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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: September 14, 1999

14 September 1999, Volume 1, Number 16
A Change Of Cabinet? According to widespread opinions in Poland, the discharge of Deputy Premier and Interior and Administration Minister Janusz Tomaszewski on 3 September spelled the beginning of a major shakeup on the Polish political scene. Many commentators do not rule out the dismissal of the entire cabinet headed by Premier Jerzy Buzek. Some even predict that both the cabinet and the parliament will be dissolved and Poland will see early parliamentary elections. Ironically, Tomaszewski--a Solidarity veteran who was jailed by the Communist regime in the early 1980s--lost his job because of allegations that he collaborated with Communist-era secret services and did not confess that fact in his lustration statement. But lustration is a minor problem for the current cabinet. A recent opinion poll by Demoskop showed that 52 percent or respondents wanted the Solidarity-led cabinet to resign, while only 27 percent wanted it to stay. The poll also showed that negative ratings for Buzek's cabinet increased to 71 percent in September from 65 percent in August. Earlier opinion polls testified to the fact that the government's low popularity is due to the poor performance in implementing the four sweeping reforms of the administration, health care, pension, and education systems, as well as to the government's inability to reduce unemployment.

The opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) thinks that anticipated cabinet reshuffles will not change the current situation. SLD leader Leszek Miller said on 10 September that his party supports early parliamentary elections. "One can clearly see agony and bankruptcy [within the current cabinet]," PAP quoted Miller as saying.

Buzek said the same day that decisions on a government reshuffle will be taken within the next two weeks. The previous day he stated that he is not considering the resignation of his cabinet. "I have to be ready for that but I do not suppose that it would take place now," PAP quoted him as saying.

What Do Poles Know And Think About Ethnic Minorities? It is estimated that ethnic minorities in Poland make up 3.5 percent of the country's 40 million people. According to the estimates reported by PAP on 9 September, Poland has 700,000 Germans, 250,000-300,000 Ukrainians, 250,000 Belarusians, 25,000-30,000 Slovaks, 15,000-20,000 Lithuanians, 10,000 Roma, 5,000 Jews, and a small number of Czechs, Russians, and Greeks.

In a poll conducted by CBOS in August among 1030 Poles, respondents were asked to answer a number of questions about their knowledge of and attitude toward Poland's minorities.

Some 35 percent of respondents correctly estimated the number of people of non-Polish ethnic origin; 34 percent overestimated and 8 percent underestimated that number; 23 percent were unable to answer this question.

Asked to indicate the largest minorities in Poland, the respondents named respectively Germans, Jews, Roma, Ukrainians, and Belarusians. "It seems that the respondents overestimate the numerical strength of Jews and Roma," CBOS commented.

Asked to indicate whom they like and dislike, more than one-third of those polled declared their dislike of Roma, Jews, and Ukrainians. The most likable Polish minorities are Czechs (43 percent of respondents) and Slovaks (42 percent).

Russia Afraid Of Losing Billions Because Of Brotherly Feelings. "Love to the brotherly republic--as it is defined in the [Russia-Belarus union state treaty draft]--may cost the Russian budget too much," "Izvestiya" wrote on 26 August in a piece titled "Onerous Love." The 9 September "Vedomosti" in "Tax On Brotherly Friendship" posed an anxious question: "How should Belarus and Russia avoid losing many billions and simultaneously not break their economic union?" Both newspapers are worried that the Russia-Belarus Union treaty draft provides for a "single economic and customs area," while not mentioning a "single taxation area." Their worries are connected with the 2 April 1999 protocol signed by the CIS presidents on collecting VAT and excise taxes on the CIS territory. The protocol stipulates that beginning on 1 January 2000, the CIS countries are to collect VAT and excise taxes on goods in the country where those goods are destined to be sold. Belarus proposes to extend this principle to the Belarus-Russia Union. The Russian budget, the newspapers argue, may suffer heavy losses due to what can be called "false exports" to Belarus.

