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UKRAINE'S CHIEF PROSECUTOR SAYS AIR-SHOW TRAGEDY CAUSED BY 'MILITARY NEGLIGENCE'... Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun told journalists on 29 July that, according to preliminary investigation results, the tragic air-show crash in Lviv on 27 July occurred due to "military negligence," UNIAN reported (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 30 July 2002). Piskun added that the two pilots of the Su-27 fighter jet that crashed into a crowd can also be blamed for "criminal actions" and "incorrect use of the aircraft under those circumstances." JM
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT VISITS UKRAINE, MEETS ETHNIC ROMANIANS. Using the opportunity of his visit to Sighet, which is near the border with Ukraine, President Iliescu on 29 July crossed a bridge still under construction over the Tisa River and met with ethnic Romanians who live on the Ukrainian side, Mediafax reported. He told them it is necessary to open many other border-crossing points between the two countries to facilitate communication between ethnic Romanians on both sides of the border. MS
University admissions procedures in Belarus have been altered this year to ensure an unprecedented intake from rural areas. The changes, which with one exception have gone unchallenged by senior academics, would appear to have a political subtext.
At the beginning of June, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka warned the heads of universities and other institutions of higher education that they should be prepared for "surprises" during their forthcoming entrance examinations, and that for the purpose of "order and discipline," the entrance examinations -- for both state and private institutions -- were to be monitored by a special government commission, aided by the KGB. The tone of his statement -- and the involvement of the KGB -- suggested that the order and discipline would be primarily political, with the exclusion of applicants who had any record of opposition activities. In fact, the surprises go further. Changes in the admission rules have been introduced, which suggests a preemptive strike directed at a whole cohort of young people who are perceived as likely future "oppositionists" -- the city dwellers.
Lukashenka had already tampered with the higher-education process in a number of ways. In particular, he reinstated for a number of disciplines the old -- and much hated -- Soviet process of "distribution" by which new graduates had to work for a number of years in posts allotted them by the state. In Soviet times, the rationale was that they thus repaid the state for their notionally free higher education. Lukashenka's reintroduction of the practice was justified as being necessary to ensure a sufficient supply of teachers, medical professionals, and other essential personnel for the areas of Belarus still suffering from the effects of the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear disaster. (The Chornobyl nuclear-power station lies a few kilometers south of the Belarus-Ukraine frontier, and it is estimated that 70 percent of the fallout came down on Belarusian territory.) Certainly, such posts in the "zone" need to be filled, but it is typical of Lukashenka's regime that this should be done by direction from above, rather than by, say, offering financial or social incentives. At the same time, pedagogical faculties and colleges use a targeted admissions process, with a place in higher education tied to one's future job -- in effect, a means of ensuring that young people from rural areas return there to work, rather than taking more attractive city posts.
Until now, the two schemes have operated separately. This year, however, according to professor Uladzimir Pletsyukou, rector of Brest State University, they have been effectively combined, so that 50 percent of places will be targeted and the remaining 50 percent will be divided equally between applicants from rural areas and applicants from cities. The net result, he told the newspaper "Belorusskaya gazeta," will be that up to 75 percent of places will go to rural applicants, which "could lead to collisions over individual specializations."
The newspaper spells out, albeit in guarded terms, the probable political motivation for the change: "Students are a most active social group that has not experienced feelings of profound gratitude for modest stipends and obligatory 'distribution.' And the scandalous voting histories of urban students during the presidential elections, and their participation in opposition meetings, possibly put it into someone's head that the problem could be solved by 'changing' the students as far as social groups are concerned." The newspaper then goes on to remind its readers -- perhaps as its own political insurance -- that the bases for targeted and distributed places is "to service the shortage of specialists in the Chornobyl zone and the rural economy."
