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RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
A Survey of Developments in Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team
OSCE MONITORS ARRIVE IN MINSK. The OSCE, which routinely monitors elections in a number of countries in transition in Central and Eastern Europe, were first barred from traveling to Belarus at the beginning of August. Observers from the organization's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) did not receive the necessary invitations and visas, despite assurances from Belarus officials that they would be sent.
By mid-August, the monitoring team again expected to depart for Minsk -- but once again the long-promised invitation and visas failed to materialize. The ODIHR warned that the credibility of the election result was now doubtful.
Invitations finally arrived on 15 August, and the following day the monitors received word from the Belarusian embassies in Warsaw and Kyiv that the visas were finally ready. There was just one catch -- the Belarus Foreign Ministry, they were told, "was not giving clearance" to one American and one British monitor.
Branimir Radev is the deputy head of the ODIHR's election department. He said the monitors who have arrived in Minsk will now have to hurry to prepare for the 9 September polling day:
"We have to do what we need to do in a much shorter time. We don't have a week to prepare to deploy our long-term observers from the ground. They don't have sufficient time to prepare," Radev said. "That is the time [indicated] by our standards before. Now we have to do that in a much shorter time."
Once they begin their mission, the ODIHR and other monitors are unlikely to have an easy time of it.
The incumbent president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has made no secret of his contempt for the OSCE. He has accused them of siding with the opposition and of preparing what he called a "Kostunica" scenario, a reference to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, who ousted Slobodan Milosevic last year on the back of popular protest.
Hrair Balian, who heads the monitoring operation, said on 16 August that the OSCE will not be allowed to observe sessions of the Central Election Commission, which is staffed exclusively by supporters of Lukashenka. Nor will they be permitted close monitoring of the tabulation of results sent in by local polling offices. Balian said all these measures will restrict OSCE's ability to say whether the election was democratic.
In another blow to independent monitors, the Belarus Justice Ministry said on 16 August that exit polls are forbidden under the electoral code and are punishable by prison sentences or several months of hard labor.
Radev says that the ODIHR does not conduct parallel counts or exit polls, but adds that such a restriction will seriously hamper the efforts of NGOs hoping to publish exit polls after voting has closed.
Lukashenka's three challengers -- Uladzimir Hancharyk, Syamyon Domash, and Syarhey Haydukevich -- face substantial obstacles. Despite widespread hardship in the country, support for Lukashenka is still high, particularly among older voters nostalgic for the Soviet Union and appreciative of a state-provided welfare safety net.
A decree limits foreign aid being used to support democracy. Protestors risk arrest or worse. And the offices of independent newspapers have repeatedly been the target of break-ins by unknown intruders.
Opposition leaders such as Anatol Lyabedzka have warned that falsifications could happen at so-called "pre-election" polls. Under this unusual arrangement, various state employees are obliged to vote over a two-week period running up to 9 September. Since the economy is still overwhelmingly in state hands, a sizeable chunk of the electorate might vote in this manner.
With this as the backdrop to the election, Hancharyk -- the single candidate of a broad democratic coalition -- is under no illusion about the size of the task ahead. Speaking after his registration last week, Hancharyk said it is unlikely that the election will be democratic. But he added that the opposition should be active in informing the people about the situation.
"Unfortunately, there are few grounds to hope that our election will be honest and fair. That is why we will be preparing ourselves for a difficult situation where we will have to take all measures that remain within the law, mainly in informing the population," Hancharyk said.
But even this is likely to prove difficult. The four candidates have divvied up media time for their
political broadcasts. Domash will be the first of the opposition coalition to appear on television on 21 August.
But the three weeks remaining before the election will have to make up for entire years in which access has been denied. Even name recognition of the opposition candidates among the general public is limited.
Under such circumstances, the challenges facing election monitors seem especially steep. Radev, the deputy head of ODIHR, says he plans to travel to Minsk at the beginning of September -- if, he says, he gets a visa.
