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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: August 22, 2000

22 August 2000, Volume 2, Number 30
KWASNIEWSKI PROMISES TO ALLEVIATE PLIGHT OF FORMER STATE FARM WORKERS. Incumbent President Aleksander Kwasniewski, whom all polls see as poised to easily win the 15 October presidential ballot in the first round, toured Warmia i Mazury Province (northern Poland) last week and addressed the problem of agricultural regions dominated by state farms. Warmia i Mazury--which was incorporated into Poland after Eastern Prussia was divided between Poland and the USSR--was populated with repatriates from Poland's former eastern borderlands. The communist authorities organized farming in the region primarily on the basis of big state farms (PGR--panstwowe gospodarstwa rolne). Following Poland's switch to a market economy, most state farms in the region were dissolved, resulting in widespread unemployment. Both Kwasniewski and the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance enjoy considerable electoral support in the region.

Kwasniewski presented a three-point program on how to improve the situation in such agricultural areas. Problems similar to those in Warmia and Mazury are faced by farmers in Pomorze Province (another area that Poland gained from Germany after the defeat of the Nazis). The president characterized his program as follows: "First, retraining opportunities for all former PGR employees. Second, some form of social welfare assistance for those former employees who are advanced in years and lack any pension entitlements. Third, the creation for young people from these former PGR areas of opportunities for a good start in life and the attainment of [new skills]."

KRZAKLEWSKI PRESSES KWASNIEWSKI TO SIGN MASS PRIVATIZATION BILL. Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski, who is challenging Kwasniewski in the presidential race, appealed to voters last week to urge the incumbent president to sign the bill on mass privatization (also called the enfranchisement bill). "Society must clearly tell the president that it wants him to sign the enfranchisement bill.... This is a [just] decision that will transfer a large portion of national wealth into the citizens' hands," PAP quoted Krzaklewski as saying in Tarnow, southeastern Poland, on 19 August.

The mass privatization bill--passed by the Sejm on 14 July and amended by the Senate on 8 August--stipulates that every adult Pole will receive a share of state assets. In particular, citizens are to be given stakes in funds managing state property, a share of the proceeds from future sales of state companies, and ownership rights to state-owned apartments. The mass privatization plan is opposed by the liberal Freedom Union and many lawmakers from the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance. Opponents say the bill will negatively impact public finances, adding that it is a populist move by the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action before the presidential elections this fall and parliamentary elections next year. It is probable that Kwasniewski's refusal to sign the bill will damage his re-election chances. On the other hand, the promulgation of the bill would almost certainly increase Krzaklewski's election rating.

Kwasniewski is critical of the bill, which, he said last week, "may bring more harm than good, and this is quite the reverse of what its authors intended." But he noted that he had not yet taken a decision on whether to veto the bill. The document is now back for consideration in the Sejm, after the Senate had introduced some 60 amendments to it.

WILECKI PRAISES HITLER'S HOUSING POLICY. Retired General Tadeusz Wilecki, another contender for the presidential post, has praised Nazi Germany's social policies, particularly Adolf Hitler's housing projects.

"That was Hitler's big achievement--little houses for every family," Wilecki said while addressing the housing situation in Poland at an election meeting in Gorzow Wielkopolski (western Poland) on 18 August. In his election platform Wilecki proposes drawing up a National Building Construction Program that would give every family a place to live. "Hitler had around him ministers who were good and efficient managers and organizers. Leaving aside all the evil, many matters were carried out very well" by the Hitler regime, he commented to PAP the same day in reference to his praise of Hitler.

Wilecki advertises himself as a supporter of a strong state. He criticizes privatization and the economic policy linked with former Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz. Wilecki's campaign slogan is "A Strong Man for Hard Times," and, in his electoral platform, he promises to guarantee citizens' security, rebuild the army, fight corruption, reduce unemployment, and slow down Poland's integration with the EU. He does not conceal his sympathy for Poland's marginal ultraright and nationalist groups, such as the National Party, the National Alliance, and the Polish Front.

In August 1992, then-President Lech Walesa appointed Wilecki chief of the General Staff of the Polish Army. Incumbent President Aleksander Kwasniewski dismissed him from that post in March 1997.

