RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 1, No. 18, 28 September 1999

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


PARLIAMENT VERSUS GOVERNMENT: NOBODY WANTS TO BACK DOWN. The Supreme Council on 22-23 September devoted its plenary sitting to mulling relations between the parliament and the government. Two resolutions and one statement were approved. One of the resolutions calls on the Central Electoral Commission to ban Leonid Kuchma from seeking reelection as president because of his alleged violations of the presidential election law. The other resolution postponed the so-called "government's day" at the parliament--initially planned for 22 September--until 12 October. And the statement accused Kuchma of seeking to install a dictatorship and claimed the government is transforming itself into Kuchma's "campaign headquarters." All these moves testify to the continuing war between the legislature and the executive. And it appears that the state-run media is playing a dominant role in that battle.

Lawmakers postponed the "government's day" because public radio and television refused to broadcast the session live. The government has rejected live coverage of any parliamentary sittings during the presidential campaign, arguing that those deputies who are participating in the presidential race as hopefuls (there are 13 in all) will use such coverage to promote their election programs instead of dealing with legislative matters. According to that argument, every candidate has an equal chance of conducting his/her election campaign in the state-run media in accordance with the quotas determined by the Central Electoral Commission.

The parliament argued that a live relay is necessary in order to inform the people what the government is doing to take care of them: cabinet ministers were to have reported on how wage and pensions arrears will be paid. It is unclear who personally took the decision not to broadcast the parliamentary session this time. According to "Den," which supports former Prime Minister Yevhen Marchuk's presidential bid, National Television and Radio Company President Vadym Dolhanov blamed Oleksandr Savenko, head of the State Committee for Radio and Television, for the decision. Savenko, for his part, pointed to Premier Valeriy Pustovoytenko. And Pustovoytenko said that parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko has remarked "he is not the first person [in Ukraine], but neither he is the second, so let him resolve this problem."

Commenting on the lack of live relays from the parliament, Hryhoriy Omelchenko, an independent deputy, told "Den" that the "mafia and clans that are in power today are afraid of the people, they are afraid of telling the truth to the people. They are guided by an animal instinct of self-protection. The Ukrainian state is sliding toward a dictatorship of criminal clans. The authoritarian regime has begun an assault on the last islet of the freedom of expression--the parliament."

Regardless of whether Omelchenko is right, such strong-worded statements by individual deputies and by the legislature as a whole reflect the growing frustration of lawmakers as election day looms and Kuchma appears to be leading in the presidential race.

HARASSMENT OF INDEPENDENT TELEVISION DEPLORED. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a nonpartisan organization dedicated to defending press freedom around the world, has sent a letter urging Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to stop state officials from engaging in politically motivated abuse of press laws and, in particular, from interfering in the work of the independent STB Television. Unlike state-owned television, the letter noted, STB has granted air time to Kuchma's political opponents.

According to the committee, STB has endured repeated "hostile inspections" by nine government agencies. On 26 August, tax officials froze STB's bank accounts, claiming the station had failed to submit tax documents on time. STB argued that it could not comply with the request because many of the required documents had been seized by the State Radio and Television Committee, which is also investigating STB.

As a result, STB has been forced to suspend production of a new program on Ukraine's parliament, which serves as a forum for 13 presidential candidates. It also may be forced to lay off some or all of its 3,000 employees and stop broadcasting if it is unable to pay for transmission services in September.

"Media that provide favorable coverage of your excellency's activities are not subjected to the hostile bureaucratic scrutiny suffered by media that do not," the committee says in a letter to President Kuchma signed by CPJ Executive Director Ann K. Cooper.

"Someone once said: 'Everything is within our power if all people in power are ours!' This is about Leonid Kuchma's presidential team! For instance, on a single day in Ukraine, the president bestowed the rank of general on 137 people by virtue of his edict. You know, even during the world wars, following brilliant strategic victories, satraps of totalitarian states did not take such liberties! The invasion of dilettantes in the entire executive branch is a serious threat to Ukrainian democracy and statehood." -- General Yevhen Marchuk, former prime minister and a presidential hopeful. Quoted in the 21 September "Nezavisimaya gazeta."

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.

UKRAINE REINFORCES SECURITY IN WAKE OF CHECHEN CONFLICT. Security Service Deputy Chairman Yuriy Zemlyanskyy on 29 September said Russia's recent military action in Chechnya is also "likely" to affect Ukraine. He said Chechen militants are now trying to settle in Ukraine. "I can cite specific examples of their envoys coming to Odesa and purchasing [or] leasing apartments for the resettlement of Chechen militants to Ukraine," Interfax quoted Zemlyanskyy as saying. He added that Ukraine's Security Service is taking extra measures to prevent terrorist acts and detect possible terrorists. The same day, Border Troops Commander Pavlo Shysholin announced the introduction of additional security measures at the border with Russia, including an increase in the number of border guard units. JM

UKRAINE'S KUCHMA WINS MOCK ELECTIONS AMONG STUDENTS. Winning 31.73 percent of the vote, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma came first in a mock presidential ballot organized at some 200 institutions of higher education throughout the country on 28 September. Natalya Vitrenko received 12.57 percent backing, Yevhen Marchuk 9.55 percent, Oleksandr Moroz 7.37 percent, Petro Symonenko 4.06 percent, Yuriy Kostenko 3.55 percent, and Hennadiy Udovenko 3.09 percent. Of the 111,000 students who participated in the ballot, 16.42 percent did not support any of the 15 presidential hopefuls. JM