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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: June 13, 2000

13 June 2000, Volume 2, Number 22
COMMUNIST SECRET FILES TO BE OPENED WITH CAUTION. The parliament on 8 June appointed independent senator Leon Kieres as head of the National Remembrance Institute, which will make Communist-era secret police (Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa) files available to those persecuted by the communist regime. The institute was set up by a parliamentary bill passed in September 1998, approved once again in January 1999 following a presidential veto, and amended in March 1999. However, the institute's further activity was blocked by political wrangling over who would head it. Three former candidates failed to win a three-fifths majority that was required for appointment.

Kieres was approved by 279 votes from the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), the Freedom Union (UW), and the Peasant Party. The post-communist Democratic Left Alliance abstained from voting. "I am pleased, above all, that I received support, or at least no opposition, from the Democratic Left Alliance. This is probably a good sign for myself and for the institute," Kieres commented after the vote.

Kieres said he will not be hasty in providing access to secret files. "We will be cautious, and providing access to the files will not take place quickly. I would sooner be liable to accusations of slowing down this process than bring about irreversible damage and harm through fast but chaotic activities. This would discredit not only me but also the entire institute," he noted.

Kieres stressed that one of his key and immediate tasks will be to organize the work of the institute's 10 branch and subsidiary offices, to revive the activities of the Main Commission for the Examination of [Nazi and Stalinist] Atrocities Committed Against the Polish Nation (a body subordinated to the institute), and to collect secret files that are now dispersed among several institutions.

The law on access to secret files stipulates that the institute may show personal files only to those "wronged" by the communist regime. Kieres admitted that there are problems in interpreting precisely who was wronged by the communist-era secret services. According to the broadest interpretation, which is supported by him, a "wronged person" is deemed to be every person who was under the surveillance of the special services of the Polish People's Republic.

Kieres says he is affiliated with the Solidarity trade union rather than with some of political forces that evolved from the Solidarity movement. "I have never come to terms with the fact that the camp of the former Solidarity has divided. I have been a member of the Independent Self-governing Trade Union Solidarity without a break since 1980. I feel comfortable in both the AWS and the UW. Since they are in one coalition, I see no hindrances to being the most coalition-oriented politician in all of Poland," PAP quoted Kieres as saying in one of the interviews that he gave before the AWS-UW coalition disintegrated.

Kieres said he will not be the first person to look into his personal file. He added that he will do this only after "everyone has an equal chance of access to his or her own materials." "I myself do not know what I will find in my file. In 1983 I was told that it contains information that would be unpleasant for me, as regards the persons who put [that information] there. In any case, I do not know whether it is really my file, as I have not been shown the documents," Kieres noted.

WILL LUKASHENKA OUTPLAY OPPOSITION ONCE AGAIN? On 24 November 1996, a constitutional referendum initiated by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka took place in Belarus. Lukashenka submitted to popular vote a radically rewritten constitution broadly expanding his powers at the expense of those of the legislative branch. The new basic law abolished the country's former parliament--the 260-seat Supreme Soviet--and introduced a bicameral legislature consisting of a 110-seat Chamber of Representatives (the lower house) and a 64-seat Council of the Republic (the upper house). The new legislature has been deprived not only of the possibility to effectively act as a check on the government but also of the right to draw up its own budget.

The 1996 plebiscite took place amid egregious violations of constitutional norms and procedures, and its results are widely believed to have been rigged. Before that vote, the opposition in the Supreme Soviet had initiated the procedure for impeaching Lukashenka and his days in office appeared to be counted. What saved him at the very last moment was a "conciliatory mission" undertaken by Moscow. A group of top officials led by then Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin arrived in Minsk and persuaded the opposition not to impeach Lukashenka in exchange for the Belarusian president's pledge that the referendum would be of a consultative nature only. The opposition and Lukashenka struck a deal to that effect, but following the referendum--which overwhelmingly endorsed the new constitution--Lukashenka enforced its results by decree.

The new constitution prolonged Lukashenka's term in office for two another years, until 2001. Since the 1996 referendum, Lukashenka has consolidated his power and turned Belarus, as the U.S. Congress's 3 May resolution put it, into "an authoritarian police state where human rights are routinely violated." With the political and economic support of Moscow, he has until recently appeared not to pay attention to Western criticism. But while he has managed to marginalize the opposition at home, he has failed to undermine the oppositionists' standing abroad.