OPPOSITION'S ELECTION CHANCES NOT HOPELESS? According to a poll conducted by the Independent Institute for Socioeconomic and Political Studies (NISEPI) in July, 65.9 percent of respondents said they intend to participate in the 15 October legislative elections in Belarus. Specifically, 51.3 percent said they will go to the polls even if the authorities do not comply with the OSCE's and the opposition's requirements to democratize the election process in the country. Furthermore, 50.5 percent declared they will not support the opposition's boycott of the elections, while only 11.7 percent said they will back it.

NISEPI provided a "social portrait" of those who want to participate in the elections:

"Among those who are today ready to participate in the elections under any circumstances, the dominant group is constituted by the most conservative and backward portion of Belarusian society, which supports today's [political] course [and] expects the strengthening of the state intervention in [the] economy and public life, as well as integration with Russia. This means that if those who today are undecided or hesitant choose ultimately not to go to the polls, it is highly probable that a newly-elected parliament will add to strengthening the anti-democratic, anti-market course oriented toward further integration with Russia."

The institute also surveyed what it calls the "electoral resources of Belarusian democracy." It turned out that 42.6 percent of respondents want to vote for candidates not linked to the ruling regime: 11.4 percent for parties grouped in the Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces (which has declared a boycott of the ballot), 5.5 percent for candidates of other parties; and 25.7 percent for independent candidates.

Pro-regime candidates would receive 40.5 percent backing: 36.7 percent would vote for adherents of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and 3.8 percent for other candidates of the "party of power."

"[These results] mean that statements such as 'Belarusian society is not yet ready for democracy' or 'There has been no alternative yet to Lukashenka and his team' are not true--a considerable part of Belarusian society is ready for democracy and see potential alternatives!"--NISEPI commented.

If the above results are confirmed in the 15 October polls, the Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces may suffer a serious and far-reaching setback this fall. Should the boycott find some measure of support among the democratically-minded electorate, the elections will produce another legislature that will be totally subservient to Lukashenka. The situation after the ballot will be the same as now: Lukashenka will be given a free hand to prepare presidential elections next year according to his taste. But if the boycott fails to find such support, the elections may create a "new opposition" in the legislature from those candidates that will win their seats on an independent ticket. This will automatically remove the current opposition from the public spotlight. Both scenarios would appear to be disastrous for the Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces.

RUSSIAN BISHOPS TELL KUCHMA NOT TO INTERFERE IN THEIR REALM. Last week in Moscow, some 150 bishops convened for the four-day Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church. The situation of Orthodoxy in Ukraine was one of the topics discussed by that forum.

President Leonid Kuchma sent a telegram to the patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Aleksii II, asking him and the Council of Bishops to consider the possibility of granting autonomy to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (subordinated to the Moscow Patriarchate). According to Interfax, Kuchma's request was considered on 15 August and was reportedly backed by "a number of bishops from Western Ukraine led by Bishop of Vyshhorod Pavel." The forum, however, refused to consider the petition, saying that secular authorities should not interfere in Church affairs.

As reported in previous issues of "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," the situation of Ukrainian Orthodoxy remains very difficult. Currently, Ukraine has three Orthodox Churches: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchate), and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. The Moscow Patriarchate recognizes the Church subordinated to itself as the only canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine, viewing followers of the other two Churches as "schismatics."

The official status of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) is unclear, however. In 1992 the Russian Orthodox Church granted its Ukrainian branch the right of self-governance. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) has its own Synod of Bishops; it is empowered to consecrate new bishops without any special authorization from Moscow; and it can also canonize its own saints. Technically speaking, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) is an autonomous structure. But in this case it appears that names do matter: the word "autonomous" does not appear in the Church's name or in any of the documents related to that Church.

According to the Moscow-based "Segodnya," most believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate)--particularly from Ukraine's eastern regions and Odesa--think that granting autonomy to their Church will encourage those in Ukraine who want the full independence of Ukrainian Orthodoxy from Moscow. And this, the newspaper maintains, is what those believers fear.

