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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: June 27, 2000

27 June 2000, Volume 2, Number 24
PRIMARY COLORS. Former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, who inaugurated his presidential election campaign last week (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 20 June 2000), has called for the first round of the presidential polls to become primaries for candidates of the right wing. According to Walesa, Poland's right-wing should support one rightist candidate who is able to make it to the second round to face the post-communist incumbent, Aleksander Kwasniewski. Walesa is leading his campaign under the slogan "Black is black, white is white."

The Solidarity trade union and its political arm, the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), have both thrown their support behind the AWS's current leader, Marian Krzaklewski. Krzaklewski commented on Walesa's bid to regain presidency in the following way:

"I would like us to adopt an agreement before the ballot in order not to split the electorate. We will not force each other to withdraw from the running, but we should remain in close touch. We are from the same roots. There should be no struggle between us, because we could lose all our strength before the most important stage."

Asked to comment on Walesa's election slogan, Krzaklewski said it is "as particular as Lech Walesa," adding that it smacks of political "color-blindness."

Judging by Walesa's reaction to Krzaklewski's remarks, both politicians will find it very hard to strike any election deal. "I must say that it is probably Marian Krzaklewski who does not distinguish colors, since he cannot distinguish a trade union from a party: he leads [the AWS] for four hours and then takes part in a [Solidarity trade union] demonstration for four hours--that is political color-blindness," PAP quoted Walesa as responding on 20 June. "And it is possible to find more such color-blindness in this campaign. I would ask him not to make digs at me, and then I won't respond [by] indicating his weak spots." Walesa emphasized that he will conduct a positive campaign but pledged to respond to attacks aimed against him, his Christian Democracy of the Third Republic of Poland, or his slogans.

PUBLIC INSULTS PERMISSIBLE, IN SOME CASES. A Minsk district court on 16 June dismissed a lawsuit filed by pensioner Vera Tserlyukevich against Alyaksandr Zimouski, moderator of Belarusian Television's "Rezanans" program, which combines news with political commentaries. Zimouski is notorious among state media journalists for his unwavering loyalty to the Lukashenka regime and highly abusive language with regard to the regime's opponents.

Tserlyukevich, who took part in the opposition Freedom March last fall (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 19 and 26 October 2000), felt insulted by remarks Zimouski made in his program. In particular, Zimouski called the demonstrators "a bunch of blockheads" (Russian: gruppa otmorozkov). She sued Zimouski and demanded that both he and the Belarusian National Television and Radio Company apologize and pay damages.

The court sent footage of Zimouski's televised assessment of the Freedom March to the Institute of Linguistics, Ethnography, and Folklore for linguistic expertise. The institute replied that its experts are not equal to the job and advised the court to turn to the Institute of Literature of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences. The court, however, chose to send the footage to the pro-government Belarusian Union of Journalists, of which Zimouski is a member.

The union's Ethics Committee concluded that expressions like "a bunch of blockheads" are permissible in media "in some cases." Additionally, Zimouski's colleagues pointed out that his remarks were addressed to those aggressive demonstrators who clashed with police, not to Tserlyukevich. The court approved these conclusions and rejected Tserlyukevich's claims as "groundless."

SHUSHKEVICH TO STAY AT HOME? Former Supreme Soviet Chairman Stanislau Shushkevich, now in opposition to the Lukashenka regime, recently requested that the Passport and Visa Office of Frunze District in Minsk provide his new passport with a stamp allowing him to travel abroad. The office said it needs additional data to establish Shushkevich's identity and asked him to supply his labor book--a document giving details of personal work record. Shushkevich, who is a deputy of the Supreme Soviet that was disbanded by Lukashenka following the 1996 constitutional referendum, cannot supply his labor book since it is no longer available to him--neither, incidentally, are other documents of the dissolved legislature. Shushkevich commented on his experience in dealing with Belarus's Soviet-style bureaucracy in an interview with the 20 June "Narodnaya volya":

"They cannot put a stamp in my passport because they are not sure if I'm telling them the truth [about my former jobs]. Can you imagine? I was told this in the Passport and Visa Office of Frunze District, where I was elected deputy and where people know all there is to know about me! I showed them an academic directory with my biography, and many other documents, including a Xerox copy from Cambridge University's 'Who's Who,' but to no avail."

After Lukashenka came to power, Belarus abolished the Soviet-era practice of having both domestic and foreign passports and switched to a single passport, which serves both as an identity card at home and a travel document abroad. Making foreign trips has become somewhat easier for Belarusians, who formerly had to apply for their foreign passports each time they wanted to go abroad. However, to keep the foreign trips of citizens in check, the authorities now require that passports be provided with a special stamp: without this stamp, Belarus's border guards do not let people out of the country. Stanislau Shushkevich has fallen victim to this system of controlling the freedom of movement in Belarus.

The prospect of being deprived of the possibility to travel abroad is especially painful for Shushkevich, who has been unofficially barred by the regime from pursuing his erstwhile job in Belarus's Academy of Sciences. Under a decree by Lukashenka, Shushkevich--former chairman of the Supreme Soviet, a position equal to that of the country's president--has been given a state pension amounting to $3.50 a month. Since 1996, Shushkevich has been living off the money he makes giving lectures abroad, primarily in Poland, the United States, and Russia.

