RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 2, No. 13, 4 April 2000

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


CONSTITUTIONAL COURT APPROVES REFERENDUM. The Constitutional Court on 29 March announced its ruling on President Leonid Kuchma's decree ordering a nationwide constitutional referendum on 16 April. The court decided that two questions set down in the decree contravene the constitution. One of those questions deals with a vote of no confidence in the current parliament and the president's right to dissolve the parliament if such a vote is passed. The other is on adopting the country's constitution by means of a referendum. The four remaining questions, according to the court, may be included in the referendum ballot. As a result of this ruling, Ukrainians will be asked on 16 April to give the president the right to disband the parliament if it fails to form a majority within a month or adopt a budget within three months. They will also be asked to abolish lawmakers' immunity from criminal prosecution, to reduce the 450-seat parliament to 300 seats, and to introduce a bicameral legislature.

Interfax reported that with regard to the first of the disallowed questions, the court said Ukraine's constitution does not provide for "passing a vote of no confidence in an all-Ukrainian referendum," a move that could subsequently serve as the basis for suspending the powers of a state body. Regarding the second excluded question, the court ruled that seeking popular approval for adopting the country's constitution by means of a referendum without asking the people beforehand if they want to change their basic law is an action that "casts doubt on the force of the basic law and may lead to weakening the foundations of the constitutional system, [as well as] human and civic rights and liberties."

Political scientist Mykola Tomenko commented that "a political aspect dominated over a legal one" in the court's decision to reject the question about a vote of no confidence in the parliament." The decision to disallow the question about adopting the constitution by means of a referendum, according to Tomenko, was based on "legal and constitutional considerations."

Another political scientist, Volodymyr Malynkovich, told Interfax that the court's ruling is "completely incomprehensible." According to Malynkovich, if the remaining four questions are answered in the affirmative in the referendum, changes will be required to the constitution, as in the case of the two questions that were disallowed. "It is unconstitutional to amend the constitution on the basis of a referendum alone," Malynkovich argued. He added that the ruling gives rise "not only to legal but also to political problems," and he warned that the Council of Europe may seek to suspend Ukraine's membership if Kyiv holds the referendum.

Political scientist Mykhaylo Pohrebinskyy noted that, despite the court's ruling, the referendum remains a "Damocles' sword" hanging over the parliament's head, because, in his opinion, Ukrainians in the referendum will most likely give the president the right to dissolve the parliament if lawmakers fail to form a majority within a month or adopt a budget within three months. "The goal set by the president for the referendum initiators--to finalize the reform of the parliament and to put into practice the necessity of having a parliamentary majority--will be achieved if the referendum approves this question," Pohrebinskyy said.

DEUTSCHE WELLE LAUNCHES UKRAINIAN PROGRAM. Deutsche Welle Director-General Dieter Weirich has inaugurated a 15-minute daily program in Ukrainian, Interfax reported on 27 March. The program consists of three information blocks: international news, Ukrainian news, and a press review (focusing on German-Ukrainian relations). Deutsche Welle is planning to expand this daily program with a 15-minute, German-language course for Ukrainians.

According to Interfax, 10 Ukrainian radio stations have already expressed their readiness to rebroadcast the Deutsche Welle Ukrainian-language program, which goes on the air at 7:30 a.m. (Kyiv time) on shortwave. The program is also available in RealAudio format at:

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.

PACE UNLIKELY TO IMPOSE SANCTIONS ON UKRAINE OVER REFERENDUM. Lord Russel-Johnston, head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, told journalists in Strasbourg on 3 April that "in his opinion" PACE will not impose any sanctions against Ukraine over the 16 April constitutional referendum, Interfax reported. Russel-Johnston welcomed the ruling by Ukraine's Constitutional Court that excluded two questions from the referendum ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2000), adding that the ruling "has doubtless changed the political climate in Ukraine." PACE is scheduled to discuss Ukraine's referendum on 4 April. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT WON'T APPROVE REFERENDUM RESULTS? Deputy speaker Viktor Medvedchuk told journalists in Kyiv on 3 April that the Supreme Council may not endorse constitutional amendments approved in the 16 April referendum, Interfax reported. Medvedchuk said the parliamentary majority currently has 276 deputies, while constitutional amendments should be approved by no less than 300 votes. "Today it is impossible to say unambiguously what happens if the parliament fails to implement the results of the 16 April nationwide referendum," Medvedchuk added. JM

HUNGARY, NEIGHBORS AGREE ON ENVIRONMENTAL COOPERATION. The Environmental Ministers of Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Hungary met in Budapest on 3 April to sign an agreement on preventing future transnational ecological disasters. The four countries will pinpoint potential sources of ecological damage, involve international experts in damage assessment, and form joint monitoring teams. Romanian Environmental Minister Romica Tomescu, however, rejected a proposal for "integrated pollution prevention and regional development." His Hungarian counterpart, Pal Pepo, said the Romanian state's responsibility in the recent cyanide spill cannot be avoided. "According to our laws, the polluter pays, but there is nothing about the Romanian state's responsibility in any bilateral international agreement," Tomescu replied. MSZ