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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: January 11, 2000

11 January 2000, Volume 2, Number 2
Journalists Want To Lustrate Their Profession. Some 30 journalists and public officials appealed to the parliament on 4 January to extend the 1997 lustration law--which stipulates screening Poland's top officials for collaboration with the communist-era secret services--to all media reporters as well. Under the law currently in force, only heads of the state-run media (radio, television, and the PAP news agency) are required to supply statements on whether they collaborated.

The appeal was signed by journalists from the right-wing media as well as Defense Deputy Minister Radek Sikorski and Marek Markiewicz, former head of national radio and television. Stanislaw Remuszko, who initiated the appeal, wants lustration to be extended to publishers and chief editors of "large" private media outlets. In Remuszko's opinion, chief editors of such outlets should have the right to initiate the lustration of their employees.

The appeal appeared during the recent heated discussion between Poland's two leading dailies, "Gazeta Wyborcza" and "Zycie," on lustration. In response to a "Zycie" report revealing that top political figures are suspected by the lustration prosecutor of having lied in their lustration statements, "Gazeta Wyborcza" chief editor Adam Michnik accused "Zycie" of "drowning Poland in the mud of slander."

"The lustration of journalists would be good for both public opinion and the journalistic milieu, which was 'stuffed with [communist-era] security service agents,' but it may fail with regard to non-state media because of a legal difficulty," PAP quoted "Zycie" Chief Editor Tomasz Wolek as saying.

"Gazeta Wyborcza" opposes the idea of lustrating journalists. On 5 January, the daily commented that the appeal "says straightforwardly, black on white, what lustration is about. Let's lustrate those with whom we do not agree. Let the lustration be a punishment for them, for their different opinions."

Reactions collected by PAP from other major private media outlets are rather wary and more restrained as regards the extension of lustration to journalists.

"I would not be interested in the past of journalists in my editorial office [even] if I had to be," "Rzeczpospolita" Deputy Editor Bozena Wawrzewska told PAP. "It can already be seen today how difficult a problem lustration is, therefore extending it to other social groups is rather inadvisable."

Piotr Wierzbicki--chief editor of right-wing "Gazeta Polska," which in 1991 published a list of some 40 parliamentary deputies suspected by then Interior Minister Antoni Maciarewicz of being communist-era secret service agents--said the appeal to lustrate all journalists is "senseless." He added that "it could have some sense, maybe, if it referred only to chief editors. But the lustration of ladies who deal with films or culture is absurd. Besides, I cannot imagine the [procedure] of selecting for lustration only those journalists who deal with politics."

Poland Unable To Cope With Money Laundering. The daily "Zycie" reported on 4 January that it has come into possession of a "classified report" by the Council of Europe claiming that neither the Polish judiciary nor law enforcement bodies are able to cope with money laundering.

According to the EU report, some $10 billion of criminal money is laundered in Poland every year. The first case of money laundering came to light at the beginning of the 1990s. However, since 1994 only nine cases have been brought to court. At the time the EU inspectors began monitoring, in spring 1999, no verdict had been passed in any of those cases. Poland's post-communist penal code, which complies with EU standards, provides for up to five years for money laundering and up to three years for bank employees assisting in it.

The report says Poland has no central body to monitor and direct efforts to track down and combat money laundering, nor does it have an institution to inform the police about suspicious transactions.

"In order to charge someone with money laundering, I must have evidence, which means that I must have access to bank information. But I can get such information only after charging that person. This is a vicious circle," Main Police Command spokesman Pawel Biedziak told "Zycie."

For the time being, Polish police depend on information about money laundering from their foreign counterparts. Out of Poland's estimated 460 gangs, some 170 have ties with foreign criminal groups in Turkey, Italy, Germany, and Russia seeking to launder money obtained from robberies, extortion, drug trafficking, and smuggling.

According to "Zycie," currency-exchange booths in Poland are used as a very convenient channel for money laundering. Sums are paid to the bank as alleged revenue from hundreds of anonymous clients of a booth; the booth's owner pays a profit tax, and the dirty money is thus laundered.

The parliament is currently mulling a bill on the introduction of the post of financial inspector-general to combat illegal financial transactions and money laundering. If the bill is passed, the inspector will be authorized to collect all available information about all transactions exceeding 10,000 euros ($10,300). The bill also gives the inspector the right to block a "suspicious transaction" for a period of 48 hours.

Why Are Belarusians Unfriendly Toward Others? The Sociology Institute of the Belarusian National Academy of Sciences interviewed some 250 youths living in Minsk and Minsk Oblast about social attitudes toward other nationalities in Belarus, Belapan reported on 9 January.

