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RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 4, No. 48, 17 December 2002

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

NOTE TO READERS: The next issue of "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" will appear on 14 January 2003.

BELARUS AS EU NEIGHBOR. A book review by Vera Rich of Ann Lewis (editor) "The EU & Belarus -- Between Moscow and Brussels," The Federal Trust, London 2002, 429 pp.

English-language works on Belarus are, to say the least, rare, and any major contribution to the field is an event of some significance. "The EU & Belarus -- Between Moscow and Brussels," which focuses on the forthcoming role of Belarus as a neighbor of the expanded European Union, was published by the Federal Trust for Education and Research, an "independent think tank" set up to "enlighten the debate on good governance." As a fairly new group, this perhaps lacks the acclaim and prestige of certain other bodies publishing in the field of international politics, notably the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Nevertheless, the Federal Trust and its publications undoubtedly deserve serious attention.

"The EU & Belarus" is the third Federal Trust book to deal with the EU's new "neighbors" -- its predecessors being "The EU & Kaliningrad: Kaliningrad and the Impact of EU Enlargement" (2000) and "The EU & Ukraine: Neighbors, Friends, Partners?" (2002). The proclaimed purpose of the current work is to "give the reader a picture of where Belarus stands more than a decade after independence, how it may develop internally, and prospects for relations with its neighbors; and to put forward a variety of ideas about the EU's policy towards Belarus and how, if at all, it might be more effective."

The core of the book consists of papers presented at a seminar organized by the Trans-European Policies Studies Association, which was held in Brussels on 5 November 2001 (not in October of that year, as Ann Lewis, the editor, states in her preface), with some updating and further essays added to cover aspects not dealt with on that occasion, by both foreign and Belarusian scholars. The former include a number of scholars and analysts who, over the past decade, have emerged as "experts" on Belarus, and include such notable names as Anders Aslund ("Is the Belarusian Economic Model Viable"), David Marples ("Belarus: the last European Dictatorship?"), and Hans Georg Wieck ("The OSCE and the Council of Europe in Conflict with the Lukashenka Regime"). Other essays came from authors who, while perhaps not personally well-known, represent or represented well-known organizations: Steven Eke of the BBC World Service ("With the State or Against the State: the Media in Belarus"), OSCE monitor Kimmo Kiljunen ("Belarus 2001 Presidential Election: Somewhat Free but Not Fair"), and Malcolm Hawkes of Amnesty International ("Belarus: An elegant Dictatorship?"), while Elizabeth Teague, who until recently headed the Belarus desk at the U.K. Foreign Office, contributed an introductory overview of Belarusian history. There is, however, a marked absence of contributions from the stalwart handful of scholars who for the past half century, from abroad, have devoted their scholarly activities to the problems of Belarus.

From Belarus itself, the lineup includes the "establishment" in the persons of Syarhey Martynau, Belarusian ambassador to Belgium and head of the Belarusian mission to the EU and NATO ("The EU and Belarus, Time for a New Start"), and Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou (‘The Foreign Policy of the Republic of Belarus: Meeting the Needs of the Time"), countered by such figures as Vital Silnitski of the European Humanities University in Minsk ("The Change Is Yet To Come: Opposition Strategies and Western Efforts to Promote Democracy in Belarus') and Leanid Zlotnikau, one of the founders of the opposition United Civil Party ("In the Noose of Populism: Eleven Years of the Belarusian Economic Model /1991-2001/").

Overall, the book gives an impression of sound academic quality. There are, of course, minor flaws: Belarusian proper names are spelled throughout as if Russian. David Rotman et al. ("Value Systems and Social Transformation in Belarus"), in their discussion of religion, make no mention of the revival of the Belarusian Eastern-Rite Catholic ("Uniate") Church or the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, bodies that, though still small in numbers, offer the possibility of preserving the Byzantine religious tradition in Belarus without subjugation to the Moscow-ruled Belarusian Orthodox Church, which is favored by the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Nor do they take note of the restrictive new law on religion, though, at the time the book went to press, this law had already been passed by the lower house of the Belarusian legislature, and its passage by the upper house was already a foregone conclusion. And one paper, Margaret Bamford's "From Aid to Foster-Care: A Case Study," though interesting in itself, seems oddly out of place in this volume. But these cannot detract from the overall importance of this book, not only for all those concerned with the problems of Belarus but for political analysts worldwide.