Reportedly, the above-mentioned tax collection scheme is clear with regard to those CIS countries with which Russia has real borders with customs checkpoints. A Russian exporter--who paid VAT twice: first, when buying goods in Russia (VAT included in the price), and second, when shipping the goods through the border (paid as a customs duty to the other country's budget)--can apply for the reimbursement of the latter cost by the Russian budget on the basis of his customs declaration confirmed by a customs officer at the border. But there is no one to confirm such declarations at the Russia-Belarus border. Virtually anybody can claim that he has sold his goods in Belarus and subsequently apply for the reimbursement of the VAT and excise taxes that were supposedly paid to the brotherly republic. Such a turn of events, the newspapers warn, spells disaster for the Russian budget.

To avoid such trouble, Belarus has proposed to entrust Russian and Belarusian tax inspectors with the task of watching over the flow of goods between both countries. However, "Izvestiya" and "Vedomosti" argue that registering mutual exports by Russian and Belarusian tax inspectorates is both an inefficient and time-consuming procedure.

The Court Stops There. In March 1999, former National Bank head Stanislau Bahdankevich filed a libel suit with a Minsk district court against Belarusian Television journalists Alyaksandr Zimouski and Yauhen Dzmitryyeu as well as the Belarusian National Broadcast Company. In their comments, Zimouski and Dzmitryyeu alleged that Bahdankevich--while being the country's chief banker--had carelessly issued bank credits that have never been returned. Moreover, they maintained that Bahdankevich's three sons have not repaid the bank credits they had been given some time ago. Bahdankevich demanded that the court check the allegations in the National Bank. Simultaneously, Bahdankevich addressed all Belarusian banks with a request to provide information about whether they issued any credits to his sons. Although the allegations of Zimouski and Dzmitryyeu were not confirmed, the court refused to punish the journalists, arguing that they based their comments on President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's statements in his interview with "Sovetskaya Belorussiya."

According to Belapan, Bahdankevich is going to appeal the verdict, simultaneously expanding the set of defendants with "Sovetskaya Belorussiya" and Lukashenka.

Best Tractor And Harvester Operators To Be Portrayed. On 7 September, an outdoor painting session with the participation of some 20 painters from Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine began in Mahileu Oblast. It is already the fourth such meeting of artists in the oblast. The former meetings were devoted to depicting local landscapes. This one is different. According to Belapan, artists will visit the best tractor and harvester operators in the country in order to paint their plein-air portraits. The portraits will be handed to those depicted on them at this year's nationwide harvest festival in Shklou.

Rivals Suspect Kuchma Of Intention To Falsify Or Invalidate Presidential Ballot. Yevhen Marchuk, Oleksandr Moroz, Volodymyr Oliynyk, and Oleksandr Tkachenko--the four presidential hopefuls who declared on 24 August to cooperate with each other and field one of them against the incumbent on 31 October--have issued another joint statement. This time they warned that the central authorities, "taking advantage of the short-sightedness of local executive power bodies, have seized leading posts in territorial electoral commissions in order to be able to falsify the election results in an unimpeded manner." It turns out that Kuchma's representatives will head 80 territorial electoral commissions out of Ukraine's 225. The four hopefuls' representatives were less lucky: Tkachenko's people will head 16 commissions, Moroz's 14, Oliynyk's 12, and Marchuk's 10. The four argued that this situation was "created artificially" under "moral and psychological pressure from the media controlled by the incumbent president." They also suggested that Kuchma's election staff harbor expectations that anticipated protests and legal suits prompted by such "undemocratic actions" in the election campaign will make it possible for Kuchma to declare the elections invalid in the event he loses them. "We say our resolute 'No!' to these plans by the current authorities! We will prevent the elections from being disrupted and the people from being deceived through falsifications of the election results!", the four pledged in their joint statement.

"Komunist" Blasts Kuchma For Using "Bourgeois" Methods. "The nearer the election day, the more visible the 'charms' of the bourgeois democracy," "Komunist" wrote on 9 September. In a strongly-worded article, the press organ of Ukraine's Communist Party condemned the incumbent president for resorting to an "arsenal of election techniques from bourgeois countries" in his re-election campaign: intimidation, bribery, "monstrous" lies, slander, cynicism, and the discrediting of rivals.

