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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: August 3, 1999

3 August 1999, Volume 1, Number 10
Basovishcha Rocks Grodek/Haradok For 10th Time. Belarusian rock musicians and fans find life in Belarus today no less difficult than in the USSR era. The Belarusian authorities continue to dislike rock music, preferring to promote folk or "Slavic" music at the republic's top musical event--the state-sponsored Slavic Bazaar, an annual pop and folk music festival in Vitsebsk. In June and July, the Minsk authorities prohibited or foiled the staging of five formerly authorized rock music concerts organized by the Belarusian Musical Alternative association and the Young Front--the youth wing of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front. According to the organizers, the concerts were prevented from taking place because they were to feature Belarusian-language bands and "the current authorities treat everything national with suspicion," Belapan reported on 29 July.

Therefore, it is no wonder that the biggest and most famous festival of Belarusian rock music takes place outside of Belarus, in Grodek (Belarusian: Haradok), northeastern Poland. Grodek is a small town some 40 kilometers east of Bialystok--the center of Podlasie Province, which is inhabited by a 200,000-strong Belarusian minority. The festival, held in mid-July every year since 1990, is organized by the Belarusian Union of Students (BAS) in Poland. The official name of the event is the Music Festival of Young Belarus or Basovishcha (the last name was coined by combining the acronym BAS with the Belarusian neuter ending "ovishcha"). This year's Basovishcha took place on 16-17 July. It was the 10th such festival. As in previous years, the first night featured a contest between young and lesser-known Belarusian bands from both Belarus and Poland, the second was devoted to the performance of festival stars--the Belarusian bands Ulis, Krama, N.R.M., Novaye neba, Palats, and the Polish band Kult. Some 4,000 attended the event.

Basovishcha is a deeply emotional event, particularly for rockers from Belarus, whom young Polish Belarusians, half-mockingly and half-endearingly, call "our under-the-Soviets brothers." Below are excerpts from a vivid, even censurable, account of the 10th Basovishcha by Uladzimir Katkouski, a Minsk student who attended the festival for the first time. The full version--titled "Belarusian Woodstock"--is on the Internet at

"As usual, we had to wait a lot on the border [on our bus]--this time around five-and-a-half hours. After all, it is the border between a NATO member and the country renowned for its ferocious anti-NATO stance. The Belarusian border guards are especially concerned with shuttle-traders, that is, people who regularly smuggle alcohol, cigarettes, and other goods back and forth. The limit is two vodka bottles and one carton of cigarettes per person. We had two of those 'shuttlers.' Before approaching the border they kindly asked all the other passengers to take a bottle or two, if they were not carrying any for themselves. That's their usual trick. So, the border guards did not bother us much. The Polish customs officer was all friendly and smiling. When he saw the tents packed over our heads, he asked: 'Going to Basovishcha?' Upon our confirmation he answered: 'Well, it is like a cult thing for you Belarusians, huh?' I guess it is. It is one of the very few opportunities to hear our own national stars, to wave the white-red-white flags and yell 'Zyve Belarus' [Long Live Belarus] without the bothering and dangerous presence of KGB and special forces all around...

"From Bialystok we had to get to Haradok (Grodek), a small town east of Bialystok, near to which somewhere in the forest there is a big cement concert stage, and this is Basovishcha. Fortunately, a lady in the luggage storeroom at the railway station was a native of Grodek and explained in Belarusian-Polish 'trasianka' (mix) how to get to the festival, adding with a sweet smile: 'Vaszy chlopcy szumieli jaszcze uczoraj' (your guys were making noise even yesterday). I was surprised to hear her mixed language, but when we got to Grodek I was even more surprised to hear very pure, literary Belarusian. Virtually all old people speak Belarusian, but, on the other hand, most of the young people speak Polish as the native language, although [they] still understand Belarusian. ...

"We easily found the place--when we got out of the bus in Grodek, the ground was shaking because of the music, even though the stage was 3 kilometers away in the woods. So we just followed the sound. There were already thousands of people hanging around. Some already were completely trashed, lying under the bushes or under the benches. The view of this motley crowd spread all over the forest was unnerving. The variety of Iroquois haircuts, fancy tattoos, weird and torn clothes could become an object of fascination even to the most seasoned punks. Most of the people were from Poland (though, of course, a big chunk of them were ethnic Belarusians), and a small crowd from Minsk and Hrodna (my estimate is about 200 people). ...

