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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: February 15, 2000

15 February 2000, Volume 2, Number 7
Deutsche Bank Solidifies Hold Over BIG Bank Gdanski. Deutsche Bank, seeking control over Poland's fifth-largest bank, BIG Bank Gdanski, gained a one-vote majority on the supervisory board on 12 February. Deutsche Bank won the vote to expand BIG's supervisory board from nine to 19 members and then seated nine of its own representatives on it. The 10th vote making up the majority comes from the state-controlled PZU Zycie life insurer, which switched sides to back Deutsche Bank last month. Deutsche Bank's move to take over BIG sparked many protests in Poland (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 25 January 2000).

The battle over BIG coincides with a growing public debate over whether Poland should allow foreign companies to take over its banks. It has also caused anxiety among some groups in Poland because of the uneasy legacy of Polish-German relations.

Some 20 people linked to the radical right-wing Confederation for an Independent Poland-Fatherland (KPN-O) protested in front of the Deutsche Bank building in Warsaw on 9 February against the "economic assault on Poland," PAP reported.

"This bank has not settled accounts for its criminal activity during the Holocaust; it financed the building of concentration camps, among other things. Now it is seeking an illegal takeover of the Polish BIG Bank Gdanski," KPN-O leader Adam Slomka said. "We have nothing against foreign capital, but let it come in legally. We hope Deutsche Bank will enter the road of legal actions," he added.

According to Slomka, Polish government policy will lead to the collapse of Poland's banking system, which has already become a "victim of German economic aggression."

"Our entry into the Polish market has nothing in common with a renewed invasion of Poland. That is total rubbish. Good economic relations between Poland and Germany are in the mutual interest of both states," Deutsche Bank Polska board member Hubert Janiszewski commented.

German Minority Trade Union Asks Registration In Opole. A motion to register a Free Independent German Minority Trade Union has been filed with a district court in Opole, southern Poland, PAP reported on 6 February. Parliamentary deputy Helmut Pazdzior, who represents the German minority in the Opole region, said the union is going "to take care of the interests of our fellow citizens who have dual citizenship, work legally in EU countries, and have problems with their workers' rights." Pazdzior added that the union can also render services to Poles legally working in Germany. According to him, some 70,000 Opole region inhabitants have been working in Germany.

Officer Accuses Police Of Provoking Clashes With Protesters. Below is an open letter published in the Minsk-based independent "Narodnaya volya" on 10 February by Aleh Baturyn, a senior inspector in the Belarusian Interior Ministry's Personnel Main Directorate. An editorial remark says Baturyn's letter (written in Russian) was published in its original, unedited form.

Esteemed "Narodnaya volya" editors!

I write to you because I cannot keep silent any longer. I cannot silently read about what took place on 17 October during the "Freedom March" action. (ed.: see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 19 and 26 October 1999)

You report the truth, but this truth is very painful for me, insofar as I saw everything from the demonstrators' viewpoint, while keeping my identity card of a senior lieutenant of the police in my pocket. My task was to observe and to mentally remember everything and, additionally, after the march, to arrest the most active participants in the action as well as those whom I had been ordered to arrest.

However, my main task was to provoke clashes, shout abusive slogans, and direct the movement of people to where the police needed them.

Unfortunately, there were foolhardy teenagers among those throwing stones, but all their actions had been provoked and prepared in advance. The crowd was deliberately directed to the place [where the police and demonstrators clashed], where stones were lying, to the place where the crowd was locked in a "box" by OMON and Interior Ministry troops.

All our actions were discussed at a briefing in the Personnel Main Directorate by first deputy chief L.M. Rabtseu and his deputy V.A. Mikhaylouski (I myself am a senior inspector in the Interior Ministry's Personnel Main Directorate). There was also brainwashing--we were told that those who are going to gather [for the march] are dregs and scum, and they should be crushed, because they hinder our "beloved president" from working productively. Therefore, we should not be afraid to hit or beat someone--we are the law and order, therefore don't be afraid.

