Belarus is not subordinate to [the command of] some other countries, [that does not mean] that Belarus is not democratic.... The government of the Republic of Belarus does not allow [others] to embezzle national property; the authorities take care to distribute profits among all the people, not only private businessmen who, as we were told here by the president, want to buy the people's property for insignificant sums. Then we can see such processes as, for example, in Bialystok, where a plant employing 6,000 people reduces its employment to less than 1,000 people, while the others are left stranded without jobs. A question arises: What will be the future of such an economy, what will be the future of the people?"

SLD leader Leszek Miller said last week that Syczewski's pronouncements in Minsk were "scandalous," adding that an in-house party tribunal will scrutinize them. "The SLD statutes require that statements by party members conform to the party's general line. It is doubtless difficult to see Mr. Syczewski's statements as conforming to the SLD program," PAP quoted Miller as saying. Miller added that disciplinary measures against Syczewski will be taken if the review proves that the deputy actually said what was alleged by the media.

Syczewski denied at a news conference in Bialystok on 21 May that his intention was to praise Belarus and criticize Poland during his speech in Minsk.

The next day, Polish Television's main newscast showed a group of journalists running after Syczewski for an interview in the parliament's anterooms. Syczewski, however, refused to comment on his Minsk speech. Asked if he will run on the SLD ticket in this year's legislative elections, Syczewski said "no." A television commentator noted that the refusal to include Syczewski on the list of SLD candidates is probably the party's punishment for his Minsk speech.

Radoslaw Gawlik, a lawmaker from the Freedom Union who was in Minsk during the Popular Congress and witnessed arrests of Lukshenka's opponents, told PAP: "These statements did Poland and Belarus a bad turn. President Lukashenka took advantage of the situation and ran them in the main edition of the national news. They will be rebroadcast right up until the elections." Gawlik added that Syczewski's pronouncements were "the words of a communist hard-liner in the style of the 1950s or 1960s who has no idea of what is going on in the world."

The Belarusian Social-Cultural Association (BTSK) is the oldest Belarusian minority organization in Poland. Just like similar organizations of Poland's Lithuanians, Ukrainians, and Jews, it was founded in 1956 and until 1989 remained under the strict supervision of the Interior Ministry, which controlled the BTSK's budget and saw that its public activities conformed to the Communist Party's line. Following the collapse of the communist regime in Poland, several other Belarusian organizations emerged in Bialystok. They sought to unite primarily young Belarusians, who were displeased with or even hostile to what they saw as the BTSK's continuation of undemocratic methods in pursuing cultural and educational activities among the Belarusian minority. Those organizations subsequently formed their coordinating body under the name of the Belarusian Union.

Belarusian Union Chairman Eugeniusz Wappa told "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, And Ukraine Report" in connection with Syczewski's statements in Minsk:

"Mr. Syczewski obviously wanted to launch his re-election campaign with his Minsk speech. But there were two or three phrases too many in his pronouncement -- they clearly did not conform to what the SLD says in public. But what was particularly surprising in that episode is that the head of the organization devoted to the promotion of Belarusian national awareness did not say anything about that issue in Minsk -- he spoke only about politics."

REGIONS WANT DOMASH TO RUN AGAINST LUKASHENKA. More than 800 delegates representing dozens of NGOs from the Belarusian regions convened on 26 May in Minsk and adopted a resolution expressing support for Syamyon Domash, former governor of Hrodna Oblast, as a "possible candidate" in this fall's presidential election, Belapan reported.

"It is evident now that it is possible to return Belarus to the path of progressive and civilized development only if a democratic professional government headed by a new president comes to power," the delegates said in their resolution. They added: "Realizing that the upcoming presidential elections will be fateful for Belarus, its people and future generations, we, representatives of the public of Belarus's regions, declare our active participation in the upcoming presidential campaign and express our support for possible candidate Syamyon Domash."

The resolution also welcomed the statement by five possible presidential candidates -- Domash, former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir, Belarusian Party of Communists leader Syarhey Kalyakin, trade union leader Uladzimir Hancharyk, and former Defense Minister Pavel Kazlouski -- that they will coordinate their activities in the campaign, as well as the effort by the Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces to work together and propose a single democratic candidate.

Although the four other potential candidates had been invited to the convention, none of them was present. The meeting was attended by the leaders of some opposition political parties, including Vintsuk Vyachorka of the Belarusian Popular Front and Mikalay Statkevich of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party.

In his address to the gathering, Domash outlined his electoral platform. He criticized Alyaksandr Lukashenka's activities in the post of chief of state, which, Domash argued, "blocked the creative and moral potential" of the nation. "State power has gotten into the hands of a small group of persons who have no government experience.... The country should be governed by professionals.... We need a government of popular confidence, which would include representatives of different political forces," Domash noted.

