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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: June 26, 2001

26 June 2001, Volume 3, Number 24
POPULAR JUSTICE MINISTER TO SUE POLISH TV. Justice Minister Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother Jaroslaw Kaczynski plan to sue Polish Television over a documentary that alleged their former party, the Center Alliance, had received some $600,000 from the Foreign Debt Servicing Fund (FOZZ), Polish media reported last week. The FOZZ case is arguably the largest financial scandal in post-communist Poland. Prosecutors suspect that FOZZ, which employed many communist-era secret service officers, embezzled some 354 million zlotys ($89 million) from the state in the early 1990s. Lech Kaczynski said the documentary, which was broadcast on prime time on 17 June, was "an exceptionally perfidious manipulation" in the run-up to the 23 September parliamentary elections.

The allegations of illegal financing of the Kaczynski brothers were made by a businessman of Polish-Cuban origin named Janusz Heathcliff Iwanowski Pineiro. A Warsaw court on 21 June ordered Pineiro arrested for three months. Prosecutors suspect that Pineiro embezzled 2 million zlotys ($500,000).

Lech Kaczynski, who has become very popular in the post of justice minister (with no less than a 70 percent public approval rating), formed the Law and Justice election committee along with his brother. According to some Polish commentators, the Kaczynski brothers' election initiative significantly improves the chances of the Polish right wing to win a parliamentary representation in the 23 September general elections, which are widely expected to result in a landslide victory for the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance. Those commentators also assert that the damaging documentary was made with tacit approval (if not instigation) of some left-wing politicians who allegedly control public television.

A group of 80 legislators from the Solidarity Electoral Action of the Right, Law and Justice, and Civic Platform electoral committees have accused Polish Television of meddling in the ongoing election campaign. The board of the Association of Polish Journalists in Polish Television also said the documentary testifies to the fact that public television is being used for "political manipulation."

LUKASHENKA SPEAKS OUT ON ELECTION CAMPAIGN, OPPONENTS. Belarusian Television on 23 June aired an interview given by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to a selected group of Belarusian and Russian journalists, in which he touched upon a broad range of issues connected with the ongoing presidential election campaign. Below are translated excerpts from that interview:

On how to examine his health condition:

"The opposition has often urged me to undergo a health examination by an independent commission. Why not let all of us -- more than 20 presidential candidates -- stand in a row on 3 July (we will have mass sporting events connected with Independence Day in Minsk on 3 July) and compete. I would ski, some might skate or cycle. This would be the best independent examination of the health of each candidate. Thus, if we ski, skate, or run from Victory Square to Independence Square and back, people will see who is healthy and who is ill."

(Ed. note: The opposition has urged Lukashenka to undergo a mental health examination in connection with the allegations of a psychiatrist earlier this year that the Belarusian president is suffering from a "moderately pronounced psychopathy with the prevalence of traits of a paranoid and distractive personality disorder.")

On presidential campaign funds of his opponents:

"A great deal of them have registered [for the presidential race], this is a coordinated process, this is a paid process. Today, none of the candidates is able to conduct his/her presidential campaign unless he/she is in power or has money. Well, OK, as regards Lukashenka, he is in power, he is the incumbent president.... In other words, as the president, I have capabilities [to conduct my re-election campaign]. And those aspiring to run?... Don't you understand that all those people have been paid? This is money that you have never dreamed of. Where does this money come from? The money is going through the OSCE group and through an embassy.

(Ed. note: Lukashenka did not specify which embassy).

On the opposition's chances to field a single candidate against him:

"They collected such an amount of candidates in order to blur the whole game and confuse me, but they confused themselves, because they have already started fighting among themselves. The five [of candidates pledging cooperation in the campaign] transformed into a six, but now they have broken apart for good. You see how they are attacking each other. And why are they doing so?... Money, guys, is the main reason. They cannot divide money. You'll see what will be happening further in the campaign. There will be no single candidate. The single candidate [idea] is a profanation, a bluff. What single candidate? Do Masherava, Kalyakin, Domash, Paznyak, Hancharyk, and Chyhir have anything in common? Is it possible to marry a snake to a hedgehog?"

