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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: July 3, 2001

3 July 2001, Volume 3, Number 25
LUKASHENKA ORDERS INCOME DECLARATIONS BY PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS, FAMILIES. Last week, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka issued a decree obliging all presidential candidates and their "close relatives" to make declarations of their income and all property they possess. The decree stipulates that presidential candidates cannot be registered for the elections if they do not provide such declarations to the Central Election Commission. The notion "close relatives" includes candidates' spouses, brothers and sisters, children, grandchildren, parents, and grandparents. Under the decree, the commission may refuse to register a candidate if the declarations supplied by him/her and his/her immediate relatives include misstatements "of an essential character."

Many Belarusian commentators as well as aspirants seeking to register as candidates for the 9 September presidential ballot see the decree as yet another barrier on the path toward challenging Lukashenka in the elections. For some challengers who have immediate relatives in different post-Soviet states or "in the far abroad," it may be physically impossible to obtain the income declarations required by the decree. But even those hopefuls who will succeed in persuading their relatives to declare their incomes may be refused registration for providing information with "essential" misstatements -- the decree does not specify which information in income declarations is "essential" and which is not.

Many also paid attention to the fact that Lukashenka actually modified the electoral legislation after the election campaign had been inaugurated. Most likely, the decree was drafted in haste, since it includes what some observers in Belarus call a "legal absurdity." Namely, the decree speaks about providing income declarations by presidential candidates as a condition necessary for their registration. But under the electoral code, the term "presidential candidates" applies only to those people who have been registered by the Central Electoral Commission after collecting no less than 100,000 valid voters' signatures in their support. As for those who are in the process of collecting signatures in order to apply for registration, the electoral code refers to them as potential presidential candidates or aspirants seeking to register as presidential candidates.

BELARUSIAN TELEVISION SUGGESTS EVEN GOD SUPPORTS LUKASHENKA. The 21 potential presidential candidates who are now collecting signatures in order to register for the 9 September presidential elections will find it very hard to challenge the incumbent president even if they supply correctly filled income declaration forms by themselves and their relatives. At present, Lukashenka's challengers are completely denied access to state television and radio, although under the election campaign schedule, they will have some three weeks between 14 August and 8 September to present their election programs in the state-controlled media. As for Lukashenka, state journalists promote him every day without paying attention to any legal -- or it seems, moral -- constraints. An "anecdote" recounted by a moderator of Belarusian Television's main newscast on 30 June is indicative of the atmosphere in the state-controlled electronic media around the presidential election campaign. Below is a translation of the "anecdote":

"In this [election campaign] situation, it is very topical to recall an anecdote about students preparing for their exams. With your permission, I'll rework it into an election anecdote, using some real facts.

"Thus, several months before the elections, God sends angels to see what Belarusian presidential candidates are doing. The angels took an overview flight, came back, and described what they saw. The candidates rush about, collect signatures, rack their brains over how to fill income declaration forms, and try to make themselves likable among journalists. And Lukashenka? -- God asks. And Lukashenka -- the angels say -- visits factories, holds conferences, signs decrees; in general, he works.

"Some time later, God sends the angels once again to see what the candidates are doing. The picture is the same: opposition candidates print leaflets, make deals with one another on who will transfer votes to whom, and so on. And Lukashenka? -- God asks. Lukashenka works.

"The elections are close at hand. God sends the angels to Belarus for the third time to see what the candidates are doing. The angels come back and report on various interesting details. People say candidates quarrel with one another. Haydukevich left the common company, slammed the door and called all backstage accords [on a single candidate] a humbug. Sinitsyn indiscriminately used foul language about [all rival candidates]. A man named Myakeka intimidates motor vehicles on Skaryna Avenue -- he promises to turn the avenue into a walkway, which horrifies Minsk streetwalkers who are afraid of losing their jobs. Incidentally, the campaign group of Domash struggles to win the votes of these vestals of love, downloading pornographic pictures from the Internet, most likely as illustrations for their leaflets.... And what does Lukashenka do? -- God asks. Lukashenka -- the angels say -- meets [Russian] Patriarch [Aleksii II], donates banners to the Christ the Savior church, goes to church. He is our man. Well, then -- God says -- we should help our people."

(Editor's note: Haydukevich, Sinitsyn, Myakeka, and Domash are the names of Lukashenka's challengers in the presidential race.)

POPE'S MASS IN LVIV DRAWS MORE THAN ONE MILLION. An estimated one million people turned out in the west Ukrainian city of Lviv on 27 June to see the pope preside over the final mass of his five-day visit to Ukraine.

The crowd waiting at the horse-racetrack on the outskirts of the city seemed stunned when Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma unexpectedly turned up minutes before the pope himself arrived.

The pope had celebrated both Roman and Greek Catholic masses. The previous day in Lviv, he presided over a Roman Catholic mass that drew an estimated 500,000 people, including tens of thousands from neighboring Poland, his native country.

On 27 June, it was the turn of the Greek Catholics. The racetrack was crowded hours before the pope arrived, and when his familiar white, high-sided "popemobile" arrived, the air reverberated as people chanted, "We welcome you."

