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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: October 31, 2000

31 October 2000, Volume 2, Number 40
BALCEROWICZ WILLING TO JOIN OLECHOWSKI IN THE CENTER. Andrzej Olechowski, who came second in the 8 October presidential ballot with 17.3 percent backing, announced last week that he wants to create a centrist Citizens for the Republic Association. "This association is conceived as a platform for citizens who are interested in politics, who would like to be active for the common good, but who do not, on the other hand, want to join a party," PAP quoted him as saying. He explained that the association intends to reach agreement with some political parties whereby its members will be able to run on those parties' election lists. Olechowski has proposed to the Freedom Union (UW) led by Leszek Balcerowicz and the Conservative Peasant Union of Jan Maria Rokita that they cooperate with the association. Olechowski's goal is to build a strong centrist coalition in order to prevent the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) from claiming a sweeping victory in next year's parliamentary elections, as is widely expected.

The UW, which held a session of its National Council on 29 October, "unanimously" accepted Olechowski's cooperation proposal and wants to talk about the details, Polish Television reported. "We express the will for talks with Andrzej Olechowski on the matter of broadening the UW's electoral lists in the coming elections," Balcerowicz commented.

Meanwhile, Balcerowicz's leadership within the UW is threatened. Some UW members believe that he made a mistake by urging the group to pull out of the ruling coalition with the Solidarity Electoral Action and by failing to field either himself or another UW member in the 8 October presidential elections. As a result, Balcerowicz's opponents in the UW argue, the party has begun to lose popularity. Some Polish commentators expect that the planned UW congress in December will replace Balcerowicz with former Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek. There have also been rumors in Polish media that President Aleksander Kwasniewski is considering the appointment of Balcerowicz as head of the National Bank to succeed Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, who has been appointed deputy president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

KRZAKLEWSKI UNWILLING TO QUIT. So far, no satisfactory answer has been found within the Solidarity Electoral Action as to what action should be taken following the poor showing of its leader, Marian Krzaklewski, in the 8 October presidential elections. In that vote, Krzaklewski obtained only 15.57 percent of the vote and finished behind not only to incumbent President Aleksander Kwasniewski but also independent candidate Andrzej Olechowski. Leaders of the Conservative Peasant Party, the Christian National Union, and the Party of Christian Democrats--three of the four parties belonging to the AWS -- demanded that Krzaklewski step down, saying there is no guarantee that the AWS will fare any better in next year's parliamentary elections than he did in the presidential ones. Krzaklewski, who apparently does not want to resign, suggested that a deal be concluded whereby the AWS leadership is rotated among heads of its components, provided that the AWS coalition is transformed into a unified party.

The intensive negotiations conducted within the AWS for the last three weeks have not yielded any concrete results. Krzaklewski said on 27 October that the groups belonging to the AWS are to present their proposals concerning "a federative structure for the AWS" by 3 November, but he gave no details. In the meantime, parliamentary speaker Maciej Plazynski is to present another proposal for a federative structure for the AWS. Plazynski said he is in favor of "a collegial leadership of the AWS, of four equal partners," but he did not elaborate.

OSCE'S WIECK HAS NOT LOST HOPE. Hans Georg Wieck, head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Belarus, told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 27 October that the objectives of his mission in Belarus have not changed.

"I am sticking to the line of the parliamentary troika [the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the European Parliament] to continue or restore dialogue within the country, as well as to continue the dialogue of the parliamentary troika and our mission with the two sides -- the government and the opposition. It is necessary, in order to understand the experience of the parliamentary elections and transform it into a law on holding presidential elections. Second, the appeals to the opposition to unite refer to the period of presidential elections, too. Third, the president should be responsible for what he had promised before the elections, namely to implement a limited constitutional reform regarding the functions of the parliament, since this was one of the four requirements from the international community," Wieck told RFE/RL.

There have been voices in both Belarus and abroad that the OSCE Minsk mission, in view of its inability to persuade President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to make substantial concessions, should be pulled out of Belarus. In addition, the Belarusian Popular Front, led by Zyanon Paznyak, accuses Wieck--who is of German origin--of promoting German interests in Belarus, rather than those of the OSCE. According to Paznyak's line of argument, Germany and Russia are not so much interested in promoting democracy in Belarus as in legitimizing the Lukashenka regime in order to win international recognition for the Belarus-Russia unification agreements, which, Paznyak says, spell the end of Belarus's independence.

