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RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 3, No. 25, 3 July 2001

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


POPE'S MASS IN LVIV DRAWS MORE THAN ONE MILLION. An estimated one million people turned out in the west Ukrainian city of Lviv on 27 June to see the pope preside over the final mass of his five-day visit to Ukraine.

The crowd waiting at the horse-racetrack on the outskirts of the city seemed stunned when Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma unexpectedly turned up minutes before the pope himself arrived.

The pope had celebrated both Roman and Greek Catholic masses. The previous day in Lviv, he presided over a Roman Catholic mass that drew an estimated 500,000 people, including tens of thousands from neighboring Poland, his native country.

On 27 June, it was the turn of the Greek Catholics. The racetrack was crowded hours before the pope arrived, and when his familiar white, high-sided "popemobile" arrived, the air reverberated as people chanted, "We welcome you."

Pope John Paul II was greeted by the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Cardinal Lyubomyr Husar, who thanked the Roman Catholic Church for the support it gave Ukraine and the Greek Catholic Church during the years of Communist persecution.

Stalin banned the Greek Catholic Church in 1946 and many of its clergy and faithful were executed or imprisoned.

At the 27 June mass, the pope presided over the beatification of 27 people, most of them Greek Catholics, who are regarded as martyrs because they were executed by the communists or died in prison. All except one suffered at communist hands. The exception was a priest who died in a concentration camp after being arrested by the Nazis for helping Jews in German-occupied Ukraine.

In his sermon, Pope John Paul II spoke of the conflicts and wars that have afflicted western Ukraine in the past. He recalled the words of a former leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Cardinal Josyf Slipyj, who spent 17 years in the Soviet gulag. Slipyj was the head of the Church from 1963 until his death in 1984.

"This Galician soil, which in the course of history saw the development of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church -- in the words of the unforgettable Cardinal Josyf Slipyj -- was covered by a mountain of corpses and rivers of blood," the pontiff said.

The Pope began his address to the faithful by quoting from the Bible: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." That statement, he said, was echoed in the sacrifices of those who were beatified.

"Martyrdom is the highest form of serving God and the Church. With this liturgy we want to glorify them [the newly beatified] and to thank them for their faithfulness," the pontiff said.

The pope returned to the theme of reconciliation between different religions and peoples that he addressed several times during his five-day trip. At the 26 June mass, the pope made an emotional appeal for historical memories not to tarnish present and future relations between Ukrainians and Poles. On 27 June, he said:

"In past centuries, we have accumulated too many stereotypes, mutual insults, and intolerance. The only way to free ourselves from this is to forget the past, to ask and grant forgiveness of one another for hurts done and received."

One of the pope's hopes had been to meet with leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church, the largest of three Orthodox Churches in Ukraine. Two of them, both independent Ukrainian churches, met with the Pope and welcomed him warmly. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) virulently opposed the pope's trip before he came and maintained a hostile stance while he was in Ukraine, accusing him of trying to win converts to Roman Catholicism.

But the pope's spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, announced that one member of the Russian Orthodox Church did come to the 27 June mass and was even up on the stage, close to the pope.

Father Ivan Sveridov, a Russian Orthodox priest since 1995, said he is the head of an Orthodox radio station in Moscow. He said he has met the pope eight times and developed a warm relationship with him. Sveridov said that he came to Lviv in a private capacity as a gesture to the pope because he felt that the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Aleksii II, had been "mistaken" and too aggressive in his remarks about the pope.

Another unexpected visitor at the mass was Ukrainian President Kuchma, who arrived in a car cavalcade just minutes before the pope. It was Kuchma who had issued the invitation for the pope to visit Ukraine, and he gave him a warm welcome when the pontiff arrived in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on 23 June.

Kuchma's arrival at the mass site at first seemed to astonish the crowd. People from western Ukraine have been in the forefront of many of the mass demonstrations against the president over the last few months, accusing him of corruption and involvement in the murder last year of an opposition journalist.

Soon after Kuchma entered the racetrack, thousands of people started to shout "Ukraine Without Kuchma" -- the slogan that was the hallmark of many demonstrations in Kyiv and elsewhere against the president.

Before the chant was taken up by tens of thousands of voices, Ukrainian Catholic Church leader Cardinal Husar defused a potentially humiliating moment for the president. He announced to the crowd that the Greek Catholic Church was grateful to Kuchma for issuing the invitation to the pope and making the tour possible. The pope also added his praise for the president.

"I am personally grateful to the president of Ukraine, Mr. Leonid Kuchma, for his presence at this solemn liturgy," John Paul II said.

Pope John Paul flew back to the Vatican later the same day after a farewell ceremony at Lviv's Saint George Cathedral.

"Kuchma is a declared European. He has three and a half years of the presidency remaining. I think that this is the kind of legacy he would like to leave behind, that [Ukraine] will be a democratic country [with] an European orientation, and there will be good relations with Russia. And, of course, he would probably like to behave a little like [former Russian President Boris] Yeltsin, that is, to have an influence upon his successor. Whether he will succeed I do not know, but he doubtless has such dreams." -- Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski in an interview with Polish Radio on 29 June.

"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 PRESIDENT SAYS STATE NOT TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR GAS DEBT. Leonid Kuchma told journalists on 3 July that Naftohaz Ukrayiny's gas debt to Russia will "in no way" become the responsibility of the state, Interfax reported. "Such questions should not be raised at all. Corporate debts will never become state debts," Kuchma noted. Kuchma's statement follows the pronouncement of Premier Anatoliy Kinakh the previous day in which Kinakh rejected the idea of restructuring the gas debt by issuing Eurobonds guaranteed by Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2001). Last December, Russian Deputy Premier Viktor Khristenko and then Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yushchenko signed an agreement to assure Russian gas supplies for the winter by converting some gas debt obligations into sovereign debt. The agreement has not been ratified by the Ukrainian parliament. JM

POLISH JUSTICE MINISTER SUES TV FOR SLANDER. Justice Minister Lech Kaczynski and his brother Jaroslaw Kaczynski have sued Polish Television, demanding an apology for allegations voiced in a two-part documentary last month that they illegally accepted some $600,000 in campaign funds in 1990-91 (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 26 June 2001), Polish media reported on 2 July. The Kaczynski brothers maintain that the documentary was made and broadcast to discredit them before the parliamentary elections in September. JM

MACEDONIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SHOPPING FOR WEAPONS IN UKRAINE. Vlado Buckovski arrived in Kyiv on 1 July for a three-day visit, AP reported. Buckovski met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksandr Kuzmuk, and discussed several issues, including the possibility of training Macedonian pilots in Ukraine. Buckovski also visited a tank-repair facility and the national defense training center outside of Kyiv. Macedonia bought four Ukrainian Mi-8 helicopters from Ukraine in March, four Mi-24 helicopter gunships in June, and has also purchased Su-25 ground support aircraft from Kyiv this year. PB