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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: August 29, 2000

29 August 2000, Volume 2, Number 31
ELECTORAL MISCELLANY. Incumbent President ALEKSANDER KWASNIEWSKI said in Piotrkow Trybunalski, central Poland, on 26 August that Solidarity Electoral Action leader MARIAN KRZAKLEWSKI is his main rival in upcoming presidential elections. "Voters in Poland are very loyal and consistent--often more so than politicians. The Solidarity Electoral Action can therefore count on the so-called firm electorate," Polish Radio quoted Kwasniewski as saying. Kwasniewski added that if Krzaklewski fails to come second in the elections, it will be a defeat for the Solidarity Electoral Action leader. When asked if he will attend Solidarity's 20th anniversary celebrations, the president replied that the organizers have not invited him. In Kwasniewski's opinion, inviting people from outside Solidarity circles to attend those celebrations would have been an opportunity for national reconciliation. Later the same day Kwasniewski told voters in Konskie, southern Poland, that "Poland needs solidarity with a small 's,' because the one with a capital 'S' is mainly occupied with politics and organizing anniversaries," PAP reported.

Some 50 farmers belonging to the radical Self-Defense farmers' trade union on 25 August partly blocked a road from Poznan to Kalisz, Wielkopolska Province, demanding the release of their leader, ANDRZEJ LEPPER, from prison. The farmers walked back and forth on a pedestrian crossing, but they allowed cars to pass, the duty officer of the provincial police headquarters in Poznan told PAP. Lepper was the first of the presidential hopefuls to be registered for the upcoming ballot after submitting the required 100,000 signatures in his support. Police arrested Lepper on 24 August after a regional court had issued a 30-day arrest warrant for him for his repeated failures to appear in court on charges related to farmers' protests last year. Lepper made headlines in the Polish media the day before by announcing that he would seek political asylum in Belarus and lead his election campaign from there.

Another presidential hopeful, Polish Socialist Party leader PIOTR IKONOWICZ, said on 20 August that the past 10 years of political and economic transformation in Poland have brought down living standards and given rise to an oligarchy formed by politicians and businessmen, PAP reported. "Over these past 10 years a group of people has appeared in Poland that in the Third World we would call an oligarchy. It is made up of dishonest politicians and businessmen. The business people channel wads of money into political campaigns and in return politicians create legal loopholes for them. An example of political pandering to the business milieu is privatization, the biggest hoax of the past decade," Ikonowicz argued.

OPPOSITION IN (AT LEAST) TWO MINDS OVER ELECTIONS. Life has never been easy for opponents of Belarus's ruling regimes, whether in the period before Alyaksandr Lukashenka or after the first Belarusian president took over the reins of power in 1994. But the 15 October elections to the Chamber or Representatives presents a dilemma that the Belarusian opposition seems not to have confronted so far. Currently, there are at least two distinct stances among Lukashenka's opponents on how to approach the upcoming ballot.

The "radical opposition," represented by the Christian Conservative Party of the Belarusian Popular Front (led by charismatic Zyanon Paznyak from exile in Poland), rejects any participation in this fall's legislative elections. Paznyak's party argues that the polls are senseless in view of the legislature's illegitimate character and that the opposition's participation in the polls would only legitimize the Chamber of Representatives at the expense of the Supreme Soviet of the 13th Convocation, which is still recognized by all European governments, except Russia and Yugoslavia, as Belarus's lawful parliament.

Moreover, Paznyak argues, once the Chamber of Representatives is legitimized, it will set about approving all integration accords signed by Lukashenka with Russia. Thus, he says, the incorporation of Belarus by its eastern neighbor will be accomplished in an apparently lawful manner. In fact, Paznyak accuses the OSCE Minsk mission head Hans Georg Wieck of seeking to obliterate Belarus's independence by pushing the opposition to take part in the elections.

The Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces, which until quite recently was called "the democratic opposition," has suffered a split and now refers to itself as "the united opposition." The council's two main pillars are the Belarusian Popular Front Party (led by Vintsuk Vyachorka from Minsk) and the United Civic Party (led by Anatol Lyabedzka also from Minsk). The council loyally cooperates with the OSCE Minsk mission, seeking ways to establish democracy in Belarus. Having failed to organize an OSCE-mediated dialogue with Lukashenka, the council announced an "active boycott" of the 15 October poll. It intends to stage protest rallies under the slogan "Yes to Elections, No to Farce" and collect signatures for a referendum on the OSCE's four requirements to make the electoral process in Belarus more transparent and democratic.

The "leftist opposition," represented by the Belarusian Communist Party and the Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus (a local replica of Vladimir Zhirinovskii's notorious political formation in neighboring Russia), has decided to participate in the elections, even though both groups assert that there are no sufficient conditions for a democratic ballot in Belarus.

However, what has most thrown the democratic opposition ranks into disarray is the declared intention of more than 50 opposition activists, including such important figures as former Premier Mikhail Chyhir (without party affiliation) and Social Democratic Party leader Mikalay Statkevich, to run in the elections. Each of those activists will run on an independent ticket, that is, each will be fielded by a group of no fewer than 1,000 voters. Statkevich's party was the first to send a highly confusing message to the electorate by announcing it will not participate in the undemocratic ballot but does not forbid its members to do so on an independent ticket.

Chyhir and Statkevich have strong arguments to support their decision. Recent independent polls show that some 70 percent of Belarusians want to vote in this fall's elections and that this figure is growing. The polls also suggest that the call for an election boycott--which to succeed will require election turnout to be below 50 percent--may well fail. And some surveys suggest that opposition and independent candidates face virtually the same chances of winning as pro-regime ones.

Chyhir and Statkevich argue that it is vitally important for the opposition to gain a foothold in the Chamber of Representatives, even if this body has only limited powers. According to both politicians, this fall's election campaign and the possible establishment of an anti-regime "bridgehead" in the Chamber of Representatives could bring Democrats back into the public spotlight and help them prepare Belarusian voters for the incomparably weightier contest--next year's presidential elections.

It is not difficult to foresee that regardless of the outcome of the 15 October ballot, the Belarusian opposition is poised to inflict enormous damage upon itself by campaigning for two opposing objectives--having the electorate go to the polls and stay at home at the same time. This dual campaign will almost certainly deepen the current split in the democratic camp and minimize the chances of fielding a single democratic candidate against Lukashenka in 2001.

When the OSCE mission was installed in Minsk to assist Belarus on its tortuous way toward electoral democracy, many assumed that it was, above all, the anti-democratic regime and many ignorant voters who needed enlightenment. Judging by the current electoral situation, the OSCE's lessons were difficult to swallow not just for those elements but also for those identifying themselves as more knowledgeable democrats.

This week, the OSCE is expected to make a decision on whether to send its observers to the Belarusian elections. It is generally thought that it will decide against doing so. Given the Belarusian regime's stubborn refusal to make any meaningful concessions to democratic election regulations, such a decision appears the only justifiable one. It is unlikely, however, to help the Belarusian opposition achieve its goals--whatever they might be.

BEWARE OF BELARUSIAN PRISONS--AND SOME SCHOOLS! Three secondary school graduates from Babruysk, Mahileu Oblast, have asked the Belarusian Helsinki Committee to help them defend their rights and make their teacher answerable to a court of law, the Moscow-based "Segodnya" reported on 24 August in a correspondent's report from Belarus.

In March, the three young men--in a group of 35 "troublesome adolescents"--visited a penal colony for juvenile criminals. They were taken there by their sociology teacher, who intended to demonstrate to them the life they may face unless they "come to their senses."

Wardens met the young visitors immediately beyond the entrance to the colony, and, without explanation, began to beat them with "rubber hoses with iron tips." Telling the youths to lean against the wall stretched at full length, the wardens continued to beat them "on the muscles of [their] arms and legs." There followed a visit to the colony's lockup, to which the schoolboys were told to walk in a squatting position. After lunch, the schoolboys were distributed among cells, where colony inmates took their money and watches. On their way back to the exit of the colony, the "troublesome adolescents" had to walk in single file, listening to obscene comments by the wardens. The sociology teacher told the youths at the end of the "excursion" that if they do not improve, they will become inmates of the colony.

