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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: May 9, 2000

9 May 2000, Volume 2, Number 17
KRZAKLEWSKI HOPEFUL OF RIGHT-WING UNITY IN ELECTIONS. Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski, who has decided to run in this year's presidential elections, is hopeful that the ballot may unite Poland's right wing, PAP reported on 4 May. Krzaklewski said he will not seek to persuade other right-wing candidates to quit the presidential race on his behalf. Rather, he added, he will urge them to create a "joint, efficient program." He noted: "The point is that we should avoid transforming the first round of the elections into presidential primaries, because it may turn out that there will be no second round."

Meanwhile, the Conservative Peasant Union (SKL), an important component of the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), has not decided whom it will support in the presidential ballot. The SKL has formerly urged the AWS to organize primaries in order to select the most popular candidate of Poland's right wing, but the Solidarity trade union and the AWS Social Movement (two other components of the AWS) oppose the idea. The SKL organized a poll among its members that showed two-thirds of respondents would like to see parliamentary speaker Maciej Plazynski as a right-wing candidate to challenge incumbent President Aleksander Kwasniewski.

As for Kwasniewski, he has not yet declared his intention to run but was quoted as saying that he sees "no political scenarios" that could prevent him from seeking re-election. Polls show more than 60 percent backing for his presidential bid, meaning that the incumbent can easily win in the first round. On 4 May Kwasniewski commented that he has "a feeling that election forecasts, all election rankings and public opinion polls may come true," according to PAP.

POLISH-BELARUSIAN CENTER PROMOTES CIVIC INITIATIVE IN BORDERLAND. The Civic Education Center Poland-Belarus in Bialystok (see "End Note" in "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 1998) has recently completed the program of distributing "small grants" among the Belarusian minority in Podlasie Province, northeastern Poland. Eugeniusz Wappa, program director of the center, told "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" that the "small grants" program was a success. The center distributed the $25,000 that it obtained from the Ford Foundation among more than 20 grant seekers--organizations and individuals--that had submitted various projects oriented toward promoting civic, educational, cultural, and publishing activities in the region.

Belarusians inhabit the eastern strip of Podlasie Province along the border with Belarus. Major urban centers of Polish Belarusians are Bialystok (the center of the province), Hajnowka, and Bielsk Podlaski. Estimates of their number vary from 100,000 to 250,000, but these figures are based on estimates of the number of Orthodox Church believers in the region rather than on their ethnic identity (Polish Belarusians are almost exclusively of the Orthodox faith). The region is primarily agricultural and poor, even according to Polish standards. A potential political, economic, and ethnic conflict in the region may ensue because of the recent decision of the central government to enlarge the Bialowieza National Park to include the whole area of the Bialowieza Forest. Residents of some 10 local communes, primarily Belarusians, who are mostly dependent on businesses exploiting that forest's resources, fear the enlargement of the park will strip them of their livelihood. When Environmental Minister Antoni Tokarczuk visited the region in March, he was pelted with eggs by people holding posters in both Polish and Belarusian protesting the park's enlargement.

The ideas sponsored by the center included several educational projects oriented toward promoting national awareness of young Belarusians in the province's schools as well as in one kindergarten, where children are taught the Belarusian language. The center also supported a project to launch a bilingual, Belarusian-Polish monthly in the Hajnowka district (the first issue has already appeared). Two projects will also involve Belarusians across the border. The center gave money to support the annual Belarusian song festival "Autumn of Bards" in Bielsk Podlaski, which features performers from Poland and the Republic of Belarus. And the center subsidized the distribution of the local Belarusian-language weekly "Niva" among readers in Belarus. Readers in Belarus are too poor to pay subscriptions, and "Niva," which itself is subsidized by the Polish government, has no funds to meet the costs of mailing to Belarus.

"We regret that there were only a few projects presented jointly by Belarusians and Poles. This shows that interethnic relations in the region are not very good, and that we still have a lot to do to improve them," Wappa noted. "But on the whole, I'm satisfied with the implementation of this small grants program. It showed us that we have a lot of untapped civic initiative in the region and many people who are eager to do something for their native land."

U.S. CONGRESS PASSES RESOLUTION ON BELARUS. The U.S. House of Representatives on 3 May adopted a non-binding resolution on Belarus. The resolution, proposed by Representative Sam Gejdenson (Democrat, Connecticut) last year and originally sponsored by 130 congressmen, was endorsed by the House International Relations Committee and submitted for consideration by the House on 13 April.

The resolution notes that by means of a controversial referendum in 1996 Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka illegally extended his term in office until 2001 and introduced an illegitimate rubber-stamp legislature. It says that under Lukashenka's rule, Belarus "has effectively become an authoritarian police state, where human rights are routinely violated," while the country's economic development "is stagnant and living conditions are deplorable." The document also states that the union treaty signed by Lukashenka and Russian President Boris Yeltsin on 8 December 1999 "undermines Belarus sovereignty and the prospect of democracy."

The resolution condemns "continued egregious violations" of human rights by the Lukashenka regime, including politically motivated sentences imposed on oppositionists Andrey Klimau, Vasil Lyavonau, and Uladzimir Kudzinau. It also expresses concern about the disappearance of oppositionists Viktar Hanchar, Anatol Krasouski, and Yury Zakharanka and calls on the Lukashenka regime "to ensure a full and timely investigation of these cases."

The document urges the Belarusian authorities to hold an immediate dialogue with the Consultative Council of Belarusian opposition parties and organize legitimate and fair parliamentary elections in accordance with OSCE standards. It also upholds the appeal by the Consultative Council of Belarusian opposition parties to the government of Russia, the State Duma, and the Federation Council to cease supporting Lukashenka's regime.

The document calls on the U.S. president to continue to provide funds for Belarusian opposition figures to travel to the U.S., to finance non-government organizations in Belarus, and to support information flows into Belarus. It also appeals to the U.S. president "to raise the issue of financial support provided by the Russian Federation to the Lukashenka regime at the highest levels of the Russian Federation Government" and "to urge the Government of the Russian Federation, in accordance with its international commitments, to fully respect the sovereignty of Belarus, particularly in light of the illegitimate nature of the Lukashenka regime."

Following the endorsement of the bill by the House International Relations Committee, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry commented that the document constitutes "interference in the internal affairs and relations of sovereign states," Belapan reported on 17 April. According to ministry spokesman Mikalay Barysevich, the proposed resolution contained "groundless and biased assessments" of the political situation in Belarus and ignored the ongoing "socio-political dialogue" in the country.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the draft resolution was "counterproductive" and provided "biased assessments of both the situation in Belarus and Russian-Belarusian relations," adding that the treaty of 8 December 1999 stipulates that the Russian-Belarusian union state must be based "on the free will, sovereignty, and independence of the member states and on the principle of their sovereign equality."

Before the approval of the resolution, Sam Gejdenson made the following remarks to the House of the Representatives:

"This resolution may not even be directed at Mr. Lukashenka because it is clear that he is not listening. He's not listening to his citizens, who have experienced some of the worst economic hardship in the former Soviet Union. He's not listening to the international community.... It is my hope that those who recognize the damage Lukashenka has wrought will join with the opposition to bring about change and to work out a new democratic agreement to develop a civil society. We hope that Mr. Putin and the Russian government will put pressure on Belarus to move forward to try to attain democratic institutions and a free economy. It is in Russia's interest to see its neighbor develop in a democratic way and have a stronger economy. Russian energy subsidies to the Lukashenka government will only continue to harm the Russian economy whereas a strong, independent, democratic free Belarus wold actually help the Russian economy and society."

KGB HARASSES RFE/RL CORRESPONDENT. Yahor Mayorchyk, a stringer for RFE/RL's Belarusian Service, was called in for an interview with a KGB officer in Minsk on 25 April under the pretext of updating Mayorchyk's personal file in a military registration and enlistment office, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 28 April. Mayorchyk is a student of the journalism faculty at the Belarusian State University in Minsk. When Mayorchyk arrived at the military office, he was immediately led to a separate room, where he met a man in civilian clothes who introduced himself as Sergei Ivanovich, a KGB officer. The man refused to show his identity card or give his full name and rank to Mayorchyk, but Mayorchyk told RFE/RL that the officer turned out to be "knowledgeable about my person and my life."

Mayorchyk said: "The KGB officer was very interested in security standards at Radio Liberty. He wanted to learn what I know about the activity of special services at Radio Liberty. He was very interested in the work of the RFE/RL Minsk office. He also wanted to know if journalists are briefed on how to report on some event or other.