This fall, Belarus will hold elections to the Chamber of Representatives, a body that in the past four years has turned the idea of Belarusian parliamentarism into a caricature. Since last fall, the Belarusian opposition has been trying--with the help of the OSCE and other European organizations--to organize a dialogue with the authorities in order to hold fair, democratic parliamentary elections and overcome the country's international isolation. The OSCE says it will recognize the Belarusian ballot only if the authorities amend the country's electoral code, give the opposition access to the state-controlled media, expand the powers of the current legislature, and stop political persecution.

Following Vladimir Putin's election as Russian president, Lukashenka's political position has dramatically weakened. As long as the politically and physically feeble Boris Yeltsin remained in power, Lukashenka could harbor hopes to continue to push his integration policies ahead and eventually succeed Yeltsin as head of a Belarusian-Russian unified state. With Putin's installation in the Kremlin, however, such a turn of events seems unlikely. Now the most pressing issue confronting Lukashenka appears to be how to keep power in Minsk and avoid the incorporation of Belarus into the Russian Federation as its 90th subject.

Thus, holding free and fair elections in Belarus could give Lukashenka the democratic mandate that he so obviously lacks, as well as improve his political position both at home and abroad. It is likely that these considerations have forced Lukashenka to launch a so-called "sociopolitical dialogue" in Belarus. Two months ago, the authorities brought together some 100 public associations and organizations in a bid to present the gathering to the OSCE as a forum for discussing the upcoming elections. The Belarusian opposition, however, refused to participate in that forum, saying it lacks the leverage to change Belarus's legislation and is only Lukashenka's attempt at outplaying the opposition (and the international community) once again.

So far, the OSCE Minsk mission appears to have stuck to the position that was defined by the OSCE Istanbul summit in November 1999: The constitutional crisis in Belarus may be overcome only by a "significant dialogue" that will lead to free, democratic elections. The current "sociopolitical dialogue" in no way corresponds to that definition, even though Lukashenka has promised to take the legislative initiative and submit some amendments to the electoral code to the Chamber of Representatives. At the same time, he appears willing neither to discuss the expansion of powers of the current legislature nor to give the opposition access to the media he controls. As a result, his declared intention to hold transparent and democratic elections sounds like an empty promise.

By August at the latest, the OSCE is expected to make a decision on whether to send observers to Belarus's elections this fall. Sending observers to elections does not automatically mean that the OSCE recognizes the ballot to be democratic. But such a step usually indicates that there are prerequisites for holding democratic elections. In Belarus, no such prerequisites have been in evidence. Nor is there any real chance that in the next two months Lukashenka will make some radical steps to comply with the OSCE demands. As a result, it would seem that the OSCE decision on whether to send its observers to Belarus is a foregone conclusion. However, given Lukashenka's talent for political maneuvering, it cannot be ruled out that he will outplay the opposition once again--this time with the OSCE performing a "conciliatory mission" in Belarus.

RISKING ONE'S LIFE FOR SPUDS? Ukrainian law enforcers on 3 June detained two Belarusian customs officers who had crossed the Ukrainian border into Volyn Oblast in hot pursuit of smugglers, Interfax reported on 6 June. A group of Ukrainian border guards, policemen, and security service officers--responding to reports from villagers about gunfire near the border--discovered two armed Belarusian customs officers guarding a trailer full of potatoes some 1.5 kilometers from the border on Ukrainian territory. According to the Belarusians, they had tried to halt a KamAZ truck with a trailer at the border post, but after the vehicle had refused to stop, they opened fire and followed it in a jeep. The smugglers unhitched their truck from the trailer and escaped, while the customs officers decided to confiscate the spoil rather than continue the chase.

RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 8 June that a similar incident occurred on 28 May, when Belarusian border guards opened fire on a car that did not halt at the border and penetrated 3 kilometers into Ukrainian territory. The guards managed to capture the driver, who is now facing criminal proceedings in Belarus. The Belarusian side denies that the guards deliberately trespassed on Ukrainian soil, saying that the incident happened at a place where the border was not marked.