Nevertheless, one ought to note the rather strange circumstances of its official launch. On 13 December, a half-day seminar was held in London to mark its publication. Participation was by invitation only, and the Belarusian Embassy was represented by no fewer than four people -- a somewhat large presence, perhaps, in a gathering of fewer than 50 participants -- including the new ambassador, Alyaksey Mazhukau. There was, however, no formal representation from the opposition. Moreover -- and this surely threw further doubt on the balance of the meeting -- one of the two sessions was chaired by Ambassador Mazhukau himself! In opening the session, he very properly stated that his function, as ambassador, was to propound the views of his government. However, throughout the session, he used his "chairman's privilege" to give a lengthy response to the views of each speaker, leaving in effect no time for discussion or questions from the audience. One should not, perhaps, fault the ambassador for doing what he perceived to be his job (the premature recall from London of his predecessor is widely believed to have been due to having devoted less effort to promoting the Lukashenka regime than to such practical matters as boosting trade turnover). Nevertheless, his chairmanship of the session does raise a certain question as to precisely how the Federal Trust perceives "balanced view" and scholarly impartiality.


PARLIAMENT MULLS MEDIA FREEDOM. The Verkhovna Rada held a hearing titled "Society, Media, Authorities: The Freedom of Expression and Censorship in Ukraine" on 4 December. The hearing was initiated by the parliamentary Committee for the Freedom of Expression and Information.

It was the fourth parliamentary hearing on media freedom in independent Ukraine. It seems that this time the debate did not resemble a ritual talking shop as on previous occasions. The hearing not only summarized the problems faced by the media and professional journalism in Ukraine recently but also proposed some measures to remedy the chronically ailing and weak Ukrainian democracy.

A majority of participants, above all journalists themselves, pointed to a visible limitation of the freedom of expression in Ukraine because of the increasing political pressure on media and open censorship exercised by the authorities in the situation of a latent political crisis in the country (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 8 October 2002).

Quoting many independent expert studies, reported facts, and accounts by journalists in his address to the Verkhovna Rada, Committee for the Freedom of Expression and Information head Mykola Tomenko clearly proved the existence of political censorship in the media sphere in Ukraine. According to a poll conducted last month by the Oleksandr Razumkov Center for Political and Economic Studies among 727 Ukrainian journalists, 61.6 percent of respondents said they have come into contact with "manifestations of political censorship." Governmental officials present at the hearing, including newly appointed Deputy Prime Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk, were also forced to admit that, despite the constitutional ban on censorship, it exists de facto in Ukraine's media sphere.

Among the various methods of censorship used by the authorities, Tomenko mentioned "temnyky," secret verbal instructions and written directives from the presidential administration regarding editorial policy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2002); fiscal and economic pressure on media outlets; and lawsuits against opposition publications with the aim of ruining them financially. Because of imperfections of the current Ukrainian legislation, which does not define the maximum limit of financial compensation for defamation, and because of the absence of a truly independent judiciary system in the country, this instrument is effectively used by the authorities and powerful ruling clans against the opposition press. For example, the opposition newspaper "Vechirni visti" is currently facing 15 defamation suits with requested damages totaling $15 million.

Political censorship combined with threats of physical violence against journalists is particularly severe at the regional level, as testified at the hearing by regional media representatives. Ukrainian ombudsman Nina Karpachova said in her address that there are Ukrainian regions where even mentioning human rights issues in local media is a rarity. According to Karpachova, some 70 percent of Ukrainians are served by non-free media.

