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RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 5, No. 20, 27 May 2003

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

LEPPER WANTS TO TAKE A CHANCE. Andrzej Lepper was re-elected as chairman of the Self-Defense farmers union at its congress in Warsaw on 24 May. Lepper, who was the only candidate to the post, was supported by 1,714 delegates in a secret ballot; only 14 delegates voted against him. "Self-Defense wants to take over power -- we have a program, and I'll do everything for our party to survive, and not become ephemeral," Lepper said after the ballot result was announced.

Lepper became a prominent political figure in the 1990s, primarily because of his fiercely populist rhetoric and nationwide road blockades organized by Self-Defense activists to protest government economic policies. Many of those protests were accompanied by clashes between farmers and police. In the 2001 parliamentary election, Self-Defense won 53 mandates in the 460-seat Sejm (obtaining 10.2 percent of the vote nationally) and came third after the leftist Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Union bloc (41 percent) and the centrist Civic Platform (12.7 percent). Since then, 15 deputies have abandoned the Self-Defense parliamentary caucus, primarily because of Lepper's authoritarian ways in running his party. On the other hand, the popularity of Lepper and Self-Defense among the electorate has significantly grown. Recent surveys show that Self-Defense can count on 15 percent to 20 percent support, while backing for the ruling Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Union has nearly halved since 2001.

"It is time for a new force. Give Self-Defense a chance," Lepper said at the congress in his programmatic speech. He promised that after Self-Defense takes over power, "there will be no fights for food on garbage dumps in Poland." He also pledged to the Poles: "We shall not deceive you. Self-Defense is an opportunity and we must not waste it. Let's put the Polish Republic right. Poland and the Poles are waiting for our wise, radical, and decisive actions."

According to Lepper, the erroneous financial policies pursued by all Polish governments since 1989 must end. He said he wants to rescue the ailing economy by tapping the 27.5 billion zlotys ($7.5 billion) from the National Bank's revaluation reserve and allocating a part of this sum to the printing of money. "Yes, print it, for the development of industry and farming, small and medium enterprises, for the creation of jobs," he said.

Lepper also said he wants to take money for sponsoring his planned reforms from Poland's $31 billion hard-currency reserve. According to him, this money is currently deposited in foreign banks at 1 percent-2 percent interest rates, while at the same time "the country is indebting itself, taking $2 billion of credits each year at a far higher interest rate." Lepper also wants to save money from the abolition of at least 50 percent of the currently existing government offices, agencies, and funds. "They are costing us 40 billion zlotys annually," he added.

Another way for finding money -- 12 billion zlotys according to Lepper's estimates -- is taxing foreign hypermarkets in Poland. "Our shopkeepers and traders barely get to open some little shack or boutiques and already there are taxes and burdens, Social Welfare Agency contributions, and before they have managed to start activity, they have already gone bankrupt. [The hypermarkets] on the other hand just come along and they have it fine in Poland," he explained.

Lepper did not miss the opportunity to slam one more time his deadly enemy, National Bank Governor Leszek Balcerowicz. According to the Self-Defense leader, the current law on the Polish National Bank (NBP) allows the NBP head to remain unanswerable to anybody. "He is making fun of us," Leper said about Balcerowicz. Lepper declared that he is ready to give all his parliamentary allowances so as "to send Balcerowicz to Iraq." Last week's "Polityka" reported that Self-Defense wants to amend the law on the NBP by stipulating that the NBP's principal task is to form and implement the state monetary policy, not to keep stable prices, as laid down in the current legislation. Also, Lepper's party reportedly wants to deprive the NBP Supervisory Board of the right to manage bank reserves and give this right to the Monetary Policy Council, which in its turn should seek the Sejm's approval for its policies on a yearly basis.

Turning to foreign policy, Lepper said Self-Defense is against Poland's entry into the European Union on the terms negotiated by the Polish government. He warned the EU that when Poland finds itself in the union, any unequal treatment of Warsaw on the part of Brussels will be "the beginning of the end of the European Union."

Lepper declared the readiness to cooperate with all countries, making a particular emphasis on Poland's neighbors in the east: Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. He warned diplomatic representatives of these countries who were present at the congress that they should not follow the Polish road in reforming their economies because, he stressed, this road "has brought us to the edge of the precipice."

Referring to Poland's involvement in Iraq, Lepper said Self-Defense "was, is, and will be against Poland's participation in any kind of occupation war in Iraq." Lepper acknowledged that one of the beneficiaries of Poland's support for the United State over Iraq may be President Aleksander Kwasniewski who, according to the Self-Defense leader, is counting on "posts in the United Nations and in NATO." (Jan Maksymiuk)


SPOT THE REFORMERS. In the last decade, a sizeable body of academics and a larger number of journalists have written negatively about Rukh and the national democrats in Ukraine. National democrats are usually described as "nationalists" who are hostile to both Russia and Russians within Ukraine.