This indoctrination lasted two hours, afterward we were given radio sets and "implanted in the crowd." I know that on that day, the Minsk police had reinforcements, and that the same indoctrination took place in the Main Directorate of Internal Affairs and at district police stations. Therefore, don't be surprised when a march is joined in an orderly manner by young men who have a particular appearance--these are our "guardians of the law." Not to mention the police troops in their full strength who sit in buses standing in gateways or block the whole city center with shields. And all [these forces are] additionally supported by Interior Ministry troops, the KGB, the guards of the president (illegitimate), fire fighting units, and so forth. And when the people start to peacefully disperse, the police start detaining, beating, and dragging them to district police stations. Such is our "democracy."

Why did I write all this? I know what I may expect for writing such a letter. But I am tired of serving the illegitimate president, whose term expired on 20 July 1999. I am tired of being an accomplice in crime since [the prominent opposition figures] [Viktar] Hanchar, [Yury] Zakharanka, and [Henadz] Karpenka were killed (unfortunately, there are very few chances that they are still alive). All of us are collaborators, when we remain silent. When people's deputy Klimau from my precinct remains in prison, when esteemed hard-working [Vasil] Staravoytau is accused of theft only because he has always had the courage to behave like a man. When children are put in jail for writing an [anti-presidential] inscription on a wall, when opposition leaders, people esteemed in the entire world, serve sentences in the Volodarka and Okrestino [prisons in Minsk], go on hunger strike or are forced to hide abroad. When Professor [Yury] Khadyka is imprisoned only for having participated in the "Chornobyl Way" [march] and released only thanks to efforts of his companion-in-arms in Belarus and the West. When for writing a poem one can become familiar with a KGB solitary confinement cell (ed.: a reference to Belarusian poet Slavamir Adamovich, who spent 10 months in a KGB prison in 1996). When hundreds of demonstrators (the best people of my Fatherland) are administratively punished on fabricated police evidence, and some even face criminal charges, when A. Lyabedzka and other [prominent oppositionists] are facing the fate of Hanchar.

I do not want to work with such police, I do not want my children and grandchildren to look at me with contempt. I know that our former minister, Yury Zakharanka, by creating the [independent] Union of Officers, passed a death sentence on himself. I listened with disgust as [current Interior Minister Yury] Sivakou was joking during his lectures about Zakharanka, as Sivakou was followed by Udovikau and Zhadobin [both deputy interior ministers], who said of Zakharanka that "he was rightly served." I got the impression that we had the year 1937 on the calendar, not 1999.

I want to address the Belarusian people without hiding myself behind pseudonyms. Friends, you should know--the police have thousands of decent men who have become sick of being treated like cattle and of serving a Judas. But they, like you, have their families, their dearest people, children, and jobs to take care of. I have spoken to many police officers. THE OVERWHELMING MAJORITY hates the regime no less than you. Many of those who applauded [the jokes about Zakharanka] said afterward that Belarus has had no better minister than Zakharanka.


Celebrated Writer Again Leaves Belarus. Distinguished Belarusian writer Vasil Bykau (born 1924) left Belarus for Germany on 3 February. The independent "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" noted that Bykau's departure followed the "hounding organized by ideologists of today's Belarusian regime." Among the Belarusian intelligentsia, Bykau is called "the conscience of the nation." He is a staunch advocate of Belarus's national revival and independence and supports the opposition Belarusian Popular Front.

From June 1998 to January 2000, Bykau lived in Helsinki, where he was offered housing and financial assistance by the Finnish PEN-Center. Under the re-Sovietization and re-Russification policies pursued by Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Bykau has become something of a dissident in the eyes of the regime. The state-run publishing house Mastatskaya litaratura (Belles Lettres) in Minsk has not dared publish his collection of stories and novellas that were written in the 1990s. The book, titled "The Wall," was eventually published in 1997 by the independent publishing house "Nasha Niva," financed by money raised among Bykau's readers. (Last month "The Wall" appeared in Polish translation in Bialystok, published with financial support from, among others, Belarusian-minority organizations in Poland.)