Domash suggested that there should be no economic shock therapy, and that economic reform should be gradual, consistent, and irreversible. According to him, two-thirds of the current taxes should be abolished and the rates of the others should be halved. Domash opted for an open economy and the liberalization of economic relations with foreign partners. He also advocated a favorable environment for investment, simplified regulations in the private business sector, and a free choice of forms of management in the agricultural sector.

Domash suggested the restoration of the system of political "checks and balances" by giving meaningful functions to the parliament and using a mixed system in parliamentary ballots, combining party lists with one-seat constituencies.

"To ensure freedom of speech, we should sharply restrict governmental agencies' control over the media. Control over the National Television and Radio Company should be turned over to a public monitoring council formed on a parity basis from representatives of governmental agencies, parties, NGOs, and journalists' associations," Domash noted.

Touching upon relations with foreign countries, Domash said steps should be taken to end the international isolation of Belarus and make the country a "factor in international politics, not the subject of a geopolitical fight." He added: "The main task of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should be to prevent a new Berlin wall from being erected on the western border of Belarus."

According to Domash, Belarus should maintain good-neighborly relations with Russia, which should be based on the principles of sovereignty and give priority to economic cooperation. The two should change their current attitude of "Belarus and Russia Against Europe" to one of "Belarus Links Europe and Russia."

HALF OF UKRAINIANS SEE NO OPPOSITION LEADER. A poll held among 1,000 people in all Ukrainian regions from 25 April to 5 May by the GfK-USM polling center found that 49 percent of respondents could not identify any opposition leader in Ukraine, Interfax reported on 21 May.

Of those polled, 15 percent said former Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko is such a leader, 12 percent pointed to Communist Party head Petro Symonenko, 11 percent to Socialist Party head Oleksandr Moroz, and 5 percent to lawmaker Taras Chornovil.

"The population reacted appropriately to the situation within the National Salvation Forum.... The fact that half of the Forum opposes the idea of a nationwide referendum [seeking President Leonid Kuchma's ouster], while the Socialists and the Fatherland Party [of Yuliya Tymoshenko] support it, confirms that relations within the opposition are complicated." This is the view of Mykola Tomenko, director of the Institute of Politics, which ordered the poll to be taken.

The same poll found that if presidential elections had been held at the time it was taken, caretaker Premier Viktor Yushchenko would have obtained 24 percent of the vote, Petro Symonenko 10 percent, Leonid Kuchma 6 percent, and Progressive Socialist Party leader Natalya Vitrenko 5 percent. Other politicians would have got less than 5 percent of the vote; 10 percent of voters would have voted against all candidates, 19 percent were unable to decide on their preference, while 15 percent said they would not have taken part in the elections.

Meanwhile, Yushchenko puzzled Ukrainian commentators last week by meeting parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch, with whom he discussed the creation of a "broad democratic coalition" in order to win next year's presidential elections. Yushchenko earlier rejected suggestions that, following his ouster from the post of prime minister, he join and even head the anti-Kuchma opposition, which is represented mainly by the National Salvation Forum. What was even more puzzling, Kuchma said last week that he wants Yushchenko "to stay in politics."

The Kyiv-based "Zerkalo nedeli" speculated on 26 May that Yushchenko could build his coalition in alliance with Plyushch and Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko, and obtain support from trade unions, youth organizations, and some parties that have so far not decided on their political alliances for next year's parliamentary elections. "Zerkalo nedeli" suggested that President Kuchma might be personally interested in the emergence of Yushchenko's non-leftist bloc as a balance to the left wing and the so-called oligarchic parties, which now reportedly threaten Kuchma's political position.

"We need an effective government and an effective prime minister. So I have a question: Why was it necessary to replace a newest-generation computer personified by [Viktor] Yushchenko in the government with a calculator represented by [presidential nominee Anatoliy] Kinakh?" -- Former Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko in an interview with RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on 23 May.

"Anybody dealing with business clearly realizes that administration officials in the post-Soviet area do not create businesses but seek to exploit those already existing. Big officials rape big businesses, medium-sized officials rape medium-sized businesses, and small officials rape small businesses. The question that every businessman has to answer is whether he can agree to such contacts with administration officials. If he agrees, then he becomes an object of concern for the Prosecutor-General's Office -- it is only a question of time. If he doesn't agree, he goes into politics." -- Yuliya Tymoshenko in an online chat organized by the "Ukrayinska pravda" website on 23 May.

"Believe [what I have to say about] my experiences with [conversations] with President [Leonid Kuchma]: There could be no state secrets discussed in his office. Simply because this man has never been interested in state problems." -- Yuliya Tymoshenko in an online chat organized by the "Ukrayinska pravda" website on 23 May, commenting on the possibility that former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko's tapes made in Kuchma's office may include state secrets.