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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
MINORITIES DISLIKE QUESTION ABOUT ETHNICITY IN CENSUS. Last week, Interior Minister Krzysztof Janik appealed to representatives of Poland's ethnic minorities not to be afraid to declare their ethnic origin (narodowosc) in the general census that is to take place from 21 May to 8 June. "Do not be afraid of the census. This census and its results will allow [the government] to create a special database on minorities. It will be a basis for the government, and it will make it possible to work out an appropriate position for negotiations with the European Union regarding the protection of ethnic minorities. It will also serve as a basis for talks between the government and local self-governments in order to conduct a consistent policy toward the minorities," PAP quoted Janik as saying.
Janik's appeal addressed the recently expressed fears by minority organization activists in Poland that the question about ethnicity in the census may only cause problems for those declaring a different ethnic origin than the Polish one. According to Myron Kertyczak of the Union of Ukrainians in Poland, Polish Ukrainians prefer not to disclose their ethnic identity because they are afraid of resulting consequences in the office or at school. "Minorities feel that they are treated unequally, therefore we have objections to the question about ethnicity," Kertyczak said.
Senator Henryk Kroll, who represents the German minority in Poland's upper chamber, pointed to an example of inequality in the census itself: "The census is unequal in its foundation. When a Pole declares the Polish ethnicity, he does not have to answer further questions. When he declares a different ethnicity, he has to answer additional questions; for example, about the language he uses at home."
Jan Syczewski, the chairman of the Belarusian Social-Cultural Association, cast doubt on the reliability of data on national minorities that will be obtained in the census: "We have conducted a poll in a school in which we knew all students were of Belarusian origin. The results of the poll showed that only one-fourth of the students declared their Belarusian roots. If the general census shows that there is no Belarusian minority in Poland, will it really be so?"
The Association of Roma in Poland and the Union of Polish Tatars also spoke against the question about ethnicity in the general census. "People are afraid. There are still many anxieties and prejudices, primarily among older people. They still remember their postwar experiences. So the census may not provide actual data," Union of Polish Tatars leader Selim Chazbijewicz noted.
It is estimated that some 2 percent of Poland's population -- or around 1 million people -- belong to ethnic minorities. The largest minority groups are Germans, Ukrainians, and Belarusians.
RIGHT-WING LAWMAKERS ATTACK WAR CRIMES INVESTIGATOR OVER JEDWABNE POGROM. Last week, National Remembrance Institute (IPN) head Leon Kieres reported to the Sejm on the first year of activities of his institute. The IPN was set up by a law in 1998 to investigate "crimes against the Polish nation," provide access to communist-era secret files to people wronged by the communist regime, as well as to conduct historical research and educational activities. The IPN, which was formally opened in mid-2000 but began to perform its tasks in early 2001, found itself in the public spotlight later the same year in connection with its investigation into the Jedwabne pogrom (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 6 and 20 March, 3 April, 29 May, and 17 July 2001). In December 2001, Kieres admitted that the pogrom of several hundred Jews in the town of Jedwabne in July 1941 was perpetrated by Poles without any involvement of Nazi forces. An official report by the IPN on its investigation into the Jedwabne pogrom has not yet been published.
All parliamentary caucuses, except for the right-wing, pro-Catholic League of the Polish Families (LPR), voted to approve Kieres' report. LPR lawmakers harshly attacked Kieres for the investigation into the Jedwabne pogrom in particular, and for what for they see as his bias in conducting IPN investigations in general. According to "Rzeczpospolita," LPR lawmakers accused Kieres of "being submissive to Jews, toning down crimes of totalitarianism and publicizing responsibility of Poles, preferring ethnic minorities to the detriment of Poles, and adopting an alien, non-Polish point of view."
