Accessibility links

Breaking News

Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: June 20, 2000

20 June 2000, Volume 2, Number 23
WALESA TO FIGHT FOR PRESIDENCY AGAIN. An 18 June meeting of the Christian Democracy of the Third Republic of Poland--a party created and headed by former President and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa--endorsed Walesa as its candidate for the presidential elections scheduled to take place on 8 October. Walesa's election slogan will be: "Black is black, white is white."

At the convention, Walesa appealed to other right-wing presidential hopefuls to conclude an agreement to support the candidate who goes on to face incumbent President Aleksander Kwasniewski in the second round. "It will not be easy to defeat a rival who uses falsehoods and social-engineering trickery, but together we can do it," Walesa said in reference to Kwasniewski.

In recent polls, only some 4 percent of respondents said they would vote for the former Solidarity leader in the presidential elections, as compared with 70 percent for Kwasniewski. Kwasniewski said the same day that he hopes to win in the first round of the presidential elections.

Walesa unveiled his election platform, which calls for improving public security by overhauling the police force and the justice system and implementing tax reform that would lead to a flat income tax rate and the elimination of corporate taxes. He said Poland needs a "New Generation Marshall Plan." Walesa's election wish-list also includes a cybercafe in each Polish village.

Solidarity--both the trade union and the parliamentary coalition under the name of the Solidarity Electoral Action--backs its current leader, Marian Krzaklewski, in the presidential race. According to polls, Krzaklewski, like Walesa, can currently count on 4 percent support among the electorate.

Walesa sought re-election in 1995 but lost to Kwasniewski in the second round, receiving 48 percent backing compared with 52 percent support for Kwasniewski.

EU-RELATED BILLS TO BE CONDENSED. Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek on 16 June presented a new procedure for preparing draft laws connected with Poland's integration with the EU, PAP reported. The new procedure is intended to speed up work on harmonizing Polish legislation with EU standards.

Buzek told reporters that the government has decided to "separate EU-related fragments from the drafts that are being prepared now" in order to combine them in one draft. In this way, the government will have two or three EU-related drafts instead of a dozen or so, he noted.

The same day, Sejm speaker Maciej Plazynski said that an extraordinary legislative commission for the harmonization of Polish law with that of the EU is expected to be appointed by mid-July. According to Plazynski, the parliamentary caucuses have provisionally expressed their consent for the creation of such a body. In Plazynski's view, the government's newly proposed procedure for submitting EU-related bills to the parliament is a good idea. He said that government drafts designated with the letter "E" would immediately go to the special commission in the Sejm.

BALCEROWICZ'S SPIRIT NOT TO DIE? Deputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister Janusz Steinhoff told PAP on 16 June that he is an advocate of restrictive financial policy, reducing the budget deficit, and supporting the development of entrepreneurship and exports. Steinhoff said he would support new Finance Minister Jaroslaw Bauc in his striving to consolidate and stabilize public finances. Steinhoff's declaration to some extent alleviates fears that the recent collapse of the Solidarity Electoral Action/Freedom Union coalition may have a negative impact on the budget discipline observed under former Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz.

Steinhoff identified the government's economic policy priorities as improving the situation in foreign trade, speeding up industry restructuring, supporting the development of entrepreneurship, and improving public finances. According to him, Poland's target of 5.2 percent growth in GDP this year is feasible.

CEMETERY OF NKVD VICTIMS OPENED IN KHARKIV. Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek and his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yushchenko, attended a 17 June ceremony opening a Polish military cemetery in Kharkiv, Ukraine. The cemetery contains the remains of some 3,800 Polish officers imprisoned after the Soviet aggression against Poland on 17 September 1939. In the spring of 1940, following a decision by the Soviet Politburo, the NKVD murdered Polish army officers and border guards who had been imprisoned in a camp at Starobelsk. The remains of some 5,000 Ukrainian victims of the Stalinist genocide are also at the cemetery in Kharkiv. "We are standing at a place which witnessed the anti-human crimes of Stalin's regime.... Let Kharkiv be a sacred place for both nations...a monument and warning for the future," Reuters quoted Yushchenko as saying.

SOME LAWMAKERS MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS? "You don't need any money. You don't. We will ensure that you have full access to the people, to whom you will be able to show yourselves and speak about your policies."

This is how Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka promised to help deputies of the 110-seat Chamber of Representatives be re-elected in this fall's parliamentary ballot (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 18 April 2000). He openly declared that he wants current deputies to be re-elected and pledged to create equal conditions for their re-election. However, not all of them seem to have believed or trusted the president's assurances.

RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 14 June that lawmaker Ivan Pashkevich, who is also an aide to presidential staff chief Mikhail Myasnikovich, has already begun his election campaign in Stolin (Brest Oblast)--where he was born and elected deputy--without even waiting for the announcement of an election schedule. Pashkevich recently presented four checks totaling $2,000 to his fellow countrymen for the construction of three village churches. In Belarus, where the monthly average wage is below $40 and the president officially earns $185 a month (see below), that sum is impressive, to say the least. Pashkevich told RFE/RL that he raised the money following requests from Stolin residents, but he declined to identify the sponsors.

An RFE/RL correspondent from Brest Oblast reported that at his own expense, Pashkevich has also recently given 1,000 Stolin residents subscriptions to the district official newspaper "Naviny Palessya." In this case, too, Pashkevich refused to say where he obtained the money for those subscriptions.