A broad civil coalition represented by plenipotentiaries of
political parties, public associations on the one hand, and the
aspirants to the post of the president of the Republic of Belarus --
the single candidate from the broad civil coalition, Uladzimir
Ivanavich Hancharyk, and Syamyon Mikalayevich Domash -- on the other
hand, proceeding from responsibility for the fate of the Republic of
Belarus and the necessity to bring the Republic of Belarus back to
the way of democratic development, have signed the following
1. [Uladzimir] Hancharyk, [Syamyon] Domash, [former presidential hopefuls Syarhey] Kalyakin, [Pavel] Kazlouski, [Mikhail] Marynich, [Mikhail] Chyhir, and [Alyaksandr] Yarashuk complete the unification of their election headquarters and structures into the headquarters of the single candidate from the broad civil coalition. The united election headquarters carries out all the necessary activities for the registration of Hancharyk and Domash as candidates to the post of the president of the Republic of Belarus. 2. After Hancharyk has been registered as a candidate to the post of the president, Domash will withdraw in Hancharyk's favor in accordance with agreements reached earlier. 3. After Hancharyk has been registered as a candidate to the post of the president of the Republic of Belarus, Domash becomes the head of the political council in the headquarters of the single candidate. 4. In case of the registration of only one of the aspirants, all the participants in this agreement will support him as the single candidate from the broad civil coalition. 5. If the ruling regime makes obstacles to the registration of Hancharyk as a candidate to the post of the president of the Republic of Belarus, the united headquarters and the two aspirants will act in a coordinated manner and will use all legal means for ensuring registration, including appeals to international organizations and conduct of mass protests.
6. If the single candidate from the broad civil coalition is elected president, he shall form the government headed by the other aspirant, who had submitted the necessary amount of signatures for registration to the Central Election Commission, and hand over part of the presidential functions to the government (within the framework of the process of division of powers).
7. In case of his victory at the presidential elections, the single candidate from the broad civil coalition shall conduct democratic parliamentary elections and propose the same candidate to the post of prime minister for approval by parliament. 8. In the area of state construction the single candidate shall:
This agreement is open for other political parties and public associations to join.
MORE ALLEGATIONS HIT KUCHMA. Former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko, who last year publicized secret audio recordings from Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's office, held a news conference in Washington on 14 August with the participation of Ukrainian lawmakers Oleksandr Yelyashkevich and Viktor Shyshkin. Among other media outlets, the news conference was covered by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website, and Interfax.
Melnychenko said he made "many more than 300 hours" of secret recordings in Kuchma's office. He added: "I can assuredly say one thing: If there is legal and technical assistance in making transcriptions of those conversations [in Kuchma's office], we will catch traces of a broad circle of criminals, not only on Ukraine's territory. For example, when Kuchma talks with one businessman about how Russian gas is stolen, how many dollars they pay to one politician or another or to businessmen in Russia and other countries, and about how much they leave for themselves -- they begin whispering. And this is a technical problem how to make those names audible. The conversation took place after [Premier Viktor] Yushchenko's government and Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko had began fighting that scheme [of gas siphoning]. And Kuchma's entourage reported with horror that [the government's measures] were ruining its financial support. Therefore, I think we are still facing [the transcription of] very important and interesting information that will lead many people to become disappointed with some politicians," Melnychenko said.
Melnychenko said he is ready to cooperate with Russian and U.S. law-enforcement authorities in revealing corruption on the part of Ukrainian officials in these countries. Melnychenko added that he wants "the Ukrainian side" to participate in this cooperation. He said recordings testify that President Kuchma is guilty of violating Russian and U.S. laws as well as of committing other offenses "that are punishable throughout the world."
Melnychenko also said Kuchma knew that independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze was dead as soon as five days after Gongadze's disappearance in September last year.
Meanwhile, Shyshkin -- the deputy head of the ad hoc parliamentary commission for investigating the Gongadze case -- said Melnychenko's recordings testify to "corrupt and illegal activities linked to gas [trading in Ukraine]" and to the Ukrainian president's alleged complicity in illegal arms trade.
Shyshkin also said Melnychenko's recordings confirm that the Ukrainian gas and oil company Ukrnaftohaz illegally sponsored Kuchma's election campaign. According to Melnychenko, Kuchma appointed Ihor Bakay to head Ukrnaftohaz after Bakay promised to pay $250 million for the president's election campaign.
