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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: April 4, 2000

4 April 2000, Volume 2, Number 13
INCUMBENT NOT EAGER TO ANNOUNCE ELECTION BID. Krzysztof Janik, secretary-general of the postcommunist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), said last week that in mid-June President Aleksander Kwasniewski will likely announce his intention to seek re-election. "The incumbent president is in a difficult situation because his election campaign must be organized so as not to make it difficult for him to perform his constitutional duties." At the same time, the SLD is expected to take an official decision on whom to support in the presidential race.The SLD will likely throw its support behind Kwasniewski, whose popularity rating remains steady at some 60 percent.

Kwasniewski told the 25 March "Polityka" that the delay in his announcing his re-election bid is caused by the fact that the parliament has not yet approved either the date of the elections or a presidential election law. He added, however, that he plans to run and sees "no political scenarios" that could prevent him from doing so. "The problem of who will run in the elections must first of all be resolved by my possible rivals.... I can regard it as an achievement of my presidency that my rivals have more troubles than I do," Kwasniewski noted.

Asked to name the main discussion topics in the upcoming presidential campaign, Kwasniewski said they will include Poland's membership in the EU, threats to Poland's democracy (the inefficiency of the judicial branch, corruption, and party cronyism in public life), growing unemployment and poverty, and the modernization of the armed forces.

PRESIDENT'S BILL ON FORCED LABOR COMPENSATION REJECTED. Lawmakers on 30 March rejected a presidential draft law on compensation to the juvenile victims of war who carried out forced labor for the benefit of the Third Reich or the USSR. The Democratic Left Alliance [SLD] has taken up the presidential draft and will submit it to the parliament once again as its own bill.

The presidential bill was rejected by a majority of just four votes. In rejecting that draft legislation, the ruling coalition of the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) and the Freedom Union (UW) argued that the total amount of compensation proposed by the president exceeded the financial capabilities of the budget. Presidential lawyer Ryszard Kalisz said after the vote that the AWS showed that it does not want a settling of accounts with the atrocities committed by the Communists and the Nazis. "This is political proof that, in the name of political games, AWS is contradicting its own program. It does not want the juvenile victims of the war, of whom no more than 100,000 are still alive today, to get anything at all," Kalisz noted.

Kalisz met with an angry rebuke from AWS deputy Stefan Niesiolowski: "What Minister Kalisz has said is a mixture of stupidity and evil. Of stupidity, evil, and cynicism. That is because Mr. Kwasniewski is starting his electoral campaign in such a way that he is being generous with the money of others, that he is smashing the integrity of the state budget, that he is putting forward a draft law that [intentionally] underestimates costs and is, above all, a draft law for which there is no financial backing, and he knows this."

According to the presidential office, the bill, if passed, would cost the budget some 120 million zlotys ($29 million) annually. The government estimated that the financial consequences of the bill could amount to as much as 7 billion zlotys a year.

AGRARIAN PARTY EMERGES AS PRO-LUKASHENKA FORCE. The Agrarian Party held a congress in Minsk on 31 March following a five-year break, Belapan reported. The congress was an attempt to revive the party after a crisis that brought it to the brink of dissolution. The previous congress was held in March 1995, shortly before parliamentary elections in which the party won 44 seats and became the largest caucus in the Supreme Soviet of the 13th convocation. The leader of the party, Syamyon Sharetski, was elected Supreme Soviet speaker. The 1996 constitutional crisis split the party into those who supported President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in his effort to disband the parliament and those who sided with the opposition. Syamyon Sharetski is now in exile in Lithuania.

The 31 March congress pledged loyalty to Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Mikhail Shymanski, chief editor of the pro-government newspaper "Narodnaya gazeta," was elected chairman of the party and promised to "cooperate constructively with the government." In his opinion, the party should defend the interests of peasants by entering all branches of government and taking an active part in this fall's parliamentary elections. Shymanski believes that the Agrarian Party may become the largest political party in Belarus.

DID DRUNKEN VETERINARIAN DESTROY KOLKHOZ? The "Lan" collective farm in Nyasvizh Raion, Minsk Oblast, is facing bankruptcy as a result of an accident caused by the kolkhoz's veterinarian, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 30 March. A year ago, the veterinarian directed his horse-drawn cart against the flow of traffic on a highway. The cart was hit by a Ford, which killed the horse, and was a total write-off. It turned out that the veterinarian was intoxicated, while the car driver was sober. Last November the raion court ordered that the veterinarian pay $6,000 in damages to the car driver. The veterinarian, however, had neither money nor property, so the court decided to enforce the payment from the "Lan" kolkhoz, where the defendant worked. The court argued that the cart belonged to the collective farm and that the accident took place on a workday, when the veterinarian was performing his official duties.

