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RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 4, No. 35, 17 September 2002

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

WILL ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH SPLIT? The 15 September issue of the weekly "Wprost" published an article warning that the Roman Catholic Church in Poland is facing a split into one part led by Cardinal Jozef Glemp, the primate of Poland, and the other that will follow Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, the charismatic head of Radio Maryja -- the highly influential nationwide radio station based in Torun (central northern Poland), which claims a regular listenership of 1.4 million on a daily basis and some 5.9 million per week. The article, titled "Split in the Church," is subtitled "The Torun Catholic Church Against the Roman Catholic Church." According to "Wprost," 5 million Poles believe that Father Rydzyk, not Cardinal Glemp, is the actual leader of Polish Catholics.

Last month, some Polish media reported that Cardinal Glemp has issued a decree banning as of 1 October the operation of Radio Maryja bureaus at parishes in the Warsaw Archdiocese in an obvious attempt to limit Father Rydzyk's influence on the parishioners (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 3 September 2002). Commenting on the message aired by Radio Maryja, Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, the rector of the Papal Theological Academy in Krakow, compared Father Rydzyk's activity to that of Andrzej Lepper, the leader of the radical and populist Self-Defense farmers union. Bishop Pieronek said the social movement generated by Radio Maryja is an "emanation of Lepperism in the church." "I doubt whether Father Rydzyk can subordinate himself to the church hierarchy," "Wprost" quoted Pieronek as saying. The weekly said the only person that still prevents Father Rydzyk from launching an open conflict with the Roman Catholic Church in Poland is Pope John Paul II.

"After the death of John Paul II, a split in Poland's [Roman Catholic] Church is very likely," former RFE/RL Polish Service head Jan Nowak-Jezioranski told the weekly. "Father Rydzyk has disobeyed the holy father for a long time. One can only regret that our episcopate has not decided to use its capabilities for punishing Rydzyk. Now it seems to be too late [for punishment]," Nowak-Jezioranski said.

According to "Wprost," Father Rydzyk is the most noted Roman Catholic fundamentalist in Europe. The weekly says that Radio Maryja ingrains its listeners with the belief that Catholicism is the only true religion; that Poland suffers from such afflictions as "Jews, global capitalism, representatives of other religions [besides Catholicism], and secularization"; that state institutions and state officials should be guided in their activities by religious rules and commandments rather than the law and the constitution. Radio Maryja is also leading the anti-European Union opposition in Poland.

Radio Maryja, though the most important tool used by Father Rydzyk to disseminate his ideas and views, is not the only one. The "Rydzyk empire," as "Wprost" calls it, also includes the influential daily "Nasz Dziennik" (with a circulation of some 250,000), the Radio Maryja Family (a nationwide organization with basic cells located at most Roman Catholic parishes in Poland), the Circles of Young Friends of Radio Maryja (a youth organization), the Courtyard Rosary Circles (a children's organization), the College of Social and Media Culture in Torun, and three foundations. The funds to run Radio Maryja and to finance actions organized by Father Rydzyk -- some 100 million zlotys ($24 million) annually -- come from donations, bequests, and contributions from both domestic listeners and the Polish diaspora, particularly in Brazil, Argentina, Canada, and the United States.

According to "Wprost," some 20 Sejm deputies and senators identify themselves politically with Radio Maryja. It was primarily Radio Maryja that in the September 2001 parliamentary elections helped the far-right and ultra-Catholic League of Polish Families -- a group that materialized shortly before the ballot -- to win 38 seats in the Sejm and, by virtue of this, to save Poland's right wing from a dishonorable election failure.