MOSCOW CONCERNED OVER 'ANTI-RUSSIAN ESCAPADES.' Quoting diplomatic sources, Interfax reported on 7 June that Russia's Foreign Ministry has sent a note to the Ukrainian embassy in Moscow expressing concern over "the continued anti-Russian escapades of radical right-wing forces in Ukraine." In particular, the ministry noted that radical nationalists in Lviv "organize rallies under the wild slogans 'Death for death!' and 'Beat the Muscovites!'" It also accused Western Ukraine's press of "playing into the nationalists' hands."

According to Interfax's sources, "the Lviv authorities actually manifest solidarity with the radical nationalists and are conducting a full-scale attack on the Russian language and culture." To support this statement, the informants pointed to the closure of the Russian-language station Our Radio in Western Ukraine.

A wave of anti-Russian sentiment has swept Lviv in particular and Western Ukraine in general since the death of well-known composer Ihor Bilozir on 28 May. Bilozir died as a result of the fatal injury he sustained in an attack by a group of Russian speakers who did not like his singing Ukrainian songs in a cafe (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 6 June 2000).

Yevhen Stasyuk, head of the Humanitarian and Social Policy Department and the Ukrainian Language Commission in the Lviv City Executive Committee, told Interfax on 8 June that "the Russian minority has no reason to complain about some restrictions" in the city. "It is another matter that the recent events are being used by different political forces in their own way," Stasyuk added.

Stasyuk said his commission has found that Lviv restaurants and cafes often play a "disproportionate" amount of Russian and "primarily low-quality" music. To improve the situation, Stasyuk has initiated monthly briefings for cafe owners.

Stasyuk also said the Lviv City Council will soon discuss a draft resolution on "audioecology" in the city. The document was submitted by councilor Orest Drul, who is also chief editor of the "Postup" newspaper. Drul proposes "to introduce a moratorium on the broadcasting and performance of Russian songs on Lviv's streets and squares." According to Drul, Lviv, a city with great historical and cultural heritage, "is losing its Ukrainian face." Drul maintains that "the vigorous [Russian] minority does not understand [the city's heritage] and brings Lviv down to the level of other Ukrainian and Russian cities."

"The question about the date of accession to the EU is the most frequent and, alas, the stupidest one among those posed by you [in Poland]. We have already answered it a thousand times: As soon as you're ready, you'll join the EU. Better concentrate on what can be improved in Poland, since there are a lot of such things." -- An unidentified German diplomat quoted by the 3 June "Polityka."

"Life is difficult in our parts. It is particularly difficult when your husband drinks. And all of them drink." -- A 26-year old peasant woman from Ukraine, currently in Poland, where she works illegally as a babysitter and cleaner. Quoted by the 3 June "Polityka."

"What struck me most was how precisely parallel are the means being utilized by the Castro and Lukashenka regimes to control their own people. Apart from the names of the victims, the descriptions of human rights violations in each country are often almost identical. Likewise, the rhetoric of President Lukashenka, accusing NATO and the United States of harboring intentions to invade Belarus, reflects a vintage theme of Fidel Castro." -- Newly nominated Ambassador to Belarus Michael Kozak during his confirmation hearing in the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Prior to his nomination, Kozak served as U.S. ambassador to Cuba. Quoted by RFE/RL on 6 June.

"Polls show that Belarusian society is split. One in four supports Lukashenka and the values defended by him. One in four supports reform and democracy. And two in four wait to see who will gain the upper hand." -- Yury Khadyka, deputy chairman of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front, in the 7 June "Narodnaya volya."

"I have not lived what you have lived.... I cannot tell you how to build your future.... But I believe Ukraine has the best opportunity in a thousand years to achieve both freedom and prosperity.... America will stand by you as you fight for a free and prosperous future." -- U.S. President Bill Clinton to some 50,000 Ukrainians in Kyiv on 5 June. Quoted by Reuters.

"U.S. President [Bill Clinton] has been recorded in history as a bloody sadist, a man with a smile on his face, a saxophone and a bomb in his hands." -- A placard held by a leftist picketer protesting Clinton's visit to Kyiv on 5 June. Quoted by Interfax.

"Lazarenko has big money. If he did not have it, he would have been back in Ukraine long ago. Who in America needs a man without money? Lazarenko will work for the U.S. economy until all of his funds run out." -- Leonid Kuchma on the prospects of former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko and the money he allegedly embezzled returning to Ukraine. Quoted by Interfax on 6 June.