Such views have been supported within academia because of the dominance of former Sovietologists turned Russian specialists. Another factor is that Western media are still largely based only in Moscow, as it was in the former USSR, from where they cover the entire CIS. Kyiv had a large number of journalists from most Western English-language newspapers in the early 1990s but this has dwindled to only the "Financial Times." Western correspondents in Kyiv were never salaried (which was reserved for Moscow) but merely stringers.

The newly published 300-page volume by Mikhail Molchanov entitled "Political Culture and National Identity in Russian-Ukrainian Relations" (College Station, TX: Texas A & M University Press, 2002) follows in this tradition. The volume paints a picture of a radical, anti-Russian nation-building project in Ukraine that is "ghettoizing" Russians (p.200). Ukraine's nation-building project is allegedly copying the assimilationist French model. The "nationalist diaspora," which returned to Ukraine in the early 1990s, "now spearheads the so-called national-democratic right in parliament" (p.182). Rukh is, of course, deemed to be a rabid "nationalist" organization (p.93).

Molchanov and this earlier tradition of scholars and journalists have been unable to grapple with what is the centrality of those they disparage as "nationalists" (i.e., national democrats) to blocking Ukraine's advance towards corporatist authoritarianism. They are also the main hope for Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration. In addition, the picture they paint is untrue. Between the 1989 Soviet and 2001 Ukrainian censuses the proportion of Ukrainians giving Ukrainian as their "native language" declined by 2 percent. Meanwhile, the only deaths from ethnic violence in Ukraine have been a Ukrainian singer in Lviv and Tatars in the Crimea, which in both cases were at the hands of Russian speakers.

Ukraine's political spectrum conveniently falls into three camps. The center-right national democrats, oligarchic-controlled centrists and the left (moderate Socialists and neo-Stalinist Communists, the KPU). The entire opposition are in different ways opposed to the creeping authoritarianism supported by the executive. The KPU, though, refused to support the protests that arose out of the "Kuchmagate" crisis in November 2000 and backed the oligarchs in voting no confidence in the Viktor Yushchenko government in April 2001. Former Prosecutor-General and KPU deputy Mykhaylo Potebenko provided the key one additional vote that gave the pro-presidential majority the minimum 226 votes to elect presidential administration head Volodymyr Lytvyn as parliamentary chairman.

There is no doubt about the Socialist Party (SPU), led by Oleksandr Moroz, which has shown a wholehearted commitment to democratization and staunch opposition (unlike the KPU) to executive-driven authoritarianism and corruption. If ever there was a genuine leftist party in Ukraine deserved of an invitation to join the Socialist International, it is the SPU. The SPU, unlike the oligarchic Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o), was invited to the May congress of the German Social Democrats. Nevertheless, the SPU is not committed to market economic reform (including land reform) and Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration.

What then of the centrists as an alternative to "nationalists" (i.e., national democrats). In Ukraine there is not a single major centrist party that is not controlled by oligarchs. The last genuine centrist reformist party, Volodymyr Hrynyov's Inter-Regional Bloc of Reforms (which was part of Leonid Kuchma's 1994 election bloc and the failed SLON bloc in the 1998 elections), was absorbed by the oligarchic Popular Democratic Party (NDP) in 2001, led by discredited former Prime Minister Valery Pustovoytenko.

Oligarchs have either captured established, dormant centrist parties (e.g., the Green Party, PZU) or launched internal coup d'etats and gained control of parties by pushing out genuine reformers (e.g., SDPU-o and NDP). Reformers who were pushed out of the SDPU-o and the NDP moved to the national democrats. Other centrist parties were created from scratch, such as the Agrarians (AU), Labor Ukraine (TU), and Regions of Ukraine (RU).

These centrist parties have three factors in common. First, many of them are Russian-speaking, making them more similar to the KPU than the Ukrainophone SPU and national democrats. The two exceptions are the AU and the NDP. Nearly all of the newspapers created by centrist parties are in Russian (e.g., "Kievskii telegraf" and "Fakty" by the TU, "Segodnya" by RU, and "Kievskie vedomosti" by SDPU-o).

Second, all of them are pro-presidential. This means they prefer the authoritarian political system increasingly evident in Ukraine during Kuchma's second term in office since 1999. This reflects the strong domination of Soviet political culture found among them, which prefers a "hybrid" system combining elements of the Soviet and Western political-economic systems. In the foreign domain this has translated into a vague and constantly shifting "multivector" foreign policy.

Third, centrists are ideologically amorphous. Ideology plays second fiddle to short-term economic and political gain and power. Centrist parties are top-down fake parties with forcibly conscripted memberships.