On the presidential bid of Natalya Masherava, daughter of Pyotr Masherau, Belarus's popular communist leader in the period 1965-80:

"It pains me, it pains me very much that such people as Masherava [are running against me in the elections].... The [Masherau] family was abandoned. Nobody went to see it. You must remember that after the presidential elections [in 1994] I went to see this family. I supported it all along. I did much for the election of this person [Natalya Masherava] to the parliament. And now [she made] a stab in the back. Why am I saying this? Because she realizes perfectly well that she will not become the president of Belarus, that a woman cannot be elected at this stage. This is a very hard task [performing presidential functions], besides, the Belarusian president is the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Well, does she not understand this? She does. Does she not understand that her presidential bid plays into the hands of that wild-running pro-Western opposition? What, does she not understand? She does. So why is she behaving like that? I'm not attacking her, please understand me, this is simply a personal matter."

On the presidential bid of Mikhail Marynich, Belarus's ambassador to Latvia, Estonia, and Finland:

"Or the ambassador: You represent [Belarus's] president abroad. You sang songs [of praise] to me, you swore loyalty and devotion to me. And now look how he has started to speak. But what if you look for his speeches he made three, four, or five years ago and publish them along with [his recent statements]? [I have one] question: When were you right, when did you speak the truth -- then or now?"

On the allegations by two investigators that a death squad organized by top Belarusian officials killed his political opponents:

"Then those two prosecutors [ed. note: Dzmitry Petrushkevich and Aleh Sluchak].... [The allegations regarding the death squad] were their trump card, but we expected them, because they were fabricated, including with the participation of people from the West, who were here, who are here to perform a good mission but do the opposite. We waited, we knew that there would be [such allegations]. The United States' CIA addressed -- I'm not going to say exactly whom, but they were certain organizations and individuals -- with a bid to buy [documents from] the investigation into the disappearance of people in Belarus. They addressed the Prosecutor-General's Office or some other [institution], and I replied: 'Pay money officially to the Republic of Belarus, and we will Xerox you any page of the criminal case you're interested in.' What do they need criminal cases for? As for us, we are not going to buy a criminal investigation into the work of a spy -- I forgot his name -- who worked for the Soviet intelligence service. In other words, there are many interesting aspects here. And then all of a sudden...two people disappear and allegedly say that there are death squads in Belarus, which kill people and hide or bury them somewhere. In connection with this, as you would say, I want to make a sensational statement. If these two prosecutors know where those disappeared people are -- and they said they know, [they mentioned] some cemetery -- let them [show the burial place] and we will make an exhumation in attendance of all of you, of representatives of any embassy, of independent Americans, Germans, and so on."

AUTHORITIES FULLY CONTROL TERRITORIAL ELECTORAL COMMISSIONS. Last week, Belarus's regional authority bodies completed manning territorial electoral commissions (formed at the oblast and raion levels) that will count votes in the 9 September presidential elections. Belarus's electoral code, which gives the regional executive and legislative authorities the decisive role in the formation of electoral commissions, has been repeatedly criticized by the Belarusian opposition and international organizations as undemocratic and open to potential election manipulations.

Vyachaslau Siuchyk, an activist of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front, told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 18 June that the authorities rejected more than 600 candidates proposed by NGOs and opposition parties for territorial electoral commissions.

"It is necessary to make both the democratic West and Belarusian society realize the danger contained in such a way of forming territorial electoral commissions.... As of today, the situation looks like a mass falsification system has been already prepared for the presidential ballot," Siuchyk noted. According to Siuchyk, only one independent candidate was included in an electoral commission, in Verkhnyadzvinsk Raion of Vitsebsk Oblast.

POPE OPENS VISIT TO UKRAINE. Pope John Paul II arrived in Kyiv on 23 June to start a five-day visit to Ukraine.

