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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: December 7, 1999

7 December 1999, Volume 1, Number 27
Party Of Workers And Peasants To Take Care Of Everyone. On 27 November in Opole, southern Poland, the Polish Party of Workers and Peasants (PPR-Ch) held its first congress. Sixty delegates from 10 provinces took part in the meeting. PPR-Ch leader Jozef Korol told PAP: "We have been active only since a year. We will not be able to prepare in time for the presidential elections [in 2000], but I think that our representatives or independents supported by the PPR-Ch will be elected to the Sejm and the Senat [Poland's lower and upper houses] because the parties that ruled so far have not met social expectations. For this reason we decided to create a new party to take care of the well-being of all Poles, particularly the poorest ones--homeless and jobless." Korol said his party has 1,700 members. The PPR-Ch opposes privatization because party activists believe that "history cannot be reversed." The party is also against economic restructuring that involves layoffs.

Radical Farmers' Leader Wants To Embark On 'Third Way.' Andrzej Lepper, leader of the radical Farmers' Trade Union "Self-Defense," has urged that a Self-Defense Peasant-National Bloc hold a constituent congress, PAP reported on 5 December. According to Lepper, the bloc should be a "party of the third way." "We have a program alternative not only to the current coalition of the Solidarity Electoral Action with the Freedom Union, but also to the former one of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) with the Polish Peasant Party (PSL). Poles are waiting for such a new way. It transpires from opinion polls that the current ruling coalition is approved by 15 percent of society, while only 12 percent want a comeback of the SLD-PSL coalition," Lepper said. He added that the congress will be attended not only by "Self-Defense" members but also by representatives of all social groups--"nurses, coal miners, teachers" as well as trade unionists from the road and railway transport sectors and from the "August 80" and "Solidarity 80" trade unions.

The PSL is the only political party that was asked by Lepper to join the planned bloc and cooperate with "Self-Defense" in presidential and parliamentary elections. "The PSL is an utterly pure party and operates in accordance with Poland's raison d'etre," Lepper commented. However, the PSL is afraid of Lepper's radicalism and unpredictability and is also uneasy about his growing popularity among peasants. PSL chairman Jaroslaw Kalinowski said on 5 December that his party will field its own candidate in the 2000 presidential elections and that this candidate will not be Andrzej Lepper.

Do Belarusians Want To Merge With Russia? A poll on integration with Russia conducted by the Minsk-based Independent Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Studies among 1,500 Belarusians in November yielded some surprising, if not contradictory, results, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 1 December.

First, the poll denounced the officially sponsored myth that Belarusian-Russian political unification is supported by the entire Belarusian population, excluding a relatively insignificant group of nationalists. According to the survey, if a referendum on the creation of a Belarusian-Russian union state had been held last month, the idea of a single state would have been supported by 47 percent of respondents and opposed by 34 percent. Sixteen percent said they would not participate in such a vote.

Other questions touched upon possible threats to Belarus if it unifies with Russia: 63 percent of respondents said they are afraid of the expansion of terrorism into Belarus, and 52 percent said they fear that Belarusians will have to fight in Russian "hot spots" like Chechnya.

Asked to compare life in their country and elsewhere, only 25 percent said that life in Russia is better than in Belarus, while 30 percent were of the opposite opinion. At the same time, 85 percent preferred life in Poland to that in Belarus.

Asked to name an exemplary country, 40 percent said Germany, 20 percent the U.S., and only 0.5 percent Russia.

There were more mystifying answers, however. The question "Do you want Belarus to be an independent, sovereign country?" was answered affirmatively by 63 percent of respondents and negatively by 10 percent. "Such contradictions give the authorities the possibility to manipulate public opinion and offer Belarusians a full merger with full sovereignty," an RFE/RL Minsk correspondent commented.