What of former oligarchs who have turned against the executive? Both former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko and Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko joined the radical opposition. In both cases their parties, Hromada and Fatherland respectively, had no choice but to align themselves with the SPU and national democrats in populist opposition to centrist oligarchs.

Consequently, the only genuine political and economic reformist movement in Ukraine is the national-democratic Our Ukraine bloc led by Yushchenko. The popularity of the pro-Western reformist Our Ukraine, as seen in its victory in the 2002 elections, and Yushchenko's personal popularity, makes Ukraine different from all other CIS states. Without the national democrats Ukraine would be closer to an archetypal CIS state, such as Russia. More importantly, progress in Ukraine's reform process and integration into Euro-Atlantic structures is dependent on the "nationalist" national democrats. The SPU and Tymoshenko bloc are their allies in blocking centrist authoritarianism.

Centrists are the main driving force supporting an authoritarian regime in Ukraine. Sadly, there are no genuine centrist parties left who would stand in opposition to them.

"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.

UKRAINIAN PLANE CRASHES IN TURKEY, KILLING SPANISH PEACEKEEPERS AND CREW. A Ukrainian Yak-42 plane transporting Spanish peacekeepers from duty in Afghanistan, along with a crew of 12 Ukrainians and a Belarusian, slammed into a mountainside near the Turkish port city of Trabzon on 26 May, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. None of those on board survived. The plane, chartered under a UN contract from a Ukrainian company called Mediterranean Airlines, was flying from Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan to Zaragoza in Spain. An investigation has been launched to determine the cause of the accident, with initial reports blaming heavy fog in the area. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ELIMINATES POLITICAL SLOTS. President Leonid Kuchma has issued a decree canceling a previous order on the introduction of the post of state secretary, as well as first deputies and deputies for the Council of Ministers and individual ministries, Interfax reported on 27 May. Kuchma introduced those posts two years ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2001) in a move the opposition said was aimed at tightening the presidential administration's grip on the cabinet. Under the new decree, state secretaries and their deputies are to be replaced by first deputy ministers and deputy ministers. JM

BALTIC DEFENSE MINISTERS DISCUSS FUTURE REFORMS. Defense Ministers Linas Linkevicius (Lithuania), Girts Valdis Kristovskis (Latvia), and Margus Hanson (Estonia) on 23 May held their semi-annual meeting in Trakai, Lithuania, BNS reported. The main topic of discussion was how the countries' impending NATO membership will affect joint defense projects. The ministers decided that the BALTNET air-surveillance and control center will become part of NATO's integrated air-defense system NATINADS. Likewise, the BALTRON naval squadron will be integrated into NATO naval forces, and the Baltic Defense College will be the main educational institution to train service personnel for the region according to NATO standards. Having fulfilled its functions and mission, the BALTBAT joint battalion will be terminated this fall and replaced with other forms of cooperation among the land forces of the three states, with the major focus on training and joint military exercises. The ministers also discussed cooperation with South Caucasus countries and Ukraine, expressing a wish to sign a defense-cooperation agreement with Georgia during a session of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council next month. SG

UKRAINE, BULGARIA SEEKING TO SEND TROOPS TO POLISH SECTOR IN IRAQ... Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski told journalists at a Central European summit in Salzburg on 23 May that Ukraine and Bulgaria have agreed to send troops to the Polish stabilization sector in Iraq, Polish Radio reported. Warsaw hosted an international conference last week on the formation of a stabilization force in the Polish sector in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 May 2003). An official statement on which countries will contribute troops to a Polish-led division in Iraq is expected this week. JM

POLISH RADICAL FARMERS 'WANT TO TAKE POWER.' Andrzej Lepper was re-elected chairman of the radical Self-Defense farmers union at its congress in Warsaw on 24 May, PAP reported. "Self-Defense wants to take over power -- we have a program, and I'll do everything for our party to survive, and not become ephemeral," Lepper declared at the congress. He criticized all Polish governments after 1989 for erroneous policies and presented a Self-Defense program intended to rectify the country's foreign and domestic course (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 27 May 2003). According to recent surveys, support for Self-Defense oscillates between 14 percent and 18 percent. JM

EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT BACKS PLAN FOR MOLDOVA'S FEDERALIZATION. European Commission President Romano Prodi said on 26 May that the European Union backs efforts to bring about a solution to the Transdniester conflict through Moldova's federalization, Infotag reported. Prodi said the commission is ready to help the three international mediators (the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine) in their efforts to facilitate a solution. He said the dispute provides fertile ground for illegal activities and generates hazards to regional stability. This, Prodi said, is why the EU and the United States imposed a joint ban on travel by Transdniestrian officials. He said the ban has stimulated negotiations between Chisinau and Tiraspol and provided a window of opportunity to solve the problem. MS