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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
SHUSHKEVICH TO SUE STATE FOR PENSION. Stanislau Shushkevich, the first head of state of independent Belarus, is pressing a lawsuit against the Labor and Social Security Ministry demanding a pension equal to 75 percent of the salary of a parliamentary speaker or head of state, the posts he held in 1991-94. "In 1996, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka issued an edict granting me a monthly pension equal to $200 but deliberately ignored a provision about inflation. The depreciation of our national currency has turned it into the equivalent of about $2, and I can enter the Guinness Book of [World] Records as the poorest former head of state," Shushkevich, now a prominent member of the anti-Lukashenka opposition, told Belapan on 9 March.
Shushkevich said he used to give lectures at U.S. and Polish universities for a living, but is now facing serious money troubles. "Meanwhile, my colleague Leonid Kravchuk, the former head of Ukraine, to whom I have recently spoken in Moscow, enjoys a pension of $600, a personal car and security protection, and a range of social benefits. I do not even want to mention Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev. I have none of that, and I want justice to be restored," Shushkevich stressed, adding that a district court in Minsk will hear his lawsuit on 11 March.
WOMEN'S DAY: GETTING PROMISES AND ELECTION DEBATES. "Women should be represented to a wider extent in all branches of power and participate on a wider scale in resolving state issues," President Leonid Kuchma commented while handing state awards to representatives of the fairer sex on 7 March. Kuchma was echoed on 9 March by Premier Anatoliy Kinakh, who said that a larger number of women in governmental posts "would only improve the quality of government and life in Ukraine." Kinakh's cabinet includes only one woman, Syuzanna Stanik, who heads the Justice Ministry. There are no women either among the state secretaries (people appointed to each ministry by Kuchma) or in the parliamentary leadership.
In terms of popularity, International Women's Day, which is a legal holiday in Ukraine, is second only to New Year's Day. A recent poll by the Freedom Fund group among 1,300 adult Ukrainians found that the country's most popular holidays are: New Year's Day (92 percent of the vote), Women's Day (63 percent), Easter (61 percent), Christmas (59 percent), and Victory Day (51 percent).
Ukraine's private ICTV Television commemorated Women's Day by broadcasting live an 80-minute election campaign discussion between Yuliya Tymoshenko from the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Nataliya Vitrenko from the Nataliya Vitrenko Bloc, and Inna Bohoslovska from the Winter Crop Generation election bloc. Each lady was accompanied in the discussion by two more persons from her election team. Somewhat unexpectedly, Bohoslovska (her Winter Crop Generation advertises itself as the only genuine right-wing liberal party in Ukraine) joined ferocious left-wing populist Vitrenko in attacking Tymoshenko. "This is a fairy tale about a princess turning proletarian. Ms Tymoshenko, a few years ago you wore $30,000 on each ear. Now, you are vociferously appealing to those who do not even have enough money to buy bread," Bohoslovska said in an allusion to Tymoshenko's past as the director of the Unified Energy Systems of Ukraine. The "Ukrayinska pravda" website commented that ICTV (which is part-owned by Viktor Pinchuk, the husband of President Leonid Kuchma's daughter) organized a "lynching" of Tymoshenko by taking advantage of hateful attitudes of Vitrenko and Bohoslovska toward Tymoshenko, who is the most consistent and prominent opponent of the Ukrainian president. "It appears that no one has emerged as a victor from this female Bermuda Triangle," deputy parliamentary speaker Stepan Havrysh commented on the discussion, adding that the ICTV Television program has discredited televised debates as a possibility for voters to look into political competence of those vying for seats in the Verkhovna Rada.
"In order to make voters remember me, I'll be showing them my naked breasts and, possibly, my ass." -- 28-year-old Olena Solod, a mother of two and a candidate for a seat in the Verkhovna Rada from Zaporizhzhya (southeastern Ukraine), in a live campaign spot on local television on 7 March. Solod took off her clothes before the camera while reading her election manifesto, which calls for legalizing prostitution and decriminalizing marijuana use in the country.
"If anyone is still pretending that he is ignorant, I'll repeat what I said yesterday -- Kuchma is a killer." -- Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksandr Yelyashkevych to the Verkhovna Rada on 5 March; quoted by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. To which parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch replied: "Thank you. I ask the next deputy to take the floor." However, Ukrainian deputies found it extremely difficult to comply with Plyushch's request, since Yelyashkevych occupied the parliamentary rostrum for two session days.
"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.
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PLEDGES TO REFORM GRAIN MARKET. Leonid Kuchma promised on 11 March that the state will form a "civilized" grain market in Ukraine by this summer, Inter Television reported. Ukrainian grain producers complain that the intermediaries who sell grain domestically and internationally were buying grain from Ukrainian farmers at artificially lowered prices last autumn. "This situation was created deliberately. Deliberately! Why have we earned almost nothing from the exports that equaled 7 million tons?" Kuchma asked, promising that the government will monitor the grain market through the Khlib Ukrayiny (Bread of Ukraine) state company to keep prices at the international level. The government also plans to introduce high duties on imports of food products in cases where similar products are made in Ukraine. Last year, Ukrainian farms harvested 36 million tons of grain -- the best crop in the past 10 years -- but on the whole, the money they earned sufficed only to repay loans and prepare the sowing campaign. JM
COMMISSION IN KYIV LEAVES CRIMEAN SPEAKER IN ELECTION RACE. The Central Election Commission on 11 March rejected a motion by election candidate Tetyana Korobova to annul the registration of Crimean speaker Leonid Hrach as a candidate to the Verkhovna Rada on the list of the Communist Party in the 31 March ballot, UNIAN reported. Korobova argued that Hrach violated Ukrainian legislation by providing false information about his property and income as well as by using his position as Crimean speaker to promote his election bid. Last month, a court in Simferopol disqualified Hrach as a candidate to Crimea's Supreme Council by saying he committed exactly the same offenses. The commission in Kyiv ruled, however, that Hrach did not misinform it about his possessions and income, and did not take advantage of his official post for election campaign purposes. JM