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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: September 7, 1999

7 September 1999, Volume 1, Number 15
Education Reform Launched at Start of New School Year. "This reform will dictate Poland's future position in the world. We have to make changes now if the economy is to be prosperous in 15 years' time," Premier Jerzy Buzek commented on the sweeping education reform launched on 1 September. The reform is expected to ensure that students are better prepared for the various challenges of the modern, high-tech world.

Compulsory education in Poland has been increased from eight to nine years. Elementary education is divided into six-year elementary schools (szkola podstawowa) and three-year intermediary schools (gimnazjum), for which new syllabuses have been drawn up. Secondary education is received at three-year lycees (liceum) or two-year vocational schools (szkola zawodowa).

Under the reform many small schools, primarily in the countryside, have been closed. There are currently some 20,000 elementary and 5,000 intermediary schools in Poland. Some 600,000 children need to be taken to school in buses.

The reform itself is most threatened by a lack of funds for the education sector and teachers' strikes over anticipated layoffs.

Exiled Oppositionists Hosted By Fellow Belarusians in Poland. The 29 August "Niva"--a weekly of the Belarusian minority in Poland--featured interviews with Belarusian Supreme Soviet Chairman Syamyon Sharetski and Belarusian Popular Front Chairman Zyanon Paznyak. On 13 August, the two exiled Belarusian oppositionists met with "Niva" chief editor Witalis Luba and senior editor Aleksander Maksymiuk at the weekly's editorial office in Bialystok (Podlasie Province). Following are excerpts from that meeting:

SHARETSKI: "[Russian politicians], too, have begun to realize who Lukashenka is, but they cannot abandon him because he is a kind of gift for them; the man who rules Belarus does not want Belarus to exist, he wants to unite [Belarus] with Russia. It is hard to find such a marvel anywhere else. Furthermore, Russian trains pass through Belarus, Russian gas is pumped across Belarus into Europe, but Belarus obtains nothing from that. Russians are used to moving [in Belarus] almost as freely as in their gardens while looking for a carrot. For instance, [Belarusian] Foreign Minister [Ural Latypau] is a colonel of [Russia's] Federal Security Service, Interior Minister [Yury Sivakou] is a Russian general (he says he is Belarusian, but he was born and brought up in Russia, maybe his father was a Belarusian some time ago), the [Belarusian] KGB first deputy chairman is also a Russian general. And the main thing is that the deputy prime minister in charge of Belarusian culture and science [Uladzimir Zamyatalin] is a colonel of the Russian army; besides, he is a political provocateur by education (he has such an education--he is a professional provocateur) (ed.: Zamyatalin graduated from the V. I. Lenin Military Political Academy in 1983). Everything that is Belarusian is being destroyed, but from day to day the Belarusians are becoming more and more aware of their nationhood. ...

"I am often asked why there are no 100,000-strong demonstrations in Belarus. The answer is simple: the most active Belarusians--scientists, writers, undertakers--either lie at Kurapaty [ed.: mass burial ground near Minsk of victims of the Stalinist terror] or have left Belarus. Twelve thousand left [Belarus] last year alone. And the ordinary people are intimidated. ...

"The main point is that Russia upholds Lukashenka not only politically but also economically. That's why he is able to stay in power, that's why he can maintain 135,000 police troops in the 10-million-strong nation, that's why he is able to pay regular pensions, even if small. But these pensions are really negligible. My 90-year-old mother (to quote the example most familiar to me), who worked all her life, gets [each month] 5.4 million rubles [$19.3 according to the official exchange rate and $11 according to the street one]. And 1 kilogram of sausage costs 2.5 million rubles. I get 3 million rubles because Lukashenka has forbidden indexation to be applied to my pension. ...Our family cannot afford to eat sausages. ...

