RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 2, No. 8, 22 February 2000

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

POLISH-UKRAINIAN FORUM HOLDS FIRST SESSION. The PolishUkrainian Forum--an association established on an initiative of 16 people, including Justice Minister Hanna Suchocka, Deputy Interior Minister Bogdan Borusewicz, and Jerzy Rejt, former chairman of the Union of Ukrainians in Poland--held its inaugural session in the parliamentary building on 19 February, PAP reported. The forum is headed by Henryk Wujec, a lawmaker from the Freedom Union.

"The forum's main goal is to translate the strategic partnership of Poland and Ukraine into practical actions in all spheres, from bilateral trade through security and defense issues to scientific and cultural cooperation," Wujec commented. Wujec noted that a twin organization, the Ukrainian-Polish Forum, has already started its activities in Ukraine.

Wujec declared that the forum will be seeking to "neutralize and counteract" any possible negative consequences for Ukraine following Poland's accession to the EU. However, Jerzy Osiatynski, Wujec's party colleague, noted that there is a great discrepancy between Poland's intended goals in its policy toward Ukraine and Poland's ability to achieve those goals. "We are not able to take Ukraine into our arms and carry her to the EU," Osiatynski said, adding that a policy of "small steps" is advisable.

According to Marek Ziolkowski, chief of the Eastern Europe Department in the Foreign Ministry, Poland's assistance to Ukraine on its path toward Europe will consist largely in organizing programs to educate the Ukrainian public about the EU and sharing Polish experience in EU negotiations.

The forum also discussed the issue of establishing a Polish-Ukrainian university. The rectors of five institutions of higher education in Lublin, eastern Poland, have declared their willingness to organize such a university in their city. The forum set up an expert team to work out an appropriate project and present it to the government and the parliament.

BREST OBLAST HAS LESS FOOD, MORE VODKA. According to official data, agricultural production in Brest Oblast continued to fall in January, Belapan reported on 17 February. The production of meat decreased by 5 percent and milk by 15 percent, compared with January 1999. The total number of livestock fell by 7 percent. The daily increase in the weight of cows and pigs on Brest Oblast collective farms is down some 15 percent of the level one year ago. According to agricultural experts, the main reason for the decline in food output in the region is an acute shortage of fodder.

Meanwhile, the number of alcoholics in the region continues to grow. The annual increase is 3 percent for males and 11 percent for females. Last year more than 100,000 Brest Oblast residents were disciplined for alcohol abuse, including some 3,000 minors. Official records say there are 20,000 alcoholics in Brest Oblast, while Belapan commented on 15 February that "nobody knows the number of so-called quiet drunkards" in the region. According to Belapan, "in most cases the poor wretches became drunkards because of hopelessness, the lack of faith in the future, and a hard life." Vodka in the region is easily available not only because of its relatively low price but also because of the abundance of moonshiners (see "RFE/RL's Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 25 January 2000).


SYMONENKO WARNS OF ANTI-COMMUNIST PLOT. In the 17 February "Komunist," Petro Symonenko warned his comrades from the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) about the "anti-communist hysteria" in the country. According to the KPU leader, the "anti-popular regime" of President Leonid Kuchma is seeking to deflect public attention from the looming economic catastrophe through "provocative campaigns and actions." One such campaign, Symonenko noted, was launched late last year in western Ukraine (Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv, Ternopil, and other regions), where "the oblast councils, which are subservient to nationalist leaders, began to manufacture resolutions banning the activity of Communist [local] organizations."

Another anti-communist move was the submission to the parliament of a draft law by 10 Rukh deputies banning the activities of the KPU in Ukraine. Symonenko says that the draft law on banning the KPU is anti-constitutional, while the accusation of the 10 Rukh deputies that the KPU "intended to overthrow and liquidate the existing state system" during the presidential election campaign is "mendacious."

Why do nationalists behave so hostile toward Communists in world history? Because, Symonenko explains, nationalists are "nothing more than paid lackeys of foreign and domestic capital." As for Ukrainian nationalists, they are especially notorious for their "servility and mercenariness" as well as for their "zoological [sic] hatred of Communists," he noted.

In Symonenko's opinion, the most perfidious "anticommunist plot" by "servants of the ruling regime" is the recent attempt to split the KPU and create a Ukrainian Communist Party (UKP). Symonenko says: "The aim of this subsequent provocative undertaking is obvious. This pseudocommunist, overtly pro-Kuchma party intends to deceive some of the uninformed people, while taking advantage of their pro-communist views.... This pseudo-communist party intends to split the leftist electorate and help the bloc of rightists and nationalists gain victory in the upcoming referendum and [early] parliamentary elections. There is another obvious goal in the provocative venture to create the UKP: to deliver a blow to communist ideology. They are trying, as did the ideological predecessors of today's UKP proponents--UKP activists of the 1920s, to ingrain in some communist supporters the idea that it is possible to pursue 'national communism.' This idea simultaneously implies that today's KPU--which consistently defends its class, internationalist positions, the only correct positions that guarantee our success--allegedly is not a party that defends the national interests of the Ukrainian people and Ukraine's statehood."

