Accessibility links

Breaking News

Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: August 24, 1999

24 August 1999, Volume 1, Number 13
Senators Call For Cooling Relations With Lithuania Over Sentenced Poles. The Appeals Court in Vilnius on 17 August sentenced four ethnic Poles and one Latvian--all former local government councilors from the Salcininkai (Polish: Soleczniki) region south of Vilnius--to up to three-and-a-half years in prison for trying to create the so-called Polish territorial autonomy in 1990. In April, they were sentenced by a district court to up to six months in prison; the Appeals Court, however, increased that sentence following an appeal by the Lithuanian Prosecutor-General's Office.

In November 1990, a congress of councilors from the Salcininkai and Vilnius districts (inhabited mostly by ethnic Poles) passed a resolution declaring Polish autonomy in the Salcininkai district. The congress ruled that the 11 March 1990 parliamentary act restoring Lithuanian independence did not extend to the Salcininkai region, and it pledged to remain loyal to the USSR Constitution.

Several weeks later, the Salcininkai council obeyed Moscow's order to recruit for the Soviet Army, while the rest of Lithuania ignored that order. After the breakup of the USSR in 1991, the main Salcininkai district opponents of Lithuania's independence--Salcininkai council head Czeslaw Wysocki and two other persons--fled to Belarus or Russia. According to "Gazeta Wyborcza," those sentenced now were "less important members" of the Salcininkai council.

Three Polish senators who observed the trial--Anna Bogucka-Skowronska (Freedom Union), as well as Stanislaw Marczyk and Zygmunt Ropelewski (Solidarity Electoral Action)--told journalists that the verdict was a political decision. "The verdict is a hostile act toward Poles living in Lithuania, it is a distinct signal that the [Lithuanian] state looks unfavorably at their national aspirations. ...As a senator, I think that Poland should now look at Polish-Lithuanian relations with less enthusiasm," "Gazeta Wyborcza" quoted Bogucka-Skowronska as saying.

Former Polish Senat chairman Andrzej Stelmachowski, head of the "Polonia" association for maintaining ties with Poles abroad, said the trial had a "pure political nature," adding that "we should take political actions in Poland," according to BNS.

Janas Senkevicius (Jan Sienkiewicz), a Lithuanian parliamentary deputy of Polish origin and leader of Lithuania's Polish Electoral Action, said the four detainees will appeal to the Supreme Court. He pledged that his party "will do everything to make sure that the trial reaches the international level," BNS reported.

Former Polish Ambassador to Lithuania Jan Widacki told the 18 August "Gazeta Wyborcza": "I think that the verdict of the court is self evident, while the behavior of the senators is stupid. ...Lithuania has the right to be independent and to judge those who were against [its independence] by taking the side of the Soviet state. ...I regret that the Polish senators came to Lithuania...and commented on the work of the independent court. The appeal to worsen relations with the Lithuanian people is political nonsense. Besides, it is not true that Poles in Lithuania identify themselves with the autonomy-seekers. Many Poles were indignant about their attempts from the very beginning."

On 20 August, Jan Widacki and five Polish prominent public figures--Marek Edelman, Jerzy Giedroyc, Jacek Kuron, Adam Michnik, and Jan Nowak-Jezioranski--published an open letter to Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus asking him to pardon the five detainees "in the name of good future Polish-Lithuanian relations." The letter criticizes those politicians in Poland who "in a brutal way" try to pressure Lithuania's independent judiciary. At the same time, the signatories say: "It is our deepest conviction that Lithuania is able to make a generous gesture toward the persons who--regardless of their past culpability--in no way threaten its independence or territorial integrity any longer."

Church Spokesman Blasts Computer Game On Internet. Father Adam Schulz, spokesman for the Polish Catholic Church Episcopate, said on 17 August that the computer game "Operation Glemp"--the aim of which is to kill Primate of Poland Jozef Glemp and to shoot at priests--is "deeply inappropriate and offensive to the religious feelings of believers," PAP reported. Schulz made his comment for PAP in connection with a 17 August report in "Gazeta Wyborcza" saying that "Operation Glemp" is available on a free-of-charge U.S. server.

Schulz said the appearance of games in which children play to kill people is "disturbing." He noted that "Operation Glemp" has "specific connotations" because of the assassination of Father Jerzy Popieluszko by Poland's Communist-era security service in 1984. "This is why [the game] is all the more unpleasant and strikes at the religious feelings of believers," Schulz added.