"I came to Lithuania as the Supreme Soviet chairman, who has assumed the duties of acting president because such is the constitutional requirement. There will be appropriate steps. I have agreed upon them with Supreme Soviet deputies. We must somehow persuade international organizations that it is impossible to re-educate the dictator, to make a democrat of him. The OSCE leadership believes that it is possible to mollify him to some extent, sit at a negotiation table, and agree on democratic elections. As far as I know history, this has never happened. A dictator will never allow himself to be re-educated. But my opinion is one thing, while that of the OSCE (there are 54 countries in it) is another. The U.S. has taken a more or less decent stand, while some European countries think that it is possible to exert some influence on Lukashenka, that he will agree to hold democratic parliamentary elections. I ask--why parliamentary and not presidential? It was the president's powers that expired, not the parliament's. If you are so clever, let us organize democratic presidential elections."

PAZNYAK: "Everything that Mr. Sharetski said is obviously true. I agree with him regarding both his assessment of the situation and that of the OSCE's role. I, as a politician unencumbered by any [official] post, can speak more freely on this topic. I think that the OSCE represented by [OSCE Minsk mission head Hans Georg] Wieck, unfortunately, has not always been impartial. The OSCE partly reflects Germany's eastern policy position. It's bad when an official in an international organization lobbies German policies through [non-German] channels. It is absolutely evident that certain political circles, which are being lobbied by Wieck, want to come to an agreement with the Lukashenka regime at the expense of the [Belarusian] opposition.

"The very cautious preparation of the so-called negotiations suggest [an agreement will be reached] on holding parliamentary elections under conditions close to those proposed by Lukashenka in order to secure some official recognition for his regime, to present his regime in the West as democratized, as one accepted by the opposition. Such is the conformist stand of the OSCE in Minsk, it is the second year now that I have seen [such a stand] taken. I am not the only one with such an opinion, many politicians are critical of the OSCE's activities. ...

"The West, which actually sustains Russia, has great leverage in Russia's politics. I say: If the West issues credits that are indispensable for Russia's existence, it should make them conditional on the termination of [Russia's] policy of "integration" and of making advances to the dictator Lukashenka."

Marketplace Traders Strike Over Decree On Confiscation. On 1 September, major outdoor markets in Minsk, Hrodna, and Vitsebsk remained empty or virtually empty. Vendors refused to work in order to protest the presidential decree envisaging the confiscation of goods if a vendor fails to produce quality certificates and documents confirming that his/her goods were purchased legally (including the purchase of foreign currency if that currency was used in the transaction). "Try to purchase any foreign currency in Belarusian banks and you will realize that [the authorities] demand an impossible thing from private vendors," "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" commented on 3 September. Some vendors point out that the authorities sell confiscated goods in state-run shops without quality certificates.

Police Counted Caucasians. On 1 September, the Belarusian Interior Ministry completed a large-scale operation code-named "Kavkazets" (Caucasian Man). The police monitored and registered immigrants from the Caucasian states--Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia--and from Caucasian republics of the Russian Federation. The operation was aimed at identifying illegal Caucasian immigrants in Belarus as well as detecting those Caucasians who are "possibly involved in the perpetration of crimes in both Belarus and their historical homelands," according to the 2 September "Segodnya." The police fingerprinted some 6,000 Caucasians and added their personal data to the ministry's computer database.

Kuchma Promises To Pay Back Wages To Teachers. President Leonid Kuchma marked the first day of the new school year by promising to pay overdue wages to teachers within a month. He also pledged to supply all schools with textbooks that students are supposed to receive free of charge. Education Minister Valentyn Zaychuk noted that some 600,000 Ukrainian teachers are owed 240 million hryvni ($54.5 million) in back wages.

Deputy Premier Volodymyr Semynozhenko revealed that in the 1999-2000 school year, more than 1 million children will attend 17,000 pre-schools; 6.7 million students will receive instruction at 21,300 secondary schools and 152,000 at 746 boarding schools. Some 510,000 will attend 975 vocational schools; and 1.6 million have registered at 960 institutions of higher education, at which classes resume in October. Ukraine has 2,600 schools at which instruction is offered in Russian, 108 in Romanian, 65 in Hungarian, six in Crimean Tatar, and three in Polish.