The newspaper alleges that Kuchma is using another Western invention--election "image-makers"--to make his re-election possible. According to "Komunist," a group of "image-makers from the near abroad" is residing in a government-owned resort in a Kyiv suburb. When asked about their identity, they say they are "from Mosfilm" (Russia's film-making studio). "Kommunist" calls them "unscrupulous and cynical mercenaries" and blames them for advising Kuchma not to allow other candidates to appear in the state media.

"During the first three days of my arrest I was not given anything to eat and practically not allowed to sleep--they were taking me for interrogations every hour or every two hours. I ate for the first time only when my mother came to see me [in jail]. ...I was being hit either in my kidneys or belly. Then I was being led away to my cell and brought back for interrogations again and again. It continued until midnight. Later I was transferred to the Central District Interior Affairs Department in Minsk. There they again threatened me during interrogations that they would beat me but hit only once." -- 21-year-old Yauhen Asinski, arrested on 27 July for taking part in the Independence Day opposition march in Minsk; quoted by RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 6 September.

"The state-run radio and television [in Belarus] are not without an alternative. They have a very strong and professionally trained alternative. It is Radio Liberty, which broadcasts in Belarusian. [Also], all the Russian channels have essentially served a very specific part of our society, that is, our quite microscopic opposition." -- Belarusian Deputy Premier Uladzimir Zamyatalin on Belarusian Television on 6 September.

"Belarus, as all neighboring countries, exists within a market framework--[there is] a market for words, a market for opinions, a market for morals, and a market for conscience. We, as consumers, are only to choose the right [items]." -- Belarusian Television correspondent on the main newscast on 6 September.

"[Belarus] is dead. Close by, Russia is in its death convulsions, too, but it is being replaced by something else, something new. The end of the empire is bloody and hard. However, it is better to have it this way than dying your pitiful death of a beggar in front of the rich and angry neighbor's door [and] waiting to see whether he opens it to give you a drink of water or to kick you. I cannot love the dead [country] any longer." -- Svetlana Gavrilina, an ethnic Belarusian living in St. Petersburg, in a letter titled "Goodbye, Byelorussia" on the Internet page of the Belarusian Charter-97 group ( on 7 September.

"I pay no attention to Kuchma's position at all. The political pre-election period which Ukraine is going through right now is so tense that a lot of thoughtless statements are being made. ...With whom else but Russia and Belarus will Ukraine build relations? We are not needed anywhere else." -- Lukashenka on 8 September, commenting on the Ukrainian president's statements that Ukraine is not interested in joining the Belarus-Russia Union; quoted by Interfax.

"Were there really any different viewpoints? To introduce a single currency--and that's it. Regardless of what [currency] it will be. Regardless of where its issuing center will be located. ...If we fail to integrate with each other, then at least we will see a firecracker. But at the same time, the Belarusian Council of Ministers has adopted the country's monetary policy plan. Now the bunny rabbit (ed: a humorous name for the Belarusian ruble) is going to be gradually pegged to the euro. And to what will we peg the [Russian] ruble? It seems that to the dollar, though. So later the bunny rabbit will be pegged to the [Russian] ruble, and it will be so wonderful." -- "Segodnya" on 9 September, commenting on Russian Premier Vladimir Putin's 8 September visit to Minsk and his integration talks with the Belarusian leadership.

"We do not make a single move without the IMF and the World Bank." -- Leonid Kuchma on 6 September, rejecting allegations that foreign loans are misused in Ukraine; quoted by AP.

"An old friend is better than two new ones. Or at least, dearer. The Soviet Union always paid highly for its friends in the international arena: the socialist camp states and a bunch of troglodyte states of the utterly third world, which pledged under a shower of Soviet money to leap from the stone age into a communist paradise. At the new spiral of history, such a nasty situation recurs with regard to Russia. [It does], even though friends are different and the form of payment is different, and even though it is supposedly we who are being paid, not paying." -- "Izvestiya" on 8 September, commenting on Russia's decision to accept 11 supposedly obsolete Ukrainian strategic bombers worth $70 million each as payment for Ukraine's gas debts.

"According to objective data, the popularity rating of the incumbent president is at least half as low as that disseminated by his journalists. Besides, it is beyond any doubt that in September-October his rating will decline still further because of the worsening economic situation in the state." -- Ukrainian parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko on 7 September.