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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: November 27, 2001

27 November 2001, Volume 3, Number 45
OPPOSITION URGES FOREIGN MINISTER TO STEP DOWN OVER EU CONCESSIONS. A public controversy erupted in Poland last week over the thorny EU accession issue of land sales. On 15 November, the one-month-old leftist government of Premier Leszek Miller approved a relaxed stance in EU membership talks on the labor market and land sales (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 20 November 2001). In a televised address to the nation the same day, Miller said Warsaw will drop its demand that the EU open its labor market to Polish workers immediately after accession, adding that Poland is ready to accept a maximum two-year restriction on the free movement of labor. The government also decided to reduce to 12 years its earlier demand for an 18-year transition period before foreigners can buy farmland in Poland.

These changes in Poland's stance on EU negotiations caused some disquiet among opposition parties. The right-wing League of Polish Families commented that the proposed changes in Poland's negotiating stance with the EU are unacceptable. "On the basis of what is going on at present, we have a negative stance toward integration," Wojciech Mojzesowicz of the radical Self-Defense farmers union said, adding that "we want somebody to convince us." Kazimierz Ujazdowski of the Law and Justice party said he is "uneasy" over the scale and tempo of the government's concessions in the EU entry talks. Maciej Plazynski of the centrist Civic Platform commented that the labor market concessions are "risky," but added that he has no reservations about the proposed changes to restrictions on the purchase of land.

Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz and Minister for European Affairs Danuta Huebner visited Brussels on 19-20 November to officially communicate Poland's new position in EU talks. But they actually said more than was known to the Polish public. Aside from what Miller told the nation on 15 November, Cimoszewicz and Huebner announced in Brussels that Poland will also allow EU citizens to buy land plots and homes for leisure purposes seven years after entry into the EU, while EU farmers will be able to buy farmland in Poland for their own cultivation after a three-year lease period. These concessions sent shock waves throughout the opposition and surprised even the Peasant Party (PSL), the ruling partner of Democratic Left Alliance (SLD).

Antoni Macierewicz, the leader of the League of Polish Families (LPR), called on Cimoszewicz to resign, saying the foreign minister "misled the parliament and public opinion" by withholding such important information from the Polish population. "I would like to underline that our party supports EU entry, but not on the terms presented by this government," Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski commented. The PSL parliamentary caucus gathered over the past weekend to discuss the government's EU accession concessions and demand explanations from PSL leader Jaroslaw Kalinowski. According to PAP, the PSL lawmakers agreed that the government coalition should remain in its present shape but said they are planning to ask the prime minister to explain "errors" in preparing Poland's EU negotiation positions.

Cimoszewicz said he will not resign as foreign minister. He confirmed that the decision to change Poland's negotiation positions with the EU was agreed upon with the government. Cimoszewicz called criticism against him "emotional overreaction," and added that the lack of full information about Poland's EU position stems from the nature of negotiating the best membership terms.

However, a full-scale political storm was stirred up on 23 November by Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper, who, while speaking on a local radio station in Olsztyn, called Cimoszewicz a "scoundrel" for making unannounced concessions in Poland's EU talks (see "Quotes of the Week" below).

The LPR has announced that it will call this week for a vote of confidence in Cimoszewicz, and Self-Defense and Law and Justice have declared their support for the motion. However, since the SLD and the PSL have a parliamentary majority, Cimoszewicz is not likely to be voted out.

On the other hand, Lepper, who is a deputy speaker of the Sejm, may face a vote designed to strip him of his parliamentary post. Lawmaker Jan Maria Rokita from the opposition Civic Platform, who is preparing a relevant motion, said Lepper is turning politics into a "circus." It is not clear how individual parliamentary groups would behave in the event of a vote on Lepper.

EBRD ADVISES ECONOMIC LIBERALIZATION. Last week, in its annual Transition Report's section devoted to Belarus, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) advised the country to implement comprehensive liberalization of markets and trade, sharply reduce still pervasive bureaucratic controls, and free up the private sector in order to establish favorable conditions for economic development. The EBRD expressed its hope that Belarus's compliance with the policy requirements of the Union Treaty with Russia -- which call in particular for increasing alignment with Russian market regulations -- may give a boost to reforms in Belarus.

