RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 1, No. 3, 8 June 1999

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

FRUITS OF THE WOOD TO BE CHECKED FOR RADIATION. Under a Belarusian government resolution on "additional measures for monitoring radioactivity in exported products," as of 1 July the export of Belarusian mushrooms, berries, and herbs to EU countries must be accompanied by radiation safety certificates attesting that these products conform with EU radiation safety norms. Alyaksandr Hardzeyeu, an official from the State Standardization Committee, told the 29 May "Zvyazda" why the government has had to adopt such a resolution.

According to Hardzeyeu, the resolution was preceded by a "rather big scandal" last fall, when the EU Commission for Consumer Policy and the Protection of Consumers notified the Belarusian Foreign Ministry that a shipment of Belarusian mushrooms contaminated by radioactive cesium had been exported to the EU. The commission demanded that Belarus take measures to prevent any such occurrences in the future, threatening that otherwise it would introduce an embargo on all Belarusian exports to the EU.

Under the adopted resolution, all shipments of Belarusian mushrooms abroad will be checked for radioactivity in the 1,400 or so authorized laboratories of the Belarusian Union of Consumer Cooperatives, the Ministry of Forestry, the State Standardization Committee, and the Health Ministry.

Hardzeyeu said that it cannot be ruled out that unmonitored radioactive mushrooms gathered in areas contaminated by fallout from the 1986 Chornobyl accident will increase supplies on the domestic market.

According to official data, Belarus exported 80,000 tons of mushrooms last year.


With Supreme Council Chairman Oleksandr Tkachenko's 29 May announcement that he intends to run in the October presidential elections, the political climate in Ukraine has considerably heated up. Some analysts believe that Tkachenko may be the most serious challenge to President Leonid Kuchma's re-election bid.

Despite widespread speculation in the Ukrainian media to the contrary, Tkachenko had been assuring until the very last moment that he would not run. His change of mind, he says, was prompted by Kuchma's recent anti-parliament rhetoric about "dissolving the Supreme Council" the day after his re-election. "As parliamentary chairman, I must take appropriate decisions [in such circumstances]," Tkachenko concluded.

Tkachenko's candidacy was formally proposed by the Peasant Party of Ukraine (SelPU) at its congress on 29 May. "We shall win. Truth is with us. Millions of people back us," SelPU Chairman Serhiy Dovhan told the enthusiastic delegates. Some right-leaning newspapers have ironically commented that not long before the congress, Dovhan had been promoting Petro Symonenko, presidential candidate of the Communist Party. Those same newspapers recalled that Dovhan's party entered an alliance with the Socialist Party in last year's parliamentary elections. Now the SelPU candidate will compete against Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz in the presidential polls.

The fourth major leftist hopeful is the sharp-tongued and populist Nataliya Vitrenko, chairwoman of the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine. So far, polls in Ukraine have suggested she is leading the presidential race, with 17-20 percent backing. Some observers believe that Vitrenko's bid is strongly supported by the presidential administration in order to split the leftist vote and facilitate Kuchma's re-election.

Before Tkachenko announced his presidential bid, Kuchma's biggest challenge had appeared to be preventing Moroz from reaching the second round of voting. Kuchma seems to have succeed in reaching that goal, since Moroz has been unable to reach an understanding with both Vitrenko and Symonenko to set up a leftist election coalition. Moreover, enmity between Ukraine's Communists and Socialists has recently intensified, and neither side seems disposed to back the other in a possible runoff against Kuchma.

The emergence of Tkachenko has changed the electoral prospects of leftist candidates. Presumably, it has also led Kuchma to reconsider who his main rival will be in the presidential campaign.

On the one hand, it appears that Tkachenko's bid has weakened the potential of the leftist anti-Kuchma electorate by splitting the left-wing votes still further. Tkachenko, the 60-year-old career Communist with links to the agricultural sector, can count on votes in the countryside in both eastern and western Ukraine. However, those votes will not be enough to secure him a play-off with Kuchma, let alone victory. Therefore, he will need votes from the traditional communist/socialist electorate.

On the other hand, if Tkachenko were to beat Moroz, Symonenko, and Vitrenko in the first round, he would be the most dangerous rival for Kuchma in the runoff. It is almost certain that the defeated leftist candidates would ask their voters to cast ballots for Tkachenko. Despite political and personal animosities, which prevent them from supporting one another, Symonenko, Moroz, and Vitrenko have a strong dislike of the incumbent president and that dislike is shared by their electorate. To face Tkachenko in the second round of voting would be the worst-case scenario for Kuchma. The best one would be to compete with Symonenko and to deal with him the way Yeltsin handled Zyuganov in the 1996 presidential elections in Russia: namely, by referring to the "red threat" and mobilizing votes under the slogan, "Better the Incumbent than the Communists Again."

The irony of Ukraine's 1999 presidential polls is that it was Kuchma and his aides who helped Tkachenko gain the post of parliamentary speaker in 1998 and become a major political figure. Their aim was to remove former speaker Moroz from the spotlight of Ukrainian politics and thus to neutralize, as was widely believed, Kuchma's biggest presidential rival. Now it looks as if fate has played a nasty trick on Kuchma, pitting him against yet another speaker.

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "You have very correctly placed Belarus in the center of all events. On the one hand, [there is] NATO expansion eastward. Most likely, as a result of these activities, [we are witnessing] the unpunished bombing of Yugoslavia, of a very good and beautiful country. On the other hand, on Belarus's eastern border--unfortunately, [we are witnessing] instability in the Russian Federation, which was reflected in the subsequent dismissal of the subsequent Russian government and the formation of a new one.... Furthermore, take Ukraine--a presidential election campaign has begun there. And in the north, take the Baltic countries, which have so far been unable to define their position or, to be more precise, have defined it and are dying to join NATO. Therefore, we have certainly found ourselves, as you have very correctly noted, in the epicenter of unfavorable events." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, speaking to Czech journalists in Minsk on 28 May.

"He will build communism for the people and capitalism for himself." -- Attributed by the Kyiv daily "Den" to a member of President Leonid Kuchma's entourage commenting on Ukrainian parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko's presidential election program.

"The countryside is the cradle of Ukraine." -- Oleksandr Tkachenko's campaign slogan.

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.