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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: December 4, 2001

4 December 2001, Volume 3, Number 46
SEJM STRIPS LEPPER OF POST OF DEPUTY SPEAKER. Late in the evening of 29 November the Sejm voted by 318 to 74, with 21 abstentions, to dismiss Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper from his brief tenure as deputy speaker. The direct reason for the vote on Lepper was his insulting remarks about Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz in connection with Poland's recent concessions on land sales in EU membership talks (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 27 November 2001). Speaking on a local radio station a week earlier, Lepper called Cimoszewicz a "scoundrel," and Cimoszewicz's father a "criminal who killed Poles."

The motion to dismiss Lepper was backed by the ruling Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Union bloc as well as the opposition Civic Platform and Law and Justice groups. Lawmakers from the Peasant Party, the ruling coalition's partner, were split in their vote, while those from the opposition League of Polish Families either backed Lepper or abstained. Lepper's dismissal was opposed by 53 deputies of his Self-Defense, who intoned the national anthem after the vote and subsequently left the session hall.

"We have today made an unprecedented decision. In the course of the 10 years of existence of a democratic Sejm, it has not yet been the case that a deputy speaker has been recalled in such circumstances. Deputy Andrzej Lepper was not recalled because he fought against wrong and injustice, but for the fact that he praised and called for the infringement of the law and also publicly insulted and humiliated people. Today, unfortunately, he has also given proof of this," Sejm speaker Marek Borowski said of the vote and Lepper's speech preceding it.

In his speech, Lepper delivered a lengthy tirade to the parliament, unprecedented in its vehemence, wording, and accusations leveled at Poland's political elites in general and individual politicians in particular. The following day, some commentators in Poland compared Lepper's political style to that of fiercely populist President of Belarus Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Lepper spoke as the defender of the poor and dispossessed, and accused lawmakers of ignoring the plight of Poles in the postcommunist transformation period. "You laugh at traders at bazaars, you laugh when it is said that somebody is looting Poland, that somebody has over 12 years brought about the unemployment of 3 million people. Well, carry on laughing," Lepper said as he warned lawmakers that he will send tapes with recordings of how they work to every commune in the country. "All of this has been recorded," he said. "A cassette of your behavior here in this chamber will go to every commune. Electors will see this, how you work here."

Lepper also vented his resentment of those who see him -- a pig farmer turned politician -- as uneducated and unpolished: "You speak of political culture. But after all, most of you and your groupings, and the repainted ones as well -- in suits, in ties, smelling of such perfumes as Dior and Chanel -- have been mutually caressing each other for 12 years. And you have so caressed each other, that today there is a total collapse of heavy industry, of agriculture, of medium- and small-scale enterprise, of trade and of services.... You have allowed Poland to be made into a market for the disposal of the production surpluses of the West."

He darkly warned political elites of popular wrath: "But if you don't change your social and economic policies, then these scumbags, old bones...and muckrakers will come to the parliament to remind you of their rights."

Lepper also told the Sejm that he is in possession of documents confirming that Foreign Minister Cimoszewicz, Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski, along with Civic Platform politicians Andrzej Olechowski, Donald Tusk, and Pawel Piskorski, accepted illicit payments in the past. Formulating his charges in the form of questions, Lepper cited sums and dates when those politicians accepted the alleged bribes.

Speaker Marek Borowski asked Lepper whether he was aware of the possible consequences of his words. "You can continue to speak, I am not taking away your right [to speak]. I am just warning that what you are doing at this moment also carries penal sanctions and I am asking whether it is worth doing this," Borowski said.

"The documents exist and are deposited in appropriate places, irrespective of what might happen to me -- because there have already been threats -- and these documents will see the light of day," Lepper said in summing up his allegations of corruption. His speech was broadcast live to the nation by the TVN 24 television channel.

Premier Leszek Miller was quick to assure that he has full confidence in Cimoszewicz and Szmajdzinski. He also urged prosecutors to investigate Lepper's charges of corruption without delay, and on 30 November, prosecutors in Warsaw launched a probe into the matter.

FORMER PROSECUTOR-GENERAL TO TESTIFY AGAINST CURRENT ONE? Last week the Prosecutor-General's Office decided to summon former Prosecutor-General Aleh Bazhelka as a witness in the case of the kidnapping of Russian Public Television (ORT) cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski, which began on 24 November and is currently being tried by a court in Minsk.

Zavadski went missing on 7 July 2000 after he left home for the Minsk airport to meet his ORT colleague Pavel Sheremet. Prosecutors say Zavadski was kidnapped by a group led by Valery Ihnatovich, a former officer of the Belarusian Interior Ministry's elite task force Almaz. Ihnatovich and three others are on trial for allegedly kidnapping Zavadski and committing a number of other grave crimes, including seven premeditated murders. The trial is being held behind close doors in order to "protect the victims and others," as Minsk District Court Chairman Heorhiy Khomich explained to Belapan.

The prosecutors' theory is that Ihnatovich and his group kidnapped Zavadski in revenge for an interview he gave to "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" in which he revealed that some Almaz commandos had fought on the side of Chechen rebels against Russian Federation troops in Chechnya. Zavadski, who had visited Chechnya several times, mentioned no names, but the prosecutors believe Ihnatovich's involvement in the war can be deduced from the interview.

