RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 2, No. 12, 28 March 2000

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

GERMAN MINORITY AGAIN TRIES TO REGISTER TRADE UNION. A district court in Opole on 17 March refused for the second time to register a German minority trade union, dpa reported. The union had first applied for registration last month (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 15 February 2000), but the court ruled that a statute extending the activity of the union beyond Poland to include the whole territory of the EU violates Polish law. The union founders subsequently limited the area of activity to Poland and changed the organization's name from the German Minority Trade Union to the Trade Union of Germans. Last week, however, the court again rejected the union's application, saying that the union's new name, along with various provisions of the union's charter, would enable foreigners to become union members, which is against Polish law. The court gave the founders two weeks to adjust the union's statutes to conform with Polish legislation on trade unions. Harald Broll, one of the founders, told the Polish news agency PAP that the union will try to find a legal solution that would allow the union to represent its members outside Poland. It is estimated that some 100,000 Polish-Germans with dual, Polish-German citizenship currently work in Germany. JM

POLICE ARREST 500 TO FOIL OPPOSITION MARCH. A heavy police presence on 25 March tried to prevent Minsk residents from demonstrating in the center of the city to commemorate the 82nd anniversary of the proclamation of the non-Bolshevik Belarusian Democratic Republic (BNR). The authorities had given permission only for a rally on Bangalore Square, on the outskirts of the city. Yakub Kolas Square, which had been designated by the organizers as the gathering place for protesters, was cordoned off by rows of policemen in full riot gear. Subway exits leading to the square were also blocked. Two police armored personnel carriers could be seen on the square. People arriving to take place in the protest were not allowed to form a march column. Police groups waded into the crowds with truncheons, grabbed people, and pushed them into police vehicles. According to the Belarusian opposition, some 500 people were arrested on that day, including journalists from the Russian television networks RTR, NTV, and ORT as well as Christopher Panico, counselor of the OSCE Consultative and Monitoring Group in Belarus. RTR and NTV reporters were beaten and their cameras smashed or damaged.
Police also surrounded the Belarusian Popular Front headquarters and arrested some 30 people there, including two Polish parliamentary deputies who had arrived in Minsk to monitor the demonstration, and seven Polish reporters. Most detainees, including foreigners, were released after two to three hours, but some 100 people remain in custody, including opposition leaders Anatol Lyabedzka, Viktar Ivashkevich, and Yuras Belenki. RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported that its Minsk correspondent, Aleh Hruzdzilovich, was beaten shortly after his arrest and remained nine hours in detention.

Despite those preventive measures, some 7,000 people arrived from downtown Minsk at Bangalore Square. "The regime is trying to mislead the international community by a fake dialogue with the opposition and impose undemocratic elections on us," BNF leader Vintsuk Vyachorka told the crowd. "There can be no democratic elections while the country is ruled by Lukashenka."

According to Belapan, other speakers at the rally described the police action as revealing the "agony of the regime." Vyachaslau Siuchyk, BNF deputy chairman, said that the next large protest, "Chornobyl Way 2000," which is scheduled for late April, will bring together many more people than the present one. Mikalay Statkevich, chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party, noted that "if the March 25 oppression is what the government regards as part of [its] dialogue, then the opposition accepts the challenge." The rally unanimously voted for a resolution calling on the international community "to unambiguously announce the non-recognition of any international treaties concluded by Lukashenka."

Numerous, albeit smaller, rallies commemorating the BNR were held in a dozen other Belarusian cities. Arrests were reported only in Babruysk and Vitsebsk. Meetings and rallies in honor of the BNR were held by the Belarusian diaspora in Warsaw, Brussels, Washington, and Prague. The Prague commemoration was attended by BNR Council President Ivonka Survilla of Canada.


PREMIER SAYS NATIONAL BANK DISCREDITED FROM WITHIN UKRAINE. Viktor Yushchenko told the 23 March "Fakty" that a series of publications in the Western media about the alleged misuse of IMF loans by Ukraine's National Bank was initiated and financed from Ukraine. "It seems to me that there are no greater masters than Ukrainians in creating problems for their own country. I think that after some time, the names of those who created this problem will become known. Their names are no big secret," Yushchenko noted, without mentioning any names. He said that from 1995-2000 Ukraine paid foreign creditors more than it had obtained from the IMF and the World Bank. Therefore, he argued, the National Bank could not misuse IMF loans, which were intended for servicing the country's foreign debt.

