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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
SEJM STRIPS LEPPER OF POST OF DEPUTY SPEAKER. Late in the evening of 29 November the Sejm voted by 318 to 74, with 21 abstentions, to dismiss Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper from his brief tenure as deputy speaker. The direct reason for the vote on Lepper was his insulting remarks about Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz in connection with Poland's recent concessions on land sales in EU membership talks (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 27 November 2001). Speaking on a local radio station a week earlier, Lepper called Cimoszewicz a "scoundrel," and Cimoszewicz's father a "criminal who killed Poles."
The motion to dismiss Lepper was backed by the ruling Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Union bloc as well as the opposition Civic Platform and Law and Justice groups. Lawmakers from the Peasant Party, the ruling coalition's partner, were split in their vote, while those from the opposition League of Polish Families either backed Lepper or abstained. Lepper's dismissal was opposed by 53 deputies of his Self-Defense, who intoned the national anthem after the vote and subsequently left the session hall.
"We have today made an unprecedented decision. In the course of the 10 years of existence of a democratic Sejm, it has not yet been the case that a deputy speaker has been recalled in such circumstances. Deputy Andrzej Lepper was not recalled because he fought against wrong and injustice, but for the fact that he praised and called for the infringement of the law and also publicly insulted and humiliated people. Today, unfortunately, he has also given proof of this," Sejm speaker Marek Borowski said of the vote and Lepper's speech preceding it.
In his speech, Lepper delivered a lengthy tirade to the parliament, unprecedented in its vehemence, wording, and accusations leveled at Poland's political elites in general and individual politicians in particular. The following day, some commentators in Poland compared Lepper's political style to that of fiercely populist President of Belarus Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
Lepper spoke as the defender of the poor and dispossessed, and accused lawmakers of ignoring the plight of Poles in the postcommunist transformation period. "You laugh at traders at bazaars, you laugh when it is said that somebody is looting Poland, that somebody has over 12 years brought about the unemployment of 3 million people. Well, carry on laughing," Lepper said as he warned lawmakers that he will send tapes with recordings of how they work to every commune in the country. "All of this has been recorded," he said. "A cassette of your behavior here in this chamber will go to every commune. Electors will see this, how you work here."
Lepper also vented his resentment of those who see him -- a pig farmer turned politician -- as uneducated and unpolished: "You speak of political culture. But after all, most of you and your groupings, and the repainted ones as well -- in suits, in ties, smelling of such perfumes as Dior and Chanel -- have been mutually caressing each other for 12 years. And you have so caressed each other, that today there is a total collapse of heavy industry, of agriculture, of medium- and small-scale enterprise, of trade and of services.... You have allowed Poland to be made into a market for the disposal of the production surpluses of the West."
He darkly warned political elites of popular wrath: "But if you don't change your social and economic policies, then these scumbags, old bones...and muckrakers will come to the parliament to remind you of their rights."
Lepper also told the Sejm that he is in possession of documents confirming that Foreign Minister Cimoszewicz, Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski, along with Civic Platform politicians Andrzej Olechowski, Donald Tusk, and Pawel Piskorski, accepted illicit payments in the past. Formulating his charges in the form of questions, Lepper cited sums and dates when those politicians accepted the alleged bribes.
Speaker Marek Borowski asked Lepper whether he was aware of the possible consequences of his words. "You can continue to speak, I am not taking away your right [to speak]. I am just warning that what you are doing at this moment also carries penal sanctions and I am asking whether it is worth doing this," Borowski said.
"The documents exist and are deposited in appropriate places, irrespective of what might happen to me -- because there have already been threats -- and these documents will see the light of day," Lepper said in summing up his allegations of corruption. His speech was broadcast live to the nation by the TVN 24 television channel.
Premier Leszek Miller was quick to assure that he has full confidence in Cimoszewicz and Szmajdzinski. He also urged prosecutors to investigate Lepper's charges of corruption without delay, and on 30 November, prosecutors in Warsaw launched a probe into the matter.
FORMER PROSECUTOR-GENERAL TO TESTIFY AGAINST CURRENT ONE? Last week the Prosecutor-General's Office decided to summon former Prosecutor-General Aleh Bazhelka as a witness in the case of the kidnapping of Russian Public Television (ORT) cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski, which began on 24 November and is currently being tried by a court in Minsk.
Zavadski went missing on 7 July 2000 after he left home for the Minsk airport to meet his ORT colleague Pavel Sheremet. Prosecutors say Zavadski was kidnapped by a group led by Valery Ihnatovich, a former officer of the Belarusian Interior Ministry's elite task force Almaz. Ihnatovich and three others are on trial for allegedly kidnapping Zavadski and committing a number of other grave crimes, including seven premeditated murders. The trial is being held behind close doors in order to "protect the victims and others," as Minsk District Court Chairman Heorhiy Khomich explained to Belapan.