Official Kyiv, on the other hand, has repeatedly voiced the opinion that it wants Ukraine's three Orthodox Churches to be united into a "Ukrainian Local Orthodox Church." Judging by the reaction of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kyiv's striving is strongly supported by Constantinople Patriarch Bartholomew I, who traditionally enjoys a special status among the world's Orthodox patriarchs.

Ukraine's Metropolitan of Odesa and Izmail, Agafangel (Moscow Patriarchate), told journalists on 17 August that the Moscow forum condemned the Constantinople patriarch's "unprecedented interference" in the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church, meaning Estonia and Ukraine. (In 1996, some members of Estonia's Orthodox Church pledged juridical subordination to the Constantinople Patriarchate, but the Moscow Patriarchate has refused to acknowledge Constantinople's canonical rights over Estonia.)

"Patriarch Bartholomew declared Ukraine to be his canonical territory, which is a gross violation of Church canons," ITAR-TASS quoted Agafangel as saying. According to Agafangel, the "dissenters" (followers of the Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church) are planning to convene an All-Ukrainian Council of Bishops at which Metropolitan Volodymyr (Moscow Patriarchate) will be forced to resign and his powers will be passed to the Constantinople Patriarchate's representative. Agafangel expressed his regret that Bartholomew is depending on the support of "Ukrainian nationalists and politicians who, in violation of the law, meddle in Church affairs," Interfax reported.

Some Ukrainian media reported earlier this month that talks on the unification of Ukrainian Orthodoxy were expected to take place in Chambessy (Switzerland) on 20 August, with the participation of representatives from Ukraine's three Orthodox Churches, government officials, and Constantinople Patriarch Bartholomew. But this report has not been officially confirmed.

Judging by the Russian Orthodox Church's position on Ukraine, which was reaffirmed at its Council of Bishops last week, such talks would be highly unlikely to yield any results. To put it bluntly, the Moscow Patriarchate would allow the unification of the Ukrainian Churches only in one way--namely, as the "return of schismatics" under the wing of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which itself would continue to be in "canonical unity" with the Russian Orthodox Church.

"The most painful thing for me is that I was equated with President Aleksander Kwasniewski. This constitutes the extreme lack of understanding of the history of the past 20 years. Mr. Aleksander Kwasniewski was not a secret collaborator [of the communist-era security service] because he was an open collaborator. I was not a secret collaborator because I was an open enemy [of the communist system]." -- Lech Walesa in the 13 August "Wprost."

"I'm simply horrified--I have never before seen such raions. I've flown all over the republic [in a helicopter] but, I repeat, I have never before seen such raions.... My advice to you: If you do not introduce martial law, you will ruin your raion, specialists, and yourself. Consider this a guideline on how to act." -- Lukashenka to the chairman of the Executive Committee in Mstsislavl Raion (Mahileu Oblast) on seeing the poor, weed-infested crops in the raion. Quoted by Belarusian Television on 16 August.

"Please understand me correctly...we do not want to strangle you with prices, I myself am sick of those prices. But looking at another angle, the economy is such that we should not suppress [prices], we need to raise them to the level where they cannot be hiked in such a way again." -- Lukashenka to kolkhoz workers in Mahileu Oblast, explaining the state's pricing policy. Quoted by Belarusian Television on 16 August.

"Remember: no politics! The law, strict adherence to the law! You should not pay attention to any [international] conventions or opinions from the West. There is [only] one politician in the country, he should make political decisions. And your concern is the law, the constitution--take [them] in your hands and off you go!"--Lukashenka at a meeting with top law enforcement officers on 17 August. Quoted by Belarusian Television.

"I voted for Lukashenka but now I see that there's no use going to the polls next year--he will remain the president for the next 20 years one way or the other. And nobody will do anything to him. This is a Soviet scenario: vote or do not vote--everything has already been determined long ago. One should run away from this country if one still has the strength to do so. Now I regularly listen to your program 'Into the World in Search of a Living,' looking for something that would suit me. I'm a teacher by education, but I'm ready even to pick bananas or clean out manure from stalls, because there is no profit from my intellectual work when I'm paid $20 a month." -- Syamyon Zahumenny from Svetlahorsk (Homel Oblast), in a letter to RFE/RL's Belarusian Service, 17 August.