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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: April 25, 2000

25 April 2000, Volume 2, Number 16
WALESA REVEALS COMMUNIST SECRET POLICE FILES. Ex-president Lech Walesa on 18 April sent to the Polish media copies of the communist-era Security Service's analysis prepared in 1982 on his activities in 1978-81. The document contains only information that is favorable to Walesa, who had the code name "Bolek" in the Security Service's files. According to historian Andrzej Paczkowski, the analysis does not introduce any new facts to what researchers already know about Walesa's life.

Walesa refused to say from where he had obtained the document he revealed to the media. He added that the document is not confidential and he has not disclosed any state secret. "There is nothing about the state in the document, it shows how I was persecuted and what I did. If our authorities do not clarify [my case], if the prosecutor's office does not touch it, why should I remain wrongly accused? I have suffered humiliation for 10 years--I have enough of that game," PAP quoted Walesa as saying. Walesa referred to the accusation voiced in 1992 by then Interior Minister Andrzej Milczanowski, who suggested that the Solidarity leader was an agent--bearing the code name "Bolek"--of the communist secret police.

Walesa denied that the release of the document is linked with his possible presidential bid. He said he has repeatedly appealed to the justice minister "to deal with his case seriously," but received no answer. Therefore, Walesa said, he decided to address the media.

Konstanty Miodowicz, former head of the State Protection Office (UOP, Poland's current security service) and a member of the parliamentary commission for special services, told PAP that "there are also other materials at the disposal of the competent state agencies, ones that fill out the picture of Lech Walesa sketched out by the communist security service," but he did not elaborate.

"That is a lie," said Piotr Naimski, former head of the UOP and a current adviser to the prime minister. He was reacting to the PAP suggestion that Walesa was only a person investigated by the communist security service and not himself an agent. Naimski did not elaborate either.

Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, a former interior minister, suspects that the document passed to the media by Walesa has not been declassified. He also noted that if Walesa wants to clear his name of the suspicion that he was a communist secret service agent, he should address the Lustration Court.

VICTIMS OF SOVIET REPRESSION COUNTED. During three years of research, a commission of experts from the Karta center in Warsaw has verified 566,000 cases of Poles subjected to repression by the Soviet authorities from 1939-45. The figure, which was made public at a 17 April news conference attended by Justice Minister Hanna Suchocka, is several times less than many Polish historians expected. Historians estimated that the number of Poles who fell victims to Soviet repression would amount to 1.5 million. Professor Andrzej Paczkowski, a member of the commission, said it took into account only indisputable evidence, leaving aside cases which could not be fully documented. "We assume that the scale of repression was much greater, but it will probably never be precisely established," PAP quoted him as saying.

OPPOSITION LEADER URGES PARTICIPATION IN ELECTIONS. As the term of this fall's parliamentary elections in Belarus draws nearer, Belarusian opposition politicians begin to be confronted more and more acutely with the question what to do about this ballot. One option is to continue what they have done so far, that is, to issue pathetic appeals to the international community over human right violations in the country and register further dirty tricks of the Lukashenka regime, while not engaging in the election campaign that promises to be unfair on the part of the authorities from the very start. But there is also a different opinion, asserting that it is already time for the Belarusian opposition to quit its "virtual politics" and enter real life within the stiff framework defined by the 1996 controversial constitution and the overtly undemocratic electoral code that was adopted this year by Lukashenka's subservient legislature--the Chamber of Representatives, which is not recognized by any country in Europe except Russia.

A congress of the United Civic Party on 15 April, which elected Anatol Lyabedzka as new party leader to replace former National Bank Chairman Stanislau Bahdankevich, devoted a lot of time to discussing the party's stance on the upcoming parliamentary elections. An official party decision on the issue was postponed, but Bahdankevich's appeal to take part in the elections has found many supporters, according to Belapan.

Bahdankevich argued that the opposition, "which works today primarily on the streets or in prison cells, should take advantage of every chance in order to enter the [real] politics [and] authority bodies, to capture bases on the enemy territory, to prepare for the struggle for the post of president," Interfax reported. "The recognition or non-recognition of the Belarusian regime by the civilized world is certainly important, but it does not influence the life of our citizens in any essential way," he noted.

"A boycott of the elections by the population is simply unrealistic and impossible," Bahdankevich said, adding that polls testify that Belarusians regard elections as the main lever for exerting influence on the authorities. "The United Civic Party should participate even in partly free elections, even with minimum access to the state media, providing that those elections are not transformed into a farce, into deception of our compatriots."

Simultaneously, Bahdankevich appealed to boycott any efforts to create an "anti-constitutional" legislature of the Belarus-Russian Union. There have been suggestions by some pro-Lukashenka politicians in Belarus that elections to a Belarusian-Russian Union legislature could be held on the same day as Belarus's parliamentary elections.

POLISH PRIEST DEFIES ORDER TO LEAVE COUNTRY. Father Zbigniew Karolak, a Roman Catholic priest from the Church of the Elevation of the Holy Cross in Brest (southwestern Belarus), was ordered by the local authorities to leave Belarus by 15 April, but he has not complied with the decision. The authorities maintain that Father Karolak--who is in Belarus on a tourist document--has not obtained official permission for residence and for conducting religious services in Belarus.

