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RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 3, No. 9, 13 March 2001

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

ART GALLERY HEAD RESIGNS OVER CHARGES OF 'ANTI-POLISH' ACTIVITY. Anda Rottenberg has resigned as director of Zacheta, Poland's most prestigious national art gallery, PAP reported on 7 March. Minister of Culture Kazimierz Michal Ujazdowski announced that a competition will be held to find a replacement for Rottenberg.

Rottenberg's step followed public calls for her resignation after scandals surrounding two exhibitions at the Warsaw gallery. Last November, Zacheta hosted an exhibition called "The Nazis," which showed photographs of Polish and foreign actors in Nazi uniforms without any commentaries (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 28 November 2000). Polish movie star Daniel Olbrychski vandalized the exhibition with a theatrical saber, saying he was outraged by his photograph being shown in the exhibition without his permission.

A much larger public outcry followed Zacheta's exhibit of a life-size figure of Polish-born Pope John Paul II being crushed by a meteorite. Two right-wing lawmakers tried to dismantle the exposition, but were prevented from doing so by the gallery's guards. Some 90 lawmakers published an open letter in the Polish press accusing Rottenberg of "anti-Polish" activity. Some newspapers published letters from indignant readers who ascribed Rottenberg's alleged "anti-Polish" stance to her Jewish origin.

Rottenberg defended her position by saying that art is open to many interpretations, and that "the way in which a subject could be portrayed was dictated only in the period of socialist realism." Minister Ujazdowski, who resisted demands to fire Rottenberg, was forced to comment that "scandal and provocation should not be criteria for choosing works of art and exhibitions displayed in a national gallery."

"Lack of education, the results of which we see now, is caused, among other things, by lack of a place where such education could take place. The way art is received now is not appropriate," AP quoted Rottenberg as saying in regard to the public reaction to the controversial Zacheta exhibitions.


YUSHCHENKO TO MAKE PEACE WITH OLIGARCHS? Premier Viktor Yushchenko on 10 March met with the leadership of the parliamentary majority to discuss a "political accord" between the cabinet and the legislative majority in order to define mutual obligations and responsibilities of the government and its legislative support group. Interfax reported that the meeting resulted in a decision to set up a working group for drafting such an accord.

Oleksandr Turchynov, leader of the Fatherland Party parliamentary caucus, commented after the meeting that he fully shares Yushchenko's conviction that his cabinet works in a businesslike way. Turchynov said the recently voiced signals about a crisis in Yushchenko's cabinet are only an attempt by some political forces to divert public attention from the political crisis in the country and transform it into a cabinet problem. Turchynov added that no lawmaker proposed any personnel changes in the cabinet during the meeting with Yushchenko. The Fatherland Party parliamentary caucus is against the signing of a joint accord by the government and the parliamentary majority, and is opting for a series of accords between the cabinet and each separate pro-government parliamentary group.

Yuriy Kostenko, leader of the Ukrainian Popular Rukh, told Interfax that the only possible non-leftist progovernment majority is the one existing at the present moment. Kostenko added that any attempt at changing the current lineup of the parliamentary majority will put an end to the reformatory effort of the Ukrainian legislature.

Kostenko seemed to be commenting on last month's ultimatum by first parliamentary speaker Viktor Medvedchuk, who said that unless Yushchenko forms a coalition cabinet, "the reformist parliamentary majority will create a new coalition government with a new premier." For some political observers of the Ukrainian political scene, Medvedchuk's statement clearly signaled the beginning of a major campaign by Ukrainian oligarchs to rearrange the country's top echelons of power.

The testing day for Yushchenko will be 10 April, when he is expected to deliver a report to the parliament on the performance of his cabinet. Some political analysts say the parliament is very likely to dismiss Yushchenko under the pretext of his alleged failure to fulfill the government program that was approved by lawmakers a year ago. Yushchenko may be voted out jointly by the Communists -- whose representative will subsequently head the legislature -- and some oligarchic caucuses which want Medvedchuk (or some other oligarch) to head the government.

There are three major oligarchic parties (each having its own parliamentary representation) in Ukraine: the Social Democratic Party (United) (led by oligarchs Viktor Medvedchuk and Hryhoriy Surkis); the Democratic Union (Oleksandr Volkov); and the Labor Ukraine Party (Serhiy Tyhypko, Viktor Pynchuk, and Andriy Derkach). They may have keen interests in unseating Yushchenko for at least two reasons.

Firstly, Yushchenko, assisted by courageous Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko, has managed to shift a majority of payments in Ukraine's economy from shady barter schemes to transparent cash settlements, thus depriving Ukrainian oligarchs of considerable profits. Secondly, Ukraine is to hold parliamentary elections next year, and oligarchs may simply want to have their own people in the government to obtain administrative levers of control over the situation in the country, which would better position their parties for the upcoming election campaign.

As of now, President Leonid Kuchma seems to be in full control of the situation in the country, but it is also obvious to everyone that he is currently more concerned about what takes place on Kyiv's streets and squares than about developments in parliamentary lobbies and government offices. Taking advantage of the president's political troubles, the oligarchs -- who have so far influenced developments in Ukraine from behind Kuchma's back -- now appear to be prepared to take the reins of power directly in their hands.

Yushchenko's immediate and defiant reaction to the oligarchs' move indicated that he is aware of the looming political takeover in Ukraine. On 28 February he commented on Medvedchuk's threat that "the government will never participate in a dialogue of ultimatums with any political force." Yushchenko added that Medvedchuk's statement is "a prologue for destabilizing the situation in Ukraine" and "an attempt to change Ukraine's future." Speaking on behalf of his cabinet, which discussed the domestic political situation during a closed-door session, he noted: "We are convinced that this is a purely clannish approach toward organizing Ukrainian politics."

Last week, however, Yushchenko proposed that talks be held between the government and the parliamentary majority on signing a political accord that could regulate mutual relations. Some see this proposal as an indication that in the meantime the premier unsuccessfully tried to get support from Kuchma to strengthen the cabinet's stand against oligarchs. True, Kuchma publicly declared he is not going to dismiss Yushchenko's cabinet. But he added, however, that the government should be efficient and depend more on the parliamentary majority. Yushchenko apparently treated this pronouncement as less than comforting, and made an attempt at concluding a separate peace agreement with the oligarchs.

It may sound paradoxical to many, but the question of whether Kuchma survives the current political unrest in Ukraine seems to be of secondary importance in comparison with the question of Yushchenko's survival. Yushchenko's possible ouster in April may not only disrupt the current positive economic trends in the country, along with the government's reformist course, but also make a much more gloomy prospect a reality. Ukraine may soon find itself left to the full discretion of those who contributed enormously over the past 10 years to the plunging of the country into all-encompassing corruption, economic inefficiency, and abject poverty.

"Yuliya! Ukraine! Freedom!" -- The slogan chanted by some 1,000 demonstrators in Kyiv on 8 March, who demanded the release of former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko from jail.

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.

RUSSIA TO HELP UKRAINIAN REGIONS HIT BY FLOODS. The Emergencies Ministry told ITAR-TASS on 12 March that the Russian government has decided to dispatch 150 tons of foodstuffs and other supplies to flood-ravaged regions of Western Ukraine. PG