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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: November 23, 1999

23 November 1999, Volume 1, Number 25
Illegal Foreign Workers Expelled. A joint operation undertaken by the Border Guard, regional employment offices, and the police in October and November resulted in the expulsion of 2,500 illegally employed foreigners, PAP reported on 17 November. Colonel Marek Bienkowski, Border Guard commander, said the figure is equivalent to almost 50 percent of all foreigners expelled from Poland this year.

The National Employment Office (KUP) estimates that each year some 200,000 foreigners take up illegal employment in the country. KUP Chairwoman Grazyna Zielinska said the above-mentioned operation, which took place under the code name "Stay," discovered 375 Ukrainians, 155 Bulgarians, 107 Belarusians, 57 Vietnamese, and 54 Armenians who were illegally employed. There were also citizens of Mongolia, Romania, Moldova, Russia, Georgia, and the U.K. among those detained for engaging in illegal employment. Zielinska noted that men take up illegal employment primarily on building sites while women work at sewing workshops or as housekeepers.

According to Zielinska, Poland should soon expect an inflow of Vietnamese who are in search of employment. She noted that a government agreement signed by Germany and Vietnam states that some 40,000 Vietnamese who had worked in the former German Democratic Republic as guest workers are to return to Vietnam by 2000. Many of them have already been trying to move to Poland.

A new phenomenon on the Polish labor market is illegal employment of people from Western Europe. This is connected with the construction of big supermarkets and wholesale units where illegal employment is offered to German, Dutch, and French technical management and supervision staff.

Colonel Bienkowski emphasized that people expelled from Poland at the cost of the Polish taxpayer are banned from returning to Poland for five years. If they leave Poland at their own expense, they can return after two years. He added that expelled foreigners will be prevented from returning sooner than permitted by a new control system: not only their travel documents but also their fingerprints will be checked on seeking to enter the country.

Lukashenka Lectures Poland, Lithuania On Human Rights. Focusing on the Russian military action in Chechnya and on Balkan affairs, the OSCE summit in Istanbul on 18-19 November did not pay as much attention to the situation in Belarus, as had been expected by the Belarusian opposition. The summit declaration mentions only that the signatories express their support for a political dialogue in Belarus under the aegis of the OSCE and stress the need to remove "all remaining obstacles to this dialogue by respecting the principles of the rule of law and the freedom of the media."

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, while addressing the summit, mentioned Belarus as a country requiring the OSCE's special attention because of human rights violations and the need to hold free and democratic elections.

Both were met with angry rebukes from Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who addressed the summit as one of the last speakers. Lukashenka advised his two counterparts to mind their own business rather than "poke their noses into someone else's garden." He accused Poland and Lithuania of violating human rights themselves. "In Poland, under the guise of introducing order, [police] beat workers and, I underscore, peasants on a mass scale," Lukashenka remarked. As for Lithuania, he said there are political prisoners there, "old people who today do not pose a threat either to Europe or to [Lithuania]."

Lukashenka also said in his summit speech that he has received a letter from an organization of Poles in Europe that thanked him "for the creation of appropriate conditions for the development of the Polish minority" in Belarus. "A question arises," he added. "Who is right--Poland's President Kwasniewski, who yesterday expressed his concern over the observance of human rights in Belarus, or hundreds of thousands of his fellow countrymen who thank our Belarusian government for securing their rights? I think, after all, Mr. Kwasniewski, that ordinary people are right."

Kwasniewski commented on Polish Television that Lukashenka's remark in Istanbul about Poland was "low-quality political propaganda." Tadeusz Gawin, head of the Union of Poles in Belarus, told the 20 November "Gazeta Wyborcza" that the letter cited by Lukashenka was written in September by the Council of European Polish Associations. The council had thanked the Belarusian government for the permission to build new Polish schools in Belarus. Gawin added that despite official pledges of support, Poles in Belarus face difficulties in building Polish-language schools in Hrodna and Navahradak.

Lukashenka was the only head of state in Istanbul who supported Russian President Boris Yeltsin's position on Chechnya, saying that the OSCE countries "are obliged if not to support the Russian people then at least to understand the Russians" regarding their military operation in Chechnya.

