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RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 3, No. 7, 27 February 2001

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


YUSHCHENKO MOST POPULAR IN 2000. A poll by the Oleksandr Razumkov Ukrainian Center of Economic and Political Studies conducted between 22 January and 2 February among 2,000 adult Ukrainians found that Premier Viktor Yushchenko was the most popular Ukrainian politician in 2000 (32.5 percent of respondents mentioned his name). President Leonid Kuchma obtained 14 percent backing, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz 5.8 percent, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko 5.8 percent, Fatherland Party leader Yuliya Tymoshenko 2.8 percent, Progressive Socialist Party leader Natalya Vitrenko 1.9 percent, former President Leonid Kravchuk 1.7 percent, former Premier Yevhen Marchuk 1.3 percent, lawmaker Hryhoriy Surkis 1 percent. The popularity rating of other politicians was below 1 percent.

The center also found that 88.6 percent of respondents have heard about the country's bugging scandal -- 60.5 percent of them are dissatisfied with how the scandal is presented in the media, 53.6 percent believe the authorities will do everything to make people forget this scandal as soon as possible, 16.25 percent think the political regime will become even more repressive, while only 14.1 percent believe the authorities will conduct an objective investigation into the bugging case.

KILLING OF UKRAINIAN IN POLAND POINTS UP OLD ENMITY. The killing four weeks ago of a Ukrainian citizen in Poland has caused much outrage -- but not much surprise -- in Ukraine.

Serhiy Kudrya was driving across Poland to Ukraine with his pregnant wife on 25 January when he was stopped by Polish police for speeding -- and shot. According to the police, Kudrya refused to identify himself and tried to flee the scene. But Kudrya's wife says he complied with police demands and was nonetheless shot at point-blank range.

For many Ukrainians, especially in west Ukraine, the incident has only reinforced historical enmities. The area -- known as Galicia under the Austro-Hungarian Empire -- has been fought over for centuries by the two countries. Their troubled history of war and cultural repression is never far from the surface in Lviv, west Ukraine's unofficial capital.

Andriy Stetskyy works for the non-governmental Citizens' Foundation for Law and Democracy, which demonstrated in front of the Polish consulate in Lviv to demand a thorough investigation into Kudrya's death. Stetskyy says Kudrya's death tapped Ukrainian resentment of its more successful post-communist neighbor.

"Many Ukrainians are envious of Poland, which has managed to get through the economic crisis and now enjoys a standard of living higher than Ukraine. And such incidents do sharpen attitudes and feelings, so that at such moments [Ukrainians] remember our historical problems in [bilateral] relations," Stetskyy told RFE/RL.

Since Ukraine attained independence in 1991, many of the estimated 500,000 to 2 million Ukrainians who seek to work abroad each year find jobs in Poland. And Poland remains a top destination for Ukrainian small traders traveling across the border to buy goods. Poland has postponed implementing the European Union requirement that it impose visas on Ukrainian citizens because it is afraid of destroying this trade, on which much of eastern Poland relies.

But Poles do not always look kindly on Ukrainian workers and traders. Most Ukrainians working in Poland do menial jobs, and many are there illegally, which does not help foster respect for them. In the past two years, 270 Ukrainians have died in Poland, most because of their involvement in criminal groups.

Stetskyy says both Polish and Ukrainian authorities should regulate the massive labor migration and protect Ukrainians from exploitation and violence. But the Polish consul in Lviv, Krzysztof Sawicki, says Poles doing business in Ukraine have an equally hard time. Sawicki acknowledges there is little economic cooperation between the two countries today, with Polish investment in Ukraine to date amounting to only $56 million.

Sawicki, too, refers to history when explaining why. He says Poles have a built-in fear of their eastern neighbors, which present-day Ukraine does little to allay.

