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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: November 9, 1999

9 November 1999, Volume 1, Number 23
Belarusian-Language Radio Racja Starts Testing Signal. On 3 November, the Belarusian-language Radio Racja ("racja" in Polish may mean "argument," "reason," or "right"), based in Bialystok (northeastern Poland), began testing its signal before launching regular programs. Poland's National Radio and Television Committee, which approves licenses and broadcasting frequencies, had given the go-ahead to the station on 2 August.

Radio Racja has a license to air programs to the Belarusian minority in Poland. It is estimated that there are 150,000-200,000 people of Belarusian ethnic origin living in Podlasie Province (Bialystok is the capital of the province).

Radio Racja is a Polish-Belarusian company in which the Belarusian Union in Poland has a two-thirds stake. Eugeniusz Wappa, chairman of the Belarusian Union, is president of Radio Racja, and his deputy is Zhanna Litvina, head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists and formerly head of the Minsk Bureau of RFE/RL's Belarusian Service.

Wappa told PAP on 3 November that the station will launch its first program on VHF by the end of November. Initially, the station will be audible in the city of Bialystok and its environs. Next year, the station intends to apply for a permit to broadcast to the entire province. "The radio equipment is second-hand. Up to now, we have spent some 40,000 zlotys ($9,400) on it, and the money has come from NGOs," PAP quoted Wappa as saying. Wappa, however, declined to reveal Radio Racja's sponsors.

Wappa's restraint is understandable given that Radio Racja has two teams of broadcasters: one composed of Polish Belarusians and the other of Minsk journalists who previously constituted the core of Radio 101.2. That radio station was banned by the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in 1996.

Radio Racja will put out two programs: the one on VHF will deal with matters concerning Polish Belarusians, while the other, on shortwave (the signal transmitted from Warsaw can reach Minsk), will be oriented toward Belarusians in the Republic of Belarus. The latter will be prepared by Minsk journalists working in two sub-teams: one located in Minsk and the other in Warsaw. Radio Racja's management is afraid that the Lukashenka regime will retaliate once the station starts regular broadcasts, and for that reason, they are willing to divulge only scanty details about their operations.

Wappa told the "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" on 29 October that the "shortwave team" would start its regular broadcasts "within a week."

In an interview last week with the "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," Oleg Latyszonek--who represents the Belarusian Union in the Radio Racja company--said that the station is "of great importance for Belarusians in both Belarus and Poland's Podlasie Province." He added that "apart from RFE/RL's Belarusian program, Radio Racja is the only Belarusian-language station that is independent of the Belarusian government. And it is the first full-time Belarusian radio station in Poland, which is a historic achievement for our minority." (So far, public Radio Bialystok has broadcast only short daily Belarusian-language programs).

Polish Belarusians seems to share Latyszonek's viewpoint. At a congress of the Belarusian Union in Poland on 29 October, Wappa was re-elected chairman of the union for a third consecutive term. Earlier, delegates to the congress had changed the provision in the union's charter stipulating that any single person can hold the post only for two terms.

"RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" has learned from a reliable source that Radio Racja is subsidized by the Open Society Institute (Soros Foundation) and the U.S.'s National Endowment for Democracy. According to this source, both organizations pledged to provide support to the station for three years. During this period, the station has no right to engage in any commercial activities.

Popular Front Seals Split With Scandal. Following an inconclusive vote on electing a new leader on 1 August (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 11 August 1999), the Belarusian Popular Front (BNF), the country's main opposition group, reconvened on 30 October for the "second session" of its sixth congress. Before this meeting, the BNF had become polarized over two leaders: Zyanon Paznyak, who has been in exile since 1996 and led the BNF for a decade, and Vintsuk Vyachorka, a younger opposition leader and one of the main organizers of the 17 October "freedom march."

In the meantime, Paznyak's supporters convened their own congress on 26 September and renamed the BNF Party as the Conservative Christian Party of the BNF, simultaneously electing Zyanon Paznyak its leader. Vyachorka's supporters said the 26 September congress was illegal and has not recognized the Conservative Christian Party as the legal successor to the BNF Party. The 30 October congress was devoted to electing a leader of the BNF as a public organization (from a legal viewpoint, the BNF exists in two forms--as a public association and as a political party bearing the same name).