Zavadzki's friend, Sheremet -- who was questioned in the Ihnatovich case last week -- has another theory, which he made public in August. According to Sheremet, the kidnapping of Zavadski was connected with secret arms supplies from Belarus to Chechen fighters. Sheremet asserted that some top Belarusian officials used Belarusian commandos fighting alternatively both on the Chechen side and the federal side to supply rifles to Chechens via Turkey and Georgia.

According to Sheremet, Zavadski may have been kidnapped by Ihnatovich and his group because of his knowledge of the illegal arms supplies. To support his allegation, Sheremet cited a conversation he had with former Prosecutor-General Aleh Bazhelka. Bazhelka reportedly told Sheremet that the person responsible for the illicit arms trading was Belarusian Security Council head Viktar Sheyman, now the country's prosecutor-general. Bazhelka reportedly told Sheremet that he even issued an arrest warrant for Sheyman but was prevented from jailing him. In a surprising security shake-up in November 2000, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka fired KGB chief Uladzimir Matskevich and Prosecutor-General Bazhelka, and subsequently appointed Sheyman to take Bazhelka's job.

Earlier this year, two Belarusian prosecutors accused top government officials -- including Sheyman -- of organizing and running a "death squad" that was allegedly responsible for kidnapping and murdering opposition figures Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 12 June 2001). Ihnatovich was mentioned in those charges as a member of the "death squad." Both prosecutors defected to the United States where their allegations have been declared "credible" by U.S. officials.

UKRAINIAN-ROMANIAN BREAKTHROUGH? On 27 November in Kyiv, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana discussed border and minority issues as well as economic and trade relations with his Ukrainian counterpart Anatoliy Zlenko, Ukrainian media reported. "I am delighted to say today that we are ready for constructive work aimed at finding an appropriate legal form of solving border issues," Ukrainian Television quoted Zlenko as saying. In turn, Geoana said both countries are today witnessing an "impressive breakthrough" in bilateral relations. No further details have been made known. Neither side has signed any official documents on Geoana's trip.

However, meeting with deputy parliamentary speaker Viktor Medvedchuk later the same day, Geoana suggested some difficulties in bilateral relations. The Romanian visitor advised Kyiv to "avoid the confusion about the definition of the ethnicity of the Romanians who say that they are Moldovans" during the Ukrainian census scheduled for 5-14 December, UNIAN reported. Geoana said, "Stalin's theory about the existence of a Moldovan language and a Moldovan nation is [still] being implemented," adding that this theory is "fiction that formally hampers the development of relations" between Ukraine and Romania.

Speaking to journalists in Kyiv following the conclusion of the talks, Geoana said that "a low level of cooperation" between both countries in the past several years has hindered the resolution of many problems of the Romanian minority in Ukraine and the Ukrainian minority in Romania. Geoana said Romania has reached European standards -- and is some cases even exceeded them -- in the sphere of ensuring minority rights on its territory.

Geoana said some 10,000 children of ethnic Ukrainian origin in Romania are currently taught the Ukrainian language in 89 schools, while 149 teachers instruct their pupils in Ukrainian. Geoana added that there is a "department of Ukrainian language, culture, and literature" at Bucharest University, adding that two similar departments have recently been inaugurated in two other Romanian universities. "We would like to see such a picture in Ukraine [as regards the Romanian minority]," Interfax quoted Geoana as saying.

An unidentified interlocutor from Ukraine's "diplomatic circles" told the agency, however, that there are problems with publishing Ukrainian-language books and textbooks for schoolchildren in Romania. Also, there are no Ukrainian-language libraries or theaters in Romania, while Ukrainian-language programs on Romanian radio and television are broadcast irregularly and "on an insignificant scale." In addition, there is only one Ukrainian-language upper school in Romania, the Taras Shevchenko Lyceum in Sighetul Marmatiei, which was reopened in 1997.

The same interlocutor recalled that, on the other hand, there are more than 20 Romanian-language newspapers, journals, and radio and television programs in Ukraine. Several Ukrainian higher educational institutions enlist students for groups with Romanian as the instruction language, while Romanian and Moldovan children can be instructed in their native languages in schools and kindergartens in nearly every area where Romanians and Moldovans are densely populated in Ukraine.

But minority issues are not the only item on a list of Ukrainian-Romanian bilateral problems. Both countries have long been at loggerheads over Serpents Island (Zmiinyy ostrov) in the Black Sea, a rocky slab of 600 by 300 meters, and over how to divide the oil- and gas-bearing continental shelf around the islet.

Serpents Island, as well as what was once known as Romanian Bessarabia, was occupied by the USSR in 1940. In 1947, the island was ceded to the Ukrainian SSR. Independent Ukraine "inherited" Serpents Island after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1997, Ukraine and Romania signed a basic treaty, in which both sides recognized the inviolability of their existing borders, but the problem of Serpents Island was singled out in an appendix that provided for additional negotiations on what to do about the controversial island and the delimitation of the border in its vicinity. A joint Ukrainian-Romanian intergovernmental commission has already held 10 sessions, but no resolution of the border dispute is in sight.

Fuel was added to the fire this past July when Ukrainian prospectors announced the discovery of a "commercial amount" of oil and gas near Serpents Island. It has not been ruled out that the dispute may end up in the international tribunal in The Hague in line with the delimitation treaty's provisions, which mention this international forum as a possible last instance in the event that bilateral negotiations fail. According to, Kyiv has recently made some attempts at "populating" the islet with the expectation that, according to international maritime legislation, it will be given the right to an exclusive economic zone around it if international arbitration enters its dispute with Bucharest.