REPEAT ELECTIONS TO PARLIAMENT ON 25 JUNE. The Central Electoral Commission announced on 17 March that repeat parliamentary elections will be held in 10 constituencies on 25 June. In nine of those constituencies, the repeat elections are intended to fill seats left by deputies who have died or who accepted government posts (Ukraine's legislation does not allow individuals to hold a government post and at the same time be a deputy in the Supreme Council). Among those who gave up parliamentary seats are Ivan Kyrylenko (agrarian policy minister), Yuriy Yekhanurov (first deputy prime minister), and Yuliya Tymoshenko (deputy prime minister). Repeat elections in the No. 221 constituency in Kyiv will be held for the fourth consecutive time (the previous three ballots were declared invalid). There are currently 440 deputies in the 450-seat Supreme Council.

RECORD FOREIGN TRADE SURPLUS IN 1999. According to the State Statistics Committee, Ukraine had a foreign trade surplus of $2.34 billion in 1999, the highest figure since the country gained independence in 1991. However, foreign trade turnover last year was only $28 billion, down $4.5 billion on the year of the Russian economic crisis, 1998.

MYKOLAYIV ALUMINA PLANT PARTLY PRIVATIZED. Ukraine's State Property Fund announced last week that the Ukrainian Aluminum company has acquired a 30 percent stake in the Mykolayiv Alumina Plant for a bid of 547.2 million hryvni ($100 million), The Mykolayiv plant is widely believed to be one of the most lucrative companies up for privatization in Ukraine. It is one of Europe's largest non-ferrous metallurgy factories with an annual production of about 1 million tons of alumina, the main component in the production of aluminum. Last year there was a heated struggle over the plant's management (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 20 July 1999).

The other two bidders, Russia's Siberian Aluminum and Ukraine's National Aluminum Corporation, offered 273.6 million hryvni and 164.1 million hryvni, respectively. Earlier this month, the property fund barred a key Russian aluminum producer, the Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Plant, from taking part in the tender. The government's starting price for the package was 115 million hryvni. Those making bids had to pledge to increase Mykolaiv's output to 1.3 million tons a year and build an aluminum plant in Ukraine that would use at least 200,000 tons of Mykolaiv alumina annually. Construction of that plant was to begin in 2002.

Ukrainian Aluminum was registered on 11 March 1999 in Kyiv. It was founded by a number of resident and nonresident legal entities and is headed by Mykhaylo Serbin. Seventy-five percent of the company's charter capital is foreign. UkrSibBank is one of the main founders of Ukrainian Aluminum, whose spokesman, Oleh Panyuta, said the company maintains relations with Russia's Siberian Aluminum. Ukrainian Aluminum cooperates with a group of domestic enterprises that are participating in the Sea Launch program, including the rocketmaker Pivdenmash.

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.

TURKISH FISHERMEN THREATEN TO 'OCCUPY' UKRAINE'S WATERS? Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Oleksandr Maydannyk said on 27 March that Turkish fishermen are threatening "to occupy Ukraine's territorial waters with 500 ships or go fishing under Panama's flag" in response to the incident with four Turkish boats last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2000), Interfax reported. Maydannyk added that Kyiv has received such a report from Ankara but he did not name the source. He said Ukraine could set fishing quotas for Turkish fisherman in order to resolve the problem of what Kyiv sees as widespread poaching by Turkish fishermen in Ukraine's territorial waters. According to Maydannyk, Kyiv could earn $3-4 million annually from such a deal. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT HAILS PUTIN'S ELECTION. Leonid Kuchma on 27 March congratulated Vladimir Putin on his election as Russia's president, adding that he expects the "further strengthening and all-round development of strategic partnership relations" between Kyiv and Moscow, Interfax reported. Ukraine's former president, Leonid Kravchuk, said Russia under Putin is not expected to "fundamentally" change its relations with Ukraine, but he added that Putin may follow a "more tough and pragmatic line" with regard to Kyiv. JM