Meanwhile, lawmaker Hryhoriy Omelchenko told journalists in Kyiv on 13 August that he has evidence that President Kuchma obtained $3.7 million as a bribe from former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko.
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, UKRAINE AGREE ON ENERGY UNION. Prime Minister Kasyanov and his Ukrainian counterpart Anatoliy Kinakh agreed on 20 August following a meeting in Moscow that the two countries will move immediately to initiate the parallel operation of their electrical grids, RTR television reported. Kasyanov noted that this synchronization of the power systems will allow Russia to export electricity to the West. President Putin issued a statement on the occasion, saying that this accord will "significantly strengthen" the position of the two countries on the international energy market. Meanwhile, Kasyanov noted that Moscow and Kyiv are finalizing an agreement on Ukrainian debts for Russian gas. Kinakh for his part said that Kyiv has agreed to offer its national oil and gas company to Russia as a deposit for its future payments on Russian gas supplies, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 August. VY
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR FUNDING FOR MINE SAFETY. Speaking at the Zasyadko mine in Donetsk on 20 August, Leonid Kuchma announced that he will call on the U.S. government and international organizations to help fund a "degasification" program at Ukrainian coal mines, Ukrainian and international media reported. Kuchma said he will also ask Ukraine's parliament to find a way to allocate money specifically for mining safety and recommended that mines not dig new shafts more than 1-kilometer deep. A methane blast at the Zasyadko mine on 19 August killed 36 miners some 1,300 meters underground. One miner died of severe burns on 20 August, and 10 remain missing. Kuchma announced a 2 million hryvni ($377,000) fund to compensate families of the victims. JM
UKRAINIAN EX-PREMIER REJECTS CHARGES OF CONTRACTING TWO MURDERS. Former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko, who is now in a U.S. federal prison facing a 54-count indictment, has denied in an open letter that he has anything to do with the killings of parliamentary deputy Yevhen Scherban in 1996 and of former National Bank Governor Vadym Hetman in 1998, Interfax reported. Lazarenko has been accused of contracting those killings by Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2001). Lazarenko said Potebenko's charges are "another gross fabrication that is caused by the activities of my U.S. lawyers and their successful advance on the path toward closing my case in the U.S." JM
POLAND'S TELEPHONE OPERATOR SUES TELECOMS GIANT. Niezalezny Operator Miedzystrefrowy (NOM -- Independent Interzonal Operator) has taken legal action against the state-controlled Telekomunikacja Polska (TP SA), demanding compensation of some 81 million zlotys ($19 million), PAP reported on 20 August. NOM said the demanded sum includes the estimated loss in profits that would have been made had NOM been active from 1 January 2001. NOM claims it could not start its services earlier because TP SA impeded negotiations on a contract between them. NOM started to provide long-distance services on 1 July of this year, thereby breaking TP SA's monopoly of the market. Last month, the weekly "Polityka" disclosed a "secret annex" to the sale of a 35 percent stake in TP SA in 2000 (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 14 August 2001). "Polityka" suggested that the government is responsible for delaying the demonopolization of Poland's telecommunications market. JM
ORBAN MEETS ETHNIC HUNGARIAN LEADERS IN PARLIAMENT. Representatives of ethnic Hungarian organizations from Romania, Ukraine, Slovakia, Yugoslavia, Croatia, and Slovenia met with Orban on 20 August in the Hungarian parliament and discussed the implementation of Hungary's Status Law. During the meeting, Orban said the Hungarian government will support the Hungarian Coalition Party in Slovakia regardless of whether that party decides to leave the Slovak cabinet or remain in the ruling coalition. In other news, Orban and his Serbian counterpart Zoran Djindjic on 17 August opened a Hungarian Consulate in Subotica. At the inauguration ceremony, Orban said he hopes ethnic Hungarians "will remain respected citizens" in Serbia, while Djindjic said that Hungarians will be granted "collective rights" that are in line with EU norms. MSZ