Kieres told the Sejm that the IPN's activities have been affected by the Jedwabne pogrom and the issue of Polish participation in it. He recalled that the court ruled in 1949 that Poles had participated in the murder of Jewish residents of Jedwabne. "I have been accused of saying in public that Polish residents participated in the crime against their Jewish neighbors before the investigation is completed. Since the IPN prosecutors had examined the documents of the  trial in depth and found no basis for its annulment, we should assume that attributing participation in the crime in the form of assistance also to Polish residents is based on truth as recorded by the legally binding court judgment," Polish Radio quoted Kieres as saying in the Sejm in response to accusations from the LPR.
LPR lawmaker Antoni Macierewicz slammed Kieres precisely for taking such a position. Macierewicz said that the 1949 trial was fabricated and that it was Germans who had murdered the Jews in Jedwabne. According to Macierewicz, Kieres has no right to accuse Poles of this crime. "It is entirely incomprehensible to me that a professor of law, the IPN chairman, and a person appointed by the nation to judge crimes against the nation and to take care of the Polish nation's memory can falsify history to such an extent by accusing his own nation of the worst crime of genocide while being fully aware of moral, legal, and also political consequences of such action," Macierewicz said.
HAS HRACH MADE CRIMEA HOSTAGE TO HIS ELECTION BID? On 25 February, a district court in Simferopol made a sensational ruling, canceling the registration of Crimean Supreme Council Chairman Leonid Hrach, the leader of the Crimean branch of the Communist Party of Ukraine, as a candidate in the 31 March elections to the Crimean autonomous legislature. The court concurred with a complaint filed by the proxy of a candidate running in the same constituency with Hrach in Simferopol that Hrach had misinformed the election commission about his income and possessions, failed to suspend his activity in the post of Crimean speaker for the duration of the election campaign period, and failed to file his registration documents to a district election commission in person, as is required by the law on the election to the Crimean Supreme Council.
Judging by Hrach's reaction in subsequent days, the court decision was a shock for him as well as for Crimean Communists, who have launched a continuing protest action on Simferopol's central square, where they have pitched a tent camp. Addressing a crowd of more than 1,000 supporters in Simferopol on 27 February, Hrach unambiguously suggested that he will appeal to Crimean residents to boycott the 31 March legislative election if he is not reinstated as a candidate. "The election in Crimea will take place only if Hrach and his bloc participate in it as candidates," he said. Hrach leads the Crimean Bloc of Leonid Hrach, which is vying for seats in the 100-member Crimean legislature against a bloc led by former Crimean Premier Serhiy Kunitsyn.
At the same rally on 27 February, Hrach also suggested the possibility of holding a referendum in Crimea to accede to the Russian Federation. "We reserve for ourselves the right to speak about a referendum in Crimea. For the time being, it is too early to speak about it," UNIAN quoted Hrach as saying. And Interfax quoted him as saying that, "if Kyiv and its vassals continue what they are doing by bringing unprecedented political and legal pressure to bear on us, we will reserve the right, in particular, to speak of a referendum." Hrach subsequently backtracked on these statements, saying in the Kyiv-based "Segodnya" on 1 March that he only had in mind that the idea of a referendum "is again fermenting" on the peninsula. "If the situation gets out of control, other forces may hold a referendum on this issue in Crimea. But I am against holding it," Hrach explained to "Segodnya."
To add insult to injury to "Kyiv and its vassals," Hrach declared that he intends to run in Ukraine's presidential election in 2004. "Let them fear me," he told the 27 February rally in Simferopol. This declaration provoked a slew of ironic remarks in Ukrainian media accompanied by calls on Hrach to explain whether he wants to run as a Crimean, Ukrainian, or Russian politician. But Hrach's pronouncements about the referendum were treated quite differently.
"Hrach should understand that, apart from political slogans, there is responsibility -- not only political -- for calls beyond the limits of current legislation," presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn commented on Hrach's pronouncements. "The call for support to a foreign state [and] allusions to a referendum are inadmissible from the viewpoint of political behavior, and they border on the area covered by the Criminal Code," National Security and Defense Council Secretary Yevhen Marchuk told journalists on 1 March. However, nobody has formally accused Hrach of attempting to undermine Ukraine's state system.