According to the Episcopate spokesman, the Roman Catholic Church has many times underscored the positive role of the Internet as a communications tool, a means for the exchange of ideas, and a suitable pastime. However, "the freedom that the Internet creates should be based on human values. The Internet, just like television, radio, and the press, is subject to the ethical code," Schulz argued. He stressed that it is time to hold a discussion on the Internet in Poland. In his opinion, legal regulations are necessary to ensure that the Internet respects both the free nature of this medium and the "basic ethical sensitivity of people."

Opposition Adopts 'Platform' For Talks With Regime. On 10 August, seven major opposition parties in Belarus signed a memorandum on the planned negotiations with the authorities on holding the 2000 parliamentary elections. The memorandum empowered the opposition Supreme Soviet--which consists of some 40 deputies who did not recognize the 1996 constitutional referendum in Belarus--to form a delegation for the talks, which will take place under the aegis of the OSCE, and to conduct them with the regime. In this way, the opposition parties emphasized once again that the Supreme Soviet is the legitimate legislature in Belarus. The memorandum was signed by Stanislau Bahdankevich (the United Civic Party), Lyavon Barshcheuski (the Belarusian Popular Front), Mikalay Statkevich (the Social Democratic Party "Narodnaya Hramada"), Stanislau Shushkevich (the Social Democratic Assembly), Syarhey Kalyakin (the Belarusian Party of Communists), Valyantsina Palevikova (the Party of Women "Hope"), and Leanid Lemyashonak (the Belarusian Party of Labor).

The memorandum prompted a vehement protest by Syarhey Haydukevich, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (a Belarusian replica of Vladimir Zhirinovskii's party), who claims that the document "excludes all but the Supreme Soviet from the wide spectrum of the political opposition" in Belarus. The reaction of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka was even more vehement. The Belarusian president said on 13 August that the Supreme Soviet is a "rotten structure" that does not represent anybody. The opposition in Belarus, he argued, consists of people "who sincerely want to do good for our people and who criticize the authorities constructively."

Lukashenka added that he is not going to "create prestige" for the Supreme Soviet by talking with Supreme Soviet deputies, in particular, Syamyon Sharetski, Viktar Hanchar, Stanislau Bahdankevich, and Stanislau Shushkevich. The OSCE, however, suggested that Minsk has no right to define who belongs to the political opposition in Belarus and to pick partners for the planned dialogue.

Some Belarusian independent commentators believe that by choosing the Supreme Soviet to act as a political umbrella, the opposition made a skillful move. Lukashenka, those commentators argue, would prefer to negotiate with parties that are at odds with one another rather than a united group. They also argue that the Supreme Soviet, as an internationally recognized legislative body, is more likely to forge an agreement with the authorities on holding democratic elections than are opposition parties whose influence--apart, perhaps, from that of the Belarusian Popular Front--is rather insignificant.

On 12 August, the opposition parties adopted "basic principles of the platform of the opposition political parties in the Republic of Belarus for the OSCE-mediated negotiations with the executive authorities." According to those principles, the planned negotiations should contribute to "restoring a minimal level of trust between political subjects in the country, defining the role of a future parliament, and holding free and fair parliamentary elections in 2000." The opposition makes the beginning of negotiations conditional on obtaining access to the state media. It also expects the authorities to grant amnesty to political prisoners, stop political persecution, and quit the practice of arresting and fining participants in peaceful demonstrations.

As regards the parliament that is to be formed in the 2000 elections, the opposition sees it as a body entitled to interpret Belarusian laws, empowered to oversee the implementation of laws, and vested with real powers to form the government. The 2000 parliamentary election law should be based on a mixed, proportional-majority election system, the oppositionists argue.

So far, the authorities have not commented on these proposals. However, they already formed a group for the negotiations: Mikhail Sazonau (head), Valery Navelski, Yury Kulakouski, Mikhail Charhinets, Henadz Varantsou, and Ihar Andreyeu. The opposition's representation for the talks will include Anatol Lyabedzka (the United Civic Party), Vintsuk Vyachorka (the Belarusian Popular Front), and Aleh Trusau (the Social Democratic Assembly). Three other participants will be named at a later date.

Presidential Campaign Kick Off With 'Dirty Falsification.' In the first half of August, some Ukrainian regions witnessed the dissemination of leaflets attacking two presidential candidates: Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz and Social Democratic Union leader Yevhen Marchuk. The leaflets were signed by the Communist Party of Ukraine. According to the three parties involved as well as many commentators, those leaflets heralded the inauguration of "compromising information wars" in the Ukrainian presidential campaign.

The leaflets accused Moroz of "betraying the interests of the working people" and of forging a "criminal alliance" with Marchuk. They warned that "fascists from the [Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists] urge their stooges to uphold these [two] gentlemen and create throughout the country militarized staffs to support their criminal alliance and organize provocations against the true defenders of the working people's interests--the Communists."

