AUDIT SHOWS UKRAINE'S NATIONAL BANK OVERSTATED RESERVES... A PricewaterhouseCoopers audit shows that Ukraine's National Bank overstated its hard-currency reserves "by an amount that varied from $391 million in September 1997 to $713 million in December 1997," the IMF reported on its official Website on 4 May. The fund commented that the amount was overstated to help Ukraine gain $200 million in loans that might otherwise have been denied. However, the audit did not find that Ukraine misused IMF loans, as alleged earlier by press reports in the West. JM

LATVIA COMMEMORATES WWII VICTIMS. Newly confirmed Latvian Prime Minister Andris Berzins and parliamentary speaker Janis Straume marked Victory Day by laying flowers at the Freedom Monument in Riga to remember the victims of World War II, BNS and ITAR-TASS reported on 8 May. There were also ceremonies at the graves of Red Army soldiers and German prisoners of war as well as at the Jewish cemetery. Latvian officials were joined by Ukrainian Ambassador Viktor Mikhaylovskyy and Russian Ambassador Aleksandr Udaltsev. President Vaira VikeFreiberga, who later the same day left on a working visit to the U.S. and Canada noted the "historic contribution of the Allied forces." AB


RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 2, No. 17, 9 May 2000

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

POLISH-BELARUSIAN CENTER PROMOTES CIVIC INITIATIVE IN BORDERLAND. The Civic Education Center Poland-Belarus in Bialystok (see "End Note" in "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 1998) has recently completed the program of distributing "small grants" among the Belarusian minority in Podlasie Province, northeastern Poland. Eugeniusz Wappa, program director of the center, told "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" that the "small grants" program was a success. The center distributed the $25,000 that it obtained from the Ford Foundation among more than 20 grant seekers-- organizations and individuals--that had submitted various projects oriented toward promoting civic, educational, cultural, and publishing activities in the region.

Belarusians inhabit the eastern strip of Podlasie Province along the border with Belarus. Major urban centers of Polish Belarusians are Bialystok (the center of the province), Hajnowka, and Bielsk Podlaski. Estimates of their number vary from 100,000 to 250,000, but these figures are based on estimates of the number of Orthodox Church believers in the region rather than on their ethnic identity (Polish Belarusians are almost exclusively of the Orthodox faith). The region is primarily agricultural and poor, even according to Polish standards. A potential political, economic, and ethnic conflict in the region may ensue because of the recent decision of the central government to enlarge the Bialowieza National Park to include the whole area of the Bialowieza Forest. Residents of some 10 local communes, primarily Belarusians, who are mostly dependent on businesses exploiting that forest's resources, fear the enlargement of the park will strip them of their livelihood. When Environmental Minister Antoni Tokarczuk visited the region in March, he was pelted with eggs by people holding posters in both Polish and Belarusian protesting the park's enlargement.

The ideas sponsored by the center included several educational projects oriented toward promoting national awareness of young Belarusians in the province's schools as well as in one kindergarten, where children are taught the Belarusian language. The center also supported a project to launch a bilingual, BelarusianPolish monthly in the Hajnowka district (the first issue has already appeared). Two projects will also involve Belarusians across the border. The center gave money to support the annual Belarusian song festival "Autumn of Bards" in Bielsk Podlaski, which features performers from Poland and the Republic of Belarus. And the center subsidized the distribution of the local Belarusianlanguage weekly "Niva" among readers in Belarus. Readers in Belarus are too poor to pay subscriptions, and "Niva," which itself is subsidized by the Polish government, has no funds to meet the costs of mailing to Belarus.

"We regret that there were only a few projects presented jointly by Belarusians and Poles. This shows that interethnic relations in the region are not very good, and that we still have a lot to do to improve them," Wappa noted. "But on the whole, I'm satisfied with the implementation of this small grants program. It showed us that we have a lot of untapped civic initiative in the region and many people who are eager to do something for their native land."


KUCHMA SEES NEED FOR SINGLE ORTHODOX CHURCH. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma told journalists on Easter Sunday (30 April) that Ukraine "desperately needs" a single Orthodox Church. Answering a question as to when Ukraine's three Orthodox Churches might become one, Kuchma said: "Taking into account that the Church is not under the state, it is difficult to name the date [of unification], but we will do everything to achieve this end."

As of 1 January 1999, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) had 7,911 parishes (nearly 72 percent of all Orthodox communities in the country), 6,568 priests, 105 monasteries, and 5,806 religious facilities. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchate) had 2,178 parishes, 1,743 priests, 17 monasteries, and 1,330 religious facilities. The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church had 1,022 parishes, 542 priests, two monasteries, 641 religious facilities. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church, which is subordinated to the Vatican, had 3,198 parishes, 2,161 priests, 73 monasteries, and 2,553 religious facilities.

Kuchma--accompanied by Premier Viktor Yushchenko, parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch, and Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko--attended Easter services at three venues: a church belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate, another belonging to the Kyiv Patriarchate, and a Uniate one.

LVIV ELECTRIC TRANSPORT PARALYZED. At 4 p.m. on 4 May, the Lvivoblenerho company, which supplies electricity in the region, cut off power supplies to the Lvivelektrotrans company, which manages trams and trolleys in Lviv. As a result, the city's electricitydriven transport ground to a halt. This was the first such occurrence in the city in the last 100 years, Interfax noted.

Lvivelektrotrans owes 2.44 million hryvni ($450,000) to Lvivoblenerho for electricity. The latter's move reflects a harsher approach to those not paying for electricity supplies, as announced by Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko said that the government on 3 May resolved "to abolish all restrictions" on cutting off debtors from energy supplies. Tymoshenko added that neither hospitals, kindergartens, nor military facilities have been spared from this move. "Electricity, heat, and gas are commodities like any other, and one needs to pay for them," Interfax quoted her as saying.

According to Tymoshenko, 150-200 million hryvni is lost every month in shadow-sector electricity sales. She added that this explains the resistance to reform in the energy sector among its top officials.

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.