The prosecutors' theory is that Ihnatovich and his group kidnapped Zavadski in revenge for an interview he gave to "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" in which he revealed that some Almaz commandos had fought on the side of Chechen rebels against Russian Federation troops in Chechnya. Zavadski, who had visited Chechnya several times, mentioned no names, but the prosecutors believe Ihnatovich's involvement in the war can be deduced from the interview.
Zavadzki's friend, Sheremet -- who was questioned in the Ihnatovich case last week -- has another theory, which he made public in August. According to Sheremet, the kidnapping of Zavadski was connected with secret arms supplies from Belarus to Chechen fighters. Sheremet asserted that some top Belarusian officials used Belarusian commandos fighting alternatively both on the Chechen side and the federal side to supply rifles to Chechens via Turkey and Georgia.
According to Sheremet, Zavadski may have been kidnapped by Ihnatovich and his group because of his knowledge of the illegal arms supplies. To support his allegation, Sheremet cited a conversation he had with former Prosecutor-General Aleh Bazhelka. Bazhelka reportedly told Sheremet that the person responsible for the illicit arms trading was Belarusian Security Council head Viktar Sheyman, now the country's prosecutor-general. Bazhelka reportedly told Sheremet that he even issued an arrest warrant for Sheyman but was prevented from jailing him. In a surprising security shake-up in November 2000, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka fired KGB chief Uladzimir Matskevich and Prosecutor-General Bazhelka, and subsequently appointed Sheyman to take Bazhelka's job.
Earlier this year, two Belarusian prosecutors accused top government officials -- including Sheyman -- of organizing and running a "death squad" that was allegedly responsible for kidnapping and murdering opposition figures Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 12 June 2001). Ihnatovich was mentioned in those charges as a member of the "death squad." Both prosecutors defected to the United States where their allegations have been declared "credible" by U.S. officials.
UKRAINIAN-ROMANIAN BREAKTHROUGH? On 27 November in Kyiv, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana discussed border and minority issues as well as economic and trade relations with his Ukrainian counterpart Anatoliy Zlenko, Ukrainian media reported. "I am delighted to say today that we are ready for constructive work aimed at finding an appropriate legal form of solving border issues," Ukrainian Television quoted Zlenko as saying. In turn, Geoana said both countries are today witnessing an "impressive breakthrough" in bilateral relations. No further details have been made known. Neither side has signed any official documents on Geoana's trip.
However, meeting with deputy parliamentary speaker Viktor Medvedchuk later the same day, Geoana suggested some difficulties in bilateral relations. The Romanian visitor advised Kyiv to "avoid the confusion about the definition of the ethnicity of the Romanians who say that they are Moldovans" during the Ukrainian census scheduled for 5-14 December, UNIAN reported. Geoana said, "Stalin's theory about the existence of a Moldovan language and a Moldovan nation is [still] being implemented," adding that this theory is "fiction that formally hampers the development of relations" between Ukraine and Romania.
Speaking to journalists in Kyiv following the conclusion of the talks, Geoana said that "a low level of cooperation" between both countries in the past several years has hindered the resolution of many problems of the Romanian minority in Ukraine and the Ukrainian minority in Romania. Geoana said Romania has reached European standards -- and is some cases even exceeded them -- in the sphere of ensuring minority rights on its territory.
Geoana said some 10,000 children of ethnic Ukrainian origin in Romania are currently taught the Ukrainian language in 89 schools, while 149 teachers instruct their pupils in Ukrainian. Geoana added that there is a "department of Ukrainian language, culture, and literature" at Bucharest University, adding that two similar departments have recently been inaugurated in two other Romanian universities. "We would like to see such a picture in Ukraine [as regards the Romanian minority]," Interfax quoted Geoana as saying.
An unidentified interlocutor from Ukraine's "diplomatic circles" told the agency, however, that there are problems with publishing Ukrainian-language books and textbooks for schoolchildren in Romania. Also, there are no Ukrainian-language libraries or theaters in Romania, while Ukrainian-language programs on Romanian radio and television are broadcast irregularly and "on an insignificant scale." In addition, there is only one Ukrainianlanguage upper school in Romania, the Taras Shevchenko Lyceum in Sighetul Marmatiei, which was reopened in 1997.
The same interlocutor recalled that, on the other hand, there are more than 20 Romanian-language newspapers, journals, and radio and television programs in Ukraine. Several Ukrainian higher educational institutions enlist students for groups with Romanian as the instruction language, while Romanian and Moldovan children can be instructed in their native languages in schools and kindergartens in nearly every area where Romanians and Moldovans are densely populated in Ukraine.