Central Electoral Commission Secretary Ivan Likhach said Pashkevich has not violated the election law by making such donations. "New elections have not been called, therefore one may do what one likes.... [Pashkevich] is currently a free citizen, not a candidate," Likhach noted.

TYMOSHENKO TAKES STAND AGAINST OLIGARCHS. Most commentators will almost certainly agree that the energy sector in Ukraine is a source of both the country's direst problems and the shadow economy's greatest fortunes. However, the state of affairs related to the supply and distribution of energy resources--electricity, natural gas, oil, and coal--is so complicated and, presumably, mired in corruption that, for the time being, neither the government nor the parliament has a clear plan on how to improve the situation in the sector and avert the threat of massive cuts in electricity, gas, and heating during the coming winter.

On 17 June, the parliament held hearings on the situation in energy sector. Those hearings resulted in a resolution requesting Viktor Yushchenko's cabinet to work out a long-term strategy for developing the energy sector. The parliament did not suggest any immediate actions or list any names of those responsible for Ukraine's chronic energy shortage. According to Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, who is in charge of reform in the energy sector, the country needs $13 billion hryvni ($2.4 billion) this year to ensure the smooth functioning of the energy sector and survive the coming winter. She assured the lawmakers that the government will manage to collect this sum as payment for electricity. Tymoshenko said the main reason for the current energy crisis in Ukraine was last year's siphoning off of some 5 billion cubic meters of Russian transit gas by Naftohaz Ukrayiny. Owing to that move, Russia has stopped gas payments for Russian supplies transiting Ukrainian territory.

On 8 June, the situation in the energy sector was discussed by Ukraine's Council of National Security and Defense. Council head Yevhen Marchuk reported to President Leonid Kuchma that Ukraine's power grid is on the verge of collapse and there is virtually no chance to avert that collapse if Tymoshenko's policies in the energy sector are continued. Stopping short of demanding Tymoshenko's dismissal, Marchuk stated that the situation in the sector cannot be improved without the president's intervention.

Kuchma's assessment of the government's performance was harsh. He said Ukraine's debt for Russian gas supplies for the first five months of this year amounted to $700 million. He noted that Ukraine has illegally siphoned off 13 billion cubic meters of Russian gas from pipelines crossing its territory, adding that Russia has the right to take Ukraine to an international court over the issue. However, he took no personnel action, leaving that decision to the premier. So far, Tymoshenko has remained in the government. But on the eve of the parliamentary hearings on the energy sector, Fuel and Energy Minister Serhiy Tulub tendered his resignation. Some commentators suggest that Tymoshenk'o ouster is a matter of time.

Tymoshenko told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on 10 June that Ukraine's main problem in the energy sector is that each year energy suppliers "leave 1 billion hryvni [$183 million] in the shadow economy." According to Tymoshenko, the distribution and supplies of oil and gas is controlled by such shadow economy oligarchs as Ihor Bakay (former chief of Naftohaz Ukrayiny) and Oleksandr Volkov (a Ukrainian media mogul and lawmaker, whose leverage in Ukrainian politics has earned him the nickname of the "executive director" of the Ukrainian parliament). As for the supply and distribution of electricity, it is controlled by Hryhoriy Surkis (a media mogul and honorary president of the Dynamo Kyiv soccer club) and deputy parliamentary speaker Viktor Medvedchuk.

Tymoshenko said the electricity deliveries, which involve middlemen from the "oblenergos" (oblast energy supplying companies), are paid for by means of various barter schemes that enable the oligarchs to generate big revenues in the shadow economy. But as a result, electricity producers obtain cash only for a small part of the power they generate. "Every month from 150 to 450 million hryvni is left at the disposition of the Surkis-Medvedchuk team. Do you think they are going to part with such sums without problems?" Tymoshenko asked in his interview with RFE/RL.

That opinion is shared by Yuriy Kostenko, leader of the Ukrainian Popular Rukh. "The characteristic trait of these [shadow schemes in the energy sector] is a departure from cash payments in favor of various ersatz settlements: barter deals, promissory notes, setoffs. As a result, huge sums have been deposited in private accounts abroad, while the Ukrainian economy has gone into decline," Kostenko told "Kievskii telegraf."

"It was not for such a Poland that we were arrested and imprisoned [by the communist regime]." -- Lech Walesa on 18 June, announcing a campaign to regain Poland's presidency; quoted by Polish Television.

"We have already raised the prices to the level that today nobody wants to eat meat, milk, and butter." -- Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 13 June. Quoted by Belarusian Television.

"My salary today is lower than [that of a Minsk Engine Plant director] by a factor of 1.5. Well, maybe not exactly 1.5. He gets 250,000 [Belarusian rubles a month, $258], while I get 180,000, and you workers 90,000. Today the president gets only twice as much as a worker of your plant." -- Alyaksandr Lukashenka to workers of the Minsk Engine Plant. Quoted by Belarusian Television on 17 June.

"While respecting the modesty of the president on the one hand, on the other [we must note that] the size of the presidential salary seems to be very humiliating, even regardless of the full state benefits [the president receives].... What next? With such a salary, in order to make savings, one has either to look for additional sources of income or seek to remain in power as long as one can.... Of course, the president should not live much better that his people but--since the salary of 180,000 [Belarusian rubles] cannot astound [even] a sanitary technician or a taxi driver, who have shadow revenues--his remuneration could be increased. This, incidentally, would provide an additional stimulus to the president's work." -- Belarusian Television's comment on Lukashenka's meager salary.