RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 2, No. 9, 7 March 2000

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

PARTIES STAKE OUT POSITIONS ON POLITICAL DIALOGUE. The 2 March "Sovetskaya Belorussiya" published a "verbatim report" of a meeting of Belarusian opposition and pro-government politicians in the newspaper's editorial office to discuss the problem of political dialogue in Belarus. The discussion was moderated by Pavel Yakubovich, chief editor of "Sovetskaya Belorussiya." "Sovetskaya Belorussiya," with its circulation of 460,000 is Belarus's largest daily and President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's main mouthpiece among the press.

Attempts to organize negotiations between the authorities and the opposition on the 2000 parliamentary elections were made last year by the OSCE Consultative and Monitoring Group in Minsk. However, those attempts failed in December after Lukashenka rejected an agreement concluded by his negotiator Mikhail Sazonau and opposition parties on the latter's access to state-controlled media. Lukashenka took even more uncompromising stance in February by signing the electoral code adopted the previous month by the two houses of his subservient legislature: the Chamber of Representatives and the Council of the Republic.

The authorities assert that the code incorporates all major proposals by the OSCE and allows free and democratic elections to be held in Belarus. The Belarusian opposition, on the other hand, argues that the document does not provide for democratic and transparent election procedures. More significant, the code was adopted without consultations with the opposition, which Lukashenka had promised when he signed the final document of the OSCE summit in Istanbul on 19 November.

Europe's first reactions to Belarus's electoral code were extremely negative. Wolfgang Berendt, a special rapporteur from the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 17 February that Belarus will neither be accepted as a member of the council, nor will it receive EU economic support if it holds parliamentary elections based on that code. Elisabeth Schroedter, head of the European Parliament's group for Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine, said Lukashenka's signing of the electoral code signals an end to attempts by European organizations "to bring Belarus back to democracy in a peaceful way." Schroedter noted that elections held in accordance with that code might result in the "complete isolation" of Belarus.

Most likely, Lukashenka had taken into account those negative assessments when he announced in late February that he agrees to a "broad public and political dialogue" in which various political and public organizations would participate. However, the Belarusian opposition--coordinated by the Consultative Council of Opposition Parties--thinks that Lukashenka's move is aimed at offering an imitation of a political dialogue in order to legalize this year's parliamentary elections in the eyes of the West without making any changes to electoral procedures or giving the opposition a fair chance in the elections. The opposition insists on "negotiations" that might result in concrete political decisions on the powers of a future parliament and electoral legislation.

The discussion in "Sovetskaya Belorussiya" was published on the day of the arrival in Minsk of Europe's "parliamentary troika"--composed of representatives of the European Parliament, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the OSCE. The declared goal of the troika is to "encourage all sides involved in political discussions to reach agreement on new electoral legislation, on the role and functions of the future parliament which will emerge from [this fall's] elections, and on the position of the media."

At the meeting in the editorial offices of "Sovetskaya Belorussiya," the opposition was represented by Stanislau Bahdankevich (United Civic Party), Syarhey Kalyakin (Belarusian Party of Communists), Mikalay Statkevich (Belarusian Social Democratic Party--Popular Hramada), Vintsuk Vyachorka (Belarusian Popular Front), and Valyantsina Palevikova (Belarusian Women's Party "Hope"). The proLukashenka side was represented by Viktar Chykin (Communist Party of Belarus), Anatol Barankevich (Belarusian Patriotic Party), Leanid Shkolnikau (Movement for Social Progress and Justice), Syarhey Posakhau (Belarus's permanent representative in the CIS), and Anatol Krasutski (Chamber of Representatives).

Below are several excerpts from that discussion on the issue of political dialogue in Belarus:

STANISLAU BAHDANKEVICH: I want to say that the United Civic Party (AHP) is always open to constructive dialogue in society. Unfortunately, it is not our fault that our viewpoint is not reflected by either "Sovetskaya Belorussiya" or other [state-controlled] media, not to mention television and radio. Simultaneously, I want to underscore that our party has a 22-strong caucus in the Supreme Soviet of the 13th Convocation. This speaks [volumes] about popular support [for our party] and denies the often-heard opinion that the AHP has 1,000-2,000 [members], therefore, as it were, there is no one to talk to. If the Chamber of Representatives has 110 deputies and we have 22 deputies, then by extrapolating these figures to apply to the entire nation, you will see that we are supported by 20 percent of voters. So is there no one to talk to? If the authorities regard themselves as respectable, they should meet their obligations. Particularly since in Istanbul, where the "Sovetskaya Belorussiya" chief editor was also present, the head of the Belarusian state acknowledged by his signature the existence of a [constitutional] crisis and his desire to lead the country out of this crisis by way of dialogue.