Lukashenka commented to Belarusian Television that he achieved more than he expected in Istanbul. "The Belarus question, pressed so hard by some domestic and foreign individuals, was mentioned [in Istanbul], if at all, only in a well-wishing manner.... The most important thing is that Europe has realized that we should not be pressed or made outcasts because we conduct a policy of good relations primarily with Russia.... The West has realized that. We have seen political understanding at the Istanbul summit...particularly on the part of major states," Lukashenka said.

Another Leonid For President? Leonid Hrach, head of the Crimean legislature and secretary of the Crimean Communist Party, announced last week that he will seek Ukraine's presidency in 2004. Could this little-known politician become a nationwide figure and muster enough support to become president? The 18 November "Nezavisimaya gazeta" engaged in some speculation on this issue and offered a few hypotheses.

Hrach distanced himself from the presidential campaign of his party colleague Petro Symonenko when, at a gathering in Sevastopol on 7 November, he commented that as an official, he cannot publicly support any presidential hopeful. At the same time, Crimean parliamentary deputy speaker Borys Deych headed Kuchma's election staff in Crimea. (Kuchma received only 44 percent backing on the peninsula, compared to Symonenko's 51 percent.) Following the incumbent's victory, Hrach congratulated Kuchma on his re-election, calling him the "father of the nation." "Nezavisimaya gazeta" suggested that Hrach now sees his own political career linked to that of Kuchma.

According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Hrach is interested in Kuchma's intention, declared during the recent election campaign, to seek a constitutional referendum on introducing a bicameral parliament in Ukraine. The newspaper said Kuchma will model Ukraine's future parliament on Russia's--that is, the upper house will be filled with heads of oblast councils and administrations. If such a parliament were to be introduced, Hrach--as head of the Crimean legislature--would have a seat in Ukraine's upper house and could become its deputy speaker (according to Soviet-era tradition, the committee head of the Crimean oblast executive was always elected a deputy chairman of the Supreme Council of the Ukrainian SSR, while the other two deputies were obligatorily from Kyiv and Lviv).

And were he to be supported by Kuchma, Hrach could even become speaker of the future upper chamber and thus a politician of nationwide significance. His main task then would be to deflect support away from Symonenko before the 2004 elections.

As for Kuchma, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" said his problem during the second term will be to find Ukraine's "Putin" to run against Hrach in the 2004 ballot.

How Media Worked For Kuchma. Dusan Reljic, head of a monitoring program run by the European Institute for the Media, said on 15 November that Ukrainian media have proven to be "incapable" of objectively covering the presidential election campaign, according to Interfax. "The first national television channel, UT-1, evidently supported incumbent Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma: the amount of air time and the tone of coverage were to his advantage," Reljic commented. He added that "neither the Inter nor 1+1 television channels provided an objective alternative to the [politically] engaged UT-1."

Reljic's colleague, Jillian McCormac, noted that UT-1 devoted 63 percent of its total campaign coverage to Kuchma (six hours of air time), while Symonenko got only 13 percent (one hour). Moreover, Kuchma was presented "positively" on 91 occasions, while all 35 references to Symonenko were "negative." McCormac added that commercial television companies proved to be "more moderate" in comparison with UT-1, but they nonetheless devoted twice as much air time to Kuchma as they did to Symonenko.

Reljic said his institute is very disturbed by the situation in the Ukrainian media. "It has not yet become clear for the institute where Ukraine is headed, as it has chosen the direction opposite to that of Europe, regarding the freedom of media," Interfax quoted Reljic as saying.

Summing up the Ukrainian media's coverage of the presidential runoff, Oleksandr Chekmyshev, head of the Equal Possibilities committee, said on 17 November that the media "could not distance themselves from their election preferences." According to him, the newspapers "Fakty," "Uryadovyy kuryer," and "Kievskie vedomosti" preferred Kuchma. As for "Den," "Holos Ukrayiny," and "Vechirniy Kyiv," their coverage of the incumbent was negative before the first round and "somewhat more balanced" before the second. Symonenko received only negative coverage in "Segodnya," and "Fakty" and "partly" negative in "Den," "Vechirniy Kyiv," and "Kievskie vedomosti." "Silski visti" supported Symonenko's bid and provided exclusively negative coverage of Kuchma.

