RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 1, No. 2, 1 June 1999

A Survey of Developments in Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine by the Staff of "RFE/RL Newsline"


UKRAINIAN RUSSIANS OUT OF TUNE WITH KUCHMA. On 22-23 May in Kyiv, 309 delegates representing Russian organizations from 19 Ukrainian oblasts and Crimea held the First Congress of Russians of Ukraine. According to the 27 May "Nezavisimaya gazeta," the congress was primarily financed by Ukraine's Rus association, which was the initiator and organizer of the event, as well as by the State Committee for Nationalities and the presidential administration. The newspaper suggests that the congress was organized by "Rus" association activists Valentina Yermolova, Aleksandr Svistunov, and Aleksandr Oleynikov in order to seize the leadership of the Russian Council of Ukraine, an umbrella organization for Ukrainian Russians set up by the Kyiv gathering. Yermolova was elected chairwoman of the council, while Svistunov and Oleynikov became her deputies.

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reports that the congress strongly differed over a resolution on whether to support Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's re-election bid. In the end, despite what the newspaper called Svistunov's "orchestration" and "obstruction," 60 delegates voted in favor of the following resolution: "Given that the incumbent president of Ukraine, [Leonid] Kuchma, has not fulfilled his electoral promise to grant official status to the Russian language, the Congress of Russians of Ukraine announces that it is against the re-election of...Kuchma for the post of president." No one voted against the resolution.

UNIAN added an interesting detail by reporting that Ukrainian Deputy Premier Valeriy Smoliy, who represented official Kyiv at the congress, was deprived of the opportunity to extend greetings from Kuchma to the delegates. In connection with this incident, the All-Ukrainian Association "Prosvita" and some other groups issued a protest saying that the congress "has overstepped not only the constitutional and legal norms but also elementary norms of the civilized and cultural behavior." The protesters demand that the president and the government take measures to prevent an "outburst of the chauvinist forces" in Ukraine.

On the other hand, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted that the congress did not meet the expectations of those politicians in Russia who would like to have a united and strong organization of Russians in Ukraine to campaign for Ukraine's integration into the Russian-Belarusian Union. The Council of Russians of Ukraine, according to the newspaper, cannot claim that it is a widely recognized representation of Ukraine's 12 million Russians. Moreover, it did not even mention the issue of integration during its two-day congress.

PROSELYTIZING WITH CHEAPER OIL? "Novye izvestiya" on 21 May published an article reviewing controversies between the two Orthodox Churches in Ukraine: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, led by Patriarch Filaret, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, headed by Metropolitan Volodymyr. According to the Russian daily, both Churches are involved in a continued struggle for influence among Ukrainian Orthodox believers.

The open split appeared in 1992 after the Russian Orthodox Church had refused to grant autonomy to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Those bishops in favor of an independent church administration went on to form the Kyiv Patriarchate with some 6,000 parishes. Some 9,000 parishes, most of them in eastern Ukraine, have remained loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate. According to a poll conducted by the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, 33 percent of Ukrainians supports the Kyiv Patriarchate, while the Moscow-linked Church has only 7.8 percent backing.

The harshest clash between the two opposing Churches occurred in Mariupol in April, when Patriarch Filaret and his retinue were attacked and beaten by Moscow-linked Church believers. In response, a Synod of the Kyiv Patriarchate branded the Moscow-subordinated Church an "anti-Ukrainian and anti-state force."

Metropolitan Volodymyr recently addressed a letter to Russian State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev asking him to help purchase at Russia's domestic market price and without value-added tax 6 million tons of Russian oil for processing at the Lysychansk oil refinery. The request was prompted, according to Volodymyr, by his "concern about the worthy observance of the 2000th anniversary of Christianity. In the event of a positive answer, we will name a firm that will deal on our behalf with implementing this project," "Novye izvestiya" quoted from Volodymyr's letter. By helping with this project, the letter adds, "you will render support to the traditional brotherly relations between Orthodox believers of Russia and Ukraine."

The newspaper suggests that both Ukrainian Metropolitan Volodymyr and his superior, Patriarch of Moscow and Russia Aleksii II, have close ties with Russia's oil and gas moguls, in particular, with Gazprom's Rem Vyakhirev and LUKoil's Vagit Alekperov. The newspaper concludes that while the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate expands its ranks by appealing to supporters of Ukraine's independence, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate intends to strengthen its influence by offering cheaper gasoline.

