RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
A Survey of Developments in Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team.
Poland, Belarus, Ukraine Happy To Play Soccer With One Another. The 7 December draw in Tokyo for soccer's 2002 World Cup qualifying competition pits Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine against one another in the same group. Norway, Wales, and Armenia are the other teams in that group. The winner of the group automatically qualifies for the 2002 finals in Japan and South Korea, while the team that finishes in second place will have a chance to qualify in playoffs among the runners-up of each group.
Polish soccer officials and experts were optimistic after the draw. Poland's national soccer association chief Michal Listkiewicz said the result of the draw was "very good," while famous player Zbigniew Boniek noted that it could not have been a better result. According to national team coach Janusz Engel, of those teams in the group, only Norway is "slightly better" than Poland. However, the 8 December "Rzeczpospolita" warned against underestimating Ukraine, saying that "Ukrainians have managed to create a football enclave in a country engulfed by poverty. Precisely for this reason they may be a tough rival because football in Ukraine plays a compensatory role."
According to Interfax, Ukraine's national soccer association deputy chief Anatoliy Bidenko said that "our group consists of teams that we can and must defeat. This is a chance for Ukraine." Ukraine is hungry for success in soccer, particularly after its national team eliminated Russia from the 2000 European Cup and then failed to qualify in the playoff with Slovenia. Premier Valeriy Pustovoytenko demanded the dismissal of Ukraine's national coach following that defeat.
Belarus seems to be satisfied with the draw, too. According to Belapan, Belarus's national team coach Syarhey Barouski commented that the group is "very even, without evident outsiders, therefore all the teams will be fighting for one of the two top places. We are no exception."
An 'Epoch-Making' Treaty For Half A Year? On 8 December, the eighth anniversary of the Soviet Union's demise, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, signed a treaty on the creation of a union state of Russia and Belarus. This was the third attempt by those politicians to breathe life into the common state project, which had remained largely on paper. Yeltsin commented that the treaty is "epoch-making." Lukashenka--who had called the document a "laughing stock" in October--was quick to remark that he will sign another accord with Yeltsin before the end of the Russian president's term in office. He reveal to journalists that the next treaty will deal simply with a union state, not with the creation of a union state.
On 8 October, Russia's "Rossiiskaya gazeta" and Belarus's "Sovetskaya Belorussiya" published the draft treaty for "public discussion." That discussion reportedly resulted in 1,500 proposals to amend the document, but no definitive version of the draft was made public before its signing. Belarusian officials working on the draft commented last month that 99 percent of the amendments included in it were "purely technical." However, it remains unclear in what kind of state the Russians and Belarusians have been living since 8 December.
The discussion of the treaty draft, which was allegedly conducted in both countries, provoked a slew of sarcastic comments by Russian and Belarusian independent commentators alike. Belarusian official media reported that some 1.5 million people took part in this debate, including 1.1 million in Belarus. "It turns out that 400,000 Russians decided the fate of the remaining 150 million," one Russian newspaper commented wryly. Belarusian independent media reported that the "public discussion" in Belarus took the form of Soviet-style meetings at plants and factories, where management praised the unification with Russia, while workers--instead of stormily applauding as in older times--sat gloomily silent.
According to the draft, the new union state will have the following joint bodies: a Supreme State Council, a bicameral parliament, a Council of Ministers, a court, and an Accounting Chamber. The signatory states are to voluntarily surrender part of their sovereign powers to these bodies. The document also calls for conducting coordinated foreign, military, and social policies. At the same time, however, Belarus and Russia will maintain their "sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, political systems, constitutions, state symbols, and other statehood attributes." The draft does not explain how these contradictory goals can be achieved in practice.
The signed treaty is accompanied by a timetable for the phased implementation of unification goals, for example, the introduction of a joint tax system in 2001 and a joint currency in 2005. The timetable, like the treaty itself, lacks any specifics regarding its implementation.