"In some way or another all performances [on the first night] were interesting. In my opinion, the best were the guys from Deviation. They give concerts in their native Hrodna, but they took part only in one small concert in Minsk. So, for me it was the first opportunity to see them live. Too bad the Minsk authorities don't let them play. I suppose it's just the KGB that does not let them close to the capital, being afraid that they can easily start a revolution. I'd agree with that. They are just awesome at exciting the crowd. They just make the crowd boil. ...

"On the second day the crowd was even bigger. This was the day for superstars of our rock [music] to show their best. ... Belarusians brought their white-red-whites (the national flag that is forbidden by Lukashenka's regime) and there were five or six of them flying over the crowd during the whole concert. The punks were yelling 'Death to Luka[shenka]!' It appears that to most Poles the major problem is the regime, while on a broader scale it is the people of Belarus who allow or silently support such a regime that constitute the main problem. Still, I was deeply touched when one Polish punk took a white-red-white band from me and kept pulling it out from his pocket and kissing it from time to time. I watched him, because at first I suspected that he was way too drunk and he would lose my precious present. He still had it on the second day. He even came to me one more time, thanked me for the band, and said: 'I would die for Belarus. I would die to assassinate Lukashenka.' Looking straight in his eyes, I just realized that I completely believed him."

A report on Basovishcha in the 25 July "Niva"--a Belarusian-language weekly in Bialystok--provides a glimpse into how the festival is perceived by Poland's central and provincial authorities and media. Aleksander Maksymiuk, a senior editor of "Niva" and an organizer of the festival in the early 1990s, wrote: "The festival is a non-commercial event, financed by the Ministry of Culture, the Grodek commune, and private sponsors. What is characteristic of our life here in general [is that] Basovishcha, as a matter of principle, is not supported by the provincial authorities [in Bialystok], although it is the only major international rock event in Podlasie Province, and it could serve as a good advertisement for the region. Over the 10 years of Basovishcha, the attitude of the provincial authorities toward it has not wavered. At the same time, however, we have witnessed a development more important than the 'unwavering' stance of the provincial authorities. The festival has finally gained favor among the local media that serve as the festival's sponsors and defenders. There was nothing like that in the festival's beginning. Nine, eight, or seven years ago the organizers themselves had to seek publicity for Basovishcha. The situation was reversed at [this year's] jubilee festival--now Basovishcha provides an excellent opportunity for the regional media to promote themselves."

Former Solidarity Activist To Write Party Program For Post-Communists. Andrzej Celinski, a former anti-communist dissident, Solidarity activist, and parliamentary deputy of the liberal Freedom Union (UW) from 1993-1997, recently joined the Left Democratic Alliance (SLD), a left-wing party launched in April. The SLD is the legal successor to the disbanded post-communist Social Democracy of the Third Republic and the communist Polish United Workers' Party. Celinski was immediately appointed head of the SLD commission for drafting a party program that is to be officially adopted at an SLD congress in December.

Celinski commented on his decision by saying that he wants to put an end to divisions on the Polish political stage. "Now, 10 years after the Round Table [set up by Solidarity and Communists in 1989], it is high time for Poland to stop losing chances that it could take advantage of, were it not for deep-rooted political divisions," PAP quoted him as saying. Celinski added that he made his "difficult decision" to join the SLD because this group had never aimed to marginalize or get rid of people whose viewpoints differed from its own.

UW parliamentary deputy Jerzy Litynski commented that Celinski made a "drastic" and "incomprehensible" step, causing a "huge disappointment" among his former party colleagues. Another UW parliamentary deputy, Wladyslaw Frasyniuk, said Celinski's assignment to draft an SLD program is "unsavory" and "unbelievable." According to Frasyniuk, this move shows that "the SLD uses prominent politicians as mere tools and seeks to gain a one-time dividend" from Celinski's decision to join the party.

How They Arrest People In Minsk. The following are descriptions, based on RFE/RL's Belarusian Service and Belapan reports, of three out of a 100 or so recent arrests in Minsk:

ALEH VOLCHAK, a human rights activist, was arrested by plainclothes policemen in Minsk on 21 July, along with two friends. The arrest took place in the evening, after the opposition rally that marked the end of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's legitimate term in office. At a police station, policemen separated Volchak from his friends and beat him for some 10 minutes. Volchak demanded that an ambulance be sent for him, but a police officer on duty called for it only three hours later, when he noticed that Volchak was on the verge of losing consciousness. Volchak was taken to the hospital where it was determined that he had received many injuries and suffered traumas. The doctor who examined Volchak said he should be hospitalized immediately, but the accompanying policemen said Volchak is a "criminal" and took him back to the station, where he spent another 18 hours undergoing interrogation. Interrogators threatened that he would be punished with a long prison term for "malicious hooliganism" during the rally. But they finally released him, telling him he is a witness in the investigation of the 21 July unsanctioned demonstration. Volchak told RFE/RL that he was beaten most likely for his appeals to policemen during the demonstration not to obey the orders of an illegitimate president but to side with Belarus's legitimate legislature--the opposition Supreme Soviet.

