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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: December 21, 1999

21 December 1999, Volume 1, Number 29
Corruption Seen Everywhere. According to a recent poll held by the OBOP polling agency, 84 percent of Poles are convinced that corruption is present in all walks of life in Poland, PAP reported on 15 December. Most of the respondents said corruption is at its worst in the health service (78 percent) and police (66 percent). Sixty-two percent claimed that corruption in Poland increased over the past decade, 24 percent said nothing changed in that time. Only one in a hundred Poles believes corruption has gone down.

Meanwhile, Marek Kepski, governor of Silesia (Slask) Province, said the same day that investigators have confirmed only six out of almost 1,000 cases of alleged corruption reported to the Silesia Province administration within the framework of an anti-corruption campaign launched by him in the province. On 31 August, the provincial administration opened a special telephone line on which citizens can anonymously report on corruption cases. The administration has received 891 telephoned and 71 written reports since that time.

Hard-core Pornography Banned. On 16 December, the lower house of parliament voted 233 to 156 with 12 abstentions to approve amendments to the Penal Code outlawing the sale and production of hard-core pornography. The amendments impose jail terms of up to 10 years for disseminating materials depicting sexual organs during intercourse as well as sex involving children (persons under 18 years of age), animals, or torture. Under the current law, only the last three categories of pornography are banned. Also, the current punishments are less severe--from three months to five years in prison.

"We are pleased and satisfied. Today's decision by the parliament is a Christmas present for families," deputy Antoni Szymanski from the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) commented. The amendments were also supported by the opposition Polish Peasant Party (PSL). "The sale of soft-core pornographic materials will be allowed under a condition that they will be sealed in non-transparent plastic bags," PSL deputy Aleksander Bentkowski told journalists. To become law, the amendments must be approved by the upper house and signed by the president.

The opposition Democratic Left Alliance and many deputies of the coalition Freedom Union voted against the amendments.

Polish Primate Cardinal Jozef Glemp said the legislative restraint put on pornography is "a step toward civilization."

Professor Marian Filar from Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun commented that "by outlawing pornography, we have considerably moved away from European norms."

Some lawyers expressed doubts about the efficiency of a legislative ban on pornography, arguing that a black market of pornography will emerge immediately after the bill is signed into law. Deputy Justice Minister Janusz Niemcewicz argued against the amendments during the parliamentary debate, saying that the definition of pornography included in the bill is "too graphic" and can only lead to "deriding the law and the dignity of court."

The Christian-National Union (ZChN), which is a part of the AWS, has started collecting signatures under a resolution for the recall of Niemcewicz, who in the opinion of ZChN deputies expressed himself in favor of the defense of pornography.

On 17 December, President Aleksander Kwasniewski warily expressed his disapproval of the bill: "The temptation of the omnipotence of the law is one to be avoided. In situations where a mature individual and person should behave in accordance with his own conscience and personal culture and personal views, the entry of the law, and of such a rigorous one, normally ends with a misunderstanding or with the creation of a fiction, a legal fiction."

Parliament Hosts Belarusian Opposition. A delegation of the opposition Supreme Soviet with its chairman Syamyon Sharetski visited the Polish parliament on 15 December. Polish parliamentary speaker Maciej Plazynski said Sharetski represents the "sole legal" parliament in Belarus. "We do not maintain contacts with the current legislature, because we think it has no democratic mandate," Plazynski said about Belarus's Chamber of Representatives, which was hand-picked by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka following the rigged constitutional referendum in November 1996.

Answering a question about how Poland could help the Supreme Soviet, Sharetski said he expects support in organizing "information channels for the Supreme Soviet in all of Belarus." "How can this be done?" PAP asked. "We need money," Sharetski responded.

Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski said Solidarity has been helping Belarusian free trade unions for some time, providing both financial and educational support. Krzaklewski added that the Solidarity Electoral Action has opened an information center for disseminating information from the Belarusian opposition abroad.

Vinnikava Reappears, Pledges To Go In For Politics. Last week's sensational news in Belarus was the reappearance of Tamara Vinnikava, former chairwoman of the Belarusian National Bank, who vanished in April while being under house arrest in Minsk.

Vinnikava was arrested on 14 January 1997 on charges of abuse of power and embezzlement. She spent 10 months in a KGB prison and was subsequently placed under house arrest. No court indictment has been issued against her.

On 13 December, the Minsk-based �Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta� published a statement by Vinnikava and an interview she gave Iryna Khalip, who is the deputy chief editor of the "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta." According to Khalip, Vinnikava called her on 10 December from abroad, asking to publish the statement. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Khalip posed some questions to the former chief banker. The taped Khalip-Vinnikava conversation is available in the Real Audio format at the "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" web site.

In her statement, Vinnikava said "I was to die, and only chance and the will of the Almighty helped me avoid the fate prepared for me by the authorities." According to Vinnikava, her arrest was made to intimidate "the country, the government, [and] all the citizens." She stressed that she is not guilty of the charges brought against her, adding that "during two and a half years, 28 investigators were not able to fulfill a [political] order and pass my case to court." Vinnikava went on to say that she knows "some financial circumstances of the [Lukashenka] regime's existence," as well as "Lukashenka's critical dependence on Russian oligarchs and his criminal plans to destroy the country." She concluded: "I intend to do what the authorities fear most of all: I am going to be engaged in politics."

Answering Khalip's questions, Vinnikava said she is sure that prominent Belarusian oppositionist Henadz Karpenka was assassinated (Karpenka died in April in a Minsk hospital, following surgery for a brain hemorrhage). She added that she also knows what happened to several prominent oppositionists who disappeared in recent months--including Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar--but she refused to provide details.