Answering the question "Have you ever come across instances of disrespect for persons of different nationalities?" 33 percent of respondents answered "yes, and rather often." However, 53 percent said they witnessed such an attitude "rarely," while 12 percent said they had not come across such behavior at all.

Asked to name possible reasons for Belarusians' animosity toward other ethnic groups, 49 percent said those groups "always swindle" and 44 percent said "they behave like masters." Thirty-three percent noted that "they think that everything can be sold and bought," 29 percent were of the opinion that "they create tension where they live," while 19 percent said that "they are always disdainful toward us." Other respondents said that ethnic groups "brought drug addiction and AIDS to us" (16 percent), "show no respect for our customs" (15 percent), or "are richer than us" (12 percent).

Has 'Political Rusynism' Ended? After seven years of failing to gain recognition, the self-proclaimed government of Carpathian Ruthenia has suspended its work, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 January. "Ruthenians have appreciated the strategy and efforts of President Leonid Kuchma and his firm course toward democratic changes and the observance of human rights, the rights of ethnic minorities and their free cultural development," the agency quoted Ivan Turyanytsa, the "prime minister" of Carpathian Ruthenia, as saying in a statement circulated by "local media" on 3 January. In that statement, Turyanytsa also expressed the hope that Ukraine will finally recognize the Ruthenians as a nation, ITAR-TASS added.

For most readers in either the West or the East, this is certainly a mystifying piece of news. Who are the Ruthenians and where is their Ruthenia? Two interesting books, to which this article is heavily indebted, provide a fascinating introduction to the problem of the people denoted in English by some writers as Ruthenians: "A New Slavic Language Is Born" (1996, Columbia University Press, New York; edited by Paul Robert Magocsi) and "Focus on the Rusyns" (1999, The Danish Cultural Institute, Copenhagen). There is also an interesting Web site at, with a great deal of information on Carpatho-Rusyns--another name for Ruthenians.

Rusyns live in the Carpathian Mountains and are scattered across several international frontiers. In Ukraine, they inhabit Transcarpathian (Zakarpatska) Oblast, which borders on Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland. In Slovakia, they can be found mainly in the Presov region, and in Poland, they live in two separate regions in the southern part of the country. There is also a community of Ruthenians in Yugoslavia's Vojvodina (to where they emigrated in the 18th century), and groups in Romania and Hungary, while there is a large Rusyn diaspora in the U.S. and Canada, although its exact numerical strength is not known. According to some estimates, there may be as many as 1 million Ruthenians worldwide, including some 600,000 in Ukraine's Transcarpathia.

Linguists disagree as to whether the (Carpatho-) Rusyn language is a separate Slavic language or a dialect of Ukrainian. Professor Magocsi from the University of Toronto argues that it is a separate language, at least that version spoken by Rusyns in Slovakia, which was codified in Bratislava on 27 January 1995. Another version of the Rusyn language was standardized in Vojvodina in 1923 and has been used in schools among Yugoslavia's Rusyns (Rusnaci) since that time. A seminar on the Rusyn language held in Slovakia in 1992 --now known as the First Congress on the Rusyn Language --concluded that Rusyns should develop four linguistic standards based on the dialects in the countries where they live: Ukraine, Slovakia, Poland, and Yugoslavia. Poland's Rusyns (known as Lemkos) have already published several grammar books as well as a dictionary of their language.

In Ukraine, Rusyns are not recognized as a distinct national group. Consequently, their language is officially deemed a Ukrainian dialect. However, apart from a pro-Ukrainian orientation among Ukraine's Rusyns, there is also a trend for developing the Rusyn language as separate from Ukrainian and promoting the idea of Rusyns as a separate nation. This trend is primarily championed by the Society of Carpatho-Rusyns in Uzhorod, which is headed by Ivan Turyanytsa. In December 1991, when Ukrainians overwhelmingly voted for an independent Ukraine, Transcarpathian Oblast residents simultaneously held a vote on their autonomous status in Ukraine. Some 78 percent of Transcarpathians supported the idea of regional autonomy, but Kyiv ignored that vote. Some Ukrainians argue that the question about the region's autonomy was included in one phrase with the question about Ukraine's independence and thus people in Transcapathia supported the independence of the state rather than their self-rule. Some Rusyns, of course, think otherwise.

Some Ukrainians branded the movement for promoting Rusyn nationhood as "political Rusynism," which they argue has no substantial linguistic, ethnographic, or historical foundations. However, as the example of Rusyns in Slovakia and Lemkos in Poland testifies (not to mention Yugoslavia's Rusnaci), under some circumstances the Rusyn linguistic and ethnic heritage can be cultivated.

