RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 2, No. 21, 6 June 2000

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

TWO INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS GET TWO WARNINGS EACH. Last week two independent newspapers, the Russian-language "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" and the bilingual "Narodnaya volya," received two warnings each from the State Press Committee. Two such warnings give the authorities grounds to seek a legal ban on the publications. Taking into account that another independent newspaper, the Belarusianlanguage "Nasha niva," was earlier given two warnings (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 16 and 23 May 2000), "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" on 31 May concluded that the authorities have begun preparations for this fall's parliamentary elections by muzzling the independent press.

"Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" was twice warned against "stirring up ethnic intolerance or discord." The committee detected the first offense in two articles published in February. Those articles, according to the newspaper, discussed how Poland and Israel have worked "toward the truth about Auschwitz." The committee's justification for the warning, as quoted by the newspaper, is of a particular interest:

"To present the discussion between representatives of the Polish and Israeli communities regarding the reception of the Auschwitz tragedy, the newspaper used quotes from well-known or unknown persons, which allegedly characterize the relations between the Polish and Israeli nations. As a result of this used technique, the opinions of individuals that stir up ethnic intolerance are identified with the general attitude of one nation toward the other."

The second warning refers to a reader's letter published by "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" in March. According to the committee, the letter "insults the ethnic dignity of those Republic of Belarus citizens who are of Russian origin." To support the argument, the committee quoted from the letter: "We should realize a simple truth: the Russian Federation citizens [in Russian: rossiyane] are not a nation; owing to a number of reasons they have not completed their formation and do not have stable national traditions, except, of course, great-power chauvinism and the aspiration for easy money."

        "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" responded:
        "Not touching upon the meaning of this statement

(particularly since it was impudently torn out of context), we will simply ascertain the obvious: only a blind person may fail to see that we have here in black and white: ROSSIYANE [Russian Federation citizens]. Russian Federation citizens, not Russians [in Russian: russkie]. So, we ask: Where does the State Press Committee see an insult to the ethnic dignity of those Republic of Belarus citizens who are of Russian origin?! And why has the committee failed to see an insult, for example, to the Tatars?"

"Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" said it will sue State Press Committee Mikhail Padhayny, who signed the warnings, for his "absurd charges" against the newspaper.


COMPOSER'S DEATH IN LVIV INCITES ANTI-RUSSIAN SENTIMENT. Ukraine's well-known composer Ihor Bilozir died at the age of 45 on 28 May as a result of the fatal injury he sustained earlier the same month, after which he fell into coma. Bilozir was injured by Russian-speaking attackers who did not like his singing Ukrainian songs with friends in a cafe.

Following Bilozir's death, Lviv has been swept by a wave of anti-Russian sentiment. Public opinion in the city believes that Bilozir was attacked and died because of the intolerance of Ukraine's Russians toward all things Ukrainian, including Ukraine's independence and indigenous cultural heritage. The atmosphere in the city became even more tense after it became known that one of the arrested attackers was the son of a top police officer in Lviv. The other assailant, who was released on bail, has disappeared, and his whereabouts are unknown to the police.

Bilozir's death has been met with anger and dismay in the west Ukrainian city. On 28 May a group of radicals demolished a Lviv cafe in which Russian songs were being sung. Lviv Mayor Vasyl Kuybida, who arrived at the cafe 15 minutes after the incident, commented: "Some people have been carried away by [their] emotions." But he assured the population that the city authorities keep the situation in the city in check.

The Social-National Party of Ukraine, an ultranationalist group, held a rally in the center of Lviv on 29 May to remember Ihor Bilozir. Interfax reported that there were no incidents, although some participants shouted "Blood for blood" and proposed to exact revenge for Bilozir's death.

Some 3,000 angry young radicals marched through Lviv on 30 May, shouting "Down with the Russians!" The protesters demanded that the authorities "de-Russify Ukraine" and sack all Russian-speaking servicemen from the city police force. Hundreds of them later vandalized the "Tsarska kava" cafe, in which a group of Russian speakers had been involved in the brawl with Bilozir and his friends over which songs--Ukrainian or Russian--should be sung there.