The new rules apply to all state universities and institutions of higher education in Belarus. Only one rector, Pletsyukou, has raised any objection. The silence of the rest is not surprising. Lukashenka has already ensured that the rectors of all major academic institutions are his own nominees. Under the circumstances, it is surprising that anyone spoke out at all. But Pletsyukou, although he was appointed only recently, seems prepared on occasion to step out of line. A few weeks ago, he allowed his university premises to be the venue of a three-day training seminar for the Belarusian chapter of the European Youth Parliament (EYP) -- a pro-democracy organization with headquarters in the United Kingdom that originally operated in Western Europe only, but which in the last decade has expanded and flourished in virtually all postcommunist countries. In Belarus, however, in spite of the efforts of would-be EYP members and the urgings of various Western diplomats, the Belarusian authorities have consistently refused to register the Belarusian chapter of the EYP, often offering the most trivial excuses for their refusal.
As for the new university admission rules, if, as "Belorusskaya gazeta" suggests, "someone or other" devised them in order to reduce the presence of the opposition-minded urban youth in the universities, then he may simply have shifted the problem elsewhere. For the young urbanites who cannot get into higher education will, if male, become liable for military service. Hence, as the paper points out, while this year's university intake includes a record number of rural entrants, the draft will contain an unprecedented number from the cities.
UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION BLAMES TOP LEADERSHIP FOR AIR-SHOW TRAGEDY... Quoting the Our Ukraine press service, UNIAN reported on 30 July that four opposition leaders have issued a statement blaming the country's top leadership for the tragic air-show crash in Lviv on 27 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 July 2002). The statement was reportedly signed by Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, and Yuliya Tymoshenko who leads the eponymous political bloc. Communist Party officials subsequently denied that Symonenko signed the document. "All of us should be aware that the blame for similar tragedies [to that of the Lviv air-show crash] is to be put on the political system, which is headed by the person who cares not about state problems but about how to defend the interests of favored clans and strengthen his personal authority," the statement reads. JM
...AS DOUBTS ARE CAST ON GUILT OF SACKED AIR-FORCE COMMANDER. Officers of Ukraine's 5th Air Corps have addressed President Leonid Kuchma with a letter saying that they treat the arrest of air-force commander Viktor Strelnykov, who was dismissed by the president following the Lviv tragedy, as an "infringement upon their civic rights and professional honor," UNIAN reported on 31 July. The officers say they "have questions" about what they call "biased" media reports on the arrest of Strelnykov as a person "directly responsible" for the tragedy. "[We know] that 10 minutes before [the crash], Colonel General Viktor Strelnykov gave an order forbidding the commander of the 14th Air Corps [which staged the air show] to send jets over the crowd and instructing him to conduct the show only over the landing-and-takeoff strip," the letter reads. JM
POLAND PLEDGES TO LOCK UP EU EXTERNAL FRONTIER. Poland concluded the administration of justice and internal affairs chapter in its EU accession talks in Brussels on 30 July, Polish media reported. Warsaw pledged to beef up control of its borders with Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine to prevent illegal migration and trafficking of drug and arms after Poland joins the EU. Poland's key obligations under this negotiation chapter include replacing its conscript frontier guards with professionally trained units; buying equipment such as night-vision surveillance devices and helicopters; posting consular staff in Moscow, Kaliningrad, Kyiv, and Minsk; and introducing visa requirements for Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians as of 1 July 2003. The concluded chapter also commits Poland to implementing laws to fight corruption, fraud, drug dealing, and illegal immigration. Warsaw still needs to close EU talks in four areas: competition, agriculture, regional policy, budget and finances. JM
POLAND SENDS AID TO VICTIMS OF UKRAINIAN AIR CRASH. A shipment of medicines and other medical material worth some 50,000 zlotys ($12,000) sent from Poland's southeastern region reached Lviv hospitals on 29 July, PAP reported on 30 July. Another shipment of aid prepared by local governments was sent to Lviv on 30 July. The Caritas church-charity organization from the Rzeszow region has also joined the effort to collect donations. JM