A group of parishioners have been on a permanent watch inside the church since the 14 April night in order to defend their priest from some "unexpected measures" on the part of the authorities, Belapan reported on 18 April. On 18 April, a group of parishioners staged an eight-hour picket in front of the Brest Oblast Executive Committee building, demanding that the authorities leave Father Karolak in Brest and allow him to conduct services. The picketers wanted to speak with Executive Committee Chairman Vasil Dalhalyou--who was recently dismissed from the post of a deputy prime minister in Minsk and appointed to Brest--but a group of policemen did not allow them into the building. According to Belapan, a minor official of the oblast authorities promised the protesters at the end of the working day that the authorities "will not touch Karolak for the next two weeks." On the next day, however, four of the protesters received administrative warnings for staging an unauthorized rally.

COURTING STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP IN KYIV. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma scored several impressive political victories in the past two weeks. The major one was of course the overwhelming approval of all four questions in the 16 April constitutional referendum, which is widely expected to give him considerable additional levers of control over the parliament as soon as the will of the people is reflected in appropriate constitutional amendments. However, the two high-level visits to Kyiv shortly before and after the referendum--one by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on 14 April and another of Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin on 18 April--turned out to be no lesser successes for the Ukrainian leader that the plebiscite.

Albright moved up her trip to Kyiv, which had been originally planned for 20-21 April, thus giving rise to much speculation in Ukrainian and Russian media that she wanted to be in Kyiv before Putin in order to prevent Kuchma from making too many concessions to the Kremlin's energetic ruler. In particular, those media suggested that Albright would persuade Kuchma to stop paying the Russian gas debt with strategic bombers and cruise missiles. Also, Albright reportedly informed Kuchma about Washington's concern that he continue the course of reform and keep reformist Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko in office as long as possible. In exchange for Kuchma's agreement, Albright reportedly pledged U.S. massive political and financial support to Kyiv.

Albright did not spare praise for Kuchma and his renewed pledges to put Ukraine on a reform path. "I was very impressed by President Kuchma's dedication to this [reform] process and his desire to move the reform process forward, and by the work the prime minister is undertaking," she told journalists. Ukraine is expected to receive $219 million in U.S. aid this year. Albright also said she was "heartened" when Kuchma reaffirmed his intention to close the Chornobyl nuclear power plant this year. And she expressed support for the constitutional referendum, which is, however, regarded by the Council of Europe as dangerous to Ukraine's fledgling democracy.

There was no mention, at least in official pronouncements, of what is believed to be a thorn in U.S.-Ukrainian relations--namely, Ukraine's pervasive corruption that hinders both the Ukrainian government and U.S. investors in promoting market reforms and generating economic growth in the country. Ukraine's National Bank has recently been checked by international auditors in connection with the charges of misusing IMF loans. Some commentators concluded that the audit, whose results are purportedly known to Washington, is not expected to do much damage to Kyiv.

On the other hand, Putin's visit promised a lot of unpleasant moments for Kuchma. In contrast to lumpish and cordial Yeltsin, who was guided primarily by Moscow's Soviet-era patronage in "no neckties" contacts with his "younger brother" from Kyiv, Putin is believed to be a cold pragmatist. Ukraine's gigantic gas debt to Russia was to be the main topic of the Kuchma-Putin talks in Kyiv. Some Russian and Ukrainian left-wing politicians expected that Putin would use economic leverage to persuade Kuchma into making some steps toward to the "Slavic" union of Russian and Belarus.

However, Putin's visit turned out to be a reconnoitering rather than an attack. Officially it was said that both leaders discussed a variety of important bilateral issues, but no decision was taken and no document was signed. Putin's sharpest pronouncement with regard to Kyiv was at a news conference in Sevastopol, when he noted that Russia and Ukraine "should quit barter in mutual settlements and increase payments in cash to one another." To which Kuchma duly responded that "tomorrow or the day after tomorrow" he will see to this problem. Some Russian media speculated that Putin reiterated to Kuchma Russia's former demands that Ukraine pay its gas debt with shares in privatized companies. But other suggested that this plan has already been dropped because of Kyiv's strong objection. A special bilateral commission has to work out a mutually acceptable solution to the Ukrainian gas debt dilemma by the end of May.

In other words, one more time Kuchma has demonstrated his unshakable position of the leader of a geostrategically important country that permanently balances on the verge of economic collapse but nevertheless successfully maneuvers its political course through the conflicting interests of Washington and Moscow. Taking into account the latest outburst of popular love for and confidence in the president during Ukraine's constitutional referendum, Kuchma may be said to be one of the most successful politicians on the post-Soviet territory. Will he ever be held accountable for Ukraine's disastrous economic performance? At present such a development does not seem too likely. The first thing Kuchma did after the visits of Albright and Putin was to harshly criticize Viktor Yushchenko's government for a slow reform pace.

"I express deep sorrow because of the tragedy which is a subject of today's court proceedings.... For years I have carried this tragedy with me like a thorn.... I obtained the news about the death of [nine] miners in the 'Wujek' mine on 16 December [1981]. It was a shocking piece of news. First, because people died, second, because they were miners, who then were the vanguard of the working class, worthy of particular respect owing to their hard work. Third, it was a blow to the idea of martial law, which aimed at preventing a great tragedy in Poland, a catastrophe and, in particular, bloodshed.... At present, I am convinced even more than then that the decision on [introducing] martial law was necessary, because it saved Poland from a multidimensional catastrophe.... [The decision] saved [Poland] but at the same time crippled her. It was a lesser evil, but an evil remains an evil, and I am aware of this." -- General Wojciech Jaruzelski, head of the Military Council for National Salvation in 1981-83, testifying on 19 April as a witness in a trial of communist-era riot policemen accused of killing nine miners on 16 December 1981; quoted by Polish media.