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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: February 1, 2000

1 February 2000, Volume 2, Number 5
Germans Move To Take Over Polish Bank. Deutsche Bank wants to take over Poland's BIG Bank Gdanski. On 29 January, a general assembly of the BIG Bank Gdanski's shareholders dismissed the bank's supervisory council and appointed one that favors German control over the bank. The dismissal was made possible by support from the state-controlled PZU insurance company, a shareholder in BIG Bank Gdanski. The PZU's decision has caused an "earthquake" among Polish financiers and politicians, "Gazeta Wyborcza" commented on 31 January.

President Aleksander Kwasniewski's adviser for economic affairs, Marek Belka, who cut short his stay at the World Economic Forum in Davos because of the situation over the BIG Bank Gdanski, pointed out the danger of foreign takeover bids that bypass privatization processes. "This is not in Poland's interest, because it's one thing to be able to privatize with the participation of foreign capital...and another allow a situation where the law has been broken, to allow a takeover of one of the most important Polish banks by a huge foreign bank," Belka noted.

Government spokesman Krzysztof Luft commented that "the PZU acted against the interest of Poland and lost the confidence of the Treasury Ministry." The PZU supervisory board on 29 January suspended PZU Chairman Wladyslaw Jamrozy and one of the PZU board members.

Treasury Minister Emil Wasacz, meanwhile, criticized Deutsche Bank for its move with regard to BIG Bank Gdanski. "The Germans, by avoiding openness in their actions, undermine trust in the Polish market. It is scandalous for the foreign investor to enter the big Polish bank through a back door," Wasacz noted.

Gazprom Lowers Gas Price For Belarus. Gazprom, Russia's natural gas monopoly, has lowered the price of gas supplies to Belarus from $30 to $26.9 per 1,000 cubic meters, Belapan reported on 27 January. An agreement to this effect had been reached in Moscow the previous day. The price hike goes into effect immediately and is retroactive from 1 January. A source at Beltranshaz, Belarus's state gas transportation company, told the agency that the Belarusian government "continues to suggest" that Gazprom lower the price of gas supplies to Belarus to the amount that Russian consumers are charged.

RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 28 January that lowering the price of Russian gas was not Russia's gift to its union ally. Russia has recently increased the transit volume of gas across Belarus and is thus compensating Minsk for that increase.

Brest Oblast To Fight Moonshiners. The Brest Oblast Executive Committee has appealed to local authorities to launch a "serious struggle" against the illegal manufacture of alcohol, which has acquired a "mass character" in the oblast, Belapan reported on 23 January. According to the committee, every other family in the oblast is involved in making moonshine. Belapan adds that the Brest authorities' crackdown on moonshiners was somewhat belatedly triggered by the article "He Who Drank Yesterday Continues To Drink Today," published recently in the presidential daily "Sovetskaya Belorussiya." The committee instructed the local authorities to hold meetings throughout the oblast at which residents will be warned against pursuing illegal vodka production. It cannot be ruled out, Belapan concluded, that the Brest authorities will establish the post of an assistant to the district police station head for combating moonshine production.

Two Parliamentary Foes Explain Positions. On 25 January, the daily "Holos Ukrayiny"--which is the organ of Ukraine's Supreme Council--published statements by parliamentary speaker Oleksander Tkachenko, who leads the leftist minority, and Leonid Kravchuk, who is the temporary coordinator of the parliamentary center-right majority. The two lawmakers commented on the recent parliamentary crisis. Following are excerpts from their comments:

OLEKSANDR TKACHENKO: Today a massive attack is being launched against Ukraine's Supreme Council, which has so far remained the only state body where one can freely express one's opinions, where one can criticize any state official, where one closely follows the pulse of the people's life insofar as every deputy permanently contacts citizens in his/her electoral district....

The smearing of the Supreme Council--which has been initiated in television controlled by the presidential administration and in some other media--is one of the tactical steps to make a subservient parliament of it, a puppet that will be submissively legitimizing the implementation in Ukraine of the oligarchs' plans and of the policy of some foreign advisers who persistently defend the interests of their governments and peoples.

The second of such tactical steps is the announcement--following an allegedly popular initiative--of a referendum on a vote of no confidence in the Supreme Council. First of all, the organizers of such an action should have taken into account the fact that there is no completed law on the procedure for holding referendums. The Supreme Council's efforts to urgently finish it were ignored. Second, less than two years ago, 22.5 million voters vested their powers and trust into 445 deputies. Each of [those deputies] has his/her own electoral district. There are leaders of parties and caucuses, who were also given the voters' trust. Perhaps, it is logical to ask people in each district how they assess the work of their deputies and not to spend in vain some 60 million hryvni ($11 million) from the meager budget?

Today, instead of contributing to the consolidation of the various political forces in the parliament [in order to take] constructive legislative actions to overcome the crisis, a game has been planned to split the parliament, to categorically disunite deputies with different political views. This is being done with an open disregard for our laws as well as generally accepted norms of ethics and human behavior....

I state with full responsibility: there is no appropriately formalized majority [in the parliament]. If one takes away the camouflaging, the eye-attracting envelope of the announced deputy majority, which is being persistently publicized by L. Kravchuk and A. Karpov, then such a majority actually ceases to exist. Yes, indeed, in the parliament there is a group of some 150 deputies (not 150, but more than 240--editorial comment from "Holos Ukrayiny") who openly oppose a more or less equal group of leftist forces. Their views on the pursued political and economic course do not coincide. This situation corresponds to the structure of our society, which placed its trust in both the former and the latter [group] during the elections.

The disgrace [that arises from] the standoff is to be found in the fact that those deputies supported by the president and the executive bodies--by means of intimidation, bribery, falsification, and blackmail--forced the other deputies to sign up to the pledge that they will share their political views and will do everything what they are told by the instigators of this standoff....