VALERY SHCHUKIN, a deputy of the opposition Supreme Soviet, a journalist, and a self-professed "true communist," was arrested on 22 July while trying to force his way into a Minsk court building to attend the trial of his parliamentary colleague, Andrey Klimau. The trial was open, but policemen prevented him from entering the courtroom, saying they had received instructions not to let him in. The policemen detained Shchukin, drew up a report, and took him to an administrative court, where he was immediately tried for "petty hooliganism." According to the policemen's testimony, Shchukin, while trying to enter the court building, used foul language and pulled the policemen by their uniforms, threatening them and behaving violently. According to Belapan, there were large discrepancies between the written report and the spoken testimony of the policemen. In addition, a witness testified that Shchukin behaved correctly, if emotionally. As for Shchukin, he told the judge that he could not have pulled at anybody's clothes because his hands were occupied during the incident: in one, he held a tape recorder, in the other, several newspapers. Shchukin played an audio recording of the incident to the judge, demonstrating that the only phrases he uttered were his demands that the policemen "take their hands off" him and "obey the law," to which one of the policemen responded: "Don't push your law down my throat. I am the law." The judge ordered Shchukin to be detained for 15 days.

TATSYANA SNITKO, a Belarusian correspondent for the Ukrainian newspaper "Ukrayina moloda," was arrested with her friend, the journalist Tsina Klykouskaya, on 27 July, following the opposition march to mark the pre-1996 Independence Day (in 1996 Lukashenka moved the holiday to 3 July). Klykouskaya had waved to a bus full of special purpose policemen in bulletproof vests and with shields. The bus stopped and several policemen dashed at the two women, forcing them into the vehicle and taking them to a police station, where they met some 40 detained oppositionists. Snitko switched on her tape recorder and began asking some of them about the circumstances of their arrest. According to Snitko, police officers at the station were very embarrassed when they discovered that the two women were journalists. In Snitko's own words: "We were simply requested [by the station chief] in a very kind manner to leave the station. The requests began: 'Could you please...?' To which I replied: 'No, I couldn't. Excuse me, but you have refused for two years to let me in here to get information about the people [you arrest]. Now you brought me here on your own, and I thank you very much for that.' In the end, the chief went away in a very unhappy mood, and afterward some fleshy guy pushed me and the others out of there."

Army To Fight Battle for the Harvest. On 22 July, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka held a traditional, nationally televised conference with his ministers and local administration leaders on the harvest campaign in the country. As in previous years, the president demanded that all ministries, state committees, and local authority bodies give top priority to assisting the agricultural sector during the harvest season.

In particular, Lukashenka instructed the Interior Ministry and the KGB to crack down on those pilfering fuel on collective farms and smuggling grain to Russia. The Border troops are to support these two institutions in their harvest task. In addition, Lukashenka gave a rather unexpected order to Defense Minister Alyaksandr Chumakou, saying that the army should deal on its own with the "procurement of grain, beets, potatoes, and other agricultural products" for its needs. "You should provide the food on your own, not only for the servicemen, but also for their families," Lukashenka, who is the supreme commander of the Belarusian Armed Forces, told Chumakou.

According to the 26 July "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta," this order poses some insoluble problems to the military. First, where to find harvesters? The agricultural sector, which is experiencing an acute shortage of still-functioning agricultural equipment, will hardly lease its worn-out harvesters to men in uniform. Second, where and how to store the harvested crops? The army has neither grain elevators, mills, nor specialists for overseeing the proper storage of agricultural products. Third, where to get fuel for the harvest, given the fact that gasoline and diesel fuel are now available in Belarus in strictly limited amounts?

Moreover, Lukashenka's order will considerably disrupt combat training schedules, including firing practice, and the training of military vehicle drivers and pilots, the newspaper noted.

Why Did Kuchma Fire Kuratchenko? Most commentators tend to agree that President Leonid Kuchma fired First Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Kuratchenko on 31 July because of the latter's embarrassing proposal, made at a government meeting on 28 July, to change Ukraine's economic course. Kuratchenko stressed the need to revive state economic planning and to revise relations with the IMF. In particular, he proposed that Ukraine's foreign debt be restructured, with servicing deadlines put off by three to five years in order to use the money saved to pay overdue wages and pensions. "I'm not against cooperation with the IMF, but we should have a greater degree of freedom and not work under a dictate," AP quoted Kuratchenko as saying on 29 July.