WHO IS PULLING THE STRINGS? In April, the Kyiv-based Institute of Politics, headed by political scientist Mykola Tomenko, published a list of Ukraine's most important "oligarchs." The list included people who supposedly "control or influence at least one parliamentary caucus, group, political party, public organization, nationwide television or radio channel, or nationwide newspaper." According to Tomenko, Ukrainian oligarchs will play a "dominant role" in the presidential elections on 31 October.

        The top five on the list are:
        1) Ihor Bakay, who is president of the "Naftohaz

Ukrayiny" Joint-Stock Company, controls the Revival of Regions caucus, ICTV television, and the newspaper "Segodnya."

2. Oleksandr Volkov, who is a parliamentary deputy and presidential aide, controls the Revival of Regions caucus, the Agrarian Party of Ukraine, part of the Democratic Party of Ukraine, and the Party of Regional Revival of Ukraine. His media empire includes Ukrainian Television-1, Studio 1+1 Television, Gravis Television, and Europa+ Radio.

3. Viktor Pinchuk, also a parliamentary deputy, wields influence through the Working Ukraine caucus and the newspaper "Fakty."

4. Vadym Rabynovych, the president of the United Jewish Community of Ukraine, controls part of the Green Party caucus, the ERA Channel on Ukrainian Television-1, NTU Television, the Uniar information agency, Super Nova Radio, and the newspapers "Stolichnyye novosti" and "Delovaya nedelya."

5. Hryhoriy Surkis, who is a parliamentary deputy and honorary president of the Dynamo Kyiv Soccer Club, wields influence through the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (United) and its parliamentary caucus, as well as Inter Television and the newspaper "Biznes."

Initially, the list also included former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, who has left Ukraine and applied for political asylum in the U.S. While in Ukraine, Lazarenko controlled the Hromada party and its parliamentary caucus, YuTAR Television, Television Channel 11 in Dnipropetrovsk, and the newspapers "Pravda Ukrayiny" and "Kiyevskiye vedomosti." According to the Institute of Politics, the Lazarenko case is a "textbook case of a struggle between competing oligarchs or oligarchic associations in Ukraine."

"I propose to set up a council of mayoral candidates that will accumulate all the good ideas included in their election programs." -- Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko on 26 May, referring to the 32 candidates in the Kyiv mayoral elections.

"There is no democratic country with media as biased as those in Ukraine." -- Ukrainian parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko on 11 May.

"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.

INCUMBENT KYIV MAYOR RE-ELECTED. According to preliminary results, 60-year-old Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko was easily re-elected, gaining 76 percent of the vote in the first popular ballot for the post since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Omelchenko beat 49- year-old businessmen and politician Hryhoriy Surkis and 25 other candidates in the 30 May vote. AP reported that the election was preceded by "weeks of mud-slinging and lavish campaigning." Surkis harshly attacked Omelchenko on Ukrainian nationwide television channels, organized concerts of Russian pop stars, and used his trump card-- honorary chairmanship of the famous Dynamo Kyiv Soccer Club--in the campaign, but to no avail. Official results are expected next week. Meanwhile, Surkis claims to have evidence of election violations and has said he will appeal the vote. JM

UKRAINE FACES RUSH ON SUGAR. Deputy Economy Minister Viktor Kalnyk on 31 May said that increased demand for sugar and other foodstuffs has forced the government to impose retail price regulations. According to Kalnyk, demand for sugar increased following rumors of sugar shortages and low expectations for this year's crop following last month's ground frosts. He said the government recommends that local administration bodies introduce "temporary" price regulations on sugar, bread, cooking oil, and flour. He added that the government will also sell a part of its sugar reserves. JM

CZECH REPUBLIC TO INTRODUCE VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR UKRAINIANS? The government on 31 May commissioned an inter-ministerial report on the possibility of introducing visa requirements for Ukrainian nationals, CTK reported. The move is designed to combat unemployment. Labor and Social Affairs Minister Vladimir Spidla said that the largest number of illegal workers in the country come from Ukraine. Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich said the illegal migration of Ukrainians and other foreigners is also linked to tax evasion and growing violent crime. He added that visa requirements might be imposed on citizens of other countries as well, including Romania and Bulgaria. MS

SLOVAK POLICE CHARGE SUSPECT WITH MURDER OF DUCKY. A Ukrainian citizen has been charged with the murder of former Economy Minister Jan Ducky on 11 February, CTK reported on 31 May. Oleg T., known as "Alex," has been detained for two months as Ducky's suspected murderer. He was arrested in March in connection with another case, which involved the kidnapping of the son of the former driver of "Alex." The Interior Ministry had said earlier that "Alex" was a contract killer and was trained by the former Soviet KGB. Chief investigator Jaroslav Ivor said that "Alex" has been identified by several witnesses and has repeatedly failed a liedetector test. MS

