RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
MINISTER RESIGNS OVER LETTER TO GAZPROM? Deputy Economics Minister Jan Szlazak resigned last week in what appeared to be a protest against Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz's tough stance with regard to the coal industry. Szlazak was in charge of reforming the loss-making mining sector. Balcerowicz, who has frequently criticized the slow pace of restructuring in the mining sector, has begun legal action to collect outstanding social security and corporate income tax payments for the budget. "Forty-one mining managers are already facing lawsuits," Szlazak told journalists, explaining his decision. Premier Jerzy Buzek accepted Szlazak's resignation.
The daily "Zycie" on 19 May suggested a rather different reason for Szlazak's departure. Quoting a "high-ranking state official," the newspaper wrote that Szlazak had to go because of a letter he sent to Russia's Gazprom chief Rem Vyakhirev in February. According to "Zycie," Gazprom has proposed building a pipeline to link Poland's already existing gas pipeline with Slovakia. In this way, "Zycie" argued, Gazprom could export gas to the south of Europe while bypassing Ukraine and all political and economic problems connected with gas transit through that country. Szlazak reportedly told Vyakhirev in his letter that "the Economics Ministry generally supports" the new pipeline idea, but he had not consulted or reached an agreement with the government. "If Poland joined this investment project, it would drastically worsen its ties with Ukraine, which is dependent on Russian gas transit," "Zycie" commented.
INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER GETS SECOND WARNING. The ProsecutorGeneral' s Office has issued a warning to the independent Belarusian-language weekly "Nasha Niva" for "abusing freedom of information" in an article published on 10 April. The article was written by Supreme Soviet Chairman Syamyon Sharetski and titled "Infectious Fascism: A. Lukashenka Copies A. Hitler." This is the second warning to "Nasha Niva" this year. The weekly recently lost a suit to revoke a warning issued by the State Press Committee in March "for fomenting interethnic enmity" (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 16 May 2000). These two warnings give the authorities grounds to seek a court ban on "Nasha Niva."
Sharetski wrote in his article that Lukashenka is a dictator and models the development of Belarusian society on that of Germany under Adolf Hitler. Sharetski quoted a notorious interview that Belarusian president gave to Germany's "Handelsblatt" in 1995, in which the Belarusian president said: "The German system was formed over centuries. Under Hitler this formation reached its climax. This is what corresponds to our understanding of a presidential republic and the role of a president in it." (Notably, "Handelsblatt" was appalled by this pronouncement and did not print it. But the interview, which was taped, was broadcast twice by Belarusian Radio.)
Sharetski also wrote that Russia's neo-Nazi organization Russian National Unity is preparing its "combat teams" in Belarus "under the patronage of representatives of [Belarusian] power ministries." He noted: "This is not just a threat of fascism, this is its real coming to our home.... This is a result of the activity of both the dictator and his sidekicks--generals and colonels from Russia, who now head such vitally important spheres in Belarus as culture, science, education, the Interior and Foreign Ministries, defense, and even the Orthodox Church, as well as of those Russian chauvinist circles that helped the dictator in November 1996 to accomplish a state coup and continued to support Belarus's regime in the subsequent years, including financial support."
A representative of the Prosecutor-General's Office told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service that the article includes "a lot of unpleasant and insulting statements with regard to officials of the [Belarusian] state and citizens of the Russian Federation."
REFORMERS TO LEAVE GOVERNMENT? Economics Minister Serhiy Tyhypko intends to take part in a parliamentary byelection scheduled, along with nine others, for 25 June. Tyhypko is expected to run for a parliamentary seat in Pavlohrad, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. He is currently on leave, and his responsibilities in the government have been assumed by Deputy Economics Minister Viktor Kalnyk.
Tyhypko's decision to compete for a parliamentary mandate has generated predictions in the Ukrainian press of the possible collapse of Viktor Yushchenko's government and, as a result, his reform course. Tyhypko is widely seen as a market-oriented politician and a strong supporter of Yushchenko's "Reforms for Prosperity" program. Ukraine's legislation forbids holding both a government post and a parliamentary seat. If Tyhypko wins the seat, Ukrainian commentators argue, he will almost certainly leave the government for the parliament.
According to "Kievskie vedomosti," Tyhypko and Yushchenko differ over assessments of Ukraine's economic situation and prospects for the reform course. While Yushchenko sees the 10 percent industrial growth achieved in January-April 2000 as a sign of Ukraine's stable economic recovery, Tyhypko calls this increase an "inertia effect," spurred by the sharp devaluation of the hryvnya in the last quarter of 1999. "Kievskie vedomosti" also suggests that disagreements between Yushchenko and Tyhypko may have been provoked by Yushchenko's recent accusation that last year, the cabinet misused some 500 million hryvni ($92 million). Tyhypko, who was a deputy premier in the former cabinet, reportedly sensed that this accusation was directed against him and, having decided not to wait for a formal dismissal, prepared an emergency exit for himself.
There are rumors that Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko is also preparing to run for a parliamentary seat. She was proposed as a candidate in Kirovohrad by the local branch of her Fatherland party but has not yet taken a decision. Tymoshenko's attempts to reform Ukraine's energy market have provoked a lot of criticism both at home and abroad, and her departure from Yushchenko's cabinet, according to "Kievskie vedomosti," would come as no surprise. However, Tymoshenko on 19 May said she is not going to resign from the cabinet on her own. "If someone believes that Ukraine does not need those positive changes taking place in the fuel and energy complex, let him sign my dismissal," Interfax quoted her as saying.