"This is an incomprehensible sum for us because we have never seen such an amount of money," head of the Lan village self-government Tamara Kasper told RFE/RL. "[It is inconceivable] to put such a burden on the shoulders of kolkhoz workers when they have not yet received their wages for January and February and have no money to buy even a bicycle."

In February, the raion court ordered the kolkhoz to pay the compensation using revenues from sales of milk. Kolkhoz manager Henadz Salavey told RFE/RL that his collective farm would have to sell 100 tons of milk to comply with the ruling. He added that the kolkhoz has no money even to hire a lawyer in order to appeal the verdict. In March, however, the Minsk Oblast prosecutor ordered a revision of the veterinarian's case and suspended the raion court's implementation.

Monthly wages at the "Lan" collective farm range from 20,000 to 30,000 Belarusian rubles ($22-$33).

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT APPROVES REFERENDUM. The Constitutional Court on 29 March announced its ruling on President Leonid Kuchma's decree ordering a nationwide constitutional referendum on 16 April. The court decided that two questions set down in the decree contravene the constitution. One of those questions deals with a vote of no confidence in the current parliament and the president's right to dissolve the parliament if such a vote is passed. The other is on adopting the country's constitution by means of a referendum. The four remaining questions, according to the court, may be included in the referendum ballot. As a result of this ruling, Ukrainians will be asked on 16 April to give the president the right to disband the parliament if it fails to form a majority within a month or adopt a budget within three months. They will also be asked to abolish lawmakers' immunity from criminal prosecution, to reduce the 450-seat parliament to 300 seats, and to introduce a bicameral legislature.

Interfax reported that with regard to the first of the disallowed questions, the court said Ukraine's constitution does not provide for "passing a vote of no confidence in an all-Ukrainian referendum," a move that could subsequently serve as the basis for suspending the powers of a state body. Regarding the second excluded question, the court ruled that seeking popular approval for adopting the country's constitution by means of a referendum without asking the people beforehand if they want to change their basic law is an action that "casts doubt on the force of the basic law and may lead to weakening the foundations of the constitutional system, [as well as] human and civic rights and liberties."

Political scientist Mykola Tomenko commented that "a political aspect dominated over a legal one" in the court's decision to reject the question about a vote of no confidence in the parliament." The decision to disallow the question about adopting the constitution by means of a referendum, according to Tomenko, was based on "legal and constitutional considerations."

Another political scientist, Volodymyr Malynkovich, told Interfax that the court's ruling is "completely incomprehensible." According to Malynkovich, if the remaining four questions are answered in the affirmative in the referendum, changes will be required to the constitution, as in the case of the two questions that were disallowed. "It is unconstitutional to amend the constitution on the basis of a referendum alone," Malynkovich argued. He added that the ruling gives rise "not only to legal but also to political problems," and he warned that the Council of Europe may seek to suspend Ukraine's membership if Kyiv holds the referendum.

Political scientist Mykhaylo Pohrebinskyy noted that, despite the court's ruling, the referendum remains a "Damocles' sword" hanging over the parliament's head, because, in his opinion, Ukrainians in the referendum will most likely give the president the right to dissolve the parliament if lawmakers fail to form a majority within a month or adopt a budget within three months. "The goal set by the president for the referendum initiators--to finalize the reform of the parliament and to put into practice the necessity of having a parliamentary majority--will be achieved if the referendum approves this question," Pohrebinskyy said.

DEUTSCHE WELLE LAUNCHES UKRAINIAN PROGRAM. Deutsche Welle Director-General Dieter Weirich has inaugurated a 15-minute daily program in Ukrainian, Interfax reported on 27 March. The program consists of three information blocks: international news, Ukrainian news, and a press review (focusing on German-Ukrainian relations). Deutsche Welle is planning to expand this daily program with a 15-minute, German-language course for Ukrainians.

According to Interfax, 10 Ukrainian radio stations have already expressed their readiness to rebroadcast the Deutsche Welle Ukrainian-language program, which goes on the air at 7:30 a.m. (Kyiv time) on shortwave. The program is also available in RealAudio format at:

"As state secretary, I am deeply convinced that our primary task at this new stage of integration is to scrupulously analyze the experience of market transformation of the economies of Belarus and Russia. Apparently, Russia should make use of the experience of Belarus, which, as is well known, follows the rules of state regulation in the national economy and of the state's direct participation in economic processes. Thanks to the rational implementation of economic reforms..., the Belarusian leadership, one must admit, has been able to preserve virtually all the national economy infrastructure and therefore every year [Belarus] achieves the highest economic indicators among post-Soviet countries." -- Pavel Borodin, state secretary of the Russian-Belarusian union state. Quoted by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 31 March.