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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: June 6, 2000

6 June 2000, Volume 2, Number 21
ANTI-COMMUNIST LEADER REBURIED WITH HONORS. Thousands of people, including leading politicians, attended the reburial of Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, prime minister of Poland's government-in-exile, in Poznan on 5 June.

Mikolajczyk was persuaded by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to join Poland's post-war cabinet as a political counterweight to the Soviet-backed communist takeover in that country. Mikolajczyk became Poland's deputy premier and agriculture minister in 1945. His Polish Peasant Party gained widespread public support, but the communist regime arrested its activists, intimidated voters, rigged elections, and accused him of being a British spy. In fear of his life, Mikolajczyk fled to Britain aboard a British cargo ship in October 1947 and spent the next two decades involved in anti-Communist activities abroad. He died in 1966. Many Polish emigres, however, never forgave him for joining a communist-led government.

"One can always do something for one's country even in the most dire of circumstances.... A compromise undertaken from noble motives is not capitulation," Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek said in a memorial ceremony in Warsaw the day before Mikolajczyk's reburial.

"Today's ceremonies close a bitter chapter in our history. A chapter of sending into exile a statesman whose fate was a price he paid for an attempt to reach an agreement," parliamentary speaker Maciej Plazynski said during the reburial ceremony.

A resolution to bring Mikolajczyk's remains to Poland was passed by the Sejm in 1995. Mikolajczyk was reburied in Poznan alongside his wife, Cecylia, who died in 1951.

GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE DROUGHT RELIEF. Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek on 2 June appointed a government commission to work out a drought-relief program. Miroslaw Kozlakiewicz, a deputy of the head of the prime ministerial chancellery, is likely to head the commission, PAP reported.

Many regions in eastern and central Poland were hit by severe drought and frost in April and May, which have destroyed or damaged crops as well as orchards of fruit trees. The governors of the Warmia i Mazury and Podlasie Provinces have declared a state of emergency in the agricultural sectors of their regions and appealed to the central government for help.

PAP suggested that the government may propose tax write-offs for farmers whose land has been affected by ground frost and drought. According to the news agency, local government authorities are likely to accept such a solution but also expect that the central government will compensate them for lost tax revenues.

"Gazeta Wyborcza" on 2 June predicted that this spring's natural calamities in the agricultural sector will trigger a hike in the prices of cereals. The daily also warned that inflation may grow later in the year.

DID LUKASHENKA INSTRUCT COURT TO BE SOFTER ON CHYHIR? Addressing participants in the government-sponsored "sociopolitical dialogue" in Minsk on 30 May, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka provided an interesting detail about the way the Belarusian judiciary operates. The forum, which is boycotted by the opposition, was attended by Hans Georg Wieck, head of the OSCE Consultative and Monitoring Group in Minsk. Touching on the recent verdict on former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir, Lukashenka turned to Wieck and said as follows: "Following your advice or, if you please, your pressure, even though I did not welcome it, the court has forgiven your defendant [Chyhir] a lot." Lukashenka added that had it not been for the OSCE's intervention, Chyhir would have had "to keep treading no less than five years, first in an [investigation] cell and then somewhere in prison," according to Belapan.

The Minsk City Court on 19 May sentenced Chyhir to a three-year prison term suspended for two years in a trial that is widely regarded as Lukashenka's retaliation for Chyhir's participation as a candidate in the opposition-organized presidential ballot in 1999. The court also ordered Chyhir to pay $220,000 in damages to the State Customs Service and prohibited him from holding administrative positions for five years. Chyhir was arrested by the end of March 1999 and spent eight months in jail under investigation.

It seems that Chyhir's court odyssey has not yet ended. On the one hand, he appealed the verdict before the Supreme Court. On the other, the prosecution also filed an appeal. Prosecutor Viktar Zhynhel told Belarusian Television on 31 May that Chyhir was given "a lenient sentence" and "unjustifiably acquitted of a number of charges."

Chyhir commented to RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 1 June:

"What has Prosecutor Zhynhel to do [with my case]?! Everything is decided at a higher level. I'm sure that Prosecutor Zhynhel did not even write his speech on his own. That could be seen in the courtroom. When a new question appeared, a recess was announced, and Zhynhel ran to call someone to coordinate his further steps."

TWO INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS GET TWO WARNINGS EACH. Last week two independent newspapers, the Russian-language "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" and the bilingual "Narodnaya volya," received two warnings each from the State Press Committee. Two such warnings give the authorities grounds to seek a legal ban on the publications. Taking into account that another independent newspaper, the Belarusian-language "Nasha niva," was earlier given two warnings (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 16 and 23 May 2000), "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" on 31 May concluded that the authorities have begun preparations for this fall's parliamentary elections by muzzling the independent press.

"Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" was twice warned against "stirring up ethnic intolerance or discord." The committee detected the first offense in two articles published in February. Those articles, according to the newspaper, discussed how Poland and Israel have worked "toward the truth about Auschwitz." The committee's justification for the warning, as quoted by the newspaper, is of a particular interest:

"To present the discussion between representatives of the Polish and Israeli communities regarding the reception of the Auschwitz tragedy, the newspaper used quotes from well-known or unknown persons, which allegedly characterize the relations between the Polish and Israeli nations. As a result of this used technique, the opinions of individuals that stir up ethnic intolerance are identified with the general attitude of one nation toward the other."