MAKE HAY OR, BETTER, RECEIVE PAY. Teachers in Pinsk (Brest Oblast) have sent a letter to the city authorities protesting the practice of exacting payments from those who do not want to go to the countryside to help collective farms during haymaking, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 21 June. Earlier, they had send similar letters of protest to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Brest Oblast Executive Committee head Vasil Dalhalyou. "State livestock needs hay, not bank notes from the Belarusian National Bank," the teachers wrote, adding that exacting money from them grossly violates the labor code and discredits the idea of public assistance to the agricultural sector.

Under last year's directive from the Brest Oblast Executive Committee, all state enterprises and organizations in the oblast's cities and towns are obliged to send their staffs to the countryside in the summer to take part in haymaking. The minimum required output is 200 kg of hay per capita (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 22 June 1999).

According to Pinsk teachers, the idea of paying money for the right to avoid obligatory haymaking came from kolkhoz managers: the transportation of largely unskilled city hands to collective fields as well as the provision of working tools and food costs the kolkhozes more than the hay that the city dwellers produce is worth. Besides, kolkhozes in Brest Oblast need cash. No less than 77 percent of them have run up wage arrears.

MONUMENT TO NKVD VICTIMS UNVEILED. Polish Radio reported on 25 June that a monument to the memory of those murdered by the NKVD has been unveiled in Cherven, 60 kilometers south of the Belarusian capital, Minsk. According to independent historians, in 1941 the Soviet special services murdered some 4,000 people, the majority of whom were probably Poles living in what is now western Belarus, on a road near Cherven.

The monument was to have been provided with a plaque bearing the inscription: To the memory of the thousands of Poles and people of other nationalities, victims of the road of death, murdered between 24 and 27 June 1941. The Belarusian authorities, however, did not agree to such an inscription, saying that they do not have documents confirming the death of Polish citizens.

The tragedy in Cherven took place shortly after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. The Soviet special services tried to relocate to the east people being held in Minsk prisons. The German invasion was so quick, however, that the NKVD did not manage to evacuate all the prisoners. The majority of the so-called political prisoners--between 3,000 and 4,000 people--were shot. The few surviving witnesses say that a stretch of road beyond Cherven was covered in corpses for more than 2 kilometers. The tragedy has not yet been comprehensively documented because the archives of the Soviet special services remain closed.

The unveiling ceremony in Cherven was attended by several people who escaped the tragedy, a delegation from the Polish embassy in Minsk, representatives of the Belarusian opposition, and families of those murdered on the Cherven road.

YUSHCHENKO KEPT IN CHECK? The Kyiv City Prosecutor's Office on 13 June instigated criminal proceedings against "a number of officials" in the National Bank, charging them with misuse of the bank's hard currency reserves in 1997-1998. The investigation was launched on the basis of materials collected last year by a special parliamentary commission headed by lawmaker Viktor Suslov. Some of those materials were published in Western media early this year, causing the IMF and the World Bank to request international audits of the National Bank's handling of foreign loans.

One audit, completed in early May, showed that the National Bank--headed by current Premier Viktor Yushchenko--overstated its hard-currency reserves "by an amount that varied from $391 million in September 1997 to $713 million in December 1997." The IMF commented that the amount was overstated to help Ukraine gain $200 million in loans that might otherwise have been denied. However, the audit did not find that the bank misused IMF loans, as alleged by Western media reports.

"Kievskii telegraf" reported on 12 June that the allegations of abuse of office "refer directly" to Yushchenko, but the newspaper did not elaborate.

Yushchenko commented on 22 June that none of the 13 June charges pertains to him personally. He added, however: "Everybody understands: everything pertaining to the National Bank pertains to Yushchenko, too. There is a tactical game under way: To what extent the actions of the National Bank's officials and board complied with the legislation in force? I am absolutely convinced that they complied with the legislation in force. But there will be several months of intrigues, since without them life in Ukraine would be uninteresting."

Alyaksandr Lukashenka visited a wood-processing company in Smalyavichy near Minsk on 19 June. Belarusian Television showed footage of the head of state's chat with local residents:

Unidentified resident: "It is necessary to support teachers and doctors."

Lukashenka: "I'll tell you one thing: in the third quarter we'll try to bring wage increases to the level of price hikes."

Unidentified resident: "According to statistics, we [in Belarus] have 75,000 unmarried mothers." Lukashenka: "We'll provide them with men."

"Martial law that is being carefully camouflaged--approximately such is today's situation of the Belarusian state. But this situation is determined not so much by aggressive attitudes of other states toward Belarus as by the Belarusian president's state of mind. Lukashenka realizes perfectly well that outside Belarus he has many more enemies or fair-weather allies than real friends." -- Belarusian political commentator Mikhail Padalyak in the 19 June "Belorusskaya gazeta."

"I do not separate my Belarus from my Russia, from our Russia. We are one whole, indeed, and I have made an unambiguous conclusion that there is no other such great nation--if one may say so about us and the Russians--in the world. These are unique people. When I say a Russian man, I have in mind a Soviet man. This is a sort of generalized notion, it has taken root among us." -- Lukashenka speaking at a cardiovascular surgery clinic in Moscow. Quoted by Belarusian Television on 24 June.