Kuchma At Odds With Lukashenka? Citing "trustworthy sources," Alyaksandr Starykevich, a Belarusian correspondent for the Moscow-based "Novye izvestiya," reported on 1 September that Leonid Kuchma and Alyaksandr Lukashenka recently exchanged "undiplomatic statements" during a telephone conversation. In that conversation, Kuchma revoked his former invitation to Lukashenka to participate in a Baltic-Black Sea forum in Yalta, Crimea, on 10-11 September. Lukashenka responded by canceling his planned meeting with Kuchma in Brest, Belarus, on 3 September.

It is expected that some 20 leaders from the Baltic and the Black Sea regions will attend the Yalta forum. According to Interfax, Kuchma's spokesmen Oleksandr Martynenko said on 1 September that the main objective of the forum is to "unite different countries and regions and promote their economic revival," recalling that in 1945 Yalta had hosted the conference that divided Europe into "zones of influence."

According to Starykevich, Kuchma withdrew his invitation to Lukashenka under pressure from a "number of participants" in the Yalta conference who objected because of Lukashenka's illegitimate status after 20 July. Reportedly, Norway, who chairs the OSCE this year, was particularly firm in pressing for Lukashenka's exclusion from the forum.

Belarusian independent media alleged that Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski threatened not to go to Yalta if Lukashenka were to attend the conference.

"I will not tolerate such situations in the government.... The prime minister should be able to trust his ministers." -- Premier Jerzy Buzek on the refusal of Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Janusz Tomaszewski to confirm whether the Lustration Court began investigating Tomaszewski's alleged links with the Communist-era secret services.

"I must say that I feel relieved. When you are responsible for security in such a big country as ours, where many institutions had to be built from scratch, where you had to change the structure of the police force and the principles of operation and responsibility, all these great tasks are certainly stressful." -- Tomaszewski on 2 August, commenting on his sacking by Buzek, cited by BBC.

"I had a meeting with the teachers' collective of the school. They like their job, they like their profession. I can tell you that they did not ask me even a single question about their salaries and their material situation, although such questions do exist and I realize this perfectly. These people are real fans of their job. They asked questions about tapestries, ceramics, flowers, and so on. We discussed exactly these problems. It was very pleasant. It means that people think about the eternal, about the beautiful, about art. I have had a lot of impressions and these impressions are good." -- Alyaksandr Lukashenka, commenting to Belarusian Television on his 1 September visit to a Minsk school to inaugurate the new school year.

"This year we first come up against the problem that the real [economic] sector in terms of salaries is running away so fast that the budget cannot catch up with it. Therefore, we will definitely introduce a coefficient tying [your salaries] to the real sector." -- Premier Syarhey Linh to teachers at another Minsk school on 1 September.

"We can meet without neckties, with neckties, or without trousers. But if we meet, something should happen." -- Lukashenka on his planned meeting with Russian Premier Vladimir Putin on 8 September, quoted by Reuters.

"People in the countryside have only one thing to do: to get up in the morning, work through the day, get home--and all their business is done. [Then] to watch television, quaff a glass of moonshine, and take a chunk of good bacon." -- Lukashenka on Belarusian Television on 2 September, praising the rural life and people in Belarus.

"Poland joined the Western European Union. Joined it and had to open its borders. Germans came with their cheap meat and cheap milk. They are rich, they have a higher living standard. And they dumped it on Poland at dumping prices. Poland has choked with it. Demonstrations every day, meetings, tear gas, truncheons, and so it goes on. The most terrible thing is when you produce and no one buys [your produce]." -- Lukashenka on Belarusian Television on 2 September.

"Mikhail Chyhir openly challenged the president and his followers, who in November 1996 carried out the state coup. When in early 1999 the Belarusian Supreme Soviet decreed regular presidential elections, he showed his courage by fielding his candidacy and paid for that with his freedom. However, as can be seen from his open letter to A. Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 17 August 1999), he has not lost hope even in jail and is ready to do everything incumbent on him to return the Republic of Belarus to the democratic path of development." -- Exiled Supreme Soviet Chairman Syamyon Sharetski, submitting to the Supreme Soviet Mikhail Chyhir's candidacy as prime minister.