But minority issues are not the only item on a list of Ukrainian-Romanian bilateral problems. Both countries have long been at loggerheads over Serpents Island (Zmiinyy ostrov) in the Black Sea, a rocky slab of 600 by 300 meters, and over how to divide the oil- and gas-bearing continental shelf around the islet.
Serpents Island, as well as what was once known as Romanian Bessarabia, was occupied by the USSR in 1940. In 1947, the island was ceded to the Ukrainian SSR. Independent Ukraine "inherited" Serpents Island after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1997, Ukraine and Romania signed a basic treaty, in which both sides recognized the inviolability of their existing borders, but the problem of Serpents Island was singled out in an appendix that provided for additional negotiations on what to do about the controversial island and the delimitation of the border in its vicinity. A joint UkrainianRomanian intergovernmental commission has already held 10 sessions, but no resolution of the border dispute is in sight.
Fuel was added to the fire this past July when Ukrainian prospectors announced the discovery of a "commercial amount" of oil and gas near Serpents Island. It has not been ruled out that the dispute may end up in the international tribunal in The Hague in line with the delimitation treaty's provisions, which mention this international forum as a possible last instance in the event that bilateral negotiations fail. According to ukraina.ru, Kyiv has recently made some attempts at "populating" the islet with the expectation that, according to international maritime legislation, it will be given the right to an exclusive economic zone around it if international arbitration enters its dispute with Bucharest.
"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, CROATIAN PRESIDENTS PLEDGE TO STEP UP COOPERATION. Following talks in Kyiv on 3 December, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and his Croatian counterpart Stipe Mesic confirmed their will to contribute to combating global terrorism and pledged to enhance bilateral economic cooperation, Ukrainian media reported. The two sides signed accords on improvements to international road transport, rebuilding of bridges over the Danube River, and cooperation in the military and technical field. Kuchma assured Mesic that the CIS does not stand in the way of Ukraine's integration into the EU. JM
KUCHMA SAYS COOPERATION WITH EBRD ON NUCLEAR REACTORS STILL POSSIBLE. President Kuchma said on 3 December that he did not reject outright the assistance of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) regarding the completion of reactors at the Rivne and Khmelnytskyy nuclear power plants when he called last week in Moscow for Russia to take part in this construction project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2001). Kuchma said Ukraine is ready for cooperation with the West, but added that it is necessary to review the project's costs, which he deems to have been overestimated by Western experts. He also disapproved of the EBRD's demand to raise electricity tariffs in Ukraine. "Now that the world economy is slowing down, our major and most-energy-consuming industries -- metallurgy and the chemical industry -- have reached the break-even point of their profitability. If we raise the tariffs, this will bring Ukrainian industry to ruin," STB television quoted Kuchma as saying. JM
UKRAINIAN GOLD, CURRENCY RESERVES UP. Ukrainian National Bank official Serhiy Yaremenko told UNIAN on 3 December that the country's net gold and currency reserves have increased to $3.15 billion. Yaremenko noted that the liquid reserves now stand at $3.04 billion, which is $1.5 billion more than at the beginning of the year. He also revealed that the National Bank's net international reserves (the sum by which its assets exceed its liabilities) stood at $1.3 billion as of 29 November 2001. JM
UKRAINE REPORTEDLY TO SUPPLY 2 MILLION GAS MASKS TO U.S. Ukraine will supply 2 million gas masks to the United States, Ukrainian Television reported on 3 December, citing sources in the Cherkasy chemical fiber factory where gas masks are produced. The U.S. displayed interest in Ukrainian gas masks after the 11 September terrorist attacks. The U.S. will reportedly pay $20 for each mask. The price of one gas mask in Ukraine is 38 hryvni ($7.20) The contract must be implemented by May 2002. JM
KYIV REPORTS AIDS STATISTICS. The Health Ministry revealed last week that 600 Ukrainians contract AIDS every month, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 December. The ministry said thousands of adults and 50 children have died of AIDS in Ukraine over the last several years. As of today, more than 3,000 Ukrainians have contracted the disease and nearly 42,000 have been infected with the HIV virus. JM
POLISH PROSECUTORS DEMAND EVIDENCE FOR LEPPER'S CORRUPTION CHARGES... The Warsaw District Prosecutor's Office has asked recently ousted Sejm speaker Andrzej Lepper to present evidence supporting his claims last week that several of Poland's leading politicians, including two ministers, have accepted bribes (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 4 December 2001), PAP reported on 3 December. Lepper on 30 December said he will not submit the materials confirming his allegations to the prosecution because he "does not trust it." On 3 December, he told journalists that he will ask the parliament to appoint a special commission to examine his materials. JM