Ukraine's disinclination to recognize its Rusyns as a distinct nationality can be understood to some extent. This recognition seems to be inextricably linked to the issue of Rusyn self-government in Transcarpathia. Faced with ethnic problems in other regions (not to mention Ukraine's 10 million Russians and Crimea with its Russian and Tatar problems), Kyiv is reluctant to open what seems to be a Pandora's box of ethnic demands for more rights and concessions.

However, the current practice of dismissing the Rusyn problem by passing over it in silence (there appears to be no mention of Rusyns in Ukrainian media) is no solution either. History provides ample evidence that non-recognition, disregard, or suppression of ethnic groups tends only to consolidate their struggle for more rights.

It is too early to say that Rusyns have already embarked on an irreversible path toward acquiring nationhood. (In the 20th century, only Belarusians, Macedonians, and, possibly, Bosnian Muslims among the Slavic groups have managed to organize themselves into nations.) Even more unclear are Rusyns' prospects for gaining some kind of regional autonomy in the countries in which they live, let alone statehood. However, the cultural and linguistic renaissance of Rusyns seems set to survive into the next millennium. Rusyn activists report that their ranks have recently been reinforced by considerable numbers of well-educated young Rusyn females (notably in Poland and Slovakia). This not only provides greater demographic balance within the movement but also gives the movement a boost and imparts attractiveness for the broader masses that it might otherwise have lacked.

The author of "RFE/RL's Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" has come across only one mention of Ivan Turyanytsa's "Carpatho-Ruthenian government" in world literature--in Timothy Garton Ash's "Hail Ruthenia!" published in the 22 April 1999 issue of "The New York Review of Books." Garton Ash's presentation of the Rusyn question is rather a jocular one, and this author agrees with his conclusion that Turyanytsa and his ministers have had no power or opportunities to govern anything anywhere in a political sense. There are strong grounds to suppose that the government's recent self-dissolution, as announced by ITAR-TASS, has not been mourned by any significant part of the Rusyn population (in fact it is more likely that it went unnoticed by most Rusyns). However, as far as the future of Rusyns as a distinct Slavic nationality is concerned, this author is far more optimistic than Garton Ash.

"The scenario for adopting a budget, compared with last year's one, has somewhat changed. The deputies, who have become a little more skilled in debates on budget, at times even harshly criticized the government." -- Belarusian Television on 4 January, commenting on the 2000 budget debate in the Chamber of Representatives, the Belarusian legislature hand-picked by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in 1996 and fully subservient to him.

"My impressions are good, but there is not much land here. You should come to us. We have more. The Jews who emigrated here agreed with me yesterday." -- Lukashenka in Jerusalem on 6 January. Quoted by Russian Independent Television.

"Among the pilgrims who these days inundated the Holy Land, the presidents of Russia, Belarus, and other Orthodox states were likely the most honorable and most politicized pilgrims. Boris Yeltsin, as soon as he arrived at Jerusalem, announced that he is going to deal with the regulation of the Middle East problem in the Holy Land. Alyaksandr Lukashenka also remained primarily a politician. Nobody would have treated him otherwise, knowing his self-definition as an Orthodox atheist. It is [only] logical that on the Christmas Eve, along with Church decorations, Belarus's president also received a Palestinian order for the assistance in the struggle for independence." -- Belarusian Television on 8 January.

"Unless our government changes its attitude to the Church question, it is quite possible to conjecture that after several decades, even Belarus may transform itself into a Protestant state." -- A "candidate of historical science" quoted by Belarusian Television on 8 January.

"And in the lobbies, unfortunately, there is talk about some figure in the top echelon of the Belarusian authorities who helps Protestants advance in Belarus, thus strengthening Western influence on the culture, traditions, and awareness of the Belarusians." -- Belarusian Television on 8 January.

"From the Kremlin throne, Belarus is not seen otherwise as the Northeastern Krai (ed.: the name for Belarusian lands in Tsarist Russia). It is naive to think that the Kremlin with its imperial atmosphere accumulated over ages will take a breath of fresh air, even if the newly made president opens all the doors. The suits of many, both rightists and leftists, have been tailored by different political couturiers, but they have the same smell.... I would not want Russia's next president to call [on Russians] to kill [even] 'in the crapper'--as Putin put it with regard to Chechens--but now having us [Belarusians] in mind." -- Belarusian opposition politician Anatol Lyabedzka. Quoted by "Narodnaya volya" on 6 January.