It is unclear for the time being how the case of Hrach will be resolved. Hrach has reportedly appealed against the annulment of his registration in Crimea with Ukraine's Supreme Court, but the court's reaction to this move is not known. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has made only one comment, saying that the situation around Hrach is a consequence of the imperfection of the judicial system in Crimea. According to Kuchma, a district court should not be the last instance in cases involving the registration of electoral candidates. Kuchma added, however, that such a judiciary system was installed in Crimea "on purpose."
Some Ukrainian commentators believe that Kuchma wants to end the long-lasting standoff in Crimea between Hrach and Kunitsyn by eliminating Hrach from Crimean politics. The others argue, however, that Hrach may cause more problems by trying to undermine the election on the peninsula than by participating in it. They argue that even if Hrach fails to organize a general boycott of the election in the autonomous republic, he is quite capable or invalidating it in some constituencies, including the one in which he was registered as a candidate. And this means that he might be able to reregister in order to run in a repeat election.
Hrach's political clout in Crimea was clearly demonstrated on 26 February, when the Crimean Election Commission canceled the registration of 30 candidates from two blocs opposing Hrach's -- the Kunitsyn Team and the Transparent Government Civic Committee. This step was generally perceived as revenge for Hrach's ouster from the race. True, two days later the commission backpedaled on its decision by saying that two of its members "withdrew" their votes, thus making the decision on the annulment illegitimate because of lack of a quorum. However, the commission promised to gather at some later time to decide once again on whether to oust the 30 candidates from the election.
The current situation in Crimea is especially tricky for Kyiv in view of the involvement of some Russian politicians in the controversy around Hrach. Last week, a group of prominent Russian political leaders -- Sergei Shoigu, Yurii Luzhkov, Gennadii Zyuganov, Boris Nemtsov, and Gennadii Raikov -- appealed to Kuchma to "restore justice" with regard to Hrach by giving him the opportunity to take part in the upcoming election. "The removal from the electoral campaign under invented pretexts of Leonid Hrach, the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Republic [of Crimea], is evidence of the activation of the forces that intend to undermine the relations between Ukraine and Russia," they wrote in the appeal. Some Ukrainian politicians have already termed this appeal as interference in Ukrainian internal affairs.
If Kuchma steps into the Hrach case and takes his side, he will surely be accused of giving way to "Moscow pressure," let alone of interfering with the realm reserved for the judiciary. On the other hand, if the court upholds the annulment of Hrach's registration in Crimea, this will in no way mean the end to all trouble. Hrach remains No. 14 -- an indisputably winning position -- on the list of the Communist Part of Ukraine in the election to the Verkhovna Rada in Kyiv. In the 1998 election, Hrach was elected a deputy to both the Verkhovna Rada in Kyiv and the Supreme Council in Simferopol. He chose Simferopol, where he was awarded the post of speaker by his comrades in the autonomous legislature. In Kyiv he cannot count on the top parliamentary post, but he may find a niche there to remain in the public spotlight long enough to give Kuchma a major and protracted headache.
"My belief that the Ukrainian election will be fair and democratic is falling every day." -- Former Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yushchenko on 2 March; quoted by Interfax.
