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RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 4, No. 31, 20 August 2002

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

ANTI-SEMITISM AS AN INTEGRAL COMPONENT OF SOVIET BELARUSIAN NATIONALISM AND PAN-EASTERN SLAVISM. When Western scholars and journalists have written about post-Soviet developments, they have tended to present them in two ways. Firstly, they have used Soviet-era and Russian views of "nationalism" where this notion is only associated with non-Russians and is of an exclusive, ethnic variety. Secondly, Russian and Soviet nationalism in the non-Russian republics is ignored. The only "nationalism" written about in Ukraine and Belarus is therefore that of the "nationalist Rukh," "nationalist West Ukrainians," and the "nationalist Belarusian Popular Front."

This type of analysis provides a narrow, incorrect, and lopsided view of post-Soviet developments in republics such as Belarus (and Ukraine). Nationalism appears in a variety of guises and can be sometimes "good" and often "bad." In the case of Belarus and Ukraine, this standard framework defines only a pro-Western orientation as "nationalist." In itself, this is dubious as extreme-right nationalists and fascists in Western and Central Europe are anti-EU and anti-American, and by default therefore anti-NATO. Such hostility to the U.S., EU, and NATO is only found among Alyaksandr Lukashenka's supporters and his nationalist-communist allies in Russia.

Belarus is a good case study of why this definition of nationalism should be broadened to include other types. Lukashenka was elected president in July 1994 and re-elected in a dubious election in September 2001. His regime is described as "the last dictatorship in Europe" and has developed an ideology that is a curious combination of Soviet Belarusian territorial nationalism, Soviet internationalism, and pan-Eastern Slavism. Lukashenka's ally inside Belarus is the state-favored Russian Orthodox Church which has a long tradition of anti-Semitism and pan-Eastern Slavism. Lukashenka's ideology rejects Belarusian language and culture (as did pan-Slavists and Soviet internationalists) and has no place for Belarusian indigenous Orthodox and Catholic churches. Lukashenka's ideology is propagated by the state through television, education, and organized political activities -- just as in the USSR.

All three of the currents within Lukashenka's ideology are "nationalist" even though there is tension between them. For example, pan-Eastern Slavism has its origins in the pre-Soviet era and would agree to Russia's proposals for Belarus to join Russia as provinces. Lukashenka has always rejected such an idea as "unacceptable to Belarus" and his rhetoric in defense of his country's sovereignty sometimes sounds as strong as that of his "nationalist" opponents. The main difference between them is that Lukashenka is pro-Russian, anti-Western, and anti-Polish, while national democrats are the exact opposite.

Where Lukashenka differs from his "nationalist" opponents is in his anti-Semitism. National democrats in Belarus (and Ukraine) have no record of anti-Semitism and indeed Ukrainian and Jewish prisoners of conscience were close allies in the Soviet Gulag. In contrast, Lukashenka's anti-Semitism draws on a deep legacy found in all three variants of his ruling ideology. Pan-Eastern Slavism has a long record of anti-Semitism, which at its extreme created the infamous "Black Hundred" pogromists. In the former USSR, "anti-Zionism" was merely camouflage for anti-Semitism. Soviet Belarus was a leading incubator of "anti-Zionist" propaganda.

Not surprisingly, anti-Semitism flourishes under the Lukashenka regime. Belarusian Popular Front leader Vintsuk Vyachorka complained: "The Lukashenka regime has revived the institution of state ideology, which is a mixture of communism, xenophobia, and pan-Slavic chauvinism. The practice of anti-Semitism has been restored in Belarus; the branches of the Russian National Unity (RNO), which were expelled from Russia, feel themselves at ease under the patronage of the regime." Cooperation between the fascist RNO and pro-Lukashenka political groups reflects the kind of company the Belarusian leader likes to keep.

In 2000 the World Association of Belarusian Jewry and the Belarusian Human Rights Center Vyasna appealed to the Israeli government to refuse to have any dealings with Lukashenka, whom they accused of being anti-Semitic. They alleged that Lukashenka had refused to set up Jewish schools, or help maintain Jewish cemeteries and monuments and create memorials to victims of the Nazi Holocaust. In July demonstrators in Minsk demanded the reconstruction of a synagogue -- built in 1879, closed in the 1930s, and then reopened in the 1990s -- that was destroyed last year. Yakov Gutman, head of the World Association of Belarusian Jewry, compared its destruction to that of the Buddha statues in Afghanistan also last year.

This anti-Semitism in Belarus is very different to neighboring Ukraine, where synagogues and cemeteries have been widely rebuilt, including in Kyiv and at the birthplace of the founder of the Hassidic movement in Uman. A monument to the Babyn Yar massacre of mainly Jews in Kyiv was opened by President Leonid Kravchuk in 1992. Not surprisingly, Lukashenka has rejected charges made this month by the Union of Jewish Public Organizations and Communities that "anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi actions have acquired a massive scale in Belarus" after vandals desecrated Jewish graves at two cemeteries in Minsk.