According to my deepest conviction, the politically balanced, honest deputies should do everything possible to prevent the transfer of power into the hands of dishonest people and violators of the law, who sooner or later will be held responsible for [their deeds]. We need to do everything possible to put an end to the provoked confrontation between deputies.

LEONID KRAVCHUK: On 13 January, 11 parliamentary caucuses announced the creation of a majority in the Supreme Council. The path leading to this event was difficult, thorny, [and] characterized by landmarks of confrontation and disagreement. Therefore, one cannot say that this decision was spontaneous....

Sooner or later, however, there comes, as people say, the moment of truth. The presidential elections became such a moment of truth--for us, people's deputies of Ukraine, as well as for the people and the state. Notably, in this period the confrontation of political forces at times acquired a threatening character.

The elections dotted all i's and crossed all t's. The people supported Leonid Kuchma, who is steering the Ukrainian ship toward the development of statehood.

During the election campaign I had an opportunity to visit many oblasts...and meet many citizens of our state. All were saying the same: "Yes, we live poorly, we want to live better, but we do not want to go back, because we are not seeking the communist paradise. So do everything in order to prevent the Communists from coming to power.²

This is a philosophy not simply of the people but of citizens. Speaking honestly, it was the first time that I felt such a striving of the people to prevent the return of communist power....

Therefore, one can understand those who suffered defeat and are now trying to make it less bitter by looking for some excuses. However, as we see, one should not generalize. One needs to know how to lose.

Our opponents' problem is that they are unable to admit their own defeat. And democracy means that power is taken by those who won....

I am convinced: a new stage has begun in the history of Ukrainian parliamentarism. A new one, because it was the first time that a parliamentary majority was organized, registered, and brought into operation according to democratic principles.

It is sad, but until recently a completely different atmosphere prevailed in the parliament, preventing deputies from becoming consolidated and cemented. I think that the blame for such developments in the supreme legislative body lies fully with Oleksandr Tkachenko....

We are not going to bring those who lost to their knees or punish them. They are deputies, too. Like us, they were elected by the people. Consequently, the minority, too, should have every possibility to exercise its powers.

I am convinced, inasmuch as I know many Communists and Socialists, that they will work for the state, too. As a constructive opposition. What is more, our parliamentary majority is seeking to preserve the opposition. Because, speaking graphically, the opposition is a pike that prevents a carp from sleeping [in the lake]. The opposition exists in every democracy.

As a matter of fact, we have decided: one of the first legislative documents prepared by the majority should be a bill on the opposition. No single deputy from the minority will be abused by the majority because of his/her position....

At the same time, we want the destructive forces to stop casting their shadow on the opposition. I think that the opposition, too, should ponder whether its "militants" adorn its ranks. Why should those people determine the level of culture in the parliament?

"We see the corroboration of all those previously voiced apprehensions that for Russia, its policy toward Belarus is a sort of compensation for Chechnya. Those undetermined and vague provisions [in the Russian-Belarusian treaties] are in actual fact being transformed into a direct threat to Belarusian sovereignty." -- Belarusian National Front Deputy Chairman Yury Khadyka to RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 27 January.

"You can go on strike even for a month--nobody buys anything anyway, because people do not have enough money." -- Belarusian Minister of Entrepreneurship and Investment Alyaksandr Sazonau, commenting on a planned strike by private street vendors against the president's new regulation on the payment of value-added tax. Quoted by Belapan on 27 January.

"We need to create an elite in medicine. An elite in medicine means several hundreds of unique people. They should live [in conditions close] to Western standards so that they can strive [to excel]." -- Alyaksandr Lukashenka to staff in a Minsk hospital. Quoted by Belarusian Television on 27 January.

"I'm not going to comment on stupidity." -- Lukashenka, when asked to respond to the 26 January decision of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly not to offer special guest status to Belarus's hand-picked legislature.

"I will say directly: the West will not manage to create with my own hands an opposition to me.... [The West] would like to have here some other president than Lukashenka. But the people believe that I should be the president. [The West] would like to see another parliament that could make a fuss and have squabbles.... But I do not want deputies in my country to squabble, I want them to deal with legislation in our clean and bright state." -- Lukashenka on 27 January. Quoted by Belarusian Television.

"Human rights are again becoming a double-standard card in the game of Western politicians. Who is going to lecture to us this time? Great Britain, which protects the dictator Pinochet from international wrath? Poland, where police shoot farmers? Romania, which thrashes its miners with truncheons? What is behind all this? Western propaganda [during the earlier] confrontation with the Soviet Union publicized by all possible means [the West's] allegedly selfless concern about our right, so to say, to a truly democratic life. But in actual fact, their strategic aim, like one hundred years ago and earlier, was to liquidate our former great state as their basic rival in the international arena.... When recently the CIS leaders unanimously declared the objective need to strengthen the CIS and when Belarus and Russia announced the creation of their union, [people] in the West immediately began wagging their tongues...about alleged violations of human rights in Belarus and Russia--the geopolitical rivals of their system. This is an old and false song." -- A commentator on Belarusian Television on 28 January.

"The [Ukrainian] state has declared an emergency of the highest degree. The leftists are getting ready to defend the Supreme Council to the bitter end. The rightists are getting ready to hold a session in the Ukrainian House. Ivan Plyushch is getting ready to receive congratulations [as a new speaker]. Parties are getting ready for early elections--party lists are almost completed. The president is getting ready to issue a decree on the dissolution of the parliament. The economy is getting ready for a default. The population has been ready for anything--a referendum, mass electricity blackouts, anarchy, and dictatorship." -- The Kyiv-based "Zerkalo nedeli" in its 29 January issue.