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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: November 20, 2001

20 November 2001, Volume 3, Number 44
BRUSSELS URGES WARSAW TO STEP UP EU-ORIENTED EFFORT. The European Commission in its annual report released on 13 November praised Poland for its progress on the path toward EU membership, but also called on Warsaw to increase its efforts to reform the economy and streamline administration to be more effective in enforcing the adjusted law.

The report places Poland among the front-runners for EU membership and suggests that it is realistic for Warsaw to conclude negotiations by the end of 2002 and join the EU in 2004. However, according to sources in Brussels quoted by PAP, the EU recommendation for Warsaw to intensify rather than only continue reform efforts, as was the case last year, is a veiled warning in connection with Poland's falling economic growth as well as its growing budget deficit and unemployment. Of the 13 countries seeking EU membership, only Estonia, Slovenia, and Hungary escaped warnings to speed up reforms, with Brussels saying the continuation of their efforts will be sufficient to meet EU expansion deadlines.

The report criticizes Poland for its failure to reform the agricultural sector, which renders Poland still unprepared to take advantage of the benefits of EU common agricultural policy. "In the agriculture sector, a coherent strategy for the sector is still lacking. The substantial transformation which is needed, in terms of policy, legislation, and structures has not yet taken place," the report states.

Speaking to journalists in Warsaw on 13 November about the report's findings, European Commission Ambassador to Poland Bruno Dethomas said the country still has to combat corruption in the judiciary, police, and border services, dpa reported. Dethomas also pointed to the urgent need to improve the capacity of Poland's public administration to implement new EU-aligned legislation and to complete the restructuring of the debt-ridden metallurgical sector.

Dethomas noted that although there is no doubt that Poland has a strong market economy, a recent slowdown in GDP growth, high unemployment, and the threat of a crisis in public spending in 2002 are all causes for concern. The Polish government recently revised projection for GDP growth in 2001 downward to 1.5 percent from 4 percent anticipated earlier this year. According to official statistics, Poland's unemployment now stands at 16.8 percent (the EC report says it is as high as 18 percent).

Poland has closed 18 of 29 negotiation chapters required for EU membership, fewer than fellow candidates Hungary, Estonia, or the Czech Republic.

Poland's response to the report came on 14 November. Following a meeting of the government's European Integration Committee (KIE), Premier Leszek Miller and Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz announced that Warsaw will drop its demand that the EU open its labor market to Polish workers immediately after accession. Miller and Cimoszewicz said Poland is ready to accept a maximum two-year restriction on the free movement of labor.

The KIE also decided to reduce to 12 years its earlier demand for an 18-year transition period before foreigners can buy farmland in Poland. Miller confirmed the earlier pledge that Warsaw will permit land sales to foreigners for investment purposes immediately after joining the EU.

In a televised address to the nation on 15 November, Miller said Poland has a good chance to end EU entry talks in 2002, hold a referendum on EU membership in 2003, and join the EU in 2004. "We must be part of a rich, European superpower," Miller said, stressing that EU membership will contribute to the improvement of living standards for Poles and the modernization of Poland. "Over the last four years, our position in the [EU] negotiations has weakened. It is time to change this, to accelerate the negotiations, and to attain the success that is within reach," Miller noted, explaining why his cabinet decided to relax Poland's stance on the controversial issues of the labor market and land sales in EU talks.

COURT CLOSES OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER. The Supreme Economic Court on 13 November shut down the opposition Belarusian-language weekly "Pahonya" based in Hrodna, a regional center in northwestern Belarus. The court put an end to the newspaper under Belarus's media law, which allows for a publication to be closed after receiving two warnings from the authorities within a year.

"Pahonya" received its first warning on 17 October 2000 for publishing a statement from an unregistered organization (an offense in Belarus). The second warning came on 21 September 2001, in response to the publication of materials before the 9 September presidential election on President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's alleged role in the disappearance of opposition politicians. The Regional Prosecutor's Office in Hrodna warned "Pahonya" for "the dissemination of information defaming the president of the Republic of Belarus" and for "the use of the newspaper for actions that are punishable as criminal actions." Journalists from "Pahonya" argue, however, that the second warning is illegal since the entire issue with the incriminating materials was confiscated by police at the printing house and not a single copy reached readers. Moreover, they add, it has not been proven by court that their publication is punishable under the law.

"This is a shame for Belarusian jurisprudence, for Belarus and Belarusians," Editor in Chief Mikola Markevich commented on the decision to shut down "Pahonya."

In November 1997, the Lukashenka regime closed the influential and popular opposition newspaper "Svaboda" on charges of defaming state officials. The "Svaboda" editorial team launched a new newspaper named "Naviny," which survived until September 1999 and closed down following a court verdict which imposed an exorbitant fine on the newspaper for defamation. The editorial team, which was prepared for such an eventuality, immediately launched a new publication under the name of "Nasha Svaboda," which has so far managed to survive.

POLL SAYS MOST PEOPLE GLAD TO HAVE LUKASHENKA. The Minsk-based Independent Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Studies (NISEPI) found in a poll conducted among 1,465 adult Belarusians in October that 54 percent of respondents are satisfied with the results of the presidential election on 9 September. According to the Central Election Commission, incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka won a landslide victory with 75.62 percent of the vote, while his rival from the opposition, Uladzimir Hancharyk, was backed only by 15.39 percent of voters.

Of those polled, 35 percent said they are unhappy about the outcome of the presidential ballot, while 11 percent were unable to say how they felt about the issue. The question of whether the Central Election Commission's results from the presidential ballot are trustworthy was answered by 55 percent of respondents in the affirmative and by 31 percent in the negative; 14 percent were unable to say.