HUNGARY SUPPORTS ROMANIA'S NATO MEMBERSHIP. Hungarian Defense Minister Janos Szabo told his visiting Romanian counterpart Ioan Mircea Pascu in Szeged on 3 December that Hungary will support Romania's NATO membership at the alliance's 2002 summit in Prague, Hungarian media reported. Szabo told reporters that it is in Hungary's interest to see neighboring countries join NATO, as the process would enhance regional stability. The two ministers also discussed the establishment of a joint Hungarian-Romanian-Slovak-Ukrainian battalion for emergency responses in the event of natural disasters along the Tisza River. MSZ
MOLDOVAN, UKRAINIAN PREMIERS DIFFER ON INTERPRETING MEETING RESULTS. Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev said on 3 December that during his 29 November meeting with Ukrainian Premier Anatoliy Kinakh on the eve of the CIS summit in Moscow, Ukraine undertook to set up seven joint customs unions on its territory, Infotag reported. He added that Moldova hopes a formal bilateral agreement on doing so will soon be signed, Infotag reported. Tarlev said that during his talks with Kinakh he succeeded in clarifying a "misunderstanding" that arose in connection with President Vladimir Voronin's statements of 26 November, which triggered an official Ukrainian protest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2001). According to the Moldovan premier, the "misunderstanding" was due to the Ukrainian leadership's having been "misled by biased information." But Kinakh said Ukraine "rules out any dialogue" as long as Moldova continues to exert political or international pressure on Ukraine. Kinakh said the deadline for signing the accords on the customs posts reached in Odessa on 22 November "expires today and all indications are that no document will be signed" on the matter. MS
ANOTHER BUSINESSMAN HEADS TO THE FEDERATION COUNCIL. Samara Oblast's legislature confirmed Sibal Vice President and Ukrainian Aluminum General Director German Tkachenko, as well as Leona Kovalskaya, the chairwoman of the Samara Oblast Duma, as the oblast's new representatives to the Federation Council, polit.ru reported on 3 December. The website noted that a pattern seems to be emerging with region's selections for the Federation Council -- they choose one of their "own" representatives" along with a "professional lobbyist" who represents either a political or oligarchic group that has interests in the region. JAC
SALE OF ARMENIAN CHEMICAL GIANT TO UKRAINE STILL UNDECIDED. The planned sale to Ukraine's Inter-Kontakt of a majority stake in the Nairit chemical plant (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2001) is still in the balance, and there is no certainty a deal will be signed during Inter-Kontakt Chairman Aleksandr Yedin's two-day visit to Yerevan that began on 3 December, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 3 December, quoting a spokeswoman for the Armenian Ministry of Trade and Industry. LF
GAZPROM BOARD TO DISCUSS EBRD CREDIT (26 November) Gazprom's board will discuss the state of settlements with the federal budget within the framework of the implementation of the Yamburg agreements at its regular meeting, ITAR-TASS reported. The board will also discuss an item concerning "a collective executive body" at Gazprom and a procedure for fixing deals with company shares. The board will also consider an option for using a credit granted by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) for the building of additional parallel branches of gas pipelines and a section of underwater pipeline in Ukraine. (JMR)
RUSSIA-UKRAINE TO COORDINATE WEAPONS SALES (23 November) Russia and Ukraine have agreed to coordinate their weapon sales to third countries, according to Aleksandr Denisov, chairman of Russia's committee on military technology cooperation with foreign countries. According to ITAR-TASS, both countries are expected to sign a bilateral agreement in 2002 that will specify the coordination measures. Denisov believes the agreement will help Russia and Ukraine become partners on arms markets while eliminating unnecessary competition between their manufacturers. He said he hopes the document will eliminate dumping prices and enable Russian enterprises to provide technical maintenance for weapons systems that Ukraine sells to third countries. Denisov said the Russian and Belarusian governments are considering a similar agreement. The document will specify "rules of the game" on the international markets and in sales coordination. (TSK)
'HARRY POTTER' SELLING IN UKRAINE FOR $2 PER COPY (29
Video copies of the wildly popular "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" are on sale in Ukraine since 28 November for a little more than $2 a tape, dpa reported. The film appears to have been recorded using a video camera at a pre-premiere screening and re-recorded with a voice-over in Russian. Sound quality is scratchy and silhouettes of an apparently U.S. movie audience are visible at the end of the film. Traders said the tape has found some buyers but that Ukrainian consumers seemed to prefer action features or cartoons. Ukrainian pirate traders appeared to be distributing the films via networks of street traders, many literally operating "underground" in full view at entrances to metro stations in large cities. Most late-release films and CDs are available at similar stands for between one-tenth and one-twentieth of their western retail price. Traders of pirated goods in Ukraine typically avoid prosecution by bribing police or making fake certificates on their products. (TSK)