It is the first time any pope has visited Ukraine, whose 50 million population is predominantly Orthodox. There are around 6 million Ukrainian Catholics, mostly Greek Catholics (or Uniates), who observe Eastern-rite ritual but accept the pope's supremacy.

Most believers belong to the three Orthodox churches that exist in the country. Two of those are Ukrainian and have welcomed the pope's visit, but the third is a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church and has fiercely opposed the visit.

Believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) held protests in Kyiv last week and some, including priests, have threatened to disrupt the pope's tour by blocking the roads he will travel along and by infiltrating the four open-air services he will conduct during his five-day stay.

However, there was calm at the start of the visit when Pope John Paul II arrived at Kyiv's main airport, where he was welcomed by President Leonid Kuchma.

The pope accepted the traditional Ukrainian welcoming gift of a bowl of salt and bread, and in a gesture that has long been a hallmark of his foreign tours he kissed a bowl containing some of the country's soil.

The pope made a 25-minute speech in Ukrainian in which he said, "I have long waited to make this journey and am overjoyed that it has come to pass."

The Ukrainian Catholic Church was banned by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in 1944. Many of its priests and faithful were executed or died in the gulags. The pope said that an important aim of his visit is to commemorate the suffering of Catholics who kept their faith alive during the communist era by holding secret services in safe houses or in forests and whose priests worked underground.

The pope greeted all the faiths in Ukraine in his opening message and said that he has come to Ukraine as part of his passionately held desire to try to reconcile the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Russian Orthodox leaders are angry that churches and property confiscated by the communists and handed over to the Russian Orthodox Church -- the only one allowed to function by Stalin -- have been returned to the Ukrainian Catholic Church. They also accuse the pope of proselytizing.

During his speech at the airport, the pope denied that he had come to proselytize. He said, "I have not come with the intention of proselytizing but to bear witness to Christ together with all Christians with every church."

As on a difficult trip to Greece earlier this year, the pope said Catholics and Orthodox should seek forgiveness for offenses against each other since the 1054 schism that split the eastern Orthodox and western Catholic churches.

Because of fears that some Orthodox believers may try to disrupt the tour, the Ukrainian authorities have put a massive security operation in place. The Ukrainian intelligence service also said they had received a warning from Interpol about the possibility of an assassination attempt against the pope.

On 25 June, the Pope is to fly to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, where he will hold two masses. In both Kyiv and Lviv he will hold one Roman Catholic mass and one Greek Catholic mass.

Organizers of his trip say that a total of up to 2 million people may attend the four masses. However, the largest attendance is expected in Lviv. Western Ukraine is where most of the country's Catholics are concentrated and where the area's predominantly Greek Catholic faith has always been closely tied to Ukrainians' desire for independence during a long history of occupations by other powers.

At the final mass in Lviv, the pope will beatify 27 people who perished -- mostly at the hands of the communists -- for their beliefs. All of them were Greek Catholics except for one Roman Catholic.

(RFE/RL correspondent Askold Krushelnycky wrote this report.)

"The Belarusian president, just like a president of any other country, costs the nation a pretty penny. But as regards money spent by the Belarusian president on shoes, ties, jackets, and slippers -- and what else? -- skis, hockey sticks, sports shirts, it is a meager sum. I cannot even find an appropriate comparison, it is a meager sum in comparison with [those amounts spent by] other heads of state. I'm ready to show you at what time I get up in the morning, what I do for my morning exercises, on what roller skates I skate, who produced those roller skates -- it seems to me that they are Finnish, we do not produce them -- and what shoes I wear. I don't know how much my shoes cost because I am presented all those fittings by foreign hockey players and biathletes. Well, of course, any team coming back home from a hockey tournament or some world championship, or our biathletes -- in general, hockey and skiing are a prerogative for me -- they actually bring some outfits as a gift for me. They are not poor people." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in an interview broadcast by Belarusian Television on 23 June.