On 30 October, however, Paznyak's supporters blocked the entrance to the congress hall in order to prevent journalists and Vyachorka's people from entering. There was major confusion when Paznyak's supporters were assisted by the police in that effort. Here is how Belapan reported the event:

"The congress began its work with a scandal--the BNF leadership did not agree on who should be considered a delegate to the second session.... In the [congress] building, there were a lot of law enforcement officers from the police and AMAP (ed.: riot police) who cooperated with BNF teams [tasked with maintaining order]. The congress began with a two-hour delay, because the delegates were let in one by one and their documents were thoroughly checked. There were many serious incidents when people were blocked from entering or forced out of the building. Journalists were able to enter the building only after the congress had started its work (they were not let into the congress hall). According to eyewitnesses, the congress debate was very heated, the delegates were overwhelmed by emotion--they snatched the microphone from one another [and] they did not allow the proceedings to be taped.... After nearly 30 minutes of such wrangling, the delegates who opposed such a congress scenario...left the hall, intending to resume the congress session at 6 p.m. There were some 100 delegates left in the hall--an insufficient number for a quorum (ed.: 220 delegates are needed for a quorum).

Some 240 BNF delegates convened later the same day and voted 228 to 11 to elect Vyachorka leader of the BNF public association. The congress also elected six BNF deputy chairmen: Ales Byalatski, Yury Khadyka, Vyachaslau Siuchyk, Pavel Sevyarynets, Anatol Fyodarau, and Viktar Ivashkevich. The following day, the congress reconfirmed the same leadership for the BNF party. The legal situation of the BNF (both the public association and the party) is unclear, particularly with regard to which faction--Paznyak's or Vyachorka's--will be recognized by the Justice Ministry as the legal successor to the BNF before the split.

"Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" on 1 October provided an interesting, if emotional, comment by Alyaksandr Fyaduta: "Paznyak has not spared the reputation of the party.... He allowed his followers to call to their help the police--that is, the authorities, which are branded by Paznyak as anti-popular, criminal, [and] illegitimate.... What "Belarusskaya delovaya gazeta" repeatedly predicted...has happened: the BNF has been split by the [joint] efforts of Zyanon Paznyak and his joyous assistant Alyaksandr Lukashenka--the head of the authorities so hated by Paznyak. This is infamy. Even the KGB could not invent such a method for compromising the leader of Belarusian nationalists."

Official Results Of The 31 October Ballot. The Central Electoral Commission on 4 October released the official results of the 31 October presidential elections. Out of Ukraine's 37,498,630 registered voters, 26,305,198 (70.15 percent) cast their ballots; 1.037 million ballots (3.95 percent) were declared invalid, while 477,019 voters (1.81 percent) supported none of the 13 candidates.

Incumbent President Leonid Kuchma obtained 9,598,672 votes (36.49 percent), Petro Symonenko 5,849,077 (22.24 percent), Oleksandr Moroz 2,969,896 (11.29 percent), Natalya Vitrenko 2,886,972 (10.97 percent), and Yevhen Marchuk 2,138,356 (8.13 percent). Yuriy Kostenko received 2.17 percent backing, Hennadiy Udovenko 1.22 percent, Vasyl Onopenko 0.47 percent, Oleksandr Rzhavskyy 0.37 percent, Yuriy Karmazin 0.35 percent, Vitaliy Kononov 0.29 percent, Oleksandr Bazylyuk 0.14 percent, and Mykola Haber 0.12 percent.

Kuchma won in 15 regions (Volyn, Dnipropetrovsk, Zhytomyr, Transcarpathia, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kyiv, Lviv, Mykolayiv, Odesa, Rivne, Ternopil, Khmelnytskyy, Cherkasy, Chernivtsi, and Chernihiv) and in the cities of Kyiv and Sevastopol. Symonenko won in seven regions: Crimea, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhya, Kirovohrad, Luhansk, Kharkiv, and Kherson. Moroz won in two regions: Vinnytsya and Poltava. Vitrenko won in Sumy Oblast.

The runoff between Kuchma and Symonenko will be held on 14 November. According to Ukraine's presidential election law, the candidate who obtains the most votes in the second round becomes president (regardless of how many voters participate in the ballot). If one candidate withdraws from the race earlier than seven days before the runoff date, the candidate who came third in the first round (in this case Moroz) will be offered the opportunity to take part. If one candidate withdraws from the race later than seven days before the runoff date, the runoff takes place with the only remaining candidate, who must obtain more than 50 percent of the votes cast to become president. If he fails to do so, the parliament must set a date for new elections. (New elections are also called if two candidates in the second round obtain an equal number of votes).