Later on 30 May, tens of thousands of Lviv residents participated in Bilozir's funeral. The ceremony was wellorganized and passed without incident.

THE DEVIL'S IN THE NUMBERS. Some 100 Orthodox Church believers held a picket in front of the parliamentary building on 30 May, protesting the introduction of personal identification numbers, Interfax reported. The protesters held placards reading: "Abolish the tax identification codes--the 666 cards!"; "The Cabinet of Ministers' resolution debases the dignity and religious feelings of Orthodox Church Christians in Ukraine!"; "The compulsory introduction of the identification code is the preparation of the Antichrist's seal"; and "The Orthodox people of Ukraine are against the Roman Pope's visit." A Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) priest celebrated a special mass outside the walls of the parliament.

With its 31 May 1995 resolution, the Council of Ministers introduced personal identification codes for Ukrainians--to improve tax collection in the country. The resolution sparked repeated protests by Orthodox Church believers who feared that as a result of its introduction, the devil increased his sway over mankind. On the other hand, however, a citizen without an identification number could not open a bank account or make various payments.

On 16 July 1999, the parliament passed a bill allowing payments to be made without an identification code by those who refuse to accept that code on religious grounds. Such citizens are required to have special stamp in their passports. Moreover, the National Bank resolved last month to allow citizens without identification numbers to open bank accounts.

The State Tax Administration reported that by the end of May some 52,000 citizens formally requested to be freed of identification numbers. Under the May 1995 resolution, personal identification numbers were allocated to 40.3 million Ukrainian taxpayers.

"And where was President [Leonid Kuchma] looking while such enormous thefts were committed under his very nose, while he, knowing about them, recommended Pavlo Lazarenko as [government] leader, awarded him medals, and dismissed him on health reasons?" -- Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, commenting on the recent U.S. charges of moneylaundering against Lazarenko, who headed Ukraine's cabinet under Kuchma in 1996-1997. Quoted by Interfax.

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.

UKRAINE TO CLOSE CHORNOBYL ON 15 DECEMBER. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma announced at his meeting with U.S. President Bill Clinton in Kyiv on 5 June that the Chornobyl nuclear power plant will be shut down on 15 December 2000. "I am very proud and moved to be here today--this is world environment day--for this historic announcement by President Kuchma.... This is a hopeful moment. It is also a moment when we remember those who suffered as a result of the accident there," Clinton commented. He pledged $78 million in U.S. assistance to reinforce the cover on the Chornobyl collapsed reactor and $2 million to increase security at Ukraine's other four nuclear power plants. The European Commission praised Kuchma's decision as "a significant breakthrough that will be widely welcomed by the international community." JM

U.S. PRESIDENT URGES UKRAINIANS TO CONTINUE TRANSFORMATION. Addressing some 50,000 enthusiastic and cheering Ukrainians on a Kyiv square, Clinton urged them to make the most of "the best opportunity [for Ukraine] in a thousand years to achieve both freedom and prosperity." Clinton said President Kuchma had paved the way for a better future for the country, adding that Ukraine's current cabinet is in the "good hands" of Premier Viktor Yushchenko. He pledged U.S. support for Ukraine's transformation. "We reject the idea that the eastern border of Europe is the western border of Ukraine.... We can and we will keep the door to the trans-Atlantic community of democracies open to Ukraine," Clinton noted. Some people in the crowd responded by chanting "Long live NATO!" Clinton ended his address by quoting, in Ukrainian, national poet Taras Shevchenko: "Fight and you shall overcome!" JM

U.S. LIFTS RESTRICTIONS ON UKRAINIAN SPACE LAUNCHES. "Because of Ukraine's strong efforts to prevent missile proliferation, I announce our decision to eliminate commercial space quotas and open the door to expanding U.S. cooperation with Ukraine's space program," Clinton said after his 5 June talks with Kuchma. Earlier the same day, the governments of the two countries signed a document suspending a 1996 agreement to limit the number of Ukrainian commercial space launches. "The suspension of the [old] agreement will have a positive effect, as Ukraine will be able to enter the space market, being equal with any other developed country of the world," Reuters quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Oleksandr Chalyy as saying. JM