UKRAINIAN PARTIES NAME PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS. Several political parties on 15 May announced their candidates for the 31 October presidential elections, Interfax reported. Leonid Kuchma, the incumbent president, was nominated by the Popular Democratic Party, the Liberal Party, and the Social Democratic Party (United). Oleksandr Moroz was nominated by the Socialist Party, which he leads. His candidacy is also supported by the Social Democratic Party. Petro Symonenko, leader of the Communist Party, was fielded by his own party. Nataliya Vitrenko was also nominated by her Progressive Socialist Party. Former Premier Yevhen Marchuk was proposed by the Social Democratic Union, the Rural Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and the Christian Popular Union. Marchuk has quit the parliamentary caucus of the Social Democratic Party (United), to which he had belonged since its formation last year. Each wing of the split Rukh nominated its own hopeful: Hennadiy Udovenko and Yuriy Kostenko. JM

CENTRAL EUROPEAN PRESIDENTS BACK G-8 STANCE ON KOSOVA. In Lviv on 15 May, the presidents of nine Central European countries urged the Yugoslav government to accept the G-8 plan for ending the Kosova crisis. That plan calls for the deployment of international peacekeepers, the withdrawal of Serbian forces, and substantial autonomy for Kosova. The heads of states also proposed a "high-level conference on southeastern Europe" to work out a "comprehensive strategy for the stabilization of the entire region through economic reconstruction and the promotion of democracy." The statement--signed by the presidents of Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, and Ukraine--condemned ethnic cleansing in Kosova and deplored civilian deaths because of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Ukrainian President Kuchma was the only head of state at the Lviv summit to call on NATO to stop its air strikes. JM

ROMANIA, BULGARIA REACH AGREEMENT ON DANUBE BRIDGE. Romanian President Emil Constantinescu and Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov agreed on 14 May to build a bridge linking their countries over the Danube River at Vidin-Calafat, BTA reported. Constantinescu said the conflict in Yugoslavia changed Romania's views about building a second bridge linking his country with Bulgaria. He also said Bulgaria will have to arrange financing for the new bridge. The two presidents, who met at the Central European summit in Lviv, said they will ask their transport ministers to hold urgent meetings on the problem of Danube shipping. In other news, the foreign ministers of Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece met in Sofia on 14-15 May to discuss the conflict in Yugoslavia. The ministers said the conflict should be resolved by political means and without any border changes. They said any solution should be followed by a Balkan stability pact to help integrate the region into European structures. VG

BULGARIAN AMBASSADOR ON VISAS FOR MOLDOVANS. Bulgarian Ambassador to Moldova Petar Vodenski said his country's decision to apply visa restrictions to Moldovans is not related to Chisinau's refusal to allow Bulgaria to transport spent nuclear materials through Moldova, BASAPress reported on 14 May. Vodenski also denied that visa requirements were related to demands by the Bulgarian minority in the Taraclia district of Moldova for autonomy. He said the visa decision is part of Bulgaria's attempts to bring its laws into line with EU standards. On 12 May, Moldovan government adviser Nicolae Chirtoaca rejected that explanation, saying Bulgaria had not applied visa restrictions on Ukrainian and Russian travelers. Chirtoaca said the "true motive" for the restrictions was related to Moldova's stance on the used nuclear materials. VG

As NATO continues to bomb Yugoslavia, the chances that Belarusian democrats will be able to turn the political situation in Belarus to their advantage are becoming increasingly remote. Thanks to Belarus's official propaganda machine, NATO's air strikes in Yugoslavia have become a powerful stimulus for advancing President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's idea of "Slavic unity" and reintegration with Russia. Russia's Yegor Gaidar has complained that by dropping bombs on Yugoslavia, NATO is bombing Russian democracy. That statement is even more true with regard to Belarus and its democratic opposition.