NISEPI also found that Lukashenka's re-election was a conscious choice for most Belarusians: 56 percent of respondents said they had sufficient information about the presidential candidates and their election platforms before casting their vote. Of this number, 60 percent voted for Lukashenka and 20 percent for Hancharyk. Of those who said they lacked sufficient information, 36 percent voted for Lukashenka and 23 percent for Hancharyk.

NISEPI was also interested in the sentiments of Belarusians with regard to integration with Russia. Answering the question "How would you vote in a referendum on the unification of Belarus and Russia?," 51 percent of respondents said they would back the unification of both states, 26 percent declared that they would oppose it, 12 percent said they would not take part in the vote, and 11 percent were undecided.

NISEPI proposed several scenarios for future relations between Belarus and Russia and found that 46 percent of respondents prefer a union of independent states, 36 percent good-neighborly relations of two independent states, and 36 percent a single, unified state.

WHAT DID YUSHCHENKO SEEK IN THE U.S.? Former Premier Viktor Yushchenko paid a private visit -- sponsored by the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy -- to the United States on 5-8 November. The U.S.-based "Ukrainian Weekly" reported on 18 November that while in New York on 6 November, Yushchenko met with representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora, the press, and the Freedom House human rights group, as well as with George Soros. In Washington, Yushchenko spoke with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, the National Security Council's European and Eurasian Affairs Director Daniel Fried, and several members of the U.S. Congress.

Many Ukrainian media did not fail to note that the profile of Yushchenko's U.S. trip was much lower than he planned. In particular, Yushchenko expected but failed to meet Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as President George W. Bush's security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. The much-respected weekly "Zerkalo nedeli," which is rather supportive of Yushchenko, commented on 10 November on these failures in the following way:

"During the final stage of the preparation of [Yushchenko's] visit, various U.S. [government] offices received up to five telephone calls from various people. Since such moves do not raise anything but bewilderment and panic among U.S. bureaucrats, this was exactly why a number of meetings -- for example, with Bush's adviser Rice, Secretary of State Powell, and Senator [Richard] Lugar -- did not take place. Viktor Yushchenko was heartily assisted by [former Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk], the Ukrainian diaspora, the Jewish diaspora, the Ukrainian Embassy in the U.S., and even former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Mr. Miller. So, Viktor Yushchenko was tended by a lot of nurses and for this reason remained without a number of high-profile meetings with people who would have been interested in talking with him had the visit been organized in a civilized way."

Premier Anatoliy Kinakh on 12 November publicly criticized the organizers of Yushchenko's visit on ICTV television, saying that Yushchenko disappointed the nation by failing to hand President Leonid Kuchma's letters directly to Cheney or Rice. Yushchenko subsequently claimed to have passed Kuchma's message to Washington through a third party. Kinakh did not explain, however, why Kuchma chose Yushchenko as a "messenger" and did not send those letters through him, the incumbent premier, who visited Washington a week earlier, or through Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko, who went to New York for a UN session a day after the conclusion of Yushchenko's visit. "This is a very serious lesson for those organizing Yushchenko's trip. I am speaking not about personal matters -- about who should pass those letters -- but about the honor and dignity of our Ukrainian state," Kinakh noted.

With regard to the goals pursued by Yushchenko during his U.S. trip, there was no agreement in the Ukrainian media. "Kievskiye vedomosti" suggested that Yushchenko sought a Kostunica-style "blessing" in the U.S. for his bloc's -- Our Ukraine's -- election bid. Quoting political analyst Anatoliy Hrytsenko, the newspaper opined that "Yushchenko has lost."

Hrytsenko said: "Kinakh presented himself in the U.S. in such a way as to characterize himself as a serious politician who is oriented toward democratic values. He set this out in a clear, consistent, and succinct manner, unlike Yushchenko, who likes to philosophize as he speaks."

Yushchenko explained the purpose of his trip in his characteristically elusive and vague manner. "We tried to impart our belief that the 2002 elections can effectively influence the economy and democracy [in Ukraine]. In order to make these elections successful, one needs to realize that the most topical task [in Ukraine] is to consolidate all democratic forces," Yushchenko told "Zerkalo nedeli."

But he, too, failed to explain why he was asked to pass Kuchma's letters to the U.S. leadership. "Zerkalo nedeli" suggests that Kuchma is anticipating a power shift after the March 2002 parliamentary elections toward the parliament and the government, so now he is working to acquire leverage in both Yushchenko's bloc and among his political opponents.

DONETSK WORKERS DEFEND LENIN FROM INSULT. The local branch of the All-Ukrainian Union of Workers in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, has sued a local trade company for using the image of Vladimir Lenin "in a distorted and insulting form" in its advertisements, Interfax reported on 16 November.

On billboards displayed by the company, Lenin calls on Donetsk residents to buy a "truly bourgeois stove" (burzhuika). The colloquial term "burzhuika" -- denoting a small, movable stove -- was very popular in the post-October Revolution era, and for many in the post-Soviet bloc this word still evokes an image of Bolsheviks (or even Lenin himself) warming themselves beside the fire kindled in such a heater.

"This insult to the image and name of the leader of the world proletariat -- an outstanding scholar and politician, the founder of the world's first state of workers and peasants -- offends all people of all generations and, in the first place, the working people who have been brought up under socialism and adhere to Marxist-Leninist ideas," the Donetsk workers' union wrote in support of its lawsuit. It demanded $1 million hryvni ($190,000) from the company in damages to be paid to the city budget.

"Despite all reservations, there is a historic need [for Poland] to join the European Union. There are many things that must be settled before the entry and we have negotiators to cope with this problem, but we are dealing with a historic process." -- Cardinal Jozef Glemp, the head of the Polish Roman Catholic Church; quoted by PAP on 18 November.