For Lukashenka and his regime, the 1999 treaty--even if it does not differ in essence from those signed in 1996 and 1997--has several obvious benefits. First, it ensures Russia's political protection and patronage for the Belarusian leader, who has become a pariah in international politics. Second, it extends Russia's economic assistance to Belarus's unreformed economy (Minsk will continue obtaining cheap Russian gas and oil and selling its products, which are unwanted elsewhere, on the Russian market). Third, it increases Lukashenka's possibilities as a player on the Russian political scene and doubtless will help sustain his desire to make it to the Kremlin as the ruler of both Russians and Belarusians.
Russia's benefits from the treaty are less obvious. From the economic viewpoint, there are virtually none. However, as some Russian commentators note, economic considerations in the union with Belarus are not paramount. Russia, those commentators argue, has never come to terms with the "loss" of Belarus and Ukraine eight years ago and is ready to pay dearly to get them back under its wings. Now, as Russian troops level Chechnya and Russians slowly recover their former sense of "imperial pride," Belarus's "voluntary" merger is a sign of brighter times for greater Russia. Besides, integration with Belarus is an important issue in the electoral rhetoric of all Russia's political forces.
Although it cannot be ruled out, it is hardly conceivable that Yeltsin, as his health continues to deteriorate rapidly, would want to use the merger with Belarus as a pretext for extending his term in office for yet another five years. On the other hand, it is also highly unlikely that anybody succeeding Yeltsin in the Kremlin would allow Lukashenka to influence, let alone participate in, Russia's political decision-making. Therefore, an "epoch-making" treaty, the fourth of its kind in four years, is most likely to be the next chapter in the Russian-Belarusian integration story.
It is difficult, however, to predict the end of this story. Will the Kremlin eventually absorb Belarus as the 90th subject of the Russian Federation? Or will it install a new leader in Minsk, as loyal to Moscow as Lukashenka, but devoid of pan-Slavic aspirations? The latter scenario might prove positive for the pauperized country of 10 million, all of whose energies seem harnessed either to fanning or hindering Lukashenka's personal ambitions.
Will Ukraine Abolish Kolkhozes? On 4 December, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma signed a decree "On Urgent Measures To Accelerate Reform of the Agricultural Sector of the Economy." Under that decree, the government and local executive bodies are obliged to reform Ukraine's collective agricultural enterprises in accordance with the "principles of land ownership" by the end of April 2000. The decree stipulates that all collective farm workers "have the right to freely leave [their collective farms] with land and property shares and may, on the basis of these shares, create private enterprises, private farms, and agricultural cooperatives." The decree also orders the government to supply the plots' owners with private ownership certificates by the end of 2002.
The decree has provoked stormy reactions on the left wing of the Ukrainian political scene.
The Communist Party parliamentary caucus, in a statement published in the 9 December "Komunist," pointed out that Kuchma signed the decree "on the eve of his visit to the U.S. to obtain yet another handout from the IMF." The Communists believe that Kuchma's decree follows IMF recommendations so that land can be transferred to "Mafia structures and, in one form or another, to foreigners." Among the "unforeseen negative consequences" of the decree, the Communists mention "the destruction of the scientifically supported system of agriculture and livestock breeding farms, the ruin of integrated economic complexes, the ruin of the social sphere in the countryside, a sharp reduction in employment, further pauperization of a significant part of the population, and further stratification of the population in terms of property."
As an alternative to the abolishment of the collective farming system and introducing private land ownership in Ukraine, the caucus proposes "planning and prognosticating" as well as "ensuring targeted financing and preferential crediting" in the agricultural sector. The government, according to the Communists, should reintroduce a "significant state purchase system" in the sector and eliminate the disparity in prices of agricultural and industrial products.