VINTSUK VYACHORKA: The political divide in Belarus runs between those recognizing and [those] not recognizing the consequences of the 1996 coup d'etat (ed.: the 1996 controversial referendum that introduced a new constitution and allowed Lukashenka to extend his presidential term for another two years). It is negotiations--between those political forces that have accepted the constitutional coup d'etat and those that continue to observe constitutional lawfulness--that could lead to reaching the desired stability in society and to truly democratic, generally accepted electoral legislation. And to elections that could be held in an atmosphere of trust and freedom, and with equal access to the media. As regards the multilateral dialogue [proposed by Lukashenka]...:The goal of this subsequent window-dressing campaign is to put off negotiations and make people forget that only negotiations can ensure a peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy.

MIKALAY STATKEVICH: I agree with all those speaking here that dialogue is necessary, that its time was ripe long ago. Why? The reason is clear. Because our society is split. Conflicts based on this split happen even in families. There are two centers. One wants [to go] back to the Soviet Union. The other demands: "Belarus to Europe!" I was recently told a shocking story. People gathered on the 40th day following the death [of their relative] and touched upon politics. As a result, they had to go to the cemetery in rotation, in order not to quarrel at the grave. This is horrible. The most horrible thing is that we have no future. It seemed that the Chornobyl accident should have united us, because we need peace and stability in order to survive. But, unfortunately, the authorities do not play a stabilizing, reconciliatory role. They are not trying to find a middle ground. They have taken the position of the group wanting [to go] back to the Soviet Union. While people representing the other option are persecuted by the authorities. The authorities imprison them and do not allow them even to demonstrate.

VIKTAR CHYKIN: First, I do not see any "conflict" in the country. I do not understand the opposition's demands to hold negotiations exclusively with the president. As regards dialogue, our party supports it. However, it should not mean negotiations between the authorities and the opposition but a dialogue of all forces on our political scene.

LEANID SHKOLNIKAU: The Movement for Social Progress and Justice has permanently opposed the so-called "negotiations" that, we think, are simply being imposed on our society. I am not in favor of promoting the idea of negotiations between the opposition and the president, all the more under the auspices of international organizations, which, we think, behave tactlessly in general and sometimes interfere in the domestic affairs of our country. However, we consider that in a democratic state--and our state is such--a permanent dialogue between the authorities and public associations and parties is a normal phenomenon.

SYARHEY POSAKHAU: The goal [of the dialogue] is to hold free, democratic elections that could be recognized by the international and European community.... The authorities desire to take part in the discussion as one of the partners (including at the top level) debating the problem of elections and other basic problems that may appear or will be formulated by leaders. It has been proposed that something similar to a congress of all democratic forces be held, of all those who will be willing to take part. The authorities are only one of the partners, because the questions raised by civil society...may require a legislative initiative.

ANATOL KRASUTSKI: Esteemed gentlemen, I represent the legislative branch and want to say that my colleagues have prepared the legislative basis for holding free, democratic elections--the Electoral Code has been adopted. I think that now the problem is in a quite different sphere, in how to organize elections, and it is the task of the executive branch and the Central Electoral Commission to make the elections truly free, transparent, and democratic.... I am sure that there are no perfect laws, therefore it is quite possible that, as a result of this discussion, some specific proposals may appear to improve the Electoral Code. It is quite possible that some amendments may be made in this code, particularly since we actually have a sufficient amount of time.


A BUFFER BETWEEN NATO AND RUSSIA? Last week's session of the NATO-Ukraine Commission in Kyiv, in which NATO Secretary-General George Robertson and the alliance's 19 ambassadors participated, highlighted the importance that both sides attach to cooperation under the Special Partnership Charter. Robertson called the Kyiv session "historic," while President Leonid Kuchma declared in a letter to the meeting that "Ukraine is ready to deepen its relations with NATO--a cornerstone of the all-European security system."