"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'S IMF TALKS FAIL (25 FEBRUARY) Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Vasyl Rohovyy, who led a recent Ukrainian delegation in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington, said that Ukraine has failed to resolve a key tax issue with the Fund. He added that the resumption of a lending program is unlikely. Rohovyy said his country cannot follow the global lender's advice to issue hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of domestic debt to pay value-added tax arrears to exporters. "We cannot agree with this proposal. To repay the arrears with treasury bills is a way [to] nowhere. It can create a financial pyramid and destroy stability." He said the government outlined to the Fund a number of short-term steps to boost budget revenues. The cabinet is also planning a tax reform that it hopes will help unfreeze payments from a stalled $2.6 billion, three-year IMF loan. "We have submitted our proposals to the [IMF] mission.... We will wait for their decision or a signal from Washington," he told Reuters. Analysts doubt the government will be able to resolve the tax dilemma any time soon, as officials have their minds set on the 31 March parliamentary elections and vital reforms are unlikely to be introduced before May. The IMF has stopped lending to Ukraine on a number of occasions after the government failed to deliver on its promises of reform. (JMR)
EURASIA LEADER PLEDGES SUPPORT TO PUTIN. Speaking at a conference of the Eurasia political movement in Moscow 1 March, Eurasia leader Aleksandr Dugin announced that Eurasia is seeking to gain official status as a party, according to the movement's official website (http://www.eurasia.ru). Dugin stressed that modern Eurasianists consider President Putin to be "a statist patriot, an Orthodox Christian faithful to his Russian roots, but tolerant to other confessions." Moreover, Dugin said the Eurasia movement supports the president's domestic policy because it prioritizes the strengthening of Russia's geopolitical homogeneity, the uprooting of oligarchic clans, and combating separatism. The website also added that it encourages the development of "Eurasian federalism" through the present transformation of political autonomies into ethno-cultural autonomies, as well as the creation of a "Eurasian economy" by subordinating the market economy to national interests. Dugin claimed that the movement is gaining in popularity not only in Russia but also in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Armenia, Georgia, and Latvia. VY
WASHINGTON CALLS FOR FAIR ELECTION IN UKRAINE. U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said in a live television link between Washington and Kyiv on 4 March that the United States is watching Ukraine's election campaign very carefully in order to assess "whether Ukraine will show in a clear way that it is ready to be a member of the international community of democratic states," 1+1 Television reported. Rice suggested that the further improvement of U.S.-Ukrainian relations is dependent on whether the election will be fair and democratic. Rice also rejected a Ukrainian journalist's suggestion that Washington is trying to influence the Ukrainian election campaign in an effort to place pro-U.S. politicians in government. In answer to a question about a possible meeting between U.S. President George W. Bush and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Rice said such a possibility will be considered by Washington after the election, provided that "there is an opportunity to move the U.S.-Ukrainian relations forward." Rice also said the U.S. is interested in seeing the completion of the investigation into journalist Heorhiy Gongadze's murder, adding that a team of FBI experts will arrive in Ukraine in April to assist the investigation. JM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT WANTS CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION OF KUCHMA. The Verkhovna Rada on 5 March asked Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko to open a criminal investigation against President Kuchma, Interfax reported. Its resolution said the president may be guilty of "actions that helped Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko organize the killing of Ukrainian people's deputies Yevhen Shcherban and Vadym Hetman." In particular, the parliament requests an answer to the question why Kuchma, "while knowing about Lazarenko's criminal activities, did not take appropriate measures to stop those activities and to make him accountable under the Criminal Code. But [to the contrary], awarded Lazarenko and appointed him to especially important posts." JM
REGISTRATION DOCUMENTS OF CRIMEAN CANDIDATES DISAPPEAR... Crimean Election Commission chief Ivan Polyakov announced on 4 March that the registration documents of some 900 parliamentary candidates have disappeared from the office of the commission, Ukrainian media reported. Polyakov blamed the disappearance on Antonina Ustynova, a member of the commission, who allegedly transferred the documents from the commission's office to that of the Republican Council of World War II Veterans and Veteran Workers, to protest against the ousting of Crimean Communist leader Leonid Hrach from the election race (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 5 March 2002). Ustynova told journalists on 5 March that she transferred the documents in order to protest "the unhealthy situation" in the commission, and declared that she is prepared to return them. Interfax reported that Crimean prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation against Ustynova. JM
...WHILE HRACH HOPES TO FIND JUSTICE IN SUPREME COURT. In a press interview published on 5 March, Crimean parliament speaker Hrach said he hopes that Ukraine's Supreme Court will heed his complaint and reinstate him as a candidate for a seat in the Crimean legislature, Interfax reported. Hrach did not rule out that the annulment of his registration last week was instigated by "Ukrainian nationalists" who want to exacerbate the situation in Crimea in order to force Kyiv to introduce direct presidential rule on the peninsula and liquidate Crimea's autonomous status. Hrach divulged that he often hears calls to hold a referendum on whether Crimea should become part of the Russian Federation. "A referendum means a head-on collision with Kyiv, a terrible danger, and blood," he said. JM
In addition to meetings with top Czech officials, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana took the opportunity during his two-day visit to the Czech Republic to hold a news conference on 4 March at RFE/RL's Prague headquarters.