Symonenko Does Not Say Goodbye. In an article titled: "The Elections Are Over. The Struggle Continues" published in the 18 November "Komunist," Petro Symonenko thanked the 10.6 million Ukrainian voters who cast their votes for him on 14 November and promised to fight to rescue Ukraine from a "deadly danger of destruction" under Kuchma's rule. "Having united all the healthy and [class]-conscious forces of society, we will make a joint effort to protect our constitutional rights and social gains, we will rescue [our] dear Ukraine from its definitive enslavement to the IMF and other financial structures [as well as] NATO staffs," Symonenko wrote.

According to the Communist Party secretary, Kuchma won the presidential ballot because "the corrupt authorities were able this time, too, to treacherously fool a considerable number of voters with cheap populism, petty alms, and sweet promises and to intimidate them, that is, to rape the whole nation."

Symonenko warned that the Kuchma regime is now getting ready for "a new struggle to re-divide and misappropriate the national wealth and [for] a new assault on the working people's rights."

"Our tax philosophy is not to help the poorest but to act so that there are as few of them as possible. [The Democratic Left Alliance] likes poor people, for it once built its proletarian party on them." -- Stanislaw Kracik, a parliamentary deputy of Poland's liberal Freedom Union, commenting on why the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance is obstructing a bill that would reduce personal income tax rates. Quoted by PAP on 16 November.

"Following my instructions, during the past two days [presidential staff head] Mikhail Uladzimiravich Myasnikovich studied the media system functioning abroad. It turns out that not everything [abroad] [functions the way] we [in Belarus] are told to. For example, there are party publications in Great Britain that report on the activities of Labor Party and Conservative Party members. And nobody there raises the issue of giving the Labor Party access to the Conservative Party media or vice versa. In other states, access to the national media is conditional on the representation of some party or another in the parliament. What is the situation [in Belarus]? Our people do not have trust in any party, today there are practically no party affiliates in the parliament, except for the Communist Party of Belarus. Some declined to work [in the parliament] on their own. They [now] say: give us a national channel and we will start broadcasting. But what right do you have [to do this] if you do not have the trust of the people?" -- Lukashenka arguing why he rejected an OSCE-mediated agreement on granting the Belarusian opposition limited access to the state-controlled media. Quoted by Belarusian Television on 15 November.

"You reported to us that prices have increased. If you are going to report in this way to the president at a future meeting, you can imagine [his reaction]." -- Belarusian Deputy Premier Vasil Dalhalyou speaking to an official from the State Pricing Committee. Quoted by Belarusian Television on 16 November.

"Four Belarusian Fencers Won Entry to 2000 Olympic Games Having Only One Epee" -- A headline in Belapan on 17 November.

"For serving in the armed forces it is enough to love your Fatherland, while serving in the police you must also love the people whom you serve." -- Belarusian Interior Minister Yury Sivakou. Quoted by Belapan on 18 November.

"When I heard that there were no violations of legislation during the [presidential] elections, I became ultimately convinced: Belarus is already near at hand!" -- Ukrainian political analyst Mykola Tomenko, commenting on the Central Electoral Commission's statement that irregularities during the elections "did not influence the vote results." Quoted by "Vechirniy Kyiv" on 18 November.

"In the eyes of voters, Symonenko has remained first secretary of the Communist Party, but the Communist party leader cannot become president of Ukraine." -- Mykola Tomenko commenting on Kuchma's victory. Quoted by Interfax on 15 November.

"Within the framework of election propaganda, Sumy Oblast television presented a [fake] advertisement, where Natalya Vitrenko was shown with Hitler's portrait in the background, threatening executions by shooting and Chechen events in Ukraine, while the screen was awash in blood. Following the first round, there were mass sackings in Sumy Oblast of managers of agricultural enterprises, directors of enterprises, and rural council chairmen under the guise of resignations." -- Volodymyr Marchenko, head of the Progressive Socialist Party parliamentary caucus, and Petro Symonenko, in an appeal to the president to fire the Sumy Oblast governor. Quoted by the 19 November "Holos Ukrayiny."