"The KGB officer tried to present our interview as a heart-to-heart talk, but it was an attempt at recruiting me, because after I refused to answer his questions, he directly proposed collaboration with the KGB. He said the following: 'Don't you want to cooperate with us, because we see you a suitable person?' I refused but I must note that he made several attempts at recruiting me or prompting me to collaborate.

"He said the following: 'You realize what situation the Republic of Belarus is in now, [when] many people, many structures are trying to play the Belarusian card. You, as a citizen of [our] country, must help us.' During our interview the KGB man linked my work for RFE/RL's Belarusian Service with the activity of some special services he declined to identify. He equated [those two activities] with each other. After I again refused to collaborate, the KGB officer suggested that the same thing would happen to me as to Andrei Babitskii."

(RFE/RL journalist Andrei Babitskii was arrested by the Russian authorities in Chechnya for his coverage of the war there, held captive for 40 days, and is now in Moscow, facing trumped-up charges.)

KUCHMA SEES NEED FOR SINGLE ORTHODOX CHURCH. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma told journalists on Easter Sunday (30 April) that Ukraine "desperately needs" a single Orthodox Church. Answering a question as to when Ukraine's three Orthodox Churches might become one, Kuchma said: "Taking into account that the Church is not under the state, it is difficult to name the date [of unification], but we will do everything to achieve this end."

As of 1 January 1999, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) had 7,911 parishes (nearly 72 percent of all Orthodox communities in the country), 6,568 priests, 105 monasteries, and 5,806 religious facilities. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchate) had 2,178 parishes, 1,743 priests, 17 monasteries, and 1,330 religious facilities. The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church had 1,022 parishes, 542 priests, two monasteries, 641 religious facilities. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church, which is subordinated to the Vatican, had 3,198 parishes, 2,161 priests, 73 monasteries, and 2,553 religious facilities.

Kuchma--accompanied by Premier Viktor Yushchenko, parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch, and Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko--attended Easter services at three venues: a church belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate, another belonging to the Kyiv Patriarchate, and a Uniate one.

LVIV ELECTRIC TRANSPORT PARALYZED. At 4 p.m. on 4 May, the Lvivoblenerho company, which supplies electricity in the region, cut off power supplies to the Lvivelektrotrans company, which manages trams and trolleys in Lviv. As a result, the city's electricity-driven transport ground to a halt. This was the first such occurrence in the city in the last 100 years, Interfax noted.

Lvivelektrotrans owes 2.44 million hryvni ($450,000) to Lvivoblenerho for electricity. The latter's move reflects a harsher approach to those not paying for electricity supplies, as announced by Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko said that the government on 3 May resolved "to abolish all restrictions" on cutting off debtors from energy supplies. Tymoshenko added that neither hospitals, kindergartens, nor military facilities have been spared from this move. "Electricity, heat, and gas are commodities like any other, and one needs to pay for them," Interfax quoted her as saying.

According to Tymoshenko, 150-200 million hryvni is lost every month in shadow-sector electricity sales. She added that this explains the resistance to reform in the energy sector among its top officials.

"As a bishop, I also feel myself responsible for the salvation of the [post-communist] Democratic Left Alliance, and I would not like to hear on Judgement Day: 'Zycinski, you go to purgatory, because you have failed to ensure the salvation of the left wing.'" -- Polish Archbishop Jerzy Zycinski; quoted by "Wprost" on 23 April.

"We are not afraid to tell Poles that Poland should belong to them. We want Poland for Poles." -- Michal Kaminski, spokesman of the far right Christian National Union; quoted by "Wprost" on 23 April.

Asked whether he supports Poland's entry into the EU, former President Lech Walesa answered: "I do not like it privately, as Lech Walesa, but travelling around the world I see that we have no other choice, because [our entry into the EU] is induced by civilizational development." Quoted by PAP on 4 May.

"Wise people often have the stupidest ideas." -- Former President Lech Walesa on the decision of the Freedom Union, a coalition partner in Poland's Solidarity-led government, not to field a candidate in this year's presidential elections; quoted by PAP on 4 May.

"Poland and Lithuania have to play a particular role in this part of Europe, because we constitute the borderline behind which the real Eastern Europe--that is, Russia--begins." -- Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus in an interview with the 16 April "Wprost."

"Yugoslavia will always remember your President Alyaksandr Lukashenka as a statesman who flew to Belgrade at the time our country was being bombed. That was the greatest support for our leaders, army, and people." -- Yugoslav Ambassador to Belarus Nikola Pejakovic; quoted by Belapan on 28 April.