What seemed a far-fetched idea when first voiced by ultranationalist Serbian Deputy Premier Vojislav Seselj in Belarus in May 1998 has come true one year later: the Yugoslav parliament recently applied for membership in the Belarus-Russia Union and was supported in its bid by the Russian State Duma, not to mention the Belarusian legislature, which is subservient to Lukashenka. Most would argue that joining the " Slavic union" was simply a propaganda exercise on the part of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic as he and his regime face international isolation. Doubtless such is the case. But that move has also added a dimension and given increased publicity to what initially looked like a whim primarily of Belarus's authoritarian president.

It is hardly conceivable that the idea of Slavic unity idea would ever appeal to Poland and the Czech Republic, which are now safely in NATO, or to Slovenia and Bulgaria, both yearning to be there as soon as possible. But Lukashenka's appeals are intended primarily for the ears of Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians--the "East Slavic core" of a possible union state that he so much covets. The NATO action in Yugoslavia has reanimated and strongly inflamed Soviet stereotypes about the "NATO aggressive block." Lukashenka's bid to transform what he calls today's "unipolar world" into a bipolar one--as, for example, in the Brezhnev era--is finding more and more backers in the former Soviet republics. As for Lukashenka, he continues to consistently promote himself as a "tough" leader who can make this transformation happen.

Lukashenka's propaganda campaign has three major pillars: the Belarus-Russia Union (which he hopes will expand to include other countries) should counterbalance NATO by building up its military power; both Belarus and Russia, while remaining sovereign states, should delegate extensive executive powers to the Union leadership in the sphere of military and economic policies; and the Belarus-Russian Union should help Yugoslavia militarily.

In their coverage of the Kosova conflict, Belarus's official media provide graphic examples of how "total propaganda" techniques are utilized to achieve Lukashenka's political goals. The coverage is extremely biased--there is virtually no reports on the problem of Albanian refugees and, consequently, no reference whatsoever to the reason for NATO's intervention in Yugoslavia. The most "insightful" official explanation states that Yugoslavia can be found guilty only of desiring to exist "according to its own laws." Addressing flood-stricken villagers in Brest Oblast, Lukashenka explained NATO intervention in Yugoslavia even more simplistically: Yugoslavia is being attacked because it is one of the "richest regions [where] people mine gold and other precious metals."

In this atmosphere of prejudice and manipulation, Belarus's official media present the Belarusian opposition as a West-sponsored group of nationalists backing NATO intervention in Belarus. When former Premier Mikhail Chyhir, a candidate in the opposition presidential elections, somewhat carelessly told journalists, that the situation in Belarus may worsen to the point where it will be necessary to bring in peacekeeping troops, Lukashenka's propaganda machine did not miss its chance. Chyhir's statement was interpreted as an open invitation for NATO to bomb Belarus. According to one of the five main tenets of classical propaganda, the so-called "rule of orchestration," the message was subject to endless variation, including condemnation by Lukashenka. And when Chyhir was subsequently jailed on charges of embezzlement, his image in the media had been sufficiently sullied to "officially justify" his arrest and possibly enlist public moral support for this measure.

The first piece of bad news for the Belarusian opposition is that its orientation toward Western democratic values has become very vulnerable to propaganda attacks that claim such values have to be supported by bloodshed. When U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Daniel Speckhard said during his short trip to Minsk that the Belarusian authorities should not resort to force in dealing with the opposition, the official response was damning: "If the U.S. path to democracy and integration leads through bombing and destroying a civilian population in an independent European state, we advise Mr. Speckhard that he should [promote] something else in his own homeland," Belarusian Television commented earlier this month.

The second piece of bad news is that by pressing so hard to achieve a satisfying solution to the Kosova problem, European democracies are tending to ease their pressure on the Lukashenka regime. That, at least, is how the situation is perceived by many Belarusian commentators and oppositionists, who fear that the prospect of Belarusian democracy--a minor problem in comparison with the Kosova crisis--will be sacrificed on the altar of a Kosova solution. According to Belarusian pessimists, the arrest of Chyhir and the OSCE's refusal to send observers to the opposition presidential elections in Belarus are the first signs of such a sacrifice.

Moreover, it would doubtless be an irony of history if by seeking to depose one dictator in the Balkans, Europe helped another one to consolidate his hold over Belarus.