Accessibility links

Breaking News

Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: November 6, 2001

6 November 2001, Volume 3, Number 42
COURT ACQUITS FORMER RIOT POLICE OF 1981 MASSACRE CHARGES. The District Court in Katowice on 30 October acquitted 22 former members of the ZOMO riot police charged with killing nine and injuring 25 coal miners on 16 December 1981 during the martial-law crackdown on the Solidarity movement. Chief Judge Aleksandra Rotkiel said evidence failed to provide "indisputable proof" of the charges in the indictment. Relatives and friends of the dead shouted "Shame!" and "So who was shooting?" after the verdict was announced. They were ushered out of the courtroom.

After the declaration of martial law, several hundred miners of the Wujek and Manifest Lipcowy coal mines barricaded the entrances to their mines and went on strike. The troops summoned to unblock the mines opened fire. The defendants testified that they fired only warning shots over the heads of the miners. Defense lawyers said testimony and ballistics evidence suggested that nearby army troops could have killed the miners.

Documents dealing with the orders issued at the time were long ago destroyed. Prosecutors acknowledged that 20 years after the shootings hard evidence is difficult to find. Some witnesses, including the provincial police commander in charge, have since died. It is still a matter of dispute whether the interior minister at the time, Czeslaw Kiszczak, gave an order to shoot. Kiszczak is on trial separately in Warsaw. He is charged with signing a coded message that allowed ZOMO to open fire.

The Katowice trial lasted for two years and was the second attempt at exacting justice for the 1981 bloodshed. The defendants were acquitted of the same charges in 1997 after a 4 1/2-year trial, but an appeals court found procedural mistakes and ordered a retrial.

Former Justice Minister Lech Kaczynski criticized the sentence, saying it proves only that the country's judicial system is either unable or unwilling to deal with crimes committed by functionaries of the communist era.

LUKASHENKA ADMITS EXISTENCE OF DEATH SQUAD? While visiting Homel, a city in southeastern Belarus, on 23 October, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka boasted to local officials of his clout in criminal circles. Lukashenka said he ordered that a list of all major criminals in the country be made, and is now keeping that list in his safe. He hinted that he had a role in the disappearance of Uladzimir Kleshch, who also goes by the alias Shchaulik, a leader of the criminal world. Parts of Lukashenka's speech in Homel was broadcast on Belarusian Television on 27 October. Lukashenka said:

"The president set them [criminal leaders] down.... Yes, I really let them know through certain criminals five years ago: 'God forbid you ever attempt to make a criminal situation anywhere because then I'll cut off everybody's head.' We know how many they number and who they are, those criminal leaders.... And they know that we know them. God forbid [a criminal leader] ever makes a move, but he is not a fool. If you are pursuing an honest policy, if you are not a thief, they are terribly afraid of that [and say]: 'Forget it, guys, the Father [ed. note: Lukashenka's nickname in Belarus] has said he will waste us.' There was a case in which they behaved badly. Do you remember those Shchauliks and others? Where are they now? That is why there is proper order in the country and all are glad, and [criminal elements] report to the security service: 'Three thousand heads voted for you [in the recent presidential election]. Yes, they called and reported -- [three thousand] heads."

For many commentators in Belarus, Lukashenka's divulgence in Homel immediately brought to mind the charges former Belarusian investigators Dzmitry Petrushkevich and Aleh Sluchak made public in June (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 12 June 2001). Petrushkevich and Sluchak alleged that Interior Minister Yury Sivakou and Security Council Secretary Viktar Sheyman organized -- presumably with Lukashenka's tacit approval -- a secret death squad that was responsible for some 30 killings in Belarus. The investigators said the death squad initially killed criminals -- they even mentioned Shchaulik in this context -- but that it switched to political murders later. According to Petrushkevich and Sluchak, the death squad killed opposition politicians Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar, Hanchar's friend Anatol Krasouski, and ORT cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski.