The Left Center parliamentary caucus, which unites deputies from the Socialist Party and the Peasant Party, said in the 9 December "Tovarysh" that Kuchma's decree means "compulsory decollectivization" in Ukraine. According to the Left Center, the decree will in no way improve the situation in the agricultural sector and will result in such negative phenomena as "the dying-off of the countryside, the waste of millions of lives..., the destruction of the [country's] social sphere, and serfdom." The caucus believes that by signing this decree, Kuchma exceeded his constitutional powers and violated a number of Ukrainian laws.
It seems that the implementation of the decree on abolishing collective farms--an issue provoking deep political, economic, and moral concerns in the whole post-Soviet area--may turn out to be a touchstone for Kuchma's commitment to breaking with Ukraine's communist past and setting his country on the path of irreversible market reform.
Commenting on the decree, Deputy Prime Minister Mykhaylo Hladiy, who is in charge of Ukraine's agro-industrial sector, told journalists that 93 percent of Ukrainian collective farms are loss-making. According to him, the land reforms launched in Ukraine in 1991 "have exhausted themselves. People in many villages have not even heard about privatization vouchers, not to mention about their right to own land," the 7 December "Kievskie vedomosti" reported.
Hladiy also tried to counter allegations that the decree is unconstitutional and to dispel fears that its implementation may result in an economic disaster: "The rumors that we will force collective agricultural enterprises to be disbanded are an invention. People should decide on their own what work will be more advantageous for them. Each man has the right to leave his collective farm and take his share of land without any special resolutions of the collective's general meeting. This right is guaranteed in Part 2 of Article 14 of Ukraine's Constitution and may not be restricted.... A landowner treats his land in a very considerate manner and will never allow its impoverishment, but nonetheless special services will be created to monitor leased or privatized land with regard to many indicators, in order to prevent, among other things, a decline in its fertility. Even if a landowner does not know how to manage his plot, he will certainly find someone who can and will lease it to him in order to make a profit."
On 10 December, more than 110 leftist parliamentary deputies submitted a motion to the Constitutional Court declaring the decree on the abolition of collective farms unconstitutional.
Grain Shortage In Ukraine? Ukraine will import 200,000 tons of wheat and fodder grain from the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia by September 2000, Interfax reported. The imports--which are to be free of customs duties--will be sent to Transcarpathian Oblast, whose authorities formerly appealed to the government to prevent possible shortages. Ukraine's grain harvest this year was 26.4 million tons, 100,000 tons down from 1998 and 9.3 million tons down from 1997.
Interfax also reported the same day that there have recently been bread shortages in Kharkiv. It quoted Ihor Kolot, a local administration official, as saying the shortages were caused by a sudden run on bread in the city: formerly Kharkiv resident bought some 450 tons of bread a day, while now their daily needs are 530 tons. Kolot assured journalists that the oblast has enough grain to live survive until next year's harvest. At the same time, he admitted that the authorities may be forced to raise the price of bread.
Ukrainian Vets To Get Polish Pensions. Ukrainian Television on 6 December reported that former soldiers of the Polish army who now live in Ukraine are rushing to register at the Polish consulate in Lviv. The Polish authorities have announced they will pay pensions worth $20 a month to those who took part in the war in 1939 when Germany attacked Poland. The deadline for registration is 31 December 1999.
RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report is prepared by Jan Maksymiuk on the basis of a variety of sources including reporting by "RFE/RL Newsline" and RFE/RL's broadcast services. It is distributed every Tuesday.
UKRAINE SHRUGS OFF RUSSIAN ENERGY THREATS. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh on 13 December said neither the Russian Federation nor Gazprom has taken any measures against Ukraine in connection with the accusations that Ukraine siphons off Russian gas from transit pipelines (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 1999), Interfax reported. Responding to Russian Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnyi's recent statement that Russia halted oil and electricity supplies to Ukraine, Kinakh said Ukraine has not imported electricity from Russia in 1999 so "there is nothing to halt." He added that Russian oil supplies are handled by commercial firms, so "there is also nothing to halt" for the state. Kinakh will visit Moscow later this week to discuss the restructuring of Ukraine's gas debt. JM