Kuratchenko's remarks appeared to come at a particularly sensitive time for Kuchma, who in a presidential election year urgently needs further payments from the IMF's $2.6 billion loan program to reduce the heavy burden of both foreign and domestic debt obligations. A sternly worded statement issued by the government on 29 July seems to confirm there is a connection between Kuratchenko's economic proposals and his dismissal. In particular, the statement notes: "It is a difficult time for our country. Cabinet of Ministers members once more affirm their unity and commitment to the course of economic and social reform. ... Any attempts to review social and property relations and to return to Soviet planning methods of managing the economy or the failure by the state to acknowledge its internal and external obligations will lead only to civil conflict and the external isolation of Ukraine. It is a road to nowhere," according to Reuters.

Another reason for Kuratchenko's dismissal could be his stance in what the 30 July "Eastern Economic Daily" called the "conflict among cabinet members over the fuel and energy sector." Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko on 28 July proposed that Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov be reprimanded for his poor performance, including disrupted supplies of fuel for the harvest campaign. Kuratchenko strongly opposed the motion to reprimand Plachkov, threatening to resign if Pustovoytenko continued to press the matter. According to Oleksandr Moroz, leader of the Socialist Party and a presidential candidate, Kuratchenko knows only too well the real reasons for Ukraine's recent fuel crisis. In Moroz's opinion, one of the main reasons for the crisis is the fact that before the start of the harvest campaign the UkrTatNafta oil refinery sold some 500,000 tons of oil products--or 25 percent of the total required by Ukrainian farmers--to foreign customers. Pustovoytenko, Moroz noted, is chairman of UkrTatNafta's advisory board.

"I would like to express my point of view regarding some statements by European organizations and the U.S. State Department. These are weighty statements, they include political recommendations for Belarus's leadership, [and] I have studied them attentively. I will say straightforwardly, some of them have a too harsh tone, which I categorically dislike, since I sense [a stereotypical way of thinking in them]. It is indecent to assume such a mentor's tone with regard to a sovereign country, one of the founders of the United Nations. But I cannot fail to note some constructiveness in a number of statements, including that of the State Department. Unfortunately, some commentators interpret its words too freely. In actual fact, Washington and Minsk are holding a very fruitful discussion. ...As far as I know, the U.S. ambassador assured our officials that the U.S. authorities have no grounds to doubt the famous 'legitimacy' of President Lukashenka, and that relations between our countries will be developed in the future as well." -- Lukashenka in an interview with the 27 July "Sovetskaya Belorussiya."

"I am convinced that...there will be no famine in our country. I guarantee [that]." -- Lukashenka in the same interview.

"I will never allow [Belarus] to lose [its] sovereignty. The Russians [and] Russia's leadership know this. Just look at today's European Union--[it represents] such a close unity. But nobody--neither the Germans nor the French--say they have lost their sovereignty. So why should we lose ours? In general, such a problem does not exist." -- Lukashenka on 30 July on Belarusian Television.

"There are two Belaruses. One is a denationalized, Russified, Sovietized Belarus without any historical consciousness, without its language, and, to a large extent, even without any national character. Another Belarus is Belarusian, with national honor and pride, with national shrines and national ideals. The latter Belarus is Belarus proper. But today the correlation between these two Belaruses is not in favor of the latter." -- Belarusian writer Uladzimir Arlou to RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 18 July.

"I felt long ago that I can be useful [for Ukraine]. ...When I became a raion head [in the mid-1970s]...this was a large-scope job for me. But after three or four years of work I felt that I was on the point of bursting open--not because of my ambitions or my ego, but because I simply felt that it was not enough for me, that I could be more useful." -- Ukrainian parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko in an interview in the 29 July "Den."

"I really pity him. He is a man who has tackled an unsuitable business." -- Tkachenko on President Leonid Kuchma in a 29 July interview with "Den."

"Before his presidency, Lukashenka was a state collective farm director. Tkachenko [before becoming the parliamentary speaker] was first deputy prime minister. ...When people compare me with him--"Tkachenko is a Lukashenka"--I laugh. Why do they not say that Lukashenka is a [Belarusian] Tkachenko? Because he has not yet attained [my level], according to our standards." -- Tkachenko in the 29 July interview with "Den."