Tomenko believes that an illegitimate, centralized system of control over media information has been created in Ukraine, with the office for information policy of the presidential administration at the top of a censorship pyramid. In order to restore the constitutional norms and to protect the freedom of expression, the parliamentary Committee for the Freedom of Expression and Information has proposed an action plan, which calls for amending current legislation to enhance the protection of citizens' right to have access to information and journalists' rights in their professional relations with the state and media owners.

But, perhaps the most positive development demonstrated at the hearing is the start of activities organized by journalists themselves to fight for their professional rights and against political censorship. Andriy Shevchenko, a representative of a newly created independent trade union of journalists, referring to his personal experience and documentary evidence, testified that the authorities are increasing political censorship in, and pressure on, the media. "In actual fact, television news coverage in Ukraine is made in a remote-control mode. Someone else, not journalists, edits news programs, shoots and disseminates videos, writes texts, and selects comments by governors, which are subsequently sent to all channels," Shevchenko told lawmakers.

Shevchenko called directly on Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun, who also took part in the hearing, to protect journalists' constitutional rights and to institute criminal proceedings in connection with reported facts of political censorship in the country. Shevchenko confirmed the readiness of Ukrainian journalists to stand up for their rights and to organize a countrywide strike in the event the practice of political censorship is continued. He and his colleagues agree that there are two main directions in their fight for the freedom of expression in the country: toughening legal sanctions for political censorship and developing activities aimed at increasing journalistic solidarity.

This report was written by Viktor Stepanenko, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Sociology, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, and director of the Center for Public Policy Development.

"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.

RUSSIAN DUMA SPEAKER URGES UKRAINE TO JOIN EURASIAN ECONOMIC COMMUNITY. Visiting Russian State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev told students of the Taras Shevchenko Kyiv National University on 17 December that Ukraine's membership in the Eurasian Economic Community might enable Moscow and Kyiv more effectively to settle problems connected with the creation of a free-trade zone as well as with bilateral tax, tariff, and customs policies, ITAR-TASS reported. The Eurasian Economic Community comprises Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. The previous day, Seleznev met with President Leonid Kuchma and Premier Viktor Yanukovych. JM

POLL SAYS JUST 8.6 PERCENT OF UKRAINIANS TRUST PRESIDENT. In a 27 November-5 December poll among 1,200 people, some 8.6 percent of respondents said they fully trust President Leonid Kuchma, UNIAN reported on 16 December. Another 54.7 percent said they distrust him, according to the results of the Democratic Initiatives Fund and Taylor Nelson Sofres Ukraine group survey. According to the poll, presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk is trusted by 5.4 percent of Ukrainians and distrusted by 42.1 percent; 5.4 percent trust Premier Viktor Yanukovych and 24.7 percent distrust him; and Verkhovna Rada Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn is trusted by 4.8 percent and distrusted by 32.9 percent. Among opposition politicians, the best "balance of trust" is enjoyed by Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko (25.2 percent and 33.8 percent), followed by Communist Party head Petro Symonenko (14.8 percent and 46.6 percent). JM

POLISH DEPUTY PREMIER CALLS EU DEAL 'HISTORIC CHANCE' FOR AGRICULTURE. Deputy Premier and Agriculture Minister Jaroslaw Kalinowski on 16 December said Poland's deal at the EU summit in Copenhagen (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 17 December 2002) provides a "historic chance" for Polish agriculture, PAP reported. According to Kalinowski, the country's agricultural and rural communities have a chance to gain most from integration with the European Union. The leader of the Farmers' Circles, Wladyslaw Serafin, said he views the results of the summit "without enthusiasm" but added they are "a good starting point for dialogue on the future of Polish agriculture and rural areas." Meanwhile, lawmaker Zdzislaw Podkanski of Kalinowski's Peasant Party, along with Agricultural Solidarity leader Roman Wierzbicki and a number of rural organization activists in the Lublin region, signed an appeal calling on Poles to vote "no" on EU membership. JM