Is Kuchma Afraid Of Losing Owing To Low Turnout? Dmytro Tabachnyk, an adviser to Leonid Kuchma, told the 5 November "Financial Times" that if voter turnout in the 14 November runoff were to be below 55 percent, Kuchma could lose to Symonenko. "Our main enemy is passivity," Tabachnyk said, adding that the main task of the presidential election staff is to persuade young voters to come to the polls. The president's entourage views Ukraine's youth, which is rather passive in the country's political life, as that part of the electorate that could prevent the Communists' return to power. According to Tabachnyk, 30-40 percent of the electorate would rather see any candidate other than Kuchma in office.

Political analyst Mykhaylo Pohrebynskyy voiced a similar opinion on 4 November when he told journalists that "if only 35 percent of the electorate turns out, then Symonenko will be president." However, Pohrebynskyy added that if turnout is approximately the same as in the first round, Kuchma could easily win with the 14 percent margin between himself and Symonenko that was registered in the 31 October first round.

Kuchma himself admitted in an interview with "Fakty" on 5 October that there is a "very large protest electorate" in Ukraine and that his re-election "will not be easy." Kuchma added that the runoff should be seen as a "fight of ideologies" rather than a duel between individuals.

Meanwhile, the Kyiv-based Social Monitoring Center, predicts that turnout on 14 November will be even higher than in the first round and will reach 78 percent.

"I think that taxes should be lower but paid to a 'wider extent,' without dodging and deceiving." -- Former Polish President Lech Walesa, quoted by PAP on 4 October.

Quotes from Lukashenka's speech to the Russian State Duma on 27 October:

-- "Esteemed friends, I will tell you frankly, I am not a Communist, I have come to power not from a Communist faction or a party or etcetera [sic]. In general, I have not belonged to any party. It is a unique case when perhaps, quite by chance, the Belarusian people have entrusted [me] with power, most likely quite by chance, because there were many who were both worthy and strong and had money. However, I was a Communist. And I have not burned my party membership card, in contrast to some who ruled our country of late."

-- "Has anything worthwhile been done for the ordinary people in the post-Soviet area during the 10 years that followed the breakup of [the USSR]? Let us face the truth: Absolutely nothing has been done."

-- "I do not want to offend anybody but I will tell [you] the truth. Today in Belarus Russians live no worse and sometimes even better than in Russia."

-- "Let it be known to you, esteemed deputies...that we [in Belarus] have not a single appointed deputy to the Chamber of Representatives, as you have in the State Duma. All of them were elected in a democratic way, through the direct [and] secret expression of will of our Belarusian people. So why do you say that Lukashenka appointed that parliament? I did not appoint anybody."

-- "Lukashenka has no other way out, he cannot turn the country back and go to the West, as many were recently howling after our meeting [with you], Gennadii Nikolaevich [Seleznev], in Minsk where I said that today we are forced to establish normal relations with the West, because the closer we are to Russia the more kicks we get. ...We were forced at least to calm the West, because there is terrible pressure. Terrible pressure. You cannot even imagine. We seem to have found ourselves between a rock and a hard place."

-- "Why are you kneeling before those crooks from the IMF? Why have you kneeled before them? Today they have gotten their hook on you for $600 million. But one S-300 [anti-aircraft] system costs $550 million. Sell two of them! Sell two of them and you will resolve those problems!"

-- "Yes, we will settle our accounts, do not worry, we will settle our accounts, we will repay that $200 million [to Russia]. Today we simply do not have hard currency cash."

-- "What I rejoice at is that last year our women gave birth to 15 percent more children than in 1997."

-- "I say it with [full] responsibility from this high rostrum: the scenario [of the 17 October opposition 'freedom march' in Minsk] was written in the United States by the Central Intelligence Agency. Our and Russian special services have received that information quite recently. Mark my words, it was still night in the U.S. after those events took place in Minsk [but] the State Department already condemned Lukashenka and his regime for violating human rights. How could [they in the U.S.] know what had happened there [in Minsk]?! Everything was planned beforehand."

"Belarus will accept IMF recommendations with gratitude in order to avoid past mistakes." -- Belarusian Prime Minister Syarhey Linh to IMF mission head Thomas Wolf on 25 October; quoted by "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta."