Accessibility links

Breaking News

Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: September 9, 1999

9 September 1999, Volume 1, Number 17

AMBIGUOUS ANNIVERSARY: On 17 September, Poland marked the 60th anniversary of the Soviet invasion. While Polish armies were involved in an unequal but heroic fight against Nazi Germany, some 600,000 Soviet troops moved into Poland on 17 September 1939. The 25 border-guard and police units in eastern Poland were no match for the Soviet forces. On 25 September, German and Soviet troops met along the length of the demarcation line that had been determined in a secret protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 23 August 1939. Three days later, Berlin and Moscow signed a friendship and border treaty erasing Poland from the map of Europe for almost six years.

The Soviet annexation of eastern Poland was presented by Moscow as the "liberation of Belarusian and Ukrainian brothers from the oppression of Polish landlords." Eyewitness accounts testify that most Belarusians and Ukrainians greeted the Soviet troops as friends, if not liberators, and promptly cooperated in organizing a Soviet system of power. "Popular assemblies" of western Belarus and western Ukraine were swiftly elected in October 1939 and requested the unification of the newly conquered areas with the Belarusian SSR and Ukrainian SSR in particular and with the USSR in general.

Historians have cited many reasons for this Belarusian and Ukrainian attitude toward the Soviet invasion. Two appear especially persuasive.

First, pre-war Poland--which experienced a measure of democracy during its initial years of independence but became an authoritarian state following Jozef Pilsudski's coup d'etat in May 1926--did not develop a policy toward its ethnic minorities that those minorities, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the country's population, found acceptable. Particularly Belarusians and Ukrainians were treated by the state as second-rate citizens in terms of their civil rights. In Poland's "eastern outlands" (kresy wschodnie--the name applied to eastern parts of pre-war Poland), economic, social, and ethnic inequality and injustice were widespread

Second, Belarusians and Ukrainians suffered under the delusion--skillfully promoted by Soviet propaganda at the time--that Soviet Belarus and Soviet Ukraine embodied the national statehood that they so intensely desired. The Polish-Soviet border was hermetically sealed, as a result of which Polish Belarusians and Ukrainians were completely unfamiliar with the real state of affairs in the Soviet Union (as, incidentally, was the rest of Europe). Therefore, even anti-Communists among Belarusian and Ukrainian political circles in pre-war Poland generally welcomed the unification of all Belarusian and Ukrainian ethnic territories as an "act of historical justice."

Some 20 months later, when Hitler's armies invaded the Soviet Union, many people in western Belarus and Ukraine who had greeted Stalin's soldiers were now somewhat inclined to welcome the Germans as the "liberator." From September 1939 to June 1941, Stalin's persecution machine was used against not only "Polish landlords" but also their allegedly liberated victims: Belarusian and Ukrainian peasants. The legendary communist paradise proved a socio-economic hell for those hapless "brothers" of the Soviet Union.

The 1945 Yalta Conference endorsed the Polish-Soviet border foreseen by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (with some post-war corrections), leaving Poland without its former "eastern outlands." For more than 40 years, the official Soviet interpretation of the 17 September 1939 military operation as the "liberation of the oppressed" prevailed in Poland's communist historiography. Only after Solidarity took over in 1989 were Polish historians able to openly identify the invasion by its proper name.

Belarusian and Ukrainian historians, or at least those who have renounced the Soviet historiography tradition, offer interpretations of the significance of the 17 September anniversary that are more ambiguous. The notion of "liberation" appears to be gradually disappearing from their interpretations. However, there is hardly any historian in Belarus and Ukraine who would take issue with the argument that the Soviet invasion against Poland 60 years ago was "positive" for their nations in so far as it unified formerly divided nations into one political organism. That organism collapsed in 1991 and gave birth to two independent states--Belarus and Ukraine.

At a recent conference of Belarusian historians in Minsk, one delegate spoke for many when he argued that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and its territorial consequences cannot be viewed as separate from the Polish-Bolshevik Treaty of Riga in 1921. Under that treaty, Warsaw and Moscow arbitrarily carved up between themselves Belarusian and Ukrainian ethnic territories without taking into account the interests of the indigenous people who inhabited them. According to this line of argument, the Soviet Union in 1939--even in the role of an aggressor--ensured that justice was done by bringing Belarusians and Ukrainians together.

Whether Polish historians will accept such a viewpoint remains to be seen. Currently, the differing attitudes toward the Soviet invasion 60 years ago were reflected in the official commemorations of the anniversary. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski visited sites in Russia and Ukraine of the mass murder of Polish officers taken prisoners by Soviet troops in 1939. Belarus's Alyaksandr Lukashenka presided over official events in his country marking the 60th anniversary of the reunification of Belarus. And Lviv in Ukraine hosted a congress of anti-Communists from Eastern Europe, who discussed Soviet repression in the 1930s and early 1940s. When history serves different policies, a single historical interpretation is the exception rather than the rule.
Lustration Court Passes First Ruling. On 15 September, the Lustration Court in Warsaw passed its first verdict in the lustration process currently under way in Poland. The court ruled that lawyer Wanda Bobek lied in her lustration statement when she said that she had not secretly collaborated with Communist-era secret services, "Rzeczpospolita" reported. Bobek may appeal the ruling within two weeks.

Under the lustration law, any public official found to have lied in his/her lustration statement must resign and may not hold public posts for 10 years. Those who admitted collaboration do not suffer legal sanctions.

The court is currently examining five of the 22 other lustration statements that were questioned by Lustration Prosecutor Boguslaw Nizienski. Theoretically, the court may issue three types of verdicts: a) to rule that a lustrated person lied; b) to confirm that a lustrated person told the truth; c) to extinguish an action by saying that the court lacks materials to disprove or confirm a lustration statement (in such an event, a lustrated person may hold public office).

Solidarity Again In Disfavor. In early September, OBOP held a poll on parliamentary election preferences among some 1,000 Poles. If elections were held now, the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) would win with 36 percent backing. The Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) would obtain 20 percent votes, the Freedom Union (UW) 13 percent, and the Peasant Party (PSL) 7 percent. Other parties fell below the 5 percent vote barrier allowing to be represented in the parliament. The statistical error margin was 3 percent.

In the October 1997 parliamentary elections, which formed the current AWS-UW ruling coalition, the votes were divided as follows: AWS--33.8 percent, SLD--27.1 percent, UW--13.4 percent, PSL--7.3 percent, and the Movement for the Reconstruction of Poland--5.6 percent.

Official Says Oppositionist Staged His Own Disappearance. Viktar Hanchar, deputy chairman of the opposition Supreme Soviet, disappeared in the evening of 16 September in Minsk. Hanchar's wife, Zinaida, told Belarusian media that he was driving home with a friend but failed to appear on time. She called the police and the KGB in Minsk inquiring about her husband but obtained no information on his whereabouts. Hanchar is the second prominent oppositionist to have vanished in Belarus this year, as former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka went missing in May. Hanchar, who is also chairman of the Central Electoral Commission (illegally dismissed by Lukashenka in 1996), was jailed for 10 days in March for his attempt to organize opposition presidential elections in May.

Ivan Pashkevich, deputy head of the Belarusian president's staff, has commented that Hanchar staged his disappearance "with the aim of reminding the public about himself and gaining certain political capital. Hanchar went into obscurity after the complete flop of the so-called presidential elections in May. To attract attention, he probably went abroad or to his friends' dacha and is remaining in good health, like former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka," Interfax quoted Pashkevich as saying.

Vyachaslau Siuchyk, secretary of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front, said that "authorities display cynicism at the moment when opposition politicians disappear." According to Siuchyk, Hanchar's disappearance represents "state terrorism, an open war against Belarus."

Pashkevich's hypothesis was reiterated by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who said on 18 September that Hanchar's disappearance is a "provocation" intended to demonstrate that "Belarus is a totalitarian state where people disappear without trace."

All Too Familiar. Vintsuk Vyachorka, a leader of the Belarusian Popular Front, has visited Belgrade, seeking to learn from the experience of Yugoslavia's opposition in organizing mass protest actions. In his interview with the 10 September "Naviny," Vyachorka compared the situation in Yugoslavia and Belarus. Here is an excerpt:

"The methods of action of the [Yugoslav] dictatorship are very similar [to those in Belarus]. Step by step, [the regimes] destroy sprouts of the civic society, cutting off the weaker ones with various tools: direct prohibition, financial strangling, slander campaigns in the state media. The opposition in Yugoslavia, [like that in Belarus], are branded as NATO agents, traitors, etc. I had the 'pleasure' of watching some programs on Belgrade Television--they were all too familiar to me, with their own versions of Zimouski and Kavalyova (ed.: well-known political commentators on Belarusian Television).

"Their economic situation is very similar, too. Just at the time I was there, they were suffering a severe shortage of gas, milk, and eggs.

"There are also differences. Surprising as it may seem, there is more freedom in the media, there are independent electronic media. There are no such disgraceful occurrences with political prisoners [as in Belarus], but the treatment of many oppositionists is even more cruel. In Belarus people disappear, while there people are killed and their deaths are subsequently blamed on the war. Accordingly, there is a pervasive atmosphere of terror and apathy, like in Belarus.

"Among other differences I would like to mention the presence of imperial sentiments. Serbia in a sense is a micro-Russia. Serbia dominated in the former Yugoslavia, and [Serbian] society is now suffering heavily from a post-imperial syndrome. Almost the entire opposition is sick with this syndrome, too."

Lukashenka Awards Loyal Journalist. The Belarusian president has awarded Alyaksandr Zimouski--a political commentator and moderator of the "Rezanans" news program on Belarusian Television"--the Order for the Service to the Fatherland of the Third Class. Uladzimir Martynau, chief editor of the Television News Agency of Belarusian Television, told RFE/RL's Minsk correspondent that Zimouski is one of the best journalists on Belarusian Television.

Zimouski's award coincided with a letter by the Belarusian opposition demanding that Zimouski cease the "flow of lies" poured on opposition activists in his program. The letter was handed to presidential aide Mikhail Sazonau who heads the official delegation for OSCE-mediated talks with the opposition.

Newspaper Says Kuchma's Rivals Face No Information Blockade. The newspaper "Fakty," which is taking a pro-Kuchma stance in the presidential election campaign, argued on 11 September that the incumbent president's rivals face no information "blockade," despite their regular suggestions to the contrary. According to "Fakty," each of Ukraine's 25 oblasts has the "press organs of any given political party" and the newspapers that "share views of any given presidential candidate." "Fakty" quoted specific names and figures:

Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz is supported by the nationwide Socialist Party press organ "Tovarysh" (58,300 copies) and the regional newspapers "Vybor" (Zaporizhzha; 26,600 copies) and "Prykarpatska pravda" (Ivano-Frankivsk; 3,000). Moroz is also "surprisingly often favored with good words" by "Narodnaya sprava" (Volynska Oblast; 7,100), "Rivnenski dialog" (Rivne Oblast; 3,000), and "R.I.O." (Zakarpatska Oblast).

Communist Party chairman Petro Symonenko is supported by the nationwide Communist Party Press organ "Komunist" (193,000), "Spravedlivost" (Volynska Oblast; 5,200), "Novaya volna" and "Kommunist Donbassa" (both in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast), "Sevastopolskaya pravda" (Crimea), "Leninskaya pravda" (Sumy), "Krasnoe znamya" (Kharkiv Oblast).

Oleksandr Tkachenko is backed by the nationwide "Silski visti" (576,500) and "Holos Ukrayiny," "Kherson-Kuryer" (Kherson; 8,500), "Selyanska pravda" (6,000), "Antenna" (Cherkasy; 20,000), "Vysokyy zamok" (Lviv).

