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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: July 17, 2001

17 July 2001, Volume 3, Number 27
PRESIDENT ASKS FORGIVENESS FOR 1941 POGROM. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 10 July apologized for the massacre of hundreds of Jews perpetrated by their Polish neighbors in Jedwabne, northeastern Poland, 60 years ago (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 6 and 20 March, 3 April, 29 May 2001). Speaking in Jedwabne, during a special commemoration ceremony attended by relatives of some of the victims of the 1941 pogrom, Kwasniewski said in particular:

"Sixty years ago, on 10 July 1941, on this land, conquered and occupied at that time by Nazi Germany, a crime against Jews was committed. This was a terrible day, a day of hatred and cruelty. We know a lot about this crime, though still not everything. Perhaps we will never learn the whole truth. This, however, has not stopped us from being here to speak with a full voice.

"We know enough in order to face the truth, to face the pain, screams and suffering of those who were murdered here, in front of the families of the victims present here today, in front of the judgment of our conscience.

"It was a crime. Nothing can justify it. Among the victims, among those burnt alive there were women, there were children.

"The frightening screams of the people closed in the barn and burnt alive constantly sears the memory of those who were witnesses to this crime. The victims were powerless and defenseless. The criminals had a feeling of impunity, since the occupiers encouraged such acts. We know with all certainty that there were Poles among the persecutors and torturers. We cannot have any doubts. Here, in Jedwabne, inhabitants of the Republic of Poland died at the hands of other citizens of the republic. People prepared this fate for people, neighbors for neighbors....

"On account of this crime, we should plea for forgiveness from the shadows of the departed and from their families, each of those who were wronged.

"Today, I apologize as a man, as a citizen, and as a president of the Republic of Poland. I apologize on my own behalf and on behalf of those Poles whose conscience is moved by this crime. On behalf of those who think that one cannot take pride in the greatness of Polish history without feeling pain and shame at the same time, because of the evil that the Poles perpetrated against others.

"Ladies and gentlemen gathered here, I wish with all my heart that the name of this town call forth not just the memory of the crime, but that it become a sign of a great audit of conscience and that it become a place of reconciliation. The Polish [Roman Catholic] bishops prayed on 27 May for all of those who harbor disinclination and ill-will toward the Jewish nation -- that they should receive the grace of transformation of hearts. These words express the feelings of the enormous majority of Poles. So, may this transformation come about. Let this transformation come about. Let us make efforts that it be so."

DOES TRADE UNION LEADER KNOW WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR DISAPPEARANCES? Uladzimir Hancharyk, head of the Trade Union Federation of Belarus and an aspirant seeking to register for the 9 September presidential ballot, told journalists on 13 July that he has copies of documents confirming the complicity of state officials in the disappearances of opposition politicians Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar as well as Hanchar's friend Anatol Krasouski in 1999, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported.

Hancharyk showed a photocopy of a handwritten text that he said is a report from General Major Mikalay Lapatsik, the chief of the Main Criminal Police Department, to Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumau. The report, dated November 2000, allegedly names those who gave orders to kill Zakharanka, Hanchar, and Krasouski, as well as those who executed the orders. Hancharyk added that he has copies of witnesses' and suspects' testimony, reports by forensic experts, and a photograph of the revolver from which the victims were allegedly shot.

Hancharyk did not name those involved, but noted that many facts mentioned in the documents support an account made public last month by former investigators Dzmitry Petrushkevich and Aleh Sluchak (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 12 June 2001). Hancharyk added that the documents he has shed no light on the disappearance of ORT cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski, nor do they mention Valery Ihnatovich and three others who are to stand trial on charges of kidnapping Zavadski.

Hancharyk said he will send copies of the documents about the disappearances to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. "Whether he knew these facts or not, he must react," Hancharyk noted. He pledged to make the documents public after hearing Lukashenka's reaction to them (or in the event that the president fails to react).

At a news conference later the same day, Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumau denied having received the report mentioned by Hancharyk from Lapatsik.

KYIV FACES NEW PRESSURE ON GAS DEBTS. Kazakhstan has reportedly reduced the flow of gas from Turkmenistan to Ukraine in the latest dispute over Kyiv's refusal to honor the debts of its energy companies.

