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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
YUSHCHENKO FACES OBSTACLES TO CAMPAIGNING IN REGIONS. Last week Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko set off on a campaigning trip to the provinces. But almost immediately he confronted problems in presenting his election bid. On 13 February, Yushchenko blamed the Poltava Oblast authorities for detaining his election agents and not letting him address voters on regional television. Yushchenko described the regional authorities' behavior as a "humiliation" for the president and the whole country.
Local police detained nine young men from Yushchenko's canvassing group, who had been sticking leaflets. Two of them were immediately released after the police took 20 hryvni ($3.7) from each. The other seven spent four more hours in the district police station. They were charged with infringing Article 152 of the administrative offences code, which prohibits sticking leaflets on architectural monuments. Then local policemen announced that leaflets stuck on posts along the road hamper traffic. "Why did the authorities not say a word to those who started posting advertising boards along all roads long before the election campaign [began]?" Yushchenko asked, referring to the canvassing by the pro-presidential For a United Ukraine bloc.
"The behavior of Poltava authorities surprises me very much. I could not contact regional leaders. The head of the Poltava Oblast state administration ordered that no-one should be put through to him but the presidential administration. I feel sad about it. This looks like the 30s [Stalin times]," Yushchenko commented.
On 16 February, Yushchenko was denied access to local television and radio stations in Kirovohrad. "The authorities want not to unite but, on the contrary, to disunite society in Ukraine," Interfax quoted Yushchenko as saying in Kirovohrad. Yushchenko added, however, that despite all difficulties he faces in the election campaign he will remain "a democratic partner of these authorities."
The same day in Mykolayiv, Yushchenko could not lease a location in the center of the city for a meeting with voters. When he tried to address voters on local television, someone cut off electricity in the studio. He had to call to the oblast state administration in order to have electricity restored and be able to air his election message.
The "Ukrayinska pravda" website, which is quite skeptical about Yushchenko's intention to garner votes of the democratic electorate and please President Leonid Kuchma at the same time, published a scathing comment on Yushchenko's problems in the provinces:
"Last Monday, the leader of Our Ukraine -- who boasts of the position of top politician in popularity polls -- set off to conquer the provinces. However, as soon as on the second day [of their trip], the tough boys from Kyiv run into the election reality in its entire stinking uniqueness. (However, on the second day of their trip, the tough boys from Kyiv confronted the stinking reality of elections in all its uniqueness) And at the end of the week, the Our Ukraine indefatigable press service began to release some suspicious messages. We particularly like one headline from Saturday: 'Yushchenko Says Actions of Local Authorities Force Him To Take Firmer Political Stand.'
"But emotions are one thing while mentality is the other. Despite all this, Yushchenko believes in the existence of a good tsar. According to his press service, he is going to inform Kuchma about his adventures in the provinces. Well, good luck. However, it seems that last week's occurrences are quite sufficient to make him finally understand who is his main foe. But Yushchenko's style [remains unaltered] -- nothing personal against Kuchma."
YULIYA TYMOSHENKO BLOC PROTESTS UNEQUAL ACCESS TO MEDIA. The Yuliya Tymoshenko bloc has sent an open letter to Central Electoral Commission chief Mykhaylo Ryabets asking him to look at the gross violation of provisions of the election law on equal access to the media during campaigning, UNIAN reported on 18 February. The letter says Ukrainian Television, (First Program) as well as the Inter, ICTV, and 1+1 television channels, broadcast daily praise and election advertisements of the election blocs of For a United Ukraine, the United Social Democratic Party, the Green Party, Women for the Future, Democratic Union, and Yabluko. At the same time, the letter continues, requests from representatives of the Yuliya Tymoshenko bloc to the management of the Ukrainian National Television Company, 1+1, Inter TV, ICTV, New Channel, and STB to place election advertisements by the Yuliya Tymoshenko bloc remain unanswered. "This attitude from the management of the above television channels deprives us of our constitutional right, grossly violates election law, and confirms the fact that the Ukrainian presidential administration has banned national television channels from broadcasting any favorable information about our bloc," the letter reads.
"This is Ukrainian know-how -- everything [in the economy] is growing, including poverty." -- Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk; quoted by UNIAN on 13 February.
"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.