POPULATION FALLS BY 400,000 IN 1999. Ukraine's State Statistics Committee reported that the population of Ukraine on 1 January 2000 totaled 49.71 million, down 394,800 since 1 January 1999. There was a difference of 44,800 between migrants out of and into Ukraine, while 350,000 was the difference between those deceased and those born last year. The highest mortality figure was registered in industrial, coal-mining Donetsk Oblast (79,800 deaths and 30,500 births), while the lowest was in essentially rural Western Ukraine: Volynska Oblast (14,700 deaths and 11,800 births), Zakarpatska Oblast (14,400 deaths and 13,900 births), and Rivne Oblast (15,100 deaths and 14,200 births). The number of Ukrainian villages decreased in 1999 by 36 to 28,739. As of 1 January 1998, there were 50.5 million people living in Ukraine.

MORE THAN 100,000 MINORS HOMELESS. Yuriy Bohutskyy, deputy head of the Presidential Administration Staff, told journalists on 16 February that there are 101,000 homeless minors in Ukraine, constituting 36.3 percent of all homeless people in the country. The data were obtained during special police raids across the country. According to Bohutskyy, vagrancy and begging among homeless minors have acquired a "mass character." He added that 14.4 percent of homeless minors are children of pre-school age.

Ukraine has 80 orphanages, half of which were set up over the past two years. According to Bohutskyy, the number of orphanages is insufficient. President Leonid Kuchma recently issued a decree ordering the government to address the problem of homelessness and criminality among minors. In particular, Kuchma instructed the government to open more orphanages and children's homes.

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.

BELARUSIAN POLICE QUESTION DEFECTOR'S DISCLOSURES. Deputy Interior Minister Major General Yury Radzyukevich said on 18 February that police Senior Lieutenant Aleh Baturyn will be fired for absence from work, Belapan reported. Earlier this month, Baturyn published an open letter accusing the police of provoking clashes with participants in last year's opposition Freedom March (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 15 February 2000). Baturyn's current whereabouts are unknown. Radzyukevich said Baturyn was never ordered to take part in any police operations, including the Freedom March. He added that Baturyn may be sued for slandering the police but did not say whether the Interior Ministry will instigate criminal proceedings against him. According to Radzyukevich, Baturyn published his letter to present himself as a "prisoner of conscience" and seek political asylum abroad. JM

UKRAINE LETS HRYVNYA FLOAT. The Ukrainian government and the National Bank on 21 February allowed the national currency exchange rate to float freely. A joint statement by the cabinet and the bank says the floating exchange rate will "correspond to Ukraine's level of integration in the world economy, balance the demand for and supply of foreign well as keep Ukrainian goods competitive and enterprises profitable." So far, Ukraine has tried to keep the hryvnya exchange rate within a "trading corridor." Premier Viktor Yushchenko commented the same day that the introduction of the floating hryvnya testifies to the stability of the Ukrainian currency. The current exchange rate is 5.56 hryvni to $1, while the 2000 budget is based on an average annual exchange rate of 5.78 hryvni to $1. Some Ukrainian currency dealers deem this projection "too optimistic," according to Interfax. JM

IMF TO DECIDE ON MONEY FOR UKRAINE AFTER AUDIT OF NATIONAL BANK. Deputy Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov said on 21 February that the IMF will decide whether to unfreeze its $2.6 billion loan program for Ukraine after an audit of the National Bank, Interfax reported. The audit was ordered after the "Financial Times" alleged in a series of publications that Kyiv misused some IMF credits (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January, 14 and 15 February 2000). IMF mission head Mohammad Shadman-Valavi said after his meeting with Yushchenko on 21 February that both sides reached agreement "on many points...but a lot of work is still to be done." Yushchenko said the talks with the IMF mission ended "optimistically for Ukraine," adding that the fund will "most likely" make a decision on further credits in March. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SAYS REFERENDUM ONLY SOLUTION TO PARLIAMENTARY CRISIS. Leonid Kuchma said on 21 February that the "divergence of opinions" within the center-right parliamentary majority can be overcome only by the 16 April referendum, Interfax reported. Kuchma said the referendum is "absolutely necessary" and should help resolve Ukraine's main problem--"the ability of the state power to function." According to Kuchma, the existence of a parliamentary majority is equivalent to the existence of the parliament itself. JM

SLOVAK PRESIDENT OPPOSES GOVERNMENT'S VISA POLICY. President Rudolf Schuster on 21 February said that the government's "effort" to introduce visa requirements for citizens of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine was "hasty." Schuster said he shares the view of Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Hungarian President Arpad Goencz that "no new Iron Curtain" must be raised between Ukraine and the Western world. He added that it is important to maintain "good neighborly relations" with Ukraine, and he praised President Leonid Kuchma's policy of "working together with the EU and NATO." Schuster also criticized the planned plaque commemorating Jozef Tiso in Zilina, saying those who cherished their memories of Tiso should visit the Yad Va'Shem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem to see what the Slovak "fascist state led by Tiso" achieved. MS