Bykau returned from Finland in early January to receive the Russian literary prize "Triumf" in Moscow. On 15 January, he was sharply attacked on Belarusian Television by Vladimir Sevruk, a former ideologist of the Belarusian branch of the CPSU. Following that attack, Russian writer Valentin Oskotskii published in "Izvestiya" an appeal to the Russian public to offer Bykau refuge in Russia because of the hostility of the Belarusian regime toward him. The Belarusian Union of Writers did not respond until the end of January to the Belarusian Television attack, calling it "immoral and inadmissible." Bykau told the 26 January "Izvestiya" that "today in Belarus we have favorable conditions for the return of the ideology that prevailed in the Soviet era."

According to "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta," Bykau also received offers from PEN Centers in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Latvia to reside temporarily in those countries, but he eventually chose Germany, where he is expected to remain with his wife for "several months."

Russia Afraid Of Ukraine's De-Russification? Interfax reported on 1 February that the Ukrainian President's Council for Language Policy Issues has approved a government draft resolution "On Additional Measures To Expand the Use of Ukrainian as the State Language." According to the news agency, in addition to expanding the use of Ukrainian, the government is seeking "to de-Russify various spheres of life" in Ukraine.

In particular, the document calls for checking the knowledge of Ukrainian among all state officials and re-assigning them to posts depending on their ability to use the state language (the so-called "re-attestation").

The implementation of the state language policy will also be monitored in the regions. Among other things, local authorities will be scrutinized for their use of Ukrainian in official documents and correspondence as well as in their dealings with citizens on a daily basis.

The draft resolution also proposes "bringing the system of educational institutions into line with the ethnic composition of the population, working out programs of de-Russification for the sports and tourism spheres, bringing the repertoire of theaters into conformity with their language status, [and] using taxation levers for regulating the import of publications," according to the agency.

The news agency also notes that the authors of the document believe the proposed measures "will change the trend of hindering and localizing the process of promoting the state status of Ukrainian."

Russia's Foreign Ministry told Interfax on 1 February that it is seriously concerned about the strengthening of "administrative and other measures directed against the preservation and development of the Russian language and culture" in Ukraine.

The ministry pointed to the 14 December 1999 ruling by Ukraine's Constitutional Court that Ukrainian is "the obligatory language of instruction in all state educational institutions in the country," while instruction in national minority languages may be carried out only if special permission is granted. The Constitutional Court also ruled that the Ukrainian language is "the obligatory means of communication on the entire territory of Ukraine for the state authority bodies and local self-government bodies to exercise their powers, as well as in other spheres of public life." According to the ministry, such policies contravene the Ukrainian Constitution, which guarantees the "free development, use, and protection of the Russian language" and the right of national minority citizens to receive their education in Russian.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said that on 28 January it sent a note to the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow, expressing the hope that Kyiv's policies vis-a-vis Ukraine's Russians will be conducted "in the spirit" of the Russian-Ukrainian Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership.

On 9 February, Russia's Foreign Ministry commented that the implementation of the Ukrainian government's draft resolution on language may "infringe upon human rights and damage the cultural and linguistic environment," according to ITAR-TASS. The ministry warned that "actions of this kind in such a sensitive area as language usually have dire consequences."

More harsh were the 10 February comments made by Oleg Mironov, Russian human rights commissioner, who said that Ukraine's restriction of the official and business use of the Russian language "is a gross and explicit violation of the norms of civilized relations among peoples and of the basic rights and freedoms of citizens proclaimed by the European Convention, to which Ukraine is a signatory," according to ITAR-TASS. Mironov urged international organizations such as the Council of Europe and the OSCE to increase their monitoring of the situation. "The scale of language discrimination [in Ukraine] is massive and unprecedented," Mironov noted, adding that the Ukrainization campaign has affected the interests of more than 50 percent of Ukrainian citizens who consider Russian their native tongue.

