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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: June 29, 1999

29 June 1999, Volume 1, Number 6
Poland Keen To Keep Ukraine Within European Horizon. The visit of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to Poland from 24-26 June was not marked by the signing of some important state agreements, but nevertheless reflected a special significance that both countries attribute to their bilateral relations. Since Ukraine gained independence in 1991, Poland has been especially interested in pulling this former Soviet republic into the Western sphere of influence.

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski assured his Ukrainian counterpart that Poland wants to keep visa-free traffic on its border with Ukraine even after it becomes an EU member.

Kwasniewski and Kuchma agreed on cooperation in the Kosova peacekeeping mission and pledged to send a joint battalion to the Serbian province.

Both presidents also stressed the need to boost trade and investment between the two countries. In 1998 trade dropped to $1.46 billion from $1.62 billion in 1997. In the first quarter of this year trade fell to $71.2 million from $213.2 million in the first quarter of 1998. Polish investment in Ukraine totals some $400 million while Ukrainian investment in Poland is negligible. According to Polish Economy Minister Janusz Steinhoff, the largest barriers in bilateral trade include red tape, the lack of food certification procedures, frequently changed customs duties, the lack of suitable credit and finance systems of guarantees and insurance, and insufficient infrastructure at the border.

Both countries are also interested in developing the national identity and culture of their minorities: Ukrainian in Poland and Polish in Ukraine. During his meeting with Polish Premier Jerzy Buzek, Kuchma supported the Polish initiative to launch a Polish-language radio station in Lviv.

Polish-Ukrainian relations still remain overshadowed by the memory of atrocities committed by both sides in ethnic cleansing during World War II (in Volhynia and Galicia) and thereafter ("Operation Vistula" in communist Poland). In an effort to highlight positive moments in their common history, the two presidents participated in the unveiling of a monument to Ukrainian soldiers who fought on the Polish side and fell in the 1920 Polish-Bolshevik war. "Glory to the heroes in the struggle against [our] common enemy," Kwasniewski said during the ceremony.

Kwasniewski made it clear that he would like to see Kuchma as the winner of the 31 October presidential elections in Ukraine. "I hope that the great [reform] effort of President Kuchma will be appreciated by the voters," he said after their meeting on 24 June.

Pope Prompts Change Of Anti-Presidential Slogans? President Aleksander Kwasniewski, the former communist, welcomed Pope John Paul II at the beginning of his 13-day pilgrimage in June as "the greatest moral authority of our times" and thanked the pontiff for "inspiration and support to our transformations." The pope seemed to return the cordial feelings toward the president when on the last day of his trip, in an unexpected move, he invited Kwasniewski and his spouse to the popemobile to accompany him on the way to the airport.

Those happenings during the pope's visit have not passed unnoticed by Poland's right wing, which is eager to unseat the left-wing president in next year's presidential elections. Maciej Plazynski, parliamentary speaker from the Solidarity Electoral Action, has commented that right-wing presidential candidates will not beat Kwasniewski if they continue to use "five-year-old slogans" saying that the president is "a communist and a man fighting with the Church." According to Plazynski, the times when anticommunism and a pro-Church position were the main parliamentary or presidential election slogans have now gone. Right-wing politicians, Plazynski added, should "draw conclusions from the Holy Father's changed approach to people like Aleksander Kwasniewski," PAP reported.

Kwasniewski tops popularity polls in Poland with a remarkable 75 percent backing, while Kwasniewski's anticipated main rival on the right wing, Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski, trails with 10 percent support.

Premier Reprimanded For Vodka And Cigarettes. Belarusian Television reported that at a 23 June government meeting President Alyaksandr Lukashenka gave a severe reprimand to Prime Minister Syarhey Linh and warnings to presidential administration chief Mikhail Myasnikovich and Security Council Secretary Viktar Sheyman for failing to carry out his former orders to regulate the production and sale of alcohol and tobacco products in Belarus. The 25 June "Beloruskaya delovaya gazeta" shed more light on the reasons for Lukashenka's ire.

Beginning in 1996, Russian firms were allowed to ship grain to Belarusian distilleries: 65 percent of the produced alcohol was left in Belarus as payment, while the remaining 35 percent was taken to Russia for making vodka. No excise tax was imposed on the alcohol made out of Russian grain at Belarusian distilleries.

According to the newspaper, in 1996-97 the Belarusian Agricultural Ministry granted permission to more than 100 bogus firms--which were controlled by Russian and CIS criminal groups--for shipping grain to Belarus in exchange for alcohol. Some 80 Belarusian distilleries worked on Russian grain, having provided a total of 300 million liters of non-taxed spirits. "Beloruskaya delovaya gazeta" estimates that the annual income of criminal groups drawn from the production of alcohol in Belarus amounted to $1 billion. Linh was "severely reprimanded" for failing to provide even a single ruble from that alcoholic business to the Belarusian budget.

Beginning on 1 January 1998, Belarus terminated the production of alcohol from Russian grain and considerably increased the excise tax on exported alcoholic beverages. As a result, Belarusian distilleries hoarded some $15 million worth of alcohol unclaimed by Russian gangs. Sheyman and Myasnikovich were warned by Lukashenka for delaying in turning that cache into money for the budget.

Kuchma Says His Presidency Means Continued Reforms. Excerpts from an interview of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma with RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on 22 June:

RFE/RL: How do you assess your chances in the presidential elections?

Kuchma: I am convinced of my victory. That is why I am running. In the current situation a change of political course would be fatal for Ukraine. I see my duty in continuing what I began in 1994. There is simply no other way for Ukraine. This is the main motive behind my struggle for the presidential post.

RFE/RL: It is no secret that the overwhelming majority of media in Ukraine have been unofficially made inaccessible to other presidential candidates. What is your comment?