According to "Fakty," Yevhen Marchuk has enlisted the widest regional press support among all the candidates. His candidacy is upheld by "Svobodnaya mysl" (Volynska Oblast), "Nashe vremya" (Zaporizhzha; 35,000), "Elita" (Mykolayiv Oblast; 50,000), "Dialog" (Kharkiv Oblast; 50,000), "Salon" (Donetsk; 40,000), "Sribna zemlya" (Uzhhorod), "XXI vek" (Luhansk), "Za vilnu Ukrayinu" (Lviv; 12,000), "Informatsionnyi byulleten" (Poltava; 10,000), "Chas" (Chernivtsi).

The total weekly circulation of only the above-mentioned newspapers reaches 4 million, "Fakty" concluded.

I can say that you were the fastest turtle in history." -- Polish Premier Jerzy Buzek on 12 September 1999, praising the performance of Tadeusz Mazowiecki, who took charge of Poland's first non-Communist government on 12 September 1989. In a popular satirical puppet series on Polish Television in the early 1990s, Mazowiecki was represented by a turtle.

"A banker in Belarus is not a profession but an article in the Criminal Code." -- "Novye izvestiya" on 16 September.

"Guys, I want straightforwardly, speaking like a man to men, to warn you all, especially the military: if, God forbid, anything like [the blasts] in Russia happens [in Belarus] because of your bungled performance--believe me, I am not going to set up investigation teams or look for culprits." -- Lukashenka at the 16 September government conference devoted to fighting organized crime and preventing terrorism; quoted by Belarusian Television.

"We should take adequate measures, measures of a rigorous character. They [abroad] are used to handling our people without ceremony. You know how Russians and Belarusians were recently thrown out of Poland for nothing. But we, you see, are such hospitable people, we have opened [our] country: here anyone who wants to can come and do whatever he wants to do. This should not be happening." -- Lukashenka at the same 16 September government conference; quoted by Belarusian Television.

"I categorically warn the law enforcement bodies: God forbid if you, following this conference, [allow] people to gather somewhere in the city, on a street or a square. You [will] have only yourselves to blame! This is not a crackdown on the opposition, this is the introduction of normal order. Therefore, streets should be monitored so as to make the thoroughfares accessible to traffic and the footways and sidewalks to a tranquil passage of people. I underscore once again: Determine places for gatherings of different kinds of oppositionists and other scum. I underscore categorically once again: Eliminate presently all meetings and demonstrations at production facilities, prevent all unauthorized persons from entering production facilities. These are places for mass concentration of people. Only look what happens at entrances. Nobody checks anybody, nobody monitors anybody, anybody can go there, anybody can do anything, anybody can drive in there. Not only sugar is shipped there, but also who knows what." -- Lukashenka at the same conference.

"Remember: there should be no democracy games. There should be real democracy, not democracy games. They are Russia's experience. We should not repeat it. We absolutely do not need such democracy. There should be order. Take rigorous and resolute measures regardless of ranks or positions, regardless of anything." -- Lukashenka at the same conference.

"I want you, esteemed friends, to know that the present situation is not easy. And it has become more complicated for us because of dreadful weather conditions. It was not enough that we had a drought in the summer--it is continuing even in the fall." -- Lukashenka at the same conference.

"I think that our joint appeal to the people is a striking example of how responsible politicians should behave in order to confront a common misfortune. When the state is on the verge of destruction, even activists with different views should unite. Despite holding different opinions, we are not irreconcilable opponents. Why should we be? For instance, Yevhen Marchuk is a skilled KGB officer who has received good schooling in state security bodies--he certainly possesses a great deal of information about what is happening in the country. On some problems he is better informed than all of us." -- Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko, commenting on his anti-Kuchma election coalition with Yevhen Marchuk, Oleksandr Moroz, and Volodymyr Oliynyk to the 16 September "Pravda."