Last week, Vadym Kopylov, the head of the Ukrainian state energy company Naftohaz Ukrayiny, told Interfax that Kazakhstan has cut gas deliveries from Turkmenistan by almost half. Pipeline routes from Turkmenistan run through Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Russia on their way to Ukraine.

Kazakhstan's move is the result of a chain of events that started in January when the Russian gas trader Itera announced that it was stopping gas supplies to Ukraine because the country's power companies owed $64 million in overdue bills.

The power companies claimed that their customers were not paying them. Naftohaz Ukrayiny and the government declined to take responsibility for the debts.

Itera soon found that a complete cutoff was impossible, because the power companies simply diverted the gas they needed out of the flow of Russian deliveries to Europe, which run through Ukrainian lines.

At the time, Itera said that Russia's Gazprom was the source of the gas being delivered to the Ukrainian generators. The unpaid bills were only a fraction of the $1.4 billion that Russia has been trying to collect for past supplies to Ukraine.

But at the same time, Itera was also handling Turkmenistan's gas exports to Ukraine. Ashgabat had agreed to supply Kyiv as long as it paid in advance. Itera continued to carry the Turkmen gas to Ukraine, presumably because it could profit from the separate deal.

It now appears that Itera has shifted its tactics by delaying payment to the Kazakh pipeline company Intergaz for Ukraine's supplies of Turkmen gas. According to Interfax, Kazakhstan has threatened to cut the gas transit unless Itera pays for earlier services to Ukraine.

Itera in turn has blamed the Ukrainian power companies for failing to pay their debts, which it now estimates at $56 million. Itera seems to be implying that the Ukrainian generators were using Turkmen rather than Russian gas when they stopped paying their bills. The effect is to make Ukraine's nonpayment a problem for Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan rather than Russia.

That strategy could prove successful over time. Ukraine may be able to endure the reduction of gas supplies during the summer, when demand is low. But as winter approaches, it may have to pay the debts or find another solution. Turkmenistan may also bring pressure to bear on Ukraine, which now accounts for about half of Turkmen gas exports.

The situation will test the policy of the Ukrainian government, which has steadfastly refused to take on the debts of either Naftohaz Ukrayiny or the power companies as its own.

Last month, Ukrainian Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh spurned a Russian proposal to restructure the energy company's gas debts by issuing Eurobonds that would be guaranteed by the state. His position was quickly supported by President Leonid Kuchma. "This question cannot be put this way at all. Corporate debts will never become state ones," Interfax quoted Kuchma as saying. The government has also rejected a Russian plan to swap the debt for stakes in Ukrainian companies or control of the country's pipelines.

Last January, both Kuchma and former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko negotiated with Itera in an effort to avoid a gas shutoff. But Kinakh has since refused to honor the commitments that Yushchenko made.

Russia may now have found a more effective way of pressuring Ukraine by shifting some of the debt burden onto other suppliers. If the strategy works, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan may soon apply more pressure of their own.

(RFE/RL's correspondent Michael Lelyveld wrote this report.)

"Today is a major turning point in the history of Polish-Jewish relations." -- New York Rabbi Lester Miller, on Kwasniewski's forgiveness plea in Jedwabne on 10 July 2001; quoted by Reuters.

"According to the information I have, the complicity of the Belarusian leadership in the disappearance of people [in Belarus] is obvious." -- Ivan Tsitsyankou, the former head of the Presidential Administrative Department in 1994-99 and one of Belarusian President Lukashenka's former closest aides, in an interview with the Minsk-based weekly "Den" on 9 July.

"Look at the map. Ukraine is in the center of Europe, it borders on many states, it has access to the sea. It is natural that a 50 million-strong country cannot be a neutral state; it has its own economic, geostrategic, and political interests. At the same time, Ukraine belongs not to Western, but Slavic civilization and Orthodox culture. Hundreds of years of common history with Russia make Ukraine Russia's natural partner. Neutral status of such a state as Ukraine may essentially undermine its strategic interests. Ukraine is no Switzerland." -- Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin in an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 11 July.