LUKA IS NOT A NICE NAME. Luka is a large village in Kobryn Raion, Brest Oblast, off the Brest-Minsk highway. RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 24 October that the local authorities have lately replaced all signposts along the highway that bear the name "Luka." The new signposts do not mention Luka at all and point the way only to an animal-breeding farm "Druzhba" (Friendship), which is located near the village. Local residents told an RFE/RL correspondent that the signboards were replaced before a recent visit of Prime Minister Uladzimir Yarmoshyn to the "Druzhba" farm. According to local rumors, the raion authorities wanted to change the name of the village for a "more euphonious" one as long ago as 1994, when Alyaksandr Lukashenka was elected president.

The point, of course, is that Luka is an abbreviation of Lukashenka's name, one widely used in Belarus not to express sympathy with the president but rather feelings of dislike and contempt. The opposition, for its part, has distributed stickers with a caricature of the president and the inscription "STOP LUKA!"

YUSHCHENKO DENIES DISCRIMINATION AGAINST RUSSIAN SPEAKERS. Premier Viktor Yushchenko told the 24 October "Stolichnye novosti" that there is no "mass Ukrainization of the population" in Ukraine. Yushchenko cited a number of official data testifying to the fact that the use of the Russian language is being freely encouraged in the country's educational and cultural spheres.

Yushchenko said Ukraine has 2,561 general education schools in which instruction takes place in Russian: those schools are attended by 2.3 million children or 34.1 percent of their total number. Additionally, 1.8 million schoolchildren (26.6 percent) learn Russian as a subject at Ukrainian-language schools.

Some 35 percent of students at Ukrainian universities and colleges receive instruction in Russian. In Crimea, all higher educational institutions offer instruction only in Russian; the percentage of Russian-language higher-educational institutions is also high in Ukraine's eastern and southern regions: Donetsk Oblast (89.3 percent), Luhansk Oblast (85.6 percent), Odesa Oblast (49.8), and Kharkiv Oblast (41.9 percent).

Of the some 800 titles in Ukraine's catalogue of periodicals, 50 percent are published in Ukrainian, 25 percent in Russian, and 25 percent are bilingual. In eastern and southern regions, 30-50 percent of state television and radio broadcasts are in Russian. According to Yushchenko, in some regions non-state broadcasting companies provide coverage that is 70-90 percent in Russian.

Yushchenko also told the newspaper that Ukraine has 30 Russian-language theaters and 36 that stage plays in both Ukrainian and Russian.

Commenting on the state policy of promoting the Ukrainian language, which is often criticized by Russian circles in Ukraine and some Russian politicians in Moscow, Yushchenko said: "One needs to understand our natural desire to pay more attention to the Ukrainian language, insofar as its use was artificially limited in Ukraine for a long time. Now, you must agree, there is the problem of the Ukrainian language.... It is impossible to force somebody to like a language.... It is necessary to create incentives for a wider use of the official language, to make it prestigious."

COMMUNISTS REMAIN MORE POPULAR THAN OTHERS. The Center for Social and Marketing Studies (SOCIS) has found that if parliamentary elections were held in October, the Communist Party of Ukraine would obtain 20.42 percent of the vote, Interfax reported on 27 October. The poll registered a wide gap between Ukraine's Communists and other parties: the Social Democratic Party (United) would be backed by 4.58 percent of voters, the Popular Rukh of Ukraine (Gennadiy Udovenko's wing) by 4.17 percent, and the Greens Party by 4.17 percent. The other 13 parties mentioned by respondents did not exceed the 4 percent threshold that political parties in Ukraine need to overcome in order to have their candidates elected to the parliament on party tickets. Of those polled, 37.33 percent said they would not vote for any party, while 7.58 percent refused to answer the question about their party preferences in legislative elections.

"Our guarantor of the constitution, Mr. Lukashenka, always says that there are no violations of human rights in Belarus. He is right, because we have no rights at all, and it is impossible to violate something that does not exist whatsoever." -- Belarusian human right activist Katsyaryna Sadouskaya, quoted by RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 26 October.

"Why do you look so despondent and bewildered? If we had pressed reforms, we would be eking out a miserable existence. Some may not like my policies. They'd better get used to them." -- Lukashenka at the Agricultural Academy in Horki, Mahileu Oblast, on 28 October. Quoted by Reuters.