The EBRD noted that the Belarusian government in 2001 further liberalized the foreign exchange market by ending a ban on foreigners taking part in interbank trade and on a $200,000-per-month limit on the amount of hard currency that market participants can purchase. The government also reduced administrative price controls by curtailing the list of "socially important" goods subject to price regulation from 48 to 28, and by removing 80 percent of monthly price-increase ceilings. The report said, however, that "other administrative control mechanisms continue to be widespread in the areas of wage and trade regulations a well as in business licensing, registration, and certification."

Although the government reduced inflation to a monthly rate of 3.4 percent in the first half of 2001 (compared with the monthly rate of 7.5 percent a year ago), this is still the highest inflation rate in the CIS and, according to the EBRD, the economy remains vulnerable to macroeconomic instability. In addition, the bank argues that the sharp populist increases in real wages above productivity growth "have squeezed enterprise profits and budgetary resources and have undermined the competitiveness of the enterprise sector."

The EBRD report noted that under the five-year development program adopted in May the state will continue to play a dominant role in the economy, and privatization in Belarus remains stalled. According to the EBRD, only some 10 percent of state-run enterprises and 40 percent of communal ones have been privatized thus far.

On the positive side, the EBRD noted that Belarus paid some $130 million in hard currency to reduce its gas debt to Gazprom to $77 million by April 2001. However, Russia continues to subsidize Belarus's gas consumption by charging Minsk only one-third of the average Russian export price for gas.

KUCHMA AIDE TO HEAD ELECTION BLOC. President Leonid Kuchma on 23 November said he approves of the intention of presidential administration head Volodymyr Lytvyn to head the For a United Ukraine election bloc. Kuchma called Lytvyn "a professional and a decent, honest man," adding, "today such people are few on the political scene." The leaders of the four parties constituting the For a United Ukraine bloc -- Valeriy Pustovoytenko (Popular Democratic Party), Serhiy Tyhypko (Labor Ukraine), Mykola Azarov (Party of Regions), and Mykhaylo Hladiy (Agrarian Party) -- said earlier this month that Lytvyn gave his consent to lead their bloc.

According to Ukrainian political commentator Vyacheslav Pikhovshek, by heading the pro-presidential bloc in the 31 March 2002 parliamentary election, Lytvyn is paving the way for his own future presidency.

"By proposing Lytvyn [as head of the bloc], Kuchma not only proves the fact that nobody is guaranteed a place near the president for a long time, but also confirms his principle: the person proposing an idea is responsible for its implementation," Pikhovshek said in his program "Epicenter" on One Plus One Television on 18 November. Pikhovshek recalled in his program that Lytvyn is the last person remaining from the close entourage Kuchma formed in 1994, the beginning of Kuchma's first presidential term.

According to Pikhovshek, Lytvyn has his own people placed in rival political forces, for example, Roman Bezsmertnyy and Petro Poroshenko, who are campaign managers in former Premier Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine election bloc. According to Pikhovshek, For a United Ukraine emerges as a new "party of power" for which the state administration will most likely work in the election campaign. "I am sure nobody doubts that Lytvyn will go on leave [from the presidential administration] before the elections at least to formally calm his opponents. But does his being on leave mean anything to state officials? Perhaps they will be instructed that his leave is no more than a formality," Pikhovshek said.

"This guy [Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz] -- for I will not call him minister, only this guy -- should not be a minister at all. This is what we have to start from. Who was his father? A criminal who killed Poles. And Poland must hear this -- quite simply, Poland must know this. And today he dares to say this? After all, his superciliousness and shamelessness -- he drank it with his mother's milk, probably. Because when there was a flood in Lower Silesia [southwestern Poland] five years ago, we all probably remember, and I am not making this up, that he then said: 'A flood or something, what problem is a flood?' However, many people had already drowned by then, and died as a result of the flood, and he says: 'Well, property and so on -- well, after all, these people could have insured themselves.' Who prevented them from insuring themselves? This radiates arrogance, superciliousness, and boorishness to such a degree that I am surprised -- who was behind this, that such a scoundrel should be minister of foreign affairs?" -- Andrzej Lepper speaking on a university radio station in Olsztyn on 23 November; quoted by Polish Television the same day.

"I very carefully considered the word scoundrel and I found no other in the dictionary, unless somebody knows of another word that could describe a man who spoke in such a way about what happened in Lower Silesia after the floods.... As prime minister [during the disastrous floods in 1997], Cimoszewicz said 'well, a flood is a flood.' A normal thing for him. He said that those people who had lost their property -- in practice, what it had taken their whole lives to achieve -- could have insured themselves." -- Andrzej Lepper on 24 November; quoted by PAP.