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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: March 28, 2000

28 March 2000, Volume 2, Number 12
OLECHOWSKI CHALLENGES KWASNIEWSKI IN PRESIDENTIAL RACE. Andrzej Olechowski, Poland's former finance and foreign minister, announced on 24 March that he will run as an independent candidate in this year's presidential elections. According to a recent poll, Olechowski can count on 11 percent of the vote, putting him in second place behind incumbent President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who enjoys 58 percent support.

"Time is going too fast for me to make my actions dependent on party decisions," Olechowski said, adding that he counts on support from "moderate political groupings." Olechowski's presidential bid will be supported by Maciej Jankowski, a prominent activist of the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS). Jankowski announced he will soon quit the AWS parliamentary caucus. While it is highly unlikely that Olechowski will be supported by any political group within the AWS, many commentators believe that the Freedom Union, the AWS's coalition partner, may throw its support behind him.

As a member of the government team, Olechowski participated in the 1989 roundtable negotiations between the Communist government and Solidarity. In 1992, he was finance minister in Jan Olszewski's cabinet and was included on the notorious list of agents of the communist-era secret services drawn up by Interior Minister Antoni Maciarewicz in June 1992. Olechowski admitted his ties with Poland's intelligence services but added that they concerned only "economic intelligence." Also in 1992, Olechowski was President Lech Walesa's adviser for economic matters, and in 1993 he became foreign minister in Waldemar Pawlak's cabinet. In 1994, Olechowski filed Poland's formal motion to join the EU. He resigned from Pawlak's cabinet in 1995.

Neither President Aleksander Kwasniewski nor Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski (whom, it is widely believed, the AWS will back to run against the incumbent) has officially announced their candidacy.

GERMAN MINORITY AGAIN TRIES TO REGISTER TRADE UNION. A district court in Opole on 17 March refused for the second time to register a German minority trade union, dpa reported. The union had first applied for registration last month (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 15 February 2000), but the court ruled that a statute extending the activity of the union beyond Poland to include the whole territory of the EU violates Polish law. The union founders subsequently limited the area of activity to Poland and changed the organization's name from the German Minority Trade Union to the Trade Union of Germans. Last week, however, the court again rejected the union's application, saying that the union's new name, along with various provisions of the union's charter, would enable foreigners to become union members, which is against Polish law. The court gave the founders two weeks to adjust the union's statutes to conform with Polish legislation on trade unions. Harald Broll, one of the founders, told the Polish news agency PAP that the union will try to find a legal solution that would allow the union to represent its members outside Poland. It is estimated that some 100,000 Polish-Germans with dual, Polish-German citizenship currently work in Germany. JM

POLICE ARREST 500 TO FOIL OPPOSITION MARCH. A heavy police presence on 25 March tried to prevent Minsk residents from demonstrating in the center of the city to commemorate the 82nd anniversary of the proclamation of the non-Bolshevik Belarusian Democratic Republic (BNR). The authorities had given permission only for a rally on Bangalore Square, on the outskirts of the city. Yakub Kolas Square, which had been designated by the organizers as the gathering place for protesters, was cordoned off by rows of policemen in full riot gear. Subway exits leading to the square were also blocked. Two police armored personnel carriers could be seen on the square. People arriving to take place in the protest were not allowed to form a march column. Police groups waded into the crowds with truncheons, grabbed people, and pushed them into police vehicles. According to the Belarusian opposition, some 500 people were arrested on that day, including journalists from the Russian television networks RTR, NTV, and ORT as well as Christopher Panico, counselor of the OSCE Consultative and Monitoring Group in Belarus. RTR and NTV reporters were beaten and their cameras smashed or damaged.