UKRAINIAN DEPUTY PREMIER IN MOLDOVA. President Petru Lucinschi on 31 May told visiting Ukrainian Deputy Premier Serhiy Tyhypko that economic cooperation must be intensified both at the bilateral and the regional level by providing for the establishment of free trade zones with Romania and Poland, Infotag reported. Lucinschi said Moldova will back Ukraine's bid for a seat on the UN Security Council, and he praised Kyiv for its contribution toward helping resolve the Transdniester conflict. RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on the same day that Ukraine has again cut electricity supplies to Moldova, whose debt has risen to $16 million. MS

A group of Crimean Tatars ended protests in the regional capital, Simferopol, last week, taking down tents that had ringed republican government buildings. That move came after Mustafa Dzhemilev, leader of the Mejlis (the Crimean Tatar unrecognized political council), announced key demands had been met by republican Prime Minister Sergei Kunitsin. Dzhemilev said the agreement will allow Crimean Tatars to own land and open their own schools. The Tatars were also given the right to set up a council representing their interests.

The concessions follow a similar agreement reached by Dzhemilev in talks with Ukraine President Leonid Kuchma in Kyiv in mid-May. After those talks, Kuchma issued a presidential decree setting up a Council of Representatives of the Crimean Tatar people, with Dzhemilev as chairman. Part of the committee's mandate is to resolve the question of the status of the Mejlis and the Kurultai, the Tatar congress.

The agreement with Kuchma followed massive demonstrations in which an estimated 18,000 Crimean Tatars converged on Simferopol. The march was organized by the Mejlis to protest discrimination.

The Tatars constitute just 12 percent of the Crimean population, but their cause carries great weight in view of the history of the peninsula. The Tatars were deported en masse from their Crimean homeland during World War II on orders of Josef Stalin, who suspected they had collaborated with the Germans. Between onethird and half of them died on the way to exile in Central Asia. Many Tatars have returned to Crimea since the 1980s, but they continue to suffer from political and economic discrimination.

Only half of the returned Tatar population has gained Ukrainian citizenship and therefore the right to vote. This means that Tatars are underrepresented in Ukrainian and Crimean political institutions. Tatars argue that a number of seats should be set aside for them in the republic's parliament. They also demand their language be granted the status of state language and that more Tatar schools be established. At the moment, according to Tatar organizations, there are only six schools for 39,000 Tatar children. The Ukrainian Constitution guarantees the right for all national minorities to use and study in their own language.

The Mejlis, which has no official standing, is demanding that it be recognized as the council of the Tatar people. Mejlis member Kurtveli Khiyasidonov,says that would be a step toward restoring the situation before World War II, when Tatars enjoyed a special status. "Let us be a minority," he says, "but it should be national autonomy because up to the war there was such autonomy and now [the authorities] won't grant it. Other nationalities [represented on the peninsula]-- Greeks, Armenians, Bulgarians and so forth--have their own state, where their language develops, their culture can develop. We don't have that. Except for Crimea, and we can develop only in Crimea."

Last month's protest march not only highlighted current grievances but also commemorated the forced deportations the Crimean Tatars endured 55 years ago.

Highlighting the rights of the Tatars, however, is seen by many, especially Russians and Ukrainians, as stirring up ethnic tension. Events in Kosova were not far from the minds of many who took part in the rally and those who observed it. One Tatar banner called Crimean parliamentary speaker Leonid Grach a "miniMilosevic," and speakers drew parallels between recent actions against the Kosovars and the deportation of the Tatars in 1944.

Ukrainians and Russians on the streets said they were afraid and angry at what they called 'agitation.' Many resent the Tatar towns that have sprung up throughout the peninsula, putting a strain on Crimea's already weak infrastructure. And although a representative from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarch) spoke out for peace and understanding at the rally, some Orthodox inhabitants of Simferopol, with the Serbian and Bosnian conflict in mind, said it is impossible for Christians and Muslims to live together peacefully.

In Kyiv, Georgiy Popov, head of Ukraine's parliamentary committee for human rights, minorities, and ethnic issues, said the problems of the Tatars should not be given special priority; rather they should be solved along with the overall economic problems of the country. Popov said that "these problems are felt especially painfully by those repatriated to Crimea, to the place where their ancestors lived." But he said "this same difficulty is the general situation in Ukraine."

The author is a Kyiv-based RFE/RL correspondent. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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