Pauperization Began After Chyhir's Resignation. Alyaksandr Sasnou, who was labor minister in Mikhail Chyhir's cabinet from 1994-96 and is now an opposition politician and independent expert, has concluded that the "swift pauperization" of the Belarusian population began after Chyhir resigned in November 1996 and President Alyaksandr Lukashenka appointed Syarhey Linh to head the government. According to "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" on 6 December, Sasnou said the average monthly wage at the time of Chyhir's resignation was $103.4, representing its peak in Belarus's entire post-perestroika period. After Linh took over and especially after Pyotr Prakapovich, a former construction specialist, was appointed head of the National Bank, the average monthly wage nosedived to $63 at the beginning of 1998. Following the Russian financial crisis in August 1998, the average monthly wage sank even further to some $33. The average monthly wage in the first eight months of 1999 amounted to $40.4, which put Belarus in sixth place among the CIS countries, after Kazakhstan ($97.7), Uzbekistan ($66.3), Russia ($60.2), Ukraine ($49.4), and Azerbaijan ($44.2).

Regrouping In Parliament. Over the past two weeks, the Ukrainian parliament saw a number of "deputy transfers." Some 20 deputies left their former caucuses to join others or to have no parliamentary affiliation whatsoever.

Ukrainian commentators and politicians suggest that the regrouping was due to the anticipated creation of a pro-government majority in the parliament. "It's nothing, don't worry, they will come back as soon as all [cabinet] portfolios are distributed," speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko told the parliament on 1 December, announcing a list of deputies who decided to change their parliamentary colors on that day.

Tkachenko himself, however, should be worried more than most because the Peasant Party caucus, to which he belongs, has lost four deputies and now has only 10. According to the parliamentary regulations, a caucus must consist of at least 14 deputies (if it is unable to replenish its ranks within two weeks, it must be dissolved). Tkachenko said the Communist Party has decided to donate seven communist deputies to prop up the Peasant Party caucus, reportedly to reciprocate for the support Tkachenko gave to Petro Symonenko in the presidential election campaign. Some Ukrainian newspapers, meanwhile, reported that some deputies allegedly were bribed to change caucuses.

As of 2 December, the lineup in the Ukrainian parliament was as follows: the Communist Party--122 deputies, the Social Democratic Party (United)--33, Fatherland --31, the Popular Democratic Party--29, the Popular Rukh led by Yuriy Kostenko--28, the Revival of Regions--28, the Labor Party--27, the Left Center bloc (Socialists and Peasants)--25, the Green Party--19, the Popular Rukh led by Hennadiy Udovenko--16, Reforms-Congress --15, Independent--15, the Progressive Socialist Party--14, the Hromada party--12, the Peasants' Party--10. Twenty-one deputies remained without any parliamentary affiliation (the parliament currently has 445 deputies, while the constitution stipulates that it is to have 450).

Russian Oil To Bypass Ukraine? On 29 November, a commission of Russian governmental experts announced that there is an "economic expediency" for Russia to construct a pipeline between Sukhodolnaya and Rodionovo-Nesvetaiskaya (towns in Rostov Oblast) to bypass Ukrainian territory, "Izvestiya" reported on 30 November. At present, some 300 kilometers of the oil pipeline between Samara and the Russian port of Novorossiisk are located on Ukrainian territory. The commission asked the Transneft company to work out a bypass pipeline construction project.

According to the 30 November "Kommersant-Daily" and "Izvestiya," the reason for constructing the bypass pipeline is purely economic. Ukraine has repeatedly raised transit tariffs for Russian oil, and the cost of pumping one ton of oil through Ukraine stands at $2.35 or almost five times as much as through Russia. According to estimates by the Russian Ministry of Economy, Russia loses some $70 million every year on the Ukrainian stretch of the Samara-Novorossiisk oil pipeline.

It is expected that the bypass pipeline can be built within 18 months. The cost of the project is estimated at $113 million. Transneft will finance only 20 percent of that sum, while the rest will be provided by other investors. It is planned that the costs of constructing the pipeline will be recouped within eight years.