UKRAINE-IMF VAT DISPUTE AFFECTING BUSINESS (11 February) Ukraine and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) failed to reach agreement on the key issue of valued-added tax (VAT) during the Kyiv visit of an IMF monitoring team. The IMF wants the government to pay more than 6 billion hryvnias ($1.1 billion) of VAT tax refunds to exporters. The government says it is short of cash to repay the funds after parliament wrote off companies' debt to the state budget. Exporters say the delays have become unacceptable and are impacting business successes, Reuters reported. The IMF says the problems mean other companies balk at paying the tax up front, aware the unresolved issue could deprive them of a major slice of their revenues. The VAT dispute has stalled discussions on releasing funds from a $2.6 billion IMF loan program. So far, Kyiv has received only $1.3 billion under an Extended Fund Facility three-year program approved in 1998 and which will expire in September. Ukrainian Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh said on 11 February that the VAT dispute "is a very serious problem. We plan to complete the work on VAT problems this week. The government is taking steps to improve the situation." The VAT refund debt is estimated at about 13 percent of the 2002 total budget revenues of 45.4 billion hryvnias. Analysts said the IMF's aid would become increasingly important this year and next as the government faces a foreign-debt payment crunch. Ukraine will have to pay $1.598 billion on its debts in 2002 and $1.764 billion in 2003. "The IMF money remains very important for the economy and its importance will even rise this year due to growing payments on foreign debts," analyst at Dragon Capital brokerage Andriy Dmitrenko said. He added, "Besides, exports are expected to slow down this year." (JMR)
FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE CONCERNED OVER UKRAINIAN ELECTION... Last week, Ukraine was visited by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who voiced concern over media freedom ahead of Ukraine's parliamentary ballot and urged the government to ensure a free and fair poll, Reuters reported on 17 February. "At this moment, it is unclear whether the 31 March elections will mark a step forward for Ukraine's democratic future," she told journalists on 17 February. Albright, who now heads the nongovernmental National Democratic Institute, said members of her delegation have observed or received "credible reports" of election abuses in Ukraine, including intimidation of journalists, candidates being denied access to the media, unbalanced news coverage, and illegal use of public funds and facilities. JM
...WHILE CANADIAN OFFICIAL HEARS NO 'ALARM BELLS.' Gar Knutson, Canada's secretary of state for Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East, met with Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh and Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko in Kyiv on 18 February to discuss bilateral relations, AP reported. "There's been a tremendous improvement over the last two years in terms of the potential that Ukraine offers for Canadian investment," Knutson said, adding that he will pass on this message to potential Canadian investors. Knutson also touched upon Ukraine's upcoming parliamentary ballot, saying it will be an important step in the country's post-Soviet development. "We were following the elections with interest. There are no particular alarm bells going...right now," Knutson added. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VETOES LAW ON CABINET OF MINISTERS... President Leonid Kuchma has vetoed a law on how to appoint the Cabinet of Ministers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2002), UNIAN reported on 15 February. Kuchma reportedly disagreed with the provision obliging the president to hold consultations with the parliamentary leadership and factions on candidates for a new prime minister. Kuchma also objected to consulting the parliamentary leadership on the composition of the Cabinet of Ministers. JM
...CANCELS DECREE SENDING KYIV MAYOR ON CAMPAIGN LEAVE. President Kuchma has annulled his decree of 11 February ordering Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko to take leave for the period of the election campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2002), Interfax reported on 19 February. Omelchenko is running for the parliament on the election list of the Unity Party he leads, as well as for the post of Kyiv mayor in the local elections which will be held on the same day as the parliamentary ones. Kuchma's decision followed a meeting with Omelchenko on 18 February. The details of the meeting have not been made known. JM
UKRAINE'S DIVIDED RUKHS MOVE TO REUNITE. On 16 February in Kyiv, the Popular Rukh of Ukraine led by Hennadiy Udovenko and the Ukrainian Popular Rukh of Yuriy Kostenko held a congress devoted to the reunification of their parties, Interfax reported. Rukh split acrimoniously in 1999 following the death in a car crash of its leader, Vyacheslav Chornovil. The congress adopted a declaration pledging "to restore the unity of Rukh." The two parties are planning to hold another congress in the autumn in order to elect a single Rukh leadership. The Udovenko and Kostenko Rukh factions are both members of former Premier Viktor Yushchenko's election bloc Our Ukraine. JM
POLISH PEASANT PARTY WANTS COALITION TO NEGOTIATE BEST EU TERMS. The Supreme Council of the Polish Peasant Party (PSL) has appealed to all farmers' groups, trade unions, and organizations as well as political parties in both the ruling coalition and the opposition to set up an alliance for negotiating the best membership conditions with the European Union, Polish Television reported on 16 February. "Bypassing the principle of equal rights and equal obligations, the European Commission, by presenting such unfavorable conditions for agricultural integration, can condemn the integration process to a fiasco by undermining the Polish farmers' and rural residents' confidence in the idea of integration in the face of the approaching referendum," PSL leader and Agriculture Minister Jaroslaw Kalinowski said, referring to Brussels' recent proposals of scaled-down EU farming subsidies to EU newcomers (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 19 February 2002). Kalinowski said in Brussels on 18 February that Warsaw may suspend talks on the liberalization of agricultural trade with the European Union until the EU offers better membership conditions for Polish farmers, PAP reported. JM