Yuriy Bohutskyy, an official from the Ukrainian presidential administration, rejected Mironov's accusations. Bohutskyy told ITAR-TASS that Russian is the language of instruction for 31.7 percent of Ukraine's schoolchildren. Moreover, Russian is taught as a subject in all Ukrainian schools. Bohutskyy added that 25.3 percent of children in pre-school establishments are brought up in Russian.

According to the 1989 census in Ukraine, 64 percent of the population declared Ukrainian their native language, while 31 percent gave Russian that status (9 percent were ethnic Ukrainians who considered Russian their native tongue).

These figures, however, give a somewhat false impression of the language situation in Ukraine insofar as "native language" in Ukraine (as is the case in the far more Russified Belarus) seems to mean something other than the language people prefer to use in everyday life. Recent studies have found that some 40 percent of Ukraine's population are Ukrainians who prefer to speak Ukrainian, some 33 percent are ethnic Ukrainians who prefer Russian, and some 20 percent are ethnic Russians who prefer Russian. (By comparison, the 1999 census in Belarus found that some 82 percent of the population think their native language is Belarusian, but only 36.7 percent speak Belarusian at home.)

If the above-mentioned studies are accurate, then a majority (some 53 percent) of Ukrainian citizens prefer to speak Russian. However, Mironov's comment that more than 50 percent of Ukrainian citizens consider Russian their native tongue is basically untrue. Most Ukrainian citizens still regard Ukrainian as their mother tongue in the sense that it is the language of their indigenous cultural and ethnic heritage, which is essentially non-Russian. Whether they actively use Ukrainian in their daily life is another question.

The 16 February 1999 census was essentially a referendum in which 81 percent of Belarus's residents clearly declared that they are Belarusians, while 85 percent of those Belarusians said Belarusian is their native tongue. This means that Belarusians and other citizens of Belarus do not regard themselves as a part of some Eurasian community that is being imposed on them, but as a distinctive and independent nation. It is clear that these values can be preserved only in an independent and sovereign state that has its national education, distinctive culture, and own history, and not in a phantom union of two independent states that is essentially oriented toward destroying Belarus as a state and the Belarusians as a distinctive nationality." -- "Vitebskii kurer" on 18 January.

"I warn you directly: those receiving preferential treatment today will have to pay twice as much in six months or a year. I will squeeze all the juice out of you for that money. I declare this publicly before the entire nation and your working collectives. If you borrow money, please tighten your belts until you have repaid your debt. Such is today's stark reality." -- Lukashenka to managers of Belarusian state-subsidized enterprises. Quoted by Belarusian Television on 11 February.

"Some of my officials who are always buzzing around me say that it is necessary to hold a dialogue with the opposition. Wait a moment, what will I be told by Afghan war veterans who supported me and voted for me, what will I be told by Barankevich's [pan-Slavic Belarusian Patriotic Party]--even if they are bad and stupid as some journalists call them--who supported me? What will I be told by Chykin's Communist Party, which has never sought confrontation with the president? You realize to where I am being pushed. They simply want to cut me off from all those people who had formerly supported me." -- Lukashenka commenting on why he does not want to hold negotiations with the opposition. Quoted by Belarusian Television on 12 February.

"The reason that we have focused on Ukraine is that it is very important in terms of its geographical location and generally in terms of the stability of that region. We have noted a lot of progress in Ukraine and their recent elections that we think went in the right direction. But obviously, the reason that we are putting money into Ukraine is because we think that it's still fragile and that the reform movements have to go forwards and that President Kuchma and his government have to work very carefully to make sure that the reform process, both in terms of the economic issues, as well as democracy and civil-society issues, are able to go forward." -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's remarks to the press on the U.S. president's fiscal year 2001 international affairs budget request. Quoted by RFE/RL on 7 February.

"Aside from Russia, Ukraine is the largest and most influential of the New Independent States. The whole region will be affected by whether it slides backward or continues up the democratic path. The president's budget proposes significant investments in each of these four key democracies (Colombia, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Ukraine) and in promoting democratic practices and values worldwide." -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 8 February. Quoted by RFE/RL.