In an interview with BBC's Russian Service on 13 December, Vinnikava shed more light on reasons for and circumstances of her arrest. She said Lukashenka ordered the arrest after she opposed some "dirty deals" planned by the government. "A month before my arrest, there was a need to strike a dirty deal worth $1 billion. In order to realize what $1 billion means for the Republic of Belarus, I want to say that the entire capital of all Belarus's commercial banks is equal to $80 million.... I was against that deal.... Next, there was another deal worth $600 million. Then, there was a deal regarding the creation of the state gold reserves by way of barter trade. Next, there were deals involving Torgexpo--that was when a flood of non-taxed vodka and tobacco products entered Russia. I was against those deals.... They might not amount to $1 billion, but approximately to $300,000. And they sparked inflation. The 17 August [market collapse in Russia] is not to blame for the woes of Belarusian economy, but rather those deals are," Vinnikava said.

Vinnikava divulged that on the eve of her arrest she was at a party organized by Lukashenka (to mark the New Year according to the Orthodox, old-style calendar), where he "wished me many successes and gave me many compliments." The next day, Lukashenka invited her to a session of the State Control Committee, where she was unexpectedly arrested.

How did she manage to escape? "I was being transferred from the group of my guards to a group of, let's say, people who deal with physical liquidation. And then a small oversight took place, which I cannot discuss," Vinnikava told the BBC. In an interview with RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 17 December, Vinnikava said she will tell the names of those who wanted to kill her to Lukashenka if he expresses his desire to know them.

So far, there has been no official comment from Minsk on Vinnikava's revelations.

Standoff in Crimea. On 16 December, 51 deputies of the 100-seat Crimean Supreme Council voted to dismiss its presidium headed by Crimean Communist Party leader Leonid Hrach, Interfax reported. The vote was the culmination of the harsh standoff between parliamentary speaker Hrach and Crimean Prime Minister Serhiy Kunitsyn, which reportedly began on 7 November, when Hrach publicly accused Kunitsyn of preparing a "criminal revolution" on the peninsula. Kunitsyn finally gained the upper hand in the standoff by mustering the support of the "Zlahoda" and "Respublika" caucuses in the Crimean legislature. Hrach, who is supported by the 45-seat Communist and People's Democracy caucus, declared the dismissal to be "destructive and illegal" (in the sense that it violated the parliamentary regulations, which give considerable leverage in the government for the Communist-dominated legislative presidium). He announced that the parliament will go into recess until January. However, Kunitsyn's supporters--possessing a formal quorum--resolved to continue the session on 21 January. Kyiv immediately hastened to send mediators to Simferopol. It is not clear how the conflict will develop and whom Kyiv will choose to support. Ukrainian President Kuchma commented earlier this month that both Hrach and Kunitsyn "are equally responsible for the socioeconomic and political stability in Crimea."

The 7 December "Den" speculated on possible motives behind the current political crisis in Crimea and the enmity between Hrach and Kunitsyn.

According to the newspaper, the current cabinet of the autonomous republic is a "paradoxical" regional coalition based on the pro-Kuchma Popular Democratic Party and the Communist Party led by Petro Symonenko (the Crimean Communist Party headed by Hrach is a regional branch of Symonenko's organization), which opposed each other on the nationwide scale in this year's presidential elections. The serious cracks in the Crimean coalition appeared exactly during the election campaign.

Another supposition ascribes the initiation of the political crisis to the "Respublika" caucus (10 deputies) and its political ally, the "Soyuz" party, which formerly cooperated with Hrach's Communists but--"washed out from power structures by the Communists"--changed their position during the presidential election. According to "Den," Hrach's ouster was planned by the "Respublika"/"Soyuz" alliance as "the necessary condition for a new distribution of portfolios in Crimea."

"For the first time in centuries, probably since the Poland of the Jagiellonian dynasty (ed. note: 1386-1572), we have found ourselves in a situation where our security may be characterized by a dominance of positive factors over negative factors." -- Polish Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz, addressing the parliament on 15 December.

"This is an agreement on the creation of bureaucratic structures, a huge army of officials which will cost the ordinary taxpayer dearly. Second, the president of Belarus is illegitimate. After 10 or maybe 20 years, this agreement will be considered null and void, and it will be broken.... Moreover, this union treaty will breed separatism in Russia.... There are no objective grounds for a union. I mean, economic grounds. It is unwise to unite only because of the similarity of cultures." -- Russian State Duma deputy Sergei Yushenkov commenting on why he voted against the ratification of the Belarus-Russia union treaty on 13 December. Quoted by RFE/RL's Belarusian Service.

"You realize perfectly well: If we do not have cattle, we will not have anybody to feed." -- Lukashenka at a cabinet meeting on 16 December. Quoted by Belarusian Television.

"I simply want to warn all [of you present] and all those who can hear me today. In the next few days, we will launch total checks and monitoring of how cattle are provided during the winter." -- Lukashenka at a cabinet meeting on 16 December. Quoted by Belarusian Television.

"I can tell you that in the KGB investigation prison I was dazzled most of all by the fact that they, too, speak there in whispers. KGB officers speak in whispers, pointing to the ceiling. Who is above them, I don't know. Until recently I thought it was God, but now I don't know, I doubt it. All KGB officers communicate with one another by way of written notes, because it is impossible to speak, modern eavesdropping equipment is everywhere." -- Former National Bank Chairwoman Tamara Vinnikava, in an interview with RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 17 December.

"Ukraine could be compared to a sick person, lying on a table, cut up by a surgeon who lacks proper tools to finish the necessary treatment. If the world--and the U.S. in particular--waits to see what happens, the patient dies. Ukraine needs massive Western assistance."--Leonid Kuchma in the 20 December "Newsweek."