RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 1, No. 17, 21 September 1999

A Survey of Developments in Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team.

AMBIGUOUS ANNIVERSARY. On 17 September, Poland marked the 60th anniversary of the Soviet invasion. While Polish armies were involved in an unequal but heroic fight against Nazi Germany, some 600,000 Soviet troops moved into Poland on 17 September 1939. The 25 border-guard and police units in eastern Poland were no match for the Soviet forces. On 25 September, German and Soviet troops met along the length of the demarcation line that had been determined in a secret protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 23 August 1939. Three days later, Berlin and Moscow signed a friendship and border treaty erasing Poland from the map of Europe for almost six years.

The Soviet annexation of eastern Poland was presented by Moscow as the "liberation of Belarusian and Ukrainian brothers from the oppression of Polish landlords." Eyewitness accounts testify that most Belarusians and Ukrainians greeted the Soviet troops as friends, if not liberators, and promptly cooperated in organizing a Soviet system of power. "Popular assemblies" of western Belarus and western Ukraine were swiftly elected in October 1939 and requested the unification of the newly conquered areas with the Belarusian SSR and Ukrainian SSR in particular and with the USSR in general.

Historians have cited many reasons for this Belarusian and Ukrainian attitude toward the Soviet invasion. Two appear especially persuasive.

First, pre-war Poland--which experienced a measure of democracy during its initial years of independence but became an authoritarian state following Jozef Pilsudski's coup d'etat in May 1926--did not develop a policy toward its ethnic minorities that those minorities, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the country's population, found acceptable. Particularly Belarusians and Ukrainians were treated by the state as second-rate citizens in terms of their civil rights. In Poland's "eastern outlands" (kresy wschodnie--the name applied to eastern parts of pre-war Poland), economic, social, and ethnic inequality and injustice were widespread

Second, Belarusians and Ukrainians suffered under the delusion--skillfully promoted by Soviet propaganda at the time--that Soviet Belarus and Soviet Ukraine embodied the national statehood that they so intensely desired. The Polish-Soviet border was hermetically sealed, as a result of which Polish Belarusians and Ukrainians were completely unfamiliar with the real state of affairs in the Soviet Union (as, incidentally, was the rest of Europe). Therefore, even anti-Communists among Belarusian and Ukrainian political circles in pre-war Poland generally welcomed the unification of all Belarusian and Ukrainian ethnic territories as an "act of historical justice."

Some 20 months later, when Hitler's armies invaded the Soviet Union, many people in western Belarus and Ukraine who had greeted Stalin's soldiers were now somewhat inclined to welcome the Germans as the "liberator." From September 1939 to June 1941, Stalin's persecution machine was used against not only "Polish landlords" but also their allegedly liberated victims: Belarusian and Ukrainian peasants. The legendary communist paradise proved a socioeconomic hell for those hapless "brothers" of the Soviet Union.

The 1945 Yalta Conference endorsed the Polish-Soviet border foreseen by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (with some post-war corrections), leaving Poland without its former "eastern outlands." For more than 40 years, the official Soviet interpretation of the 17 September 1939 military operation as the "liberation of the oppressed" prevailed in Poland's communist historiography. Only after Solidarity took over in 1989 were Polish historians able to openly identify the invasion by its proper name.

Belarusian and Ukrainian historians, or at least those who have renounced the Soviet historiography tradition, offer interpretations of the significance of the 17 September anniversary that are more ambiguous. The notion of "liberation" appears to be gradually disappearing from their interpretations. However, there is hardly any historian in Belarus and Ukraine who would take issue with the argument that the Soviet invasion against Poland 60 years ago was "positive" for their nations in so far as it unified formerly divided nations into one political organism. That organism collapsed in 1991 and gave birth to two independent states--Belarus and Ukraine.

At a recent conference of Belarusian historians in Minsk, one delegate spoke for many when he argued that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and its territorial consequences cannot be viewed as separate from the Polish-Bolshevik Treaty of Riga in 1921. Under that treaty, Warsaw and Moscow arbitrarily carved up between themselves Belarusian and Ukrainian ethnic territories without taking into account the interests of the indigenous people who inhabited them. According to this line of argument, the Soviet Union in 1939--even in the role of an aggressor-- ensured that justice was done by bringing Belarusians and Ukrainians together.

Whether Polish historians will accept such a viewpoint remains to be seen. Currently, the differing attitudes toward the Soviet invasion 60 years ago were reflected in the official commemorations of the anniversary. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski visited sites in Russia and Ukraine of the mass murder of Polish officers taken prisoners by Soviet troops in 1939. Belarus's Alyaksandr Lukashenka presided over official events in his country marking the 60th anniversary of the reunification of Belarus. And Lviv in Ukraine hosted a congress of antiCommunists from Eastern Europe, who discussed Soviet repression in the 1930s and early 1940s. When history serves different policies, a single historical interpretation is the exception rather than the rule.