Kuchma: We have more than 8,000 print media in Ukraine. And more than 1,000 television companies. All of them are private or, one can say, non-state media. It is no secret to anybody than many of [my rivals in the presidential race] have their own private media. The president has no such media. If one looks closer at the media, one will see at once who possesses this or that newspaper or this or that channel. Thus, I absolutely disagree [with your opinion].

RFE/RL: What were your main achievements during your presidential term?

Kuchma: Let us recall the year 1994 when inflation in the country reached 10,600 percent. Coupons [the Ukrainian currency at that time--edit.] were lying scattered on the streets, having no value at all. Production in the country came virtually to a halt. Now let us look [at the situation] today or in 1998. Our currency has been stable for several years. If it had not been for the global and Russian crises, we would have seen serious improvements in our economy. I can also judge [on my achievements] by the trust of foreign investors who have gradually begun investing in our economy, even though not to the extent I would want. But reasons for that are understandable. All [investors] are waiting for political and legislative stability. And the main thing--they want to be sure that Ukraine's course is irreversible. I am not going to mention privatization, though most of the national product is produced today not by state-owned but private enterprises. ...A zone of stability has been created around the country. I have in mind such fateful treaties as those with Russia, Poland, or Romania. Ukraine today is known in the world; its opinion is taken into account to some extent. ...

Tkachenko Claims To Live Modestly On Marxism And Women. Excerpts from an interview of Ukrainian parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko with the 19 June "Zerkalo nedeli":

Q: Do you still profess Marxism-Leninism?

A: I treat this teaching with great respect. The Marxist doctrine is defiled by the people who are not familiar with it. You can believe me on this point, I was an exemplary student at the Higher Party School.

Q: How are your leftist views getting along with your capital? According to anonymous polls, you belong to the top ten of the most well-to-do parliamentary deputies. A: The Supreme Council has 100 or 120 prosperous deputies. I do not belong to their number. All my capital amounts to 18,700 rubles on a savings-bank book, the sum deposited at the time when I was the minister [of agriculture]. At that time I could buy two excellent cars for that money, now--a box of cigarettes.

Q: [I will cite] only one fact: in May 1993 you purchased 300 shares of Alianzkredit for 3 million rubles. A: It is possible that something like that took place. I do not remember it now. But judge by yourself: if I were a Rockefeller, would I torment myself over 600 hryvni ($150) [in the Supreme Council]? I would surely spare myself! I would enjoy life, I would buy a Mercedes or a Volvo. But that is not the case for me. ...Do you know how much I am paid? Only 30 hryvni more than an ordinary deputy. But an ordinary deputy may go home at 6 p.m., while I sit there moping until midnight to earn my bread and butter. ...

Q: There are rumors in your entourage that you harbor a weakness for the female sex.

A: There is nothing surprising in that: I am a man of full value. Thank goodness, I have enough strength and means for pleasures. This is life: one would not need it if one could not make it more attractive. Sleeping, eating, working--is that all? Once you mentioned this, [I must say that] a man's desire for a woman is a natural physiological need. I am ashamed of the Americans: they want their president to be impotent.

"The integration of Poland with the EU has since the very start been supported by the Holy See." -- Pope John Paul II in the Polish parliament on 11 June.

"The pope called for the need to defend the cross, backed [religious] fundamentalism, suggested in an indirect way that he does not dissociate himself from [Gdansk] priest [Henryk] Jankowski [known for his anti-Semitic views--edit.], patted Radio Maryja [ultrarightist and fundamentalist Roman Catholic radio station--edit.] on the back. How, then, should one interpret the phrase about the EU in this context? I think that one needs to look at it in light of his prayer at Radzymin, at the cemetery of those who defended Europe in 1920 [in the Polish-Bolshevik war]. The pope supposedly wants Poland to stand once again to fend off the invasion of devilish forces which are this time storming us from the West. Does he not overestimate us? Is it possible to spark enough strength in today's dwarfed Poles?" -- The weekly "Mysl Polska."

"I am in favor of your acquaintanceship with all political movements and all forces operating here in Belarus, including the opposition. But I would like you to avoid the mistakes that were inherent in [former] West European ambassadors [to Belarus]. They limited themselves to the opposition and forgot that they should serve as links between the authorities and leaders [of Belarus and their countries]." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 18 June, while receiving the credentials from a new British ambassador.

"The milk herd of the 'Bolshevik' collective farm in Kamyanetski raion has been reduced by 18 heads all of a sudden as a result of mishap on the pasture. It was as if nature, by selecting the best heifers in the farm for sacrifice, made a spiteful joke of man. Knowing how assiduously, year after year, the farm employees have been working on the maintenance of their livestock, we are sending them our sincere words of compassion." -- Belarusian Television correspondent on the main newscast on 23 June.

"We consider it unfair and even dangerous to keep Ukraine out of the European perspective." -- Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk in Budapest on 21 June at the NATO-sponsored conference on how to ensure stability in the Balkans.

"The Russians Seized the Fleet but Gave Back Sevastopol." -- Headline in the 22 June, Kyiv-based "Segodnya," commenting on the recent ratification of the Russian-Ukrainian agreements on the Black Sea Fleet by the Russian State Duma.

"I am an opponent of the presidency in Ukraine. In accordance with the current constitution, the president personally may issue edicts, appoint government [members] and judges, control [the] media, and be the supreme commander. This is the usurpation of power. I am seeking this post only because there is no other way to change the existing political system. There should be the supremacy of law in the state, the entire authority should belong to the soviets." -- Natalya Vitrenko, chairwoman of the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine and a presidential candidate, in the 22 June "Nezavisimaya gazeta."