The second warning refers to a reader's letter published by "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" in March. According to the committee, the letter "insults the ethnic dignity of those Republic of Belarus citizens who are of Russian origin." To support the argument, the committee quoted from the letter: "We should realize a simple truth: the Russian Federation citizens [in Russian: rossiyane] are not a nation; owing to a number of reasons they have not completed their formation and do not have stable national traditions, except, of course, great-power chauvinism and the aspiration for easy money."

"Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" responded:

"Not touching upon the meaning of this statement (particularly since it was impudently torn out of context), we will simply ascertain the obvious: only a blind person may fail to see that we have here in black and white: ROSSIYANE [Russian Federation citizens]. Russian Federation citizens, not Russians [in Russian: russkie]. So, we ask: Where does the State Press Committee see an insult to the ethnic dignity of those Republic of Belarus citizens who are of Russian origin?! And why has the committee failed to see an insult, for example, to the Tatars?"

"Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" said it will sue State Press Committee Mikhail Padhayny, who signed the warnings, for his "absurd charges" against the newspaper.

COMPOSER'S DEATH IN LVIV INCITES ANTI-RUSSIAN SENTIMENT. Ukraine's well-known composer Ihor Bilozir died at the age of 45 on 28 May as a result of the fatal injury he sustained earlier the same month, after which he fell into coma. Bilozir was injured by Russian-speaking attackers who did not like his singing Ukrainian songs with friends in a cafe.

Following Bilozir's death, Lviv has been swept by a wave of anti-Russian sentiment. Public opinion in the city believes that Bilozir was attacked and died because of the intolerance of Ukraine's Russians toward all things Ukrainian, including Ukraine's independence and indigenous cultural heritage. The atmosphere in the city became even more tense after it became known that one of the arrested attackers was the son of a top police officer in Lviv. The other assailant, who was released on bail, has disappeared, and his whereabouts are unknown to the police.

Bilozir's death has been met with anger and dismay in the west Ukrainian city. On 28 May a group of radicals demolished a Lviv cafe in which Russian songs were being sung. Lviv Mayor Vasyl Kuybida, who arrived at the cafe 15 minutes after the incident, commented: "Some people have been carried away by [their] emotions." But he assured the population that the city authorities keep the situation in the city in check.

The Social-National Party of Ukraine, an ultranationalist group, held a rally in the center of Lviv on 29 May to remember Ihor Bilozir. Interfax reported that there were no incidents, although some participants shouted "Blood for blood" and proposed to exact revenge for Bilozir's death.

Some 3,000 angry young radicals marched through Lviv on 30 May, shouting "Down with the Russians!" The protesters demanded that the authorities "de-Russify Ukraine" and sack all Russian-speaking servicemen from the city police force. Hundreds of them later vandalized the "Tsarska kava" cafe, in which a group of Russian speakers had been involved in the brawl with Bilozir and his friends over which songs--Ukrainian or Russian--should be sung there.

Later on 30 May, tens of thousands of Lviv residents participated in Bilozir's funeral. The ceremony was well-organized and passed without incident.

THE DEVIL'S IN THE NUMBERS. Some 100 Orthodox Church believers held a picket in front of the parliamentary building on 30 May, protesting the introduction of personal identification numbers, Interfax reported. The protesters held placards reading: "Abolish the tax identification codes--the 666 cards!"; "The Cabinet of Ministers' resolution debases the dignity and religious feelings of Orthodox Church Christians in Ukraine!"; "The compulsory introduction of the identification code is the preparation of the Antichrist's seal"; and "The Orthodox people of Ukraine are against the Roman Pope's visit." A Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) priest celebrated a special mass outside the walls of the parliament.

With its 31 May 1995 resolution, the Council of Ministers introduced personal identification codes for Ukrainians--to improve tax collection in the country. The resolution sparked repeated protests by Orthodox Church believers who feared that as a result of its introduction, the devil increased his sway over mankind. On the other hand, however, a citizen without an identification number could not open a bank account or make various payments.

On 16 July 1999, the parliament passed a bill allowing payments to be made without an identification code by those who refuse to accept that code on religious grounds. Such citizens are required to have special stamp in their passports. Moreover, the National Bank resolved last month to allow citizens without identification numbers to open bank accounts.

The State Tax Administration reported that by the end of May some 52,000 citizens formally requested to be freed of identification numbers. Under the May 1995 resolution, personal identification numbers were allocated to 40.3 million Ukrainian taxpayers.

"And where was President [Leonid Kuchma] looking while such enormous thefts were committed under his very nose, while he, knowing about them, recommended Pavlo Lazarenko as [government] leader, awarded him medals, and dismissed him on health reasons?" -- Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, commenting on the recent U.S. charges of money-laundering against Lazarenko, who headed Ukraine's cabinet under Kuchma in 1996-1997. Quoted by Interfax.