"Izvestiya" warned that the project may also have negative consequences for Russia. The daily argues that Ukraine would like to transfer to Russian management some of its oil refineries in exchange for a guarantee of continued Russian oil supplies. By building an alternate pipeline, Russia may harm relations with its neighbor and "lose control over Ukraine's fuel market," "Izvestiya" said.

Soviet Officers Pledge Restoration Of Socialism. Ukraine's Union of Soviet Officers (SRO), together with the Party of Communists (Bolsheviks) of Ukraine (PKBU), are to reinstate a socialist system in Ukraine in a "peaceful way." This news was revealed to Interfax on 30 November by SRO head Oleksandr Ohorodnykov. Ohorodnykov said the SRO and the PKBU intend to form a bloc to take part in the 2002 parliamentary elections. He added that his organization will not resort to terrorist actions even if the peaceful attempt to restore socialism in Ukraine fails. Ohorodnykov noted that the future socialist Ukraine should cooperate closely with Belarus and Russia, both of which, he added, should be ruled by Alyaksandr Lukashenka. He noted that the SRO has 18,000 members but has not yet been registered by the Justice Ministry. The PKBU, which is led by Colonel Oleksandr Kaspruk, has registered and has headquarters in Dnipropetrovsk.

"Leszek Balcerowicz is a strong personality. He knows how to push through his decisions at a cabinet meeting. Other ministers yield to his charm. Subsequently, those ministers who yielded to Balcerowicz go to their parliamentary caucus and persuade their parliamentary colleagues to vote against the government. In this way, they bypass what Balcerowicz pushed through the government." -- Freedom Union parliamentary deputy Wladyslaw Frasyniuk, Balcerowicz's party colleague. Quoted by the 2 December "Gazeta Wyborcza."

"[Belarus and Russia] have nothing to be happy about, as there was an attempt at the [OSCE Istanbul] summit to wipe their feet on us, and it was probably a successful attempt." -- Alyaksandr Lukashenka on Russia's National Television on 28 November. Quoted by Interfax.

"I want to express my deepest respect for you [and] for your activity. As far as I understand, you are now becoming the political leader of a major trend of the present. I uphold this trend utterly and completely. I think this is the trend to oppose the process of globalization that is now taking place. I would like to be of some use in your activity." -- Russian writer and Soviet dissident Aleksandr Zinovev, who returned to Russia this year after emigrating 20 years ago, speaking at a meeting with Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Minsk. Quoted by Belarusian Television on 29 November.

"Perhaps you are right in your philosophical determination of this trend as the opposition to globalization. I would designate [this trend] in such a way that I am an advocate--I am speaking as an economist--of balance, because any unbalanced system is very dangerous. Second, monopolization, as you wrote in many of your philosophical and literary works, is extremely dangerous. A system cannot lean on one point. Apart from being balanced, it should surely lean on many points." -- Lukashenka responding to Zinovev. Quoted by Belarusian Television on 29 November.

"I should note that Belarus was lucky to have been headed by such an excellent man [as Alyaksandr Lukashenka]." -- Russian writer and Soviet dissident Aleksandr Zinovev in Minsk on 30 November. Quoted by Belarusian Television.

"The first impression [of my stay in prison] was--it's a pity I did not know this when I was prime minister--that at least half the people imprisoned there should be freed. The state spends an enormous amount of money to keep those people there. We pretend to rehabilitate them, but in actual fact this is far from true." -- Former Belarusian Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir, who was released on 30 November after eight months in prison. Interviewed by RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 1 December.

"While America is a country of unlimited possibilities, Belarus is a country of unlimited impossibilities." -- Franz Johann Reinl, an Austrian investor in Belarus. Quoted by the 30 November "Moskovskiye novosti."

"Today is not a day of personal triumph or victory, but a day of celebration for the entire Ukrainian community [and], in a larger sense, a day of triumph for all of Europe. The act of inauguration of the president for Ukraine crowns the list of significant events of the 20th century." -- Leonid Kuchma in his second-term inauguration speech on 30 November.