"People ask why our economic relations with Ukraine are so weak. But picture to yourself a small, average businessman from Poland who goes to Ukraine. And on the road to Lviv or Kyiv he is stopped many times by the police, and they all want something. They hold on to him and take his identification papers. The result of this police behavior is that many Poles have developed a pathological fear [of Ukraine]," Sawicki said. (Lily Hyde, an RFE/RL corespondent based in Kyiv)

"Mickey Mouse [Is a] Pederast!" -- A slogan chanted by some 40 ultra-leftist picketers of the U.S. embassy in Kyiv on 23 February, who protested the supposed U.S. interference in Ukrainian domestic affairs; quoted by AP.

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 PROSECUTORS IDENTIFY MISSING JOURNALIST'S BODY. Deputy Prosecutor-General Oleksiy Bahanets on 26 February ruled that the headless corpse found at Tarashcha near Kyiv in November is that of missing journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, Interfax reported. The press service of the ProsecutorGeneral' s Office said the ruling was made on the basis of "additional data" from medical experts. Meanwhile, Lesya Gongadze, mother of the missing journalist, has asked President Leonid Kuchma for a meeting, saying it may become a "positive step to finding the truth that will help us put an end to this complex and important case." JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SAYS GONGADZE'S DEATH USED AS 'POLITICAL WEAPON...' In a letter published by the 27 February "Financial Times," President Kuchma wrote that some Ukrainian politicians have turned the tragic death of Heorhiy Gongadze into a "political weapon designed to destabilize Ukraine." Kuchma noted: "It is not by chance that my main accusers are precisely the same people who have blocked Ukraine's transformation to a free market economy." The Ukrainian president said there are no grounds to accuse him of Gongadze's murder, adding that he is committed to protecting the freedom and safety of the press. JM

...AS HIS FORMER BODYGUARD CONTINUES TRANSCRIBING SECRET TAPES. Mykola Melnychenko, who secretly bugged President Kuchma's office and provoked a political scandal in Ukraine by publicizing some recordings, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on 26 February that he needs "a great deal of time" as well as "equipment and professionals" to transcribe all the secret tapes he made. Melnychenko noted, however, that the material he has already transcribed is sufficient to prove unambiguously that Kuchma is "a criminal who gave criminal orders and controlled [their fulfillment]." He added that he is now waiting for the confirmation of the authenticity of his recordings by the International Press Institute in Vienna. Following this confirmation, he is going to publicize more taped information "which is no less criminal than the Gongadze case." JM

UKRAINIAN COMMUNISTS TO HOLD ANTI-GOVERNMENT PROTESTS IN MARCH. The Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) is going to hold a nationwide protest action from 12-17 March under the slogans "Down with the Regime of Kuchma and Yushchenko" and "All the Power to the Working People," Interfax reported on 26 February, quoting the KPU web site. The goal of the action is "to tell people the truth about what is going on in Ukraine, and to rouse them for an organized, conscious struggle for their human rights." The KPU declares its intention of correcting the "main mistake" of the "Ukraine Without Kuchma" rallies by expanding anti-regime protests to include wider social strata. KPU leader Petro Symonenko told the agency that the "ultrarightist nationalists," who actively participate in ongoing anti-Kuchma protests, "are destroying the idea of social justice and diverting the people from the understanding that [Ukraine's] economic reform has no prospects in essence." JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER TO SURVIVE BY FORMING 'COALITION CABINET'? Deputy parliamentary speaker Viktor Medvedchuk told journalists on 26 February that Premier Viktor Yushchenko will survive in his post only if the president, the parliament, and the government agree on forming a "coalition cabinet," Interfax reported. Medvedchuk noted that unless a coalition cabinet is formed under Yushchenko, "the reformist parliamentary majority will create a new coalition government with a new premier." Kyiv-based political analyst Mykola Tomenko said the same day that the parliament will "most likely" dismiss Yushchenko in April because of his "failure to fulfill the government program" that was approved by lawmakers a year ago. According to Tomenko, Yushchenko may be voted out jointly by the Communists--whose representative will subsequently head the legislature--and some currently pro-Kuchma caucuses which want Medvedchuk to head the government. JM