"Initiatives by Primate Glemp either turn out to be failures or are treated indifferently," "Wprost" wrote. "Tadeusz Rydzyk constantly remains in opposition to major political forces but despite this, or, in actual fact, thanks to this, his power and influence are still growing. Jozef Glemp has no opponents in virtually all [political] formations of importance and cooperates well with the government, but his position continues to become weaker." (Jan Maksymiuk)

WHO IS DOING A (FINANCIAL) FAVOR FOR WHOM IN BELARUS-RUSSIA UNION? President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 9 September -- the first anniversary of the inauguration of his second presidential term -- appeared live on Russia's NTV television, where he reiterated once again that neither the incorporation of Belarus by Russia nor an EU-type integration is an acceptable unification scenario for either country. The Belarusian leader also touched upon economic issues and tried to identify the "rich people" in Russia who, in his opinion, are impeding the development of the Russia-Belarus union on an equal footing and are interested in exacerbating relations between Lukashenka and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Belarusian president said Russia's Gazprom is pressing Putin into making Lukashenka more "compliant" regarding the privatization of Belarusian enterprises. "Everybody expected us to give our possessions, our modern enterprises, for free," Lukashenka said. "Nothing will go for free in Belarus. So they have started to press Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] into making Lukashenka more compliant. No one is allowed to talk with me in this way."

Lukashenka said Gazprom is one of the Russian businesses that want to get hold of Belarusian possessions -- specifically, Belarus's gas pipelines -- by applying such pressure on the Kremlin. "They [Gazprom] reproach us for hampering this [privatization] process," Lukashenka said. "According to a Belarusian-Russian agreement of 1996 or 1995, Gazprom is obliged to supply us with 30 million cubic meters of gas per year, but today it supplies only 18 million cubic meters. I say: Why do you not implement this agreement? Why do you demand that we give you our possessions?"

Lukashenka complained that in terms of business and trade relations, Russia treats Belarus (its main trade partner) worse than other post-Soviet states: "Why have we suddenly become for Russia worse than Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine, and even Western states? Is it because we look after Russia's interests? Is it because in 1996 I granted $200 million worth of tax breaks for Gazprom during the construction of the [Belarusian stretch of the Yamal-Europe] gas pipeline? Why do you behave toward us in such a way?"

Gazprom reacted to Lukashenka's pronouncements on 11 September. Gazprom deputy head Vitalii Savelev said on NTV that Gazprom is currently working with Belarus on a "charitable basis." Savelev recalled that earlier this year, Gazprom extended its domestic prices for gas supplied to Belarus (Belarus has to pay some $24 for 1,000 cubic meters of gas, as Russian consumers in the bordering Smolensk Oblast). However, Savelev went on, in contrast to Russian regions, Belarus does not pay for Russian gas. Savelev said Belarus's debt for Russian gas supplies has now reached $300 million.

Former Belarusian Foreign Trade Minister Mikhail Marynich added an interesting detail to the issue of Russian gas supplies to Belarus. "Irrespective of the fact that Russia introduced domestic tariffs for gas supplies to Belarus, our enterprises have not felt any [financial relief]," Marynich told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 13 September. "For our enterprises the price of gas remains the same as before: $49-$50 for 1,000 cubic meters.... It is hard to say where the sums [earned by the Belarusian government on the domestic distribution of Russian gas] are directed, but they definitely do not support the economy." (Jan Maksymiuk)


OPPOSITION LAUNCHES ANTI-KUCHMA PROTEST CAMPAIGN. Some 30,000 protesters gathered on Kyiv's European Square on 16 September to launch the "Rise Up, Ukraine!" campaign intended to press President Leonid Kuchma into resigning, along with the resulting early presidential elections. The anti-Kuchma protest campaign -- organized by the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party -- was finally joined by Viktor Yushchenko, who wavered and maneuvered in the past several months, trying to avoid an open conflict with Kuchma. On 16 September, however, Yushchenko led a 3,000-strong column of Our Ukraine adherents across Kyiv and converged with crowds led by Yuliya Tymoshenko, Oleksandr Moroz, and Petro Symonenko on European Square. All four leaders -- Yushchenko, Tymoshenko, Moroz, and Symonenko -- signed a strongly worded resolution that was adopted at the rally. Its text is fully reproduced below, following the "Ukrayinska pravda" website:

"We appeal to you, President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma, with the following:

"During the years of your actual one-person rule, Ukraine has lost 4 million of its population, more than 6 million citizens are looking for rescue from abroad, [and] the socioeconomic development basis of the state has been ruined. The state and society have been pushed 30-50 years backward. Corruption, thievery, violence, [and] moral degeneration have become characteristic traits of the people's life.

        "You became the president of Ukraine in an illegal way.
        "You are involved in criminal offenses.
        "You are responsible for the catastrophic decrease in
Ukraine's population.
        "You have usurped power [and] created an undemocratic,

criminal system of government that operates outside the boundaries of morality, law, and honor.

"More than 70 percent of Ukraine's population does not respect, trust, or support you!

"The people of Ukraine cannot, do not want to, and will not, live in this way any longer!

"We insist: Leonid Kuchma, you have no other way out except to make an act of repentance before the Ukrainian people and immediately leave the post of president.

"For this purpose, provided that some trace of conscience and responsibility is left in you, you have to return to Ukraine [editor's note: Kuchma was in Austria during the rally] and resign."

Some of the demonstrators after the rally tried to pitch a tent camp in front of the presidential administration building with the goal of staying there until Kuchma tenders his resignation. Police dissolved the camp on the morning of 17 September.

Rallies with similar demands -- Kuchma's ouster and early presidential elections -- were held on 16 September in other Ukrainian cities. UNIAN reported that there were 10,000 people at a rally in Lviv, 10,000-15,000 in Kharkiv, 8,000 in Rivne, 5,000 in Donetsk, 4,000 in Dnipropetrovsk, 3,000 in Chernivtsi, 3,000 in Odesa, 2,000 in Zaporizhzhya, and 2,000 in Luhansk. (Jan Maksymiuk)

OUR UKRAINE SEEKS POLITICAL DIALOGUE. More than 1,200 delegates from some 50 political parties and organizations participated in a two-day forum For the Democratic Development of Ukraine that was organized in Kyiv on 14-15 September by Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine. Yushchenko told the forum that Our Ukraine proposes five steps to overcome the current political and socioeconomic crisis in the country: creating a parliamentary majority without interference from the presidential administration; forming a coalition cabinet; signing a trilateral accord on joint actions by the president, the parliament, and the government; abolishing media censorship and lifting the information blockade against the opposition; and establishing dialogue between the authorities and society. Yushchenko said he believes the authorities will move toward a dialogue with society. According to him, the current Verkhovna Rada has the largest "democratic potential" in comparison with other legislatures in Ukraine's 11 years of independence.

In a political resolution signed by 42 parties and organizations, the forum stated that the current Ukrainian power system "is inefficient, nontransparent, unstable, and gravitates toward dictatorship." Even harsher assessments were voiced by political leaders addressing the forum. "The behavior of the authorities in 2002 actually does not differ from that in 1970 -- only the Politburo of the Communist Party is now called the presidential administration," Ukrainian Popular Rukh leader Yuriy Kostenko said. "Ukraine is heading toward dictatorship, the state is facing the threat of losing its sovereignty," Popular Rukh of Ukraine head Hennadiy Udovenko warned.

In a special message read at the forum, President Kuchma, who was invited as a delegate, said he was absent because his invitation was formulated in the "tone of an ultimatum." Kuchma said he was invited as late as 13 September, adding that the invitation included neither a program of the forum nor a list of participants. "[Such an invitation] for dialogue with the head of state elected by the whole nation contradicts the practice used in civilized countries," Kuchma said. Simultaneously, the president stressed that he is ready for dialogue and pledged to study attentively proposals voiced at the forum.

During the forum, Yushchenko signed a declaration with the leaders of four parliamentary groups -- Party of Entrepreneurs-Labor Ukraine (led by Serhiy Tyhypko), Democratic Initiatives (Stepan Havrysh), Ukraine's Agrarians (Kateryna Vashchuk), and the Popular Democratic Party (Anatoliy Tolstoukhov) -- on joining efforts to create a majority in the Verkhovna Rada. The five parliamentary groups control some 200 votes in the 449-member Verkhovna Rada. Tyhypko told UNIAN that Raisa Bohatyrova, the leader of Ukraine's Regions (37 deputies), will also sign the declaration in the near future. (Jan Maksymiuk)

MIGRANTS, 'MURASHKY,' AND THE POLISH-UKRAINIAN BORDER. In July 2003, Poland will become the last Central European state to introduce visas for Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus prior to joining the European Union in January 2004. Poland has already introduced visas for most other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Despite the success of the Polish-Ukrainian "strategic partnership," the introduction of visas for Ukrainians, Russians, and Belarusians is popular in Poland. The Polish Public Opinion Research Center found in an August poll that 41 percent of Poles believe the EU should help Poland introduce visas, 23 percent think the EU should jointly guard Poland's eastern border, and 22 percent think it is to up to Poland to "efficiently guard our border against illegal immigrants" after joining the EU.

The Polish authorities are planning an extensive overhaul of their border with the CIS, which will become the EU's (and "Europe's") border in July 2003. (The Polish-Lithuanian border is exempted.) In February, Poland submitted a 92-page report to the EU outlining steps it was taking on its eastern border.

Since June, all of Poland's eastern border crossings have had complete online connections to border-guard headquarters. Poland is planning to expand the number of border troops so that each of its 94 guard posts on its eastern border will control 29 kilometers by 2006, when the Schengen agreements go into effect, which is higher than the EU norm of 25 kilometers. There are currently 85 posts controlling 35 kilometers each.

Equipment for these new border posts has been funded by the EU. This year, 10 more patrol cars were purchased with thermal-vision cameras and 50 more are to be bought. Each guard post has night-vision goggles. Land Rovers; modern motorcycles; new high-speed patrol boats; six helicopters; and five Wilga planes, each equipped with nighttime, thermal-vision cameras have been purchased. Border troops have also been issued new uniforms and modern short weapons.

The introduction of Polish visas will have a threefold effect on countries bordering Poland, such as Ukraine.

First, it will increase the number of illegal migrants in Ukraine. Between 1991-2000, the number of migrants in Ukraine increased from 184 to 24,000 per annum. Some 25,000-30,000 illegal immigrants are detained annually. Most are from Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. In the first half of 2002, 2,000 illegal immigrants were captured by Ukrainian border troops, with 4,500 caught last year. Ukraine's location as a transit point could be seen from figures released in the first eight months of this year, which showed that 24 million people crossed Ukraine's borders in both directions.

After 10 days in custody, migrants are released because Ukraine has no extradition agreements with bordering states. In 1995, Ukraine had 300,000 illegal migrants. With no source of income, these illegal migrants often have little option but to turn to crime to support themselves. In 1996, illegal migrants committed 80,000 criminal offenses. Many of the migrants themselves bring narcotics and weapons into the country. Seventy-eight weapons were confiscated from the 2,000 illegal migrants caught this year.

This large number of immigrants breeds corruption among state officials and fuels organized crime. The Ministry of Defense's "Narodna armiya" reported on 6 October 1995 that illegal migration was already then evolving "into a well-organized criminal business, where contraband of 'live goods' is becoming a basis of income for the national and international criminal world."

The sums involved in the trade of illegal migrants are huge. A report in "Kievskie vedomosti" on 18 January discussed an Asian trafficker who annually made up to $500,000 by sending 200 migrants each month and charging anything between $5,000 and $8,000 per person. In July, a Greek court sentenced two Ukrainians to 10 years' imprisonment each for smuggling Iraqi immigrants into Greece.

If migrants travel directly to Ukraine, they often pretend to be future students and use forged identification documents. The cost of one forged document is $25,000, the Security Service of Ukraine reported. Some 30 percent of foreigners arriving in Ukraine to study are potentially illegal migrants.

Last year, several oblast heads and 20 lower-ranking officers of the State Traffic Inspectorate were dismissed for assisting illegal migration. In the first half of this year, 150 Ukrainian border troops were fired for corruption and failing "to properly organize border crossing for travelers" as part of a new campaign to improve the conduct and culture of this branch of Ukraine's security forces.

Second, the introduction of visas will halt the extensive cross-border trade. The Gdansk-based Institute for a Market Economy has calculated that this largely unregistered trade generated annually $2.2 billion-$3.5 billion in the second half of the 1990s. Visas would most affect the economy of border regions that are economically depressed, such as Przemysl. The head of Ukraine's border troops, Vasyl Sevratyuk, believes that the new visas will hurt law-abiding shuttle traders ("murashky") more than illegal migrants. In 2001, 13.5 million people crossed from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus into Poland.

Third, because Russia continues to block the demarcation of the Ukrainian-Russian border, this porous frontier is a route favored by migrants. Until last year, migrants could obtain a Russian visa and then travel to Ukraine with no visa and move on into Central and Western Europe. In economically depressed Transcarpathia, "Many locals earn their living by assisting in the trafficking of illegal migrants," "Kievskie vedomosti" reported.

The EU is to provide Ukraine with 16 million euros ($15.5 million) to improve its western border, which inherited a Soviet border infrastructure such as barbed wire and watchtowers. These funds would have been better used on the Ukrainian-Russian border to stem the flow of illegal migrants and contraband. President Kuchma admitted in October 2001 that: "We are now unable to seal our borders. Only our western borders are sealed."

Barbed wire and alarm systems are being dismantled on Ukraine's western border. Instead, there are to be border inspectors who will live in border villages and have the same powers as district police inspectors. Beginning this year, tourists from the EU, the United States, Canada, Japan, and Australia no longer need visas to enter Ukraine.

Although Ukraine is reluctant to demarcate its border with Russia unilaterally, it has undertaken some measures of its own. In Luhansk Oblast, border checkpoints have been installed every 25-30 kilometers. The number of border troops is to be increased from 45,000 to 50,000, with the added numbers to be stationed on Ukraine's border with Russia. In addition, border troops are to be relocated from Ukraine's western to the eastern border. (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.

END NOTE: UKRAINE'S 'VELVET REVOLUTION' GATHERS SPEED xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

YOUTH LEADER WORRIED OVER 'FAVORABLE ATTITUDE' TOWARD INCORPORATION OF BELARUS BY RUSSIA. Pavel Sevyarynets, the leader of the opposition Youth Front, told Belapan on 17 September that he is alarmed by European politicians' "favorable attitude" toward Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent integration proposals (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 20 August 2002). Sevyarynets and other Belarusian youth activists observed Sweden's elections between 9-16 September and met with Swedish politicians. According to Sevyarynets, Swedish Foreign Ministry State Secretary Sven-Eric Soder welcomed Russia's integration proposals, saying that Belarus should prepare for a referendum. "Attracted by Putin's beautiful words about the European Union-like integration and a referendum, Swedish and European politicians consider these proposals the best solution for Belarus at the moment," Sevyarynets said. "Our arguments that Russia is currently led by KGB descendants, that Russian television networks dominate Belarus's information space, and that independence and sovereignty cannot be discussed at a referendum remained unanswered. This is an alarming signal," Sevyarynets added. JM

UKRAINIAN POLICE BREAK UP OPPOSITION TENT CAMP IN KYIV... Before dawn on 17 September, riot police in full gear broke up a tent camp that was set up around the presidential administration building after the antipresidential rally on European Square in Kyiv the previous day (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 17 September 2002), AP and Reuters reported. Opposition leader Yuliya Tymoshenko told AP that some 5,000 policemen took part in dismantling the tent camp and beat some 1,500 people guarding the tents. Police said they had no choice but to remove the protesters because court representatives arrived at the scene early in the morning and ordered the tents removed in accordance with an earlier decision banning the protests from the city center. Police said they arrested 64 protesters. JM

...WHILE OPPOSITION PLEDGES TO CONTINUE ANTIPRESIDENTIAL PROTESTS. Socialist Party parliamentarian Yuriy Lutsenko told journalists on 17 September that the opposition will organize a "powerful demonstration" on European Square in Kyiv on 24 September in response to the dismantling of the opposition tent camp, UNIAN reported. Lutsenko added that until that day, Tymoshenko, Oleksandr Moroz, and Petro Symonenko will hold smaller street rallies in Kyiv every day to "gather people" for the 24 September demonstration against President Leonid Kuchma. Meanwhile, Our Ukraine lawmaker Taras Chornovil said the same day that Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko has joined the opposition for good. The previous day, Yushchenko participated in the anti-Kuchma rally in Kyiv and signed a strongly worded resolution demanding Kuchma's resignation (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 17 September 2002). JM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT IN KYIV. Romanian President Ion Iliescu arrived on 17 September in Kyiv for a three-day official visit, UNIAN reported. Among the top issues on the agenda is the Ukrainian-Romanian border dispute over Serpents Island in the Black Sea, which, if unresolved, could potentially delay Romania's accession to NATO. Iliescu said at the Kyiv airport that the signing of "a [Ukrainian-Romanian] agreement on the delimitation of sea areas is dependent on when commissions of experts conclude their work." He added that the border dispute is not an issue that needs to be tackled by the presidents. JM

ESTONIAN PRESIDENT ATTENDS EUROPEAN ECONOMIC SUMMIT IN AUSTRIA. In a speech at the plenary session of the World Economic Forum's European Economic Summit in Salzburg on 16 September, Arnold Ruutel said Estonia has reached the final stage of preparations for joining the European Union, ETA reported. He stressed the need to find a solution that will be satisfactory to both sides in EU accession negotiations on the agriculture chapter. Ruutel discussed EU and NATO enlargement with Ukrainian President Kuchma and agreed to share his country's experience in seeking membership of those organizations. Ruutel told Finnish President Tarja Halonen that due to similar natural conditions, Estonian farmers expect treatment from the EU similar to that which Finnish farmers receive, and that Estonia should not have to pay more to the EU budget than it would receive. SG


Ukraine has begun its transition to the post-Kuchma era. The "velvet revolution," which began nearly two years ago with the "Kuchmagate" revelations of corruption and other executive misdemeanors, has served to galvanize popular consciousness, paved the way for a victory by opposition forces in the March parliamentary elections, and is now moving toward its climax. Ukraine currently resembles the USSR in the late 1980s when CPSU General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev struggled to keep pace with developments, instead of controlling them.

The situation since the March elections has changed the balance of forces in favor of the opposition, and the executive is now in a state of panic and disorientation. In Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko's words, Ukraine is in the depths of its worst political crisis since independence. Prosecutor Svyatoslav Piskun has promised to resolve within six months the murder of opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze and his office has now admitted for the first time that it was a "political murder." The opposition chose 16 September, the second anniversary of Gongadze's abduction, to launch major protests.

The actions of the authorities since "Kuchmagate" have radicalized moderates in the opposition camp, particularly within Our Ukraine, whose business group Razom now supports a referendum on early presidential elections, something backed only by the more radical Forum for National Salvation (FNS) last year. Yushchenko's open letter to President Leonid Kuchma on 29 August and the 14-15 September "For the Democratic Development of Ukraine" congress organized by Our Ukraine also reflect a growing frustration and radicalization of opinion among the moderate opposition, which is threatening to completely join the radicals if the authorities continue to turn down dialogue.

The executive and its oligarchic allies have no candidate to succeed Kuchma as president in two years' time, as a viable candidate could have been only found prior to "Kuchmagate." Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Semynozhenko and oligarch Oleksandr Volkov, a former presidential adviser, have openly spoken of the need for Kuchma to run for a third term. They argue that his first term should not count as it began two years prior to the adoption of the 1996 constitution, which bans an individual from holding that office for more than two consecutive terms. Our Ukraine recently asked the Constitutional Court to rule on this question, hoping it would rule against, but even if the court ruled in favor of Kuchma being allowed to run for a third term, it seems beyond the realm of the imaginable that he could be re-elected in a free vote.

A key indication that the Kuchma regime is slowly disintegrating are defections from the former pro-Kuchma For a United Ukraine election bloc to Yushchenko. At the 14-15 September congress, the Dnipropetrovsk (Kuchma's home base) clan's Party of Entrepreneurs-Labor Ukraine led by Serhiy Tyhypko, Stepan Havrysh's Democratic Initiatives faction, and Ukraine's Agrarians all defected to Yushchenko.

The next to defect could be the Donetsk clan's Ukraine's Regions led by Deputy Prime Minister Semynozhenko, established in March 2001 and initially led by Tax Administration head Mykola Azarov. Ukraine's Regions has long-standing ties to Our Ukraine through Petro Poroshenko's Solidarity party, which was a founding member of Ukraine's Regions but then switched to Our Ukraine. Other parliamentary factions that could follow suit are Power of the People and People's Choice.

The opposition is feeling increasingly emboldened despite all manner of repressive action taken against it, including arrests and interrogations conducted throughout Ukraine over the last few days and threats by the Internal Affairs Ministry to dissuade the public from joining the protests planned for 16 September. Despite a Kyiv court ban, the protest in central Kyiv attended by 50,000 people went ahead with Our Ukraine's participation, something the authorities had not expected.

Despite the similarities with the late 1980s, Ukraine's velvet revolution is slower than those that engulfed the outer Soviet empire. The Ukraine Without Kuchma movement had already called for a roundtable with Kuchma at the height of the "Kuchmagate" crisis but the authorities refused. Nevertheless, Yushchenko, never comfortable in the role of an oppositionist, has continued to call for a "dialogue" with the executive in the form of a roundtable, hoping that the authorities will now agree to this proposal.

After the manner in which the authorities reacted to the demonstrations, with mass arrests and the tearing down of tents in central Kyiv overnight, a roundtable is becoming less likely. Kuchma was demonstratively outside Ukraine on 16 September, the day of opposition protests. Another problem is the widespread lack of trust in Kuchma's word. Kuchma shows no signs of interest in "dialogue," despite his claims to the contrary, and his actions are pushing Yushchenko into the radical camp.

The Polish roundtable in September 1988 took place because of many events and factors that are lacking in Ukraine. Specifically, it followed seven years of mass clandestine opposition under martial law, mass strikes, and protests that year. Gorbachev also rejected the "[Leonid] Brezhnev Doctrine," thereby removing the threat of Soviet intervention. Poland's Solidarity was also a nationwide movement, unlike the Ukrainian opposition, which draws its main strength from the more nationally conscious Western-Central regions (with the sole exception of the Communists who have now for the first time joined the largely national-democratic opposition).

The National Executive Commission (NEC) created by Solidarity in October 1987 included the majority of the underground opposition. In Ukraine the Forum for National Salvation (FNS), created in February 2001, only ever included the radical wing of the opposition and never Our Ukraine. The ruling authorities with whom a roundtable is to take place are also different (Communists in Poland, postcommunist oligarchs in Ukraine).

But there are also similarities. The demands made by the NEC and FNS/Our Ukraine both include an end to repression and censorship as part of a radical program of democratization. Both in Poland in the late Soviet era and today in Ukraine, national democrats continue to lead the struggle for democratization.

After the successful Polish roundtable, Tadeusz Mazowiecki headed Poland's first postwar noncommunist government in 1989, and free parliamentary and presidential elections were held the following year. The attempt to create an "artificial majority" composed of pro-presidential forces in Ukraine failed and negotiations are underway to replace it with a "democratic majority" grouped around Our Ukraine. As in Poland, the main objective is to appoint a reformist prime minister, which in Ukraine's case would be Yushchenko. In such an eventuality, with 18 months' grace during which the government could not be brought down, Yushchenko would be in the best position to be elected president in 2004.

The major loser in such a process would be Viktor Medvedchuk and his Kyiv clan's Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o), which Yushchenko has said will be barred from joining the parliamentary majority. Both Medvedchuk and his SDPU-o clan are feared and disliked by Eastern Ukraine's oligarchs. Radical anti-Kuchma oppositionists Yuliya Tymoshenko, against whom politically motivated charges of "corruption" would be dropped if Yushchenko became premier, and Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz could also be losers unless they agree to join the new "democratic [parliamentary] majority" led by Yushchenko and Tyhypko.