NEWSPAPER SAYS KUCHMA'S RIVALS FACE NO INFORMATION BLOCKADE. The newspaper "Fakty," which is taking a proKuchma stance in the presidential election campaign, argued on 11 September that the incumbent president's rivals face no information "blockade," despite their regular suggestions to the contrary. According to "Fakty," each of Ukraine's 25 oblasts has the "press organs of any given political party" and the newspapers that "share views of any given presidential candidate." "Fakty" quoted specific names and figures:

Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz is supported by the nationwide Socialist Party press organ "Tovarysh" (58,300 copies) and the regional newspapers "Vybor" (Zaporizhzha; 26,600 copies) and "Prykarpatska pravda" (Ivano-Frankivsk; 3,000). Moroz is also "surprisingly often favored with good words" by "Narodnaya sprava" (Volynska Oblast; 7,100), "Rivnenski dialog" (Rivne Oblast; 3,000), and "R.I.O." (Zakarpatska Oblast).

Communist Party chairman Petro Symonenko is supported by the nationwide Communist Party Press organ "Komunist" (193,000), "Spravedlivost" (Volynska Oblast; 5,200), "Novaya volna" and "Kommunist Donbassa" (both in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast), "Sevastopolskaya pravda" (Crimea), "Leninskaya pravda" (Sumy), "Krasnoe znamya" (Kharkiv Oblast).

Oleksandr Tkachenko is backed by the nationwide "Silski visti" (576,500) and "Holos Ukrayiny," "KhersonKuryer" (Kherson; 8,500), "Selyanska pravda" (6,000), "Antenna" (Cherkasy; 20,000), "Vysokyy zamok" (Lviv).

According to "Fakty," Yevhen Marchuk has enlisted the widest regional press support among all the candidates. His candidacy is upheld by "Svobodnaya mysl" (Volynska Oblast), "Nashe vremya" (Zaporizhzha; 35,000), "Elita" (Mykolayiv Oblast; 50,000), "Dialog" (Kharkiv Oblast; 50,000), "Salon" (Donetsk; 40,000), "Sribna zemlya" (Uzhhorod), "XXI vek" (Luhansk), "Za vilnu Ukrayinu" (Lviv; 12,000), "Informatsionnyi byulleten" (Poltava; 10,000), "Chas" (Chernivtsi).

The total weekly circulation of only the abovementioned newspapers reaches 4 million, "Fakty" concluded.

"I think that our joint appeal to the people is a striking example of how responsible politicians should behave in order to confront a common misfortune. When the state is on the verge of destruction, even activists with different views should unite. Despite holding different opinions, we are not irreconcilable opponents. Why should we be? For instance, Yevhen Marchuk is a skilled KGB officer who has received good schooling in state security bodies--he certainly possesses a great deal of information about what is happening in the country. On some problems he is better informed than all of us." -- Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko, commenting on his anti-Kuchma election coalition with Yevhen Marchuk, Oleksandr Moroz, and Volodymyr Oliynyk to the 16 September "Pravda."

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.

KAZAKHSTAN AGAIN HOPING TO SELL ARMS ABROAD. Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev, who accompanied President Nursultan Nazarbaev to Bulgaria and Ukraine last week, told Interfax in Kyiv on 17 September that Astana hopes to sell with Ukraine's help almost 1,500 pieces of heavy military equipment formerly deployed by the Soviet Army in East Germany. Those vehicles are primarily tanks, which would be sent to Ukraine for repairs. Ukraine would keep three or four and sell the rest to foreign buyers, Toqaev explained. He added that Ukraine could also help to find a market for the output of the Uralsk Small Arms Plant. At an arms fair in Almaty in April 1998, Kazakhstan exhibited former Soviet military hardware, including MiG-21 fighters, for which the asking price was $150,000-$180,000 each. Kazakh government officials have denied any knowledge of the sale of those aircraft to North Korea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August and 13 September 1999). LF

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS TO SEEK FAIR BALLOT. Nine presidential candidates--Yevhen Marchuk, Oleksandr Moroz, Oleksandr Tkachenko, Petro Symonenko, Volodymyr Oliynyk, Oleksandr Rzhavskyy, Mykola Haber, Yuriy Karmazin, and Oleksandr Bazylyuk--have signed an agreement on setting up an independent center for counting votes in the 31 October presidential elections. In a 20 September statement, the signatories said they fear the current administration of President Leonid Kuchma will rig the elections. Under the agreement, a computer network will collect voting figures from polling stations and compare it with official data released by the Central Electoral Commission. JM