The three youths told the Helsinki Committee that they did not report the trip to the colony to anyone during the school year because they feared a reprisal from their teachers during final exams. Now that those exams are over, they are no longer afraid of their teachers and want to prevent other schoolchildren from being subject to such humiliation. According to the committee, educational measures similar to those in Babruysk have been used in other Belarusian cities.

WILL UKRAINE SURVIVE THE WINTER WITHOUT PROBLEMS? President Leonid Kuchma said in Poltava on 28 August that Ukraine "will survive the upcoming winter, just as it did all the preceding ones," Interfax reported. "One should not make a problem out of this," he added.

However, Kuchma said he "does not understand" Russia's offer to sell gas to Ukraine for $102 per 1,000 cubic meters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2000), noting that Western consumers of Russian gas pay less. Kuchma also voiced his "surprise" over Russia's intention to set a price for oil products sold to Ukraine at a "somewhat higher level" than the price of those exported to Western Europe and other CIS countries.

Last week parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch revealed that there was a disagreement between Kuchma and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the CIS informal summit in Yalta on 18 August. Plyushch told STB Television on 24 August that Kuchma reminded Putin at the summit that it was not Ukraine but Russia that started a bilateral economic war. Kuchma, according to Plyushch, noted the war will have no winners.

Expressing his own view, Plyushch added that if Russia continues to "undermine" Ukraine's economy, Kyiv will have to take some reciprocal steps. According to Plyushch, Ukraine could increase charges for the deployment of Russian troops on its territory or increase tariffs for the transit of Russian gas "and so forth."

"Taxes under Hitler were twice as low as now, and Adolf Hitler exploited the Poles two times fewer than our present invaders from the Freedom Union, the Democratic Left Alliance, the Polish Peasant Party, and the Solidarity Electoral Action. This is an economic occupation, twice as bad as that of Hitler.... The Poles, while paying such high taxes, are incapable of building [even] one plane that could airlift 134 soldiers into Kosovo.... This is shame for the regime which I hate and which we should overthrow." -- Union of Real Politics leader Janusz Korwin-Mikke, a presidential candidate, campaigning in Bielsko-Biala (southern Poland). Quoted by PAP on 24 August.

"[Abortion, euthanasia, pornography, gay movements, and anti-family policy]--are they rooted in some EU-sponsored institution or are they a manifestation of the activity of some Western Mafia?" -- Cardinal Jozef Glemp to 100,000 pilgrims at a mass in Czestochowa on 26 August; quoted by AP.

"[Belarus's leaders] cling to the old dogmas, convincing themselves and others that the crisis and collapse of old structures is temporary, whereas the way out is in returning to the old system. Naive people! Do they really still believe that the children of those who were deformed by the system will continue [the Communist cause]? Just step into any school and talk with upper graders and you will realize that it is already a different generation. It is the generation aware of many years of lies [and] calls [to pursue] the 'bright future,' toward which we were led over many years by those in power. This generation will no longer believe us and will never follow our example. One needs to be a realistic and honest-minded man, one needs to understand that rivers do not flow backward." -- Alyaksandr Lukashenka in an interview with the Minsk evening newspaper "Dobryi vecher" in 1991, when he was a people's deputy in the Supreme Soviet of the Belarusian SSR and a kolkhoz manager. The interview was reprinted by the independent "Brestskii kurer" on 23 August. "This interview was brought to us by one of our readers who was deeply surprised [by its content]. We read it and were greatly surprised, too"--"Brestskii kurer" commented on the reprint.

"As we go forward, more and more questions appear [on the way]. If our steps were clear-cut, there would be fewer questions." -- Ukrainian parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch, commenting on the nine years of Ukrainian independence. Quoted by Interfax on 23 April.

"The autumn will be hot from a political viewpoint. But I hope it will be business-like." -- Ukrainian parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch on the expected parliamentary debate on how to introduce constitutional amendments in line with the 16 April referendum, which approved Kuchma's proposals to increase the president's controls over the parliament. Quoted by Interfax on 23 April.