The long tradition of anti-Semitism in the Russian Orthodox Church sits snugly alongside Lukashenka's ideology. The new law on religion adopted in June gives the Russian Orthodox Church the status of the state church in Belarus, a move which has been condemned by Belarusian Uniates and Autocephalous Orthodox as well as Protestant churches as discriminatory. In 2000 the leader of the Jewish community in Belarus sued the Minsk publishing house Orthodox Initiative "for fomenting ethnic hatred" after it had published "The War According to the Laws of Meanness" which collected together anti-Semitic articles from the Tsarist (including the infamous "Protocols of the Elders of Zion") and Soviet Belarusian media.

The introduction to this book calls upon Belarusians to reject both the West and the "Jew-Masons who have occupied Russia." Again, this is a favorite theme of Lukashenka who (like Russian nationalists and communists) remains convinced that Russian reforms have lost Russia its sovereignty. As early as 1997, Lukashenka offered Russia advice that it "should make an effort to employ our model of reform as soon as possible. We are showing Russia how an economy should be reformed, with a view to Russia's mistakes." In June 2002, Lukashenka admitted that he was in favor of Belarus going to Europe. But he refused to pay the same "price" that Russia had paid in this endeavor.

A Minsk district court rejected the libel suit filed by Jewish organizations against the publisher of the Orthodox Initiative book. "There is nothing surprising in this court's decision given the fact that the [Belarusian] president has publicly eulogized Hitler," Gutman said. Soviet and pan-Eastern Slavic nationalism and its close ally, anti-Semitism, officially flourish in Lukashenka's Belarus. (Taras Kuzio)

"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.

BELARUSIAN TV MAIN NEWSCAST CONTINUES TO AIR PRO-INDEPENDENCE MESSAGES. Following Russian President Putin's proposal last week to held referendums in Belarus and Russia on Belarus's merger with the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 20 August 2002), "Panarama," the main evening newscast of the Belarusian television, has regularly aired messages in favor of Belarus's sovereignty and quoted different Belarusian officials protesting Putin's integration plan. The 19 August "Panarama" issue was no exception to this trend. "[Putin's proposal] means the liquidation of [our] state.... Belarus's Election Code does not provide for a referendum with questions that affect the territorial integrity of the Republic of Belarus," Constitutional Court Chairman Ryhor Vasilevich said. "Such proposals [as that of Putin] are made only for a state forced to sign an act of capitulation," a "Panarama" moderator commented. JM

DEATH TOLL FROM UKRAINE'S AIR-SHOW DISASTER REDUCED TO 76. Officials from the Lviv Oblast Health Care Department said on 19 August that the number of confirmed deaths resulting from the 27 July jet crash at a Lviv air show is 76, not the 83 as reported shortly after the tragedy, Ukrainian media reported. They cited confusion over unidentified body parts as a reason for the incorrect higher toll. Forty-five people injured in the crash are still hospitalized. Meanwhile, the number of hospitalized miners following the 19 August fire in the Zasyadko mine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2002) increased to 21, up from the four reported immediately after the accident. JM

POPE WRAPS UP TRIP TO POLAND WITH PRO-EU MESSAGE. "I'm sorry to leave," John Paul II told a crowd bidding him farewell at the Krakow airport on 19 August. "May the spirit of mercy, fraternal solidarity, harmony and cooperation, as well as authentic concern for the good of our Motherland reign [among you]," PAP quoted the pope as saying. "I hope that by cherishing these values, Polish society -- which has belonged to Europe for centuries -- will find its due place in the structures of the European Union, and that it will not only maintain its identity but also enrich this continent and the entire world with its tradition." Earlier the same day, the pontiff prayed at the Kalwaria Zebrzydowska sanctuary, asking "Our Lady of Calvary" for physical and spiritual strength to continue his mission "to the end" (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 20 August 2002). JM

DEFIANT POLISH OFFICER SACKED FROM ARMY. Colonel Ryszard Chwastek received an official dismissal from the armed forces on 19 August, the "Rzeczpospolita" daily reported the next day. General Staff spokesman Zdzislaw Gniatkowski told the newspaper that Chwastek was fired from the ranks after rejecting two proposals to take up a new military post. Chwastek, who commanded the elite 14th Mechanized Division, was suspended earlier this month after publicly blaming Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski and top generals for "humiliations" of professional servicemen and the "mess" that in his view reigns in the armed forces (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 13 August 2002). JM

...WHILE MEDIATORS SCHEDULE NEW MEETING. The three mediators for finding a solution to the conflict -- the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine -- have scheduled a new meeting to be held in Chisinau on 22 August, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau. The meeting is to be attended by representatives of Moldova, the unrecognized Transdniester Republic, and the three mediators. OSCE sources told RFE/RL that they do not know how long the parleys will last. The only point on the agenda will be the OSCE proposal for settling the conflict, which calls for Moldova's federalization. MS