LAWMAKERS FIGHT OVER CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES. Last week parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch submitted to the Constitutional Court two draft laws proposing the introduction of constitutional amendments in line with the 16 April referendum. One bill was submitted by President Leonid Kuchma, the other by 152 Supreme Council deputies.
Kuchma proposed to amend the constitution in line with three questions approved in the referendum: giving the president the right to dissolve the legislature if it fails to pass a budget within one month or form a majority within three months; abolishing lawmakers' immunity from criminal prosecution; and reducing the parliament from 450 to 300 deputies. Kuchma sidestepped the approved question about the introduction of a bicameral parliament, pledging to set up a team of experts that will draft a special bill on Ukraine's upper house.
The Supreme Council reportedly proposed a bill of amendments reflecting all the four questions approved in the referendum. At the same time, however, the lawmakers introduced a number of provisions that substantially reduce the president's powers in a bid to counterbalance the reduction of their constitutional rights. Press reports said the lawmakers proposed to elect the upper house (the Senate, a legislative representation composed of regional leaders) by secret and direct ballot for a six-year term. Under current legislation, the president appoints regional governors. The lawmakers also proposed granting the parliament the right to appoint the prime minister, the head of the Central Electoral Commission, and the prosecutor-general. In addition, an amendment stipulates that if the president does not sign a bill within 15 days, it can become law following its signing by the Senate head.
Another unpleasant surprise for Kuchma was the vote on sending the draft laws to the Constitutional Court: Kuchma's bill was supported by 173 votes, while that of the Supreme Council received 304 votes. Some commentators even suggested that the pro-presidential parliamentary majority has already fallen apart.
The Constitutional Court is expected to announce its assessment of the two competing bills by mid-June.
LVIV OBLAST PRESENTS CARS TO NATIONALIST AND SOVIET VETERANS. The Lviv Oblast Administration on 21 May presented 60 Tavriya cars to veterans of World War II from both the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and the Red Army. The cars were handed over on Hero's Day, a holiday established by the regional authorities two years ago. Yaroslav Klymovych, head of the internal policy department in the Lviv Oblast Administration, told "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" that Hero's Day was established to honor all those who fought totalitarianism, whether Stalinist or Nazi.
The UPA, which Ukrainian emigre historians estimate was 40,000-strong, was set up by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists during the Nazi occupation in Ukraine and fought German occupation troops as well as Soviet and Polish guerrillas--primarily in Galicia, Volynia, and Polissia--in a bid to establish an independent Ukrainian state. UPA veterans have not been officially recognized by the government and do not have the right to social benefits, unlike their Soviet counterparts. There were rumors during the 1999 presidential campaign that Kuchma was considering giving veteran status to UPA combatants, but no action has been taken following his re-election. In fact, it seems that the rumors were a campaign trick to muster more support for the incumbent in Western Ukraine. Kuchma's best results were namely in Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Ternopil Oblasts, where he received more than 90 percent of the vote.
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 PREMIER SAYS INTEGRATION WITH EUROPE 'QUESTION OF TIME.' "Ukraine's integration into the EU is not a question of choice, it is a question of time," Viktor Yushchenko said in Brussels on 22 May at a forum devoted to EUUkrainian relations, Interfax reported. Yushchenko added that Ukraine's membership in the EU is an "unconditional goal" of his cabinet's program. He said his government has recently taken a number of steps to bring the country closer to the EU, including abolishing almost all tax breaks and "optimizing" economic activities within the country. JM
UKRAINE'S SOCIALISTS WARN AGAINST TOTALITARIANISM. A congress of the Socialist Party in Kyiv on 20 May warned that Ukraine's democracy and parliamentary system is in danger, Interfax reported. The Socialists appealed to the international community "to condemn totalitarianism in Ukraine" and protest the country's current economic course, which they believe is oriented toward pauperizing the Ukrainian people. The congress re-elected Oleksandr Moroz as the party's head. Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, in an address to the gathering, appealed to Ukrainian leftist forces to unite in order "to restore socialism" in the country. JM
EBRD MEETING IN RIGA PROMPTS ENVIRONMENTAL PROTESTS. Four members of Greenpeace were detained and questioned by Riga police outside Congress House, where the annual meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development was still in session, BNS and LETA reported on 22 May. The protestors, three from Germany and one from the U.S., were removed for staging an unsanctioned demonstration against the EBRD's plans to finance the construction of two nuclear power stations in Ukraine. Police said no charges would be brought against them. The previous day, 20 protestors from the local Environmental Protection Club gathered outside Congress House, holding posters that called for the prevention of "globalization" and "financial totalitarianism." Their protest was peaceful and was monitored by the police. On 22 May, participants in the EBRD meeting praised Latvian officials for the arrangements made for the gathering, BNS reported. AB
CZECH REPUBLIC EXTENDS VISA REQUIREMENT FOR CIS CITIZENS. Kavan also told journalists that visa requirements will be introduced "as of this summer and fall" for citizens of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, and Turkmenistan, CTK and ITAR-TASS reported. Citizens of Russia and Belarus need a visa to enter the Czech Republic as of 29 May, and Ukrainians will need a visa beginning 28 June, according to an earlier government decision. MS
...WHILE CONDITIONS ARE SET FOR TREATY WITH RUSSIA. Setting conditions for a similar basic treaty with Russia, the signatories to the 22 May declaration are also demanding that Russia recognize that "Bessarabia" and northern Bukovina are historic Romanian territories, as are Herta County and the Serpents Island (all in contemporary Ukraine). They also want Moscow to return to Romania the treasury held in the Russian capital since World War I and repatriate to Romania those people deported from Bessarabia and Bukovina under Soviet rule. MS