Police also surrounded the Belarusian Popular Front headquarters and arrested some 30 people there, including two Polish parliamentary deputies who had arrived in Minsk to monitor the demonstration, and seven Polish reporters. Most detainees, including foreigners, were released after two to three hours, but some 100 people remain in custody, including opposition leaders Anatol Lyabedzka, Viktar Ivashkevich, and Yuras Belenki. RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported that its Minsk correspondent, Aleh Hruzdzilovich, was beaten shortly after his arrest and remained nine hours in detention.

Despite those preventive measures, some 7,000 people arrived from downtown Minsk at Bangalore Square. "The regime is trying to mislead the international community by a fake dialogue with the opposition and impose undemocratic elections on us," BNF leader Vintsuk Vyachorka told the crowd. "There can be no democratic elections while the country is ruled by Lukashenka."

According to Belapan, other speakers at the rally described the police action as revealing the "agony of the regime." Vyachaslau Siuchyk, BNF deputy chairman, said that the next large protest, "Chornobyl Way 2000," which is scheduled for late April, will bring together many more people than the present one. Mikalay Statkevich, chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party, noted that "if the March 25 oppression is what the government regards as part of [its] dialogue, then the opposition accepts the challenge." The rally unanimously voted for a resolution calling on the international community "to unambiguously announce the non-recognition of any international treaties concluded by Lukashenka."

Numerous, albeit smaller, rallies commemorating the BNR were held in a dozen other Belarusian cities. Arrests were reported only in Babruysk and Vitsebsk. Meetings and rallies in honor of the BNR were held by the Belarusian diaspora in Warsaw, Brussels, Washington, and Prague. The Prague commemoration was attended by BNR Council President Ivonka Survilla of Canada.

JEHOVAH'S WITNESS SENTENCED FOR REFUSING MILITARY SERVICE. The town court in Rechytsa, Homel Oblast, handed down an 18-month suspended sentence to 21-year-old Valyantsin Hulay for refusing to serve in the army because of his religious convictions, Belapan reported. Hulay is a member of the local Jehovah's Witnesses community. The court ruled that he do hard labor during his sentence. Hulay had asked the enlistment office to replace the compulsory period of serving in the army with a period of longer duration for service outside the military. The chief of the Rechytsa enlistment office told him that Belarus has no law on an alternative military service and that his request cannot be satisfied. Hulay was ordered to serve in the Railroad Troops but he dodged the draft. He was arrested in February and remained in jail pending trial. The government declared its intention to introduce alternative military service in 1997 but to date has taken no steps toward carrying out that intention.

FORMER SVABODA/NAVINY CHIEF EDITOR LAUNCHES NEW MAGAZINE. Ihar Hermyanchuk, who was chief editor of Belarus's major independent newspaper "Svaboda" (renamed "Naviny" in 1997 because of an official ban) from 1992-98, has launched a new publication. "Kuryer" is being advertised as Belarus's "first socio-political magazine." The first, 52-page issue of "Kuryer" appeared in Belarusian kiosks on 22 March. "We face no competition, there is an empty niche for such a kind of publication in Belarus. We want to issue a qualitatively new product from the viewpoint of journalism, design, and printing technology," Hermyanchuk wrote in "Kuryer." The first issue's stated main topic is "Should One Expect Changes in Belarus?" The magazine has a circulation of 5,000 copies. Hermyanchuk plans to make "Kuryer" a regular full-color weekly. The first issue is in black and white with color covers.

PREMIER SAYS NATIONAL BANK DISCREDITED FROM WITHIN UKRAINE. Viktor Yushchenko told the 23 March "Fakty" that a series of publications in the Western media about the alleged misuse of IMF loans by Ukraine's National Bank was initiated and financed from Ukraine. "It seems to me that there are no greater masters than Ukrainians in creating problems for their own country. I think that after some time, the names of those who created this problem will become known. Their names are no big secret," Yushchenko noted, without mentioning any names. He said that from 1995-2000 Ukraine paid foreign creditors more than it had obtained from the IMF and the World Bank. Therefore, he argued, the National Bank could not misuse IMF loans, which were intended for servicing the country's foreign debt.