"[Lukashenka] actually admitted the existence of the death squad. This group was really created to kill criminal leaders," Belarusian Helsinki Committee Chairwoman Tatsyana Protska told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service. "What is coming to the surface right now -- these fragmented phrases -- is really terrible. One even does not need to draw analogies. They are being drawn by the head of state himself," opposition activist Alyaksey Karol added.

KINAKH IN THE U.S. Premier Anatoliy Kinakh has expressed his satisfaction with his tree-day trip to the U.S. last week during which he met with some top U.S. officials and representatives of the business community as well as leaders of the World Bank and the IMF. Kinakh said Ukraine's relations with the IMF and the World Bank are of a "long-term character and based on equal rights." Commenting on his trade negotiations with U.S. officials, Kinakh noted that they took place in a "constructive and open atmosphere" and were characterized by "willingness to seek compromises."

It remains unclear, however, what specific compromises have been found, if any. According to his earlier announcement, Kinakh traveled to Washington to urge the U.S. to grant Ukraine the status of a market economy and lift some trade limitations, in particular, the so-called Jackson-Vannik amendment, which dates back to the Cold War era and makes U.S. commercial relations with other nations dependent on their emigration policies. The requirements of the amendment are based upon the country�s emigration policies and prohibit the U.S. from establishing such relations with a country that does not allow their citizens to freely emigrate. No specific decisions on these two issues have been reported following Kinakh's trip.

It seems that the only palpable result of Kinakh's trip was the signing of an accord whereby the U.S. Trade and Development Agency awarded a $125,000 grant to Ukrainian oil transportation company UkrTransNafta for a study of the commercialization of the Odessa-Brody pipeline that would carry Caspian oil through Ukraine to Europe. Ukrainian Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov, who accompanied Kinakh on the trip, commented that the talks with the World Bank were the most successful and constructive in the last several years. But no more details have been released.

However, the political aspect of the trip was no less important than the commercial talks during it. Kinakh was the first top Ukrainian official to visit the U.S. since slain journalist Heorhiy Gongadze's case sparked antipresidential demonstrations in Ukraine this past spring in what seemed to be the country's biggest political crisis since the declaration of independence and President Leonid Kuchma's toughest test during his tenure.

Washington has never implicated Kuchma in the murder of Gongadze, but it has repeatedly called for a full inquiry. Reuters on 1 November quoted some U.S. officials as saying that Kuchma is unlikely to visit Washington until the Gongadze case is properly investigated.

According to U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, Secretary of State Colin Powell raised U.S. concerns during his meeting with Kinakh over Ukraine's reluctance to admit responsibility for the recent downing of a Russian airliner with a stray missile. Powell also reminded Kinakh that Kyiv cannot avoid U.S. trade sanctions if it fails to address rampant piracy of music on compact discs. Interfax quoted Kinakh as saying on 1 November that the U.S. has put off "indefinitely" the announced introduction of trade sanctions over Ukraine's inability to curb such piracy. However, a U.S. trade official said the previous day that the U.S. has postponed the decision on the trade sanctions against Ukraine until 15 November, when the Ukrainian parliament is expected to debate a bill on the protection of intellectual property.

"The Belarusian state will no longer put up with cases of transforming school classrooms and university lecture halls into places for ideological depravation of the youth." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to a congress of teachers on 3 November; quoted by Belarusian Television.

"I don't think that the Communists will remain anti-Ukrainian forever. A lot of them now are. I cannot quietly observe them brandishing the signs of a state that does not exist anymore [the USSR] in the parliament. I don't understand this. In no single country would they be allowed to enter parliament. In no single country. But they are even putting on airs, as it were. Who are you working for?" -- Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 2 November; quoted by Ukrainian Television.

"God help him if he has said so, but I think that he has gone too far.... He should have taken care of [such a majority] when he was the prime minister." -- Ukrainian President Kuchma on 2 November, commenting on former Premier Viktor Yushchenko's boast that his bloc, Our Ukraine, will receive no less than 226 seats (a majority) in the next parliament; quoted by UNIAN.