"Komunist," the press organ of Ukraine's Communist Party, suggested in an article titled "Another Dirty Falsification" that the leaflets were the work of the "ruling regime." The newspaper wrote: "It is known that the ruling regime long ago lost its peace of mind because of the growth in authority and influence of the leftist forces. ...It is possible [for the ruling regime] to bring back that peace of mind only by driving a wedge in the unity of the left-wing parties."

The heads of Moroz's and Marchuk's election staffs said in a joint statement that the leaflets were disseminated by the All-Ukrainian Fund Social Protection, which is headed by Oleksandr Volkov, an aide to President Leonid Kuchma. That statement came after several packages containing the leaflets in the Social Protection local office in Kamenka, a raion town in Cherkasy Oblast, were found by representatives of the local branches of the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, the Social Democratic Union, and the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists. The Social Protection branch in Cherkasy Oblast stressed that the fund has nothing to do with the leaflets. He accused the election staffs of "some presidential candidates" of resorting "to extremely dirty methods in order to discredit one candidate--the incumbent president."

"Today, evaluating the situation, the threats, the lack of ideas and visions, and the questions about important matters, I have decided to run [in the 2000 presidential elections] because I do have something to say." -- Former Solidarity leader and Polish President Lech Walesa on Polish Radio on 19 August.

"Marian Krzaklewski has had some achievements...and there is a chance that he would be a good candidate for president in 2005. I am fairly well convinced of that. I am also fairly well convinced that [under current circumstances]...he has not the slightest chance of becoming president. And we cannot finance this attempt because we will all pay for it." -- Walesa on Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski's possible presidential bid in 2000.

"Do you see what Ukraine has finally come to? Today Ukrainian women travel to Belarus to give birth. But some say that it is necessary to close the borders, not to let people in. How can we forbid letting people in? [Women need] to give birth, while they have no maternity wards [in Ukraine]. As for us, we still manage [to have maternity wards] somehow." -- Lukashenka, quoted by Belarusian Television on 12 August.

"If they wish our country well, they should not flee abroad but do good at home. It is necessary to immediately find jobs for them before the elections. What will they present to the people [in the election campaign]? [Perhaps, their willingness]: I want to be the president. All right, but here is a natural question: What have you done, where have you been during these [past] years? I was in the opposition, in the parliament of the 13th convocation, in America or Europe [ed.: the sentence spoken in a derisive Belarusian-Russian linguistic mix]. What have you been there for? [Your] country was here, [your] people lived here. Therefore, they need to find jobs first of all, instead of loitering away. ...They have produced a pack of vagrants and call it the Supreme Soviet." -- Lukashenka on exiled Belarusian oppositionists and on the opposition Supreme Soviet (of the 13th convocation), quoted by Belarusian Television on 13 August.

"Without help from Russia, Lukashenka could remain in power no longer that two months." -- Supreme Soviet Chairman Syamyon Sharetski, now in exile in Lithuania, in "Die Presse" on 16 August.

"I have few illusions that we will be able to conduct talks with Lukashenka. He prefers to give endless monologues. Apparently, he thinks that he will continue his monologues during the talks with the opposition as well." -- Stanislau Bahdankevich, leader of the opposition Belarusian United Civic Party, to RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 16 August.

"There will be no rest. People will disturb us all the time." -- Belarusian Premier Syarhey Linh on the problem of paying overdue wages, quoted by Belarusian Television on 17 August.

"We will begin [by making] Russian the second official language [in Ukraine]. Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus will pull together as much as possible and begin actively coordinating their domestic and foreign policy. Together we will be able to get rid of the IMF's financial yoke and to successfully develop [our] economy and culture. In my opinion, we can resolutely introduce a common currency for external use. This will allow us to get rid of the [U.S.] dollar's pressure. It is definitely necessary to restore a single nuclear shield. We will find a positive solution to the issue of dual citizenship in Ukraine. This will allow us to practically resolve the problem of Crimea. Our union will be open for other Slavic states. We, the Slavs, number 300 million. And we can look very impressive to the rest of the world. Nobody will dare to behave toward us as NATO did in Yugoslavia. In short, Ukraine's foreign policy will be oriented to the northeast." -- Presidential candidate Natalya Vitrenko on her election program in the 17 August "Parlamentskaya gazeta."

"To optimize the numerical strength and structure of the army in accordance with the military doctrine. To provide the army with highly efficient modern weaponry and sufficient budget subsidies. To work out a collective security program of the three Slavic states: Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. To renounce Ukraine's nonnuclear status." -- From Vitrenko's election program "theses," published in the 19 August "Holos Ukrainy."