REPEAT ELECTIONS TO PARLIAMENT ON 25 JUNE. The Central Electoral Commission announced on 17 March that repeat parliamentary elections will be held in 10 constituencies on 25 June. In nine of those constituencies, the repeat elections are intended to fill seats left by deputies who have died or who accepted government posts (Ukraine's legislation does not allow individuals to hold a government post and at the same time be a deputy in the Supreme Council). Among those who gave up parliamentary seats are Ivan Kyrylenko (agrarian policy minister), Yuriy Yekhanurov (first deputy prime minister), and Yuliya Tymoshenko (deputy prime minister). Repeat elections in the No. 221 constituency in Kyiv will be held for the fourth consecutive time (the previous three ballots were declared invalid). There are currently 440 deputies in the 450-seat Supreme Council.

RECORD FOREIGN TRADE SURPLUS IN 1999. According to the State Statistics Committee, Ukraine had a foreign trade surplus of $2.34 billion in 1999, the highest figure since the country gained independence in 1991. However, foreign trade turnover last year was only $28 billion, down $4.5 billion on the year of the Russian economic crisis, 1998.

MYKOLAYIV ALUMINA PLANT PARTLY PRIVATIZED. Ukraine's State Property Fund announced last week that the Ukrainian Aluminum company has acquired a 30 percent stake in the Mykolayiv Alumina Plant for a bid of 547.2 million hryvni ($100 million), The Mykolayiv plant is widely believed to be one of the most lucrative companies up for privatization in Ukraine. It is one of Europe's largest non-ferrous metallurgy factories with an annual production of about 1 million tons of alumina, the main component in the production of aluminum. Last year there was a heated struggle over the plant's management (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 20 July 1999).

The other two bidders, Russia's Siberian Aluminum and Ukraine's National Aluminum Corporation, offered 273.6 million hryvni and 164.1 million hryvni, respectively. Earlier this month, the property fund barred a key Russian aluminum producer, the Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Plant, from taking part in the tender. The government's starting price for the package was 115 million hryvni. Those making bids had to pledge to increase Mykolaiv's output to 1.3 million tons a year and build an aluminum plant in Ukraine that would use at least 200,000 tons of Mykolaiv alumina annually. Construction of that plant was to begin in 2002.

Ukrainian Aluminum was registered on 11 March 1999 in Kyiv. It was founded by a number of resident and non-resident legal entities and is headed by Mykhaylo Serbin. Seventy-five percent of the company's charter capital is foreign. UkrSibBank is one of the main founders of Ukrainian Aluminum, whose spokesman, Oleh Panyuta, said the company maintains relations with Russia's Siberian Aluminum. Ukrainian Aluminum cooperates with a group of domestic enterprises that are participating in the Sea Launch program, including the rocketmaker Pivdenmash.

"To our deep regret, we have to admit that the great power [ed.: the United States], which declares high principles of objectivity, is behaving toward Belarus like a robot programmed once and for all. Relying on overtly biased information sent from the Minsk office (ed.: which one is not specified) to Washington, leading officials of the [U.S.] administration have built a triangle: the Belarusian political opposition--the U.S. embassy in Minsk--the State Department. Neither Ms. Madeleine Albright nor other administration officials overstep the boundaries of this triangle." -- From an editorial in the 23 March "Sovetskaya Belorussiya."

"I should warn all of you--coaches, sportspeople, all the sports community...and our officials--that following the Olympic Games [in Sydney], if they turn out to be unsuccessful for some, you will have to pack your bags swiftly and look for other jobs. I'm not going to tolerate such a situation any longer. I am saying this as the head of the state and leader of the National Olympic Committee.... I underscore once again: You will be held particularly responsible for the results of the Belarusian sport at the Olympics, starting with the prime minister and deputy prime ministers and ending with the most insignificant officials." -- Alyaksandr Lukashenka, quoted by Belarusian Television on 25 March.