Pope John Paul II was greeted by the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Cardinal Lyubomyr Husar, who thanked the Roman Catholic Church for the support it gave Ukraine and the Greek Catholic Church during the years of Communist persecution.

Stalin banned the Greek Catholic Church in 1946 and many of its clergy and faithful were executed or imprisoned.

At the 27 June mass, the pope presided over the beatification of 27 people, most of them Greek Catholics, who are regarded as martyrs because they were executed by the communists or died in prison. All except one suffered at communist hands. The exception was a priest who died in a concentration camp after being arrested by the Nazis for helping Jews in German-occupied Ukraine.

In his sermon, Pope John Paul II spoke of the conflicts and wars that have afflicted western Ukraine in the past. He recalled the words of a former leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Cardinal Josyf Slipyj, who spent 17 years in the Soviet gulag. Slipyj was the head of the Church from 1963 until his death in 1984.

"This Galician soil, which in the course of history saw the development of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church -- in the words of the unforgettable Cardinal Josyf Slipyj -- was covered by a mountain of corpses and rivers of blood," the pontiff said.

The Pope began his address to the faithful by quoting from the Bible: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." That statement, he said, was echoed in the sacrifices of those who were beatified.

"Martyrdom is the highest form of serving God and the Church. With this liturgy we want to glorify them [the newly beatified] and to thank them for their faithfulness," the pontiff said.

The pope returned to the theme of reconciliation between different religions and peoples that he addressed several times during his five-day trip. At the 26 June mass, the pope made an emotional appeal for historical memories not to tarnish present and future relations between Ukrainians and Poles. On 27 June, he said:

"In past centuries, we have accumulated too many stereotypes, mutual insults, and intolerance. The only way to free ourselves from this is to forget the past, to ask and grant forgiveness of one another for hurts done and received."

One of the pope's hopes had been to meet with leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church, the largest of three Orthodox Churches in Ukraine. Two of them, both independent Ukrainian churches, met with the Pope and welcomed him warmly. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) virulently opposed the pope's trip before he came and maintained a hostile stance while he was in Ukraine, accusing him of trying to win converts to Roman Catholicism.

But the pope's spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, announced that one member of the Russian Orthodox Church did come to the 27 June mass and was even up on the stage, close to the pope.

Father Ivan Sveridov, a Russian Orthodox priest since 1995, said he is the head of an Orthodox radio station in Moscow. He said he has met the pope eight times and developed a warm relationship with him. Sveridov said that he came to Lviv in a private capacity as a gesture to the pope because he felt that the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Aleksii II, had been "mistaken" and too aggressive in his remarks about the pope.

Another unexpected visitor at the mass was Ukrainian President Kuchma, who arrived in a car cavalcade just minutes before the pope. It was Kuchma who had issued the invitation for the pope to visit Ukraine, and he gave him a warm welcome when the pontiff arrived in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on 23 June.

Kuchma's arrival at the mass site at first seemed to astonish the crowd. People from western Ukraine have been in the forefront of many of the mass demonstrations against the president over the last few months, accusing him of corruption and involvement in the murder last year of an opposition journalist.

Soon after Kuchma entered the racetrack, thousands of people started to shout "Ukraine Without Kuchma" -- the slogan that was the hallmark of many demonstrations in Kyiv and elsewhere against the president.

Before the chant was taken up by tens of thousands of voices, Ukrainian Catholic Church leader Cardinal Husar defused a potentially humiliating moment for the president. He announced to the crowd that the Greek Catholic Church was grateful to Kuchma for issuing the invitation to the pope and making the tour possible. The pope also added his praise for the president.

"I am personally grateful to the president of Ukraine, Mr. Leonid Kuchma, for his presence at this solemn liturgy," John Paul II said.

Pope John Paul flew back to the Vatican later the same day after a farewell ceremony at Lviv's Saint George Cathedral.

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

"Kuchma is a declared European. He has three and a half years of the presidency remaining. I think that this is the kind of legacy he would like to leave behind, that [Ukraine] will be a democratic country [with] an European orientation, and there will be good relations with Russia. And, of course, he would probably like to behave a little like [former Russian President Boris] Yeltsin, that is, to have an influence upon his successor. Whether he will succeed I do not know, but he doubtless has such dreams." -- Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski in an interview with Polish Radio on 29 June.

"The positions of politicians in Belarus's [presidential] elections -- I underscore, in the elections -- are defined not by their attitudes toward Lukashenka, but by their attitudes toward 'integration' and the 'union' with Russia. It is necessary to understand that attitudes toward Lukashenka are determining [only] the struggle for the post of president. As for attitudes toward 'integration' with Russia, they are determining the future of the Belarusian nation. Therefore, a man who is going to oppose Lukashenka in the presidential elections and to simultaneously opt for 'integration' with Russia is not an alternative to Lukashenka, it is only another backup candidate promoting Moscow's neo-colonial policy." -- Zyanon Paznyak, exiled leader of one wing of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front, in an interview with "Nasha svaboda" on 27 June.