Robertson stated unambiguously in Kyiv that the issue of Ukraine's accession to NATO "is not on the agenda." However, this does not mean--as one Ukrainian newspaper commented--that the issue "will not appear on the agenda" in the future. For the time being, both sides are developing cooperation in military, technical, economic, and environmental spheres. Since Ukraine gained independence in 1991, NATO has given some 500 research grants and stipends to Ukrainian scientists.

The Kyiv NATO-Ukraine session did not yield any concrete results. NATO officials once again urged Ukraine to reform its armed forces. Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko told journalists that both sides reached an agreement regarding military reform in Ukraine, but some Ukrainian media skeptically commented that Yushchenko's statement was nothing more than official confirmation that Kyiv and Brussels have different views on how the Ukrainian army should be reformed.

However, on 2 March--as the NATO-Ukraine session continued--the Ukrainian parliament ratified an agreement defining the status of NATO troops and servicemen from countries participating in the Partnership for Peace program in Ukraine as well as the Open Skies treaty, which allows its signatories to monitor each other's territory from the air. Both agreements give a boost to Ukraine's cooperation with the alliance and may also result in financial dividends for Kyiv. First, the Yavoriv military range (in Lviv Oblast) may become an international center for training peacekeeping troops under NATO patronage and may receive NATO funds. Second, the ratification of the Open Sky treaty offers Ukraine the possibility to lease its surveillance plane An-30B to those signatories that do not possess such an aircraft and cannot undertake such flights as are stipulated by the treaty.

These developments will not be overlooked by Russia, which under Vladimir Putin has began to assert more decisively its dominant role in the area of "Russian national interests." The 4 March Kyiv-based "Zerkalo nedeli" warned that Ukraine may soon find itself in a "buffer zone" between Russia and NATO in which it will be subject to conflicting interests and influences.

The newspaper also argues that by making advances to Ukraine, NATO is seeking to prevent the restoration of "an empire" following the demise of the USSR. On the other hand, "Zerkalo nedeli" notes, Ukraine is "in the zone of Russia's strategic interests as well as in the zone of total Russian influence and control." So far, Kyiv has been able to navigate safely between these two poles. The NATO-Ukraine meeting in Kyiv, according to the newspaper, demonstrated "unique and, most likely, purely Ukrainian flexibility in foreign policy." However, "Zerkalo nedeli" says Ukraine should be prepared for a darker future as the "geopolitical rivalry" between NATO and Russia looms large on the horizon.

"Where is the most modern air defense system today--even if it has shortcomings--the best and most widely acclaimed, including the West? In Belarus. Today we monitor the air space from Kyiv to Riga, rendering services to Russia and protecting our and Russian territory. Of course, there are many shortcomings in our army. Yesterday we discussed these problems at a meeting in the presidential residence, but the most modern and mobile army is the Belarusian one. This is the West's view." -- Alyaksandr Lukashenka to Russian journalists; quoted by Belarusian Television on 2 March.

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.

UKRAINIAN SPEAKER WANTS TO LIMIT PARLIAMENT'S PARTICIPATION IN CIS BODY. Parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch said on 6 March that Ukraine's Supreme Council should cease participating in sessions of the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, Interfax reported. Plyushch said the Ukrainian parliament should maintain contacts with the CIS InterParliamentary Assembly only "at the level of parliamentary committees" to discuss unifying CIS legislation on pensions, social security guarantees for servicemen, and the economy. CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly sessions are not "needed by anybody since they do not imply any commitments," he commented. Plyushch added that limiting the participation of the Supreme Council in the CIS body will save Ukraine money. JM

UKRAINE'S INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION GROWS. The State Statistics Committee on 6 March reported that the country's industrial output grew by 14.7 percent last month, compared with February 1999. Industrial growth was up 10.2 percent in the first two months of 2000, compared with the same period last year. The committee commented that companies increased production to take advantage of cheaper production costs, compared to those of foreign competitors, after the hryvnya lost value owing to the 1998 regional crisis. JM