During the news conference, Geoana -- who met earlier the same day with Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan -- discussed a variety of topics, including Romania's efforts to join NATO later this year and Romania's relations with its neighbors.
At a summit scheduled for November in Prague, NATO is expected to proceed with its first expansion wave since 1997, when it invited Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to join the alliance. At that time, Romania -- together with Slovenia -- was nominated as a front-runner for a possible second wave of enlargement.
But since then, Romania seems to have lost ground in favor of other candidates. Analysts now see Slovenia, Slovakia, and the three Baltic countries -- Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia -- as the favorites to gain membership. The remaining three candidates are Albania, Bulgaria, and Macedonia.
Romania, which has also been left out of the European Union's anticipated 2004 expansion due to its failure to achieve required economic and institutional reforms, has now launched a diplomatic offensive to secure an invitation to join the 19-member military alliance.
Foreign Minister Geoana said that Romania, together with neighboring Bulgaria, has great potential strategic value for the alliance and could help secure greater stability in Southeastern Europe.
However, analysts say Romania's bid has only a 50-50 chance of success, and only then provided that the country speeds up military and political reform -- including decisive measures to fight widespread corruption.
"I would say that on the defense side, things are looking much better than one or two years ago," Geoana said. "We have increased our defense budget -- it's now 2.38 percent [of GDP] -- and it will stay like this for some time to come." As for downsizing the military, he said that "Romania in 1990 had 320,000 people in service and now we are down to 120,000. So we downsized by three times and increased our defense budget by two times in dollar terms over the last 10 years." Describing such achievements as "spectacular," Geoana said: "We are far from being perfect, but I think we have scored some points."
The foreign minister went on to say that Romania's economy also picked up last year, with a 5 percent growth of GDP, while reform and privatization measures continued. But he admitted that economic reform in Romania has caused significant social problems.
Geoana also said that measures adopted to fight corruption must be integrated into a broader category of what he called "the values dimension" required of NATO candidate countries before they can join the alliance; that is, issues related to transparency, bureaucracy, independence of the judiciary, reducing anti-Semitism, and improving the treatment of the Romany minority and the situation of institutionalized children.
"Let me put it like this: We know exactly what we need to do and by when in order to make it for the Prague [NATO summit in November]," Geoana said. "And my government -- and I think the Romanian society [too] -- are fully determined to go by this and do it." He added that "it's not easy" and can be "painful because we have to cut even among our own lines in terms of party politics," but, "we have to do it. It's about the health of our society, it's about Romanians' dream to join the West."
Geoana said he strongly believes Romania will receive an invitation to join NATO this year if it focuses its political energy "in the right direction." He also expressed his belief that NATO is ready to make "a seven out of seven enlargement," referring to seven candidates who could secure NATO membership this year -- Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovenia. But Geoana added that it will depend on each country's individual efforts to gain membership:
In conclusion, Geoana said that Romania hopes to resolve its border disputes with neighboring Ukraine by the time Romanian President Ion Iliescu visits that country in June. But for the disputes to be solved, he said, both sides must show "flexibility, goodwill, and hard work."Eugen Tomiuc is an RFE/RL correspondent.