©2003 RFE/RL, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

With the kind permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, InfoUkes Inc. has been given rights to electronically re-print these articles on our web site. Visit the RFE/RL Ukrainian Service page for more information. Also visit the RFE/RL home page for news stories on other Eastern European and FSU countries.

Return to Main RFE News Page
InfoUkes Home Page

ukraine-related news stories from RFE


RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 5, No. 24, 25 June 2003

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

A VARIETY, EVEN IF SMALL. The Main Statistics Office (GUS) published the results of Poland's 2002 national census on its official website ( on 16 June. The census, conducted between 21 May and 8 June 2002, was the first one in postcommunist Poland and, in addition, the first one in Poland after World War II to include a question about ethnicity (narodowosc) of inhabitants. The GUS provided the following definition of ethnicity in the census questionnaire: "Ethnicity is a declarative (based on a subjective sentiment) individual trait of every person that expresses his/her emotional, cultural, or genealogical (because of the parents' background) linkage to a certain nation."

The census found that Poland's population totaled 38.23 million, including 96.74 percent Poles (36.98 million), 1.23 percent individuals who declared other ethnicity than Polish (471,500), and 2.03 percent individuals who did not declare any ethnicity (774,900). Assuming that the overwhelming majority of the people who failed to determine their ethnicity were of non-Polish origin (reasons for such an assumption are mentioned below), the census confirmed the estimates widely accepted in the precensus period that Poland's minorities account for roughly 3 percent of the total population.

As to why some people might choose not to disclose their ethnic origin (if it is different than Polish), there were various suppositions voiced by national-minority activists in Poland before the census (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 5 March 2002). In general, however, those activists argued that non-Poles would be afraid to declare their true ethnicity in the census for fear that their Polish acquaintances or neighbors might subsequently discriminate against them and their relatives in the office or at school. Needless to say, the advancing cultural and linguistic assimilation of minority groups and individuals in the Polish surroundings could also hamper the task of unambiguous ethnic self-identification for many people whose ancestors once belonged to non-Polish groups.

The breakdown of the census figures into individual minorities brought considerable surprises for statisticians and minority communities alike. It turned out that the largest minority group in Poland are Silesians -- 173,200 people declared this ethnicity to census takers. It was the first time that such a minority group was officially registered. GUS statisticians are apparently in doubt whether Silesians can be treated on a par with other ethnic groups in Poland (with Germans or Belarusians, for example), since they tend to avoid referring to Silesians as "narodowosc," using the term "spolecznosc" (community) instead.

In a comment to "Gazeta Wyborcza" on 17 June, ethnographer Dorota Simonides (born in Katowice, Silesia) said the census figure regarding Poland's Silesians reflects social rather than ethnic identification of some people living in Silesia, a heavily industrialized, coal-mining region in southern Poland. "I think it is a protest against the lack of interest in Silesia on the part of the government, against unemployment and the closure of coal mines," Simonides added.

But Arkadiusz Wuwer, a lecturer at the Theological Faculty of Silesian University in Katowice, told "Gazeta Wyborcza" a different story: "I regard myself as a Silesian not in spite of Poland or Germany but because it is my way of determining my identity. I have always thought that we move among stereotypes imposed by history, not realizing that in the times of pluralism we need to think in categories that are far from nationalism. It is possible to be a Silesian of Polish culture, but [it is also possible to be] a Silesian of German culture.... People understand this, and during the census they found the courage in themselves to say who they are. It is a consequence of the freedom in which we have been living since 1989."

Germans in Poland -- 152,900 people, according to the census -- constitute the second-largest minority group. The relevant figures for Belarusians (48,700) and Ukrainians (31,000) are far below the estimates that were typically cited by minority activists before the 2002 census -- 150,000-200,000 and 200,000-300,000, respectively.

However, Eugeniusz Wappa, head of the Belarusian Union (a minority organization of Polish Belarusians), told RFE/RL that he is satisfied with the number of Belarusians determined by the census. "The number of 50,000 Belarusians is a very good result given the conditions in which we live and the situation in which the census was taken," Wappa said. "It should also be taken into account that [Poland's] other minorities, in contrast to us, have strong support in their [cultural] fatherlands. We think that this result testifies to the fact that the real number of Belarusians living in Poland amounts to 100,000-150,000," he added, effectively suggesting that the category of citizens who failed to declare their ethnicity in the census included a sizeable group of Belarusians.

The number of declared Ukrainians is certainly very disappointing to this minority in Poland. But it should be taken into account that, owing to historical developments, Poland's Ukrainians were in a very difficult situation as regards the cultivation of their ethnic identity. In 1947, the communist authorities expulsed some 140,000 Ukrainians from their ethnic territory in southeastern Poland and dispersed them in northern and western areas, which were taken over by Poland after the collapse of Nazi Germany. Besides, Poland's communist propaganda considerably contributed to building the public stereotype of a Ukrainian as a rabid nationalist who hates Poland and Poles. Therefore, it is very likely than many Ukrainians preferred not to disclose their true ethnic identity to census takers for fear of future problems, either refusing to provide any information on it or declaring Polish origin.

Other minorities registered by the 2002 census in Poland were: Roma (12,900), Russians (6,100), Lemkos (5,900), Lithuanians (5,800), Kashubs (5,100), Slovaks (2,000), Jews (1,100), Armenians (1,100), and Czechs (800). It is worth noting here that the 2002 census results provide an "official recognition" to the existence of Lemkos in Poland, who have so far been regarded as a Ukrainian regional subgroup. While some Lemkos undeniably identify themselves as Ukrainians, there is also a movement among them claiming that Poland's Lemkos are a distinct ethnic group with a distinct language and, thus, a party in a broader effort of building the Rusyn national identity across several state frontiers (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 11 January 2000). (Jan Maksymiuk)


WILL KUCHMA OUTWIT OPPOSITION WITH CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM? President Leonid Kuchma submitted a modified version of his constitutional-reform bill to the Verkhovna Rada on 20 June, as he pledged in a televised address to the nation the previous day. Kuchma told the nation that, guided by the public discussion of the reform draft and his will to find a compromise with Ukrainian political forces, he decided to scrap some of his earlier proposals. Opposition activists claim, however, that in pursuing the constitutional reform, Kuchma is still seeking to prolong his term in power beyond 2004.

Kuchma withdrew his earlier suggestions to introduce a bicameral legislature, reduce the number of deputies, and apply the results of national referendums directly, without seeking approval from any other branch of government. "It is these three contentious points that have spurred the most heated discussion between the president and his opponents," Kuchma said on television. "But we have no right to continue to engage in a tug of war to mark time, which is why I have removed these barriers."

As earlier, Kuchma suggests that the prime minister be appointed by parliament after his candidacy has been proposed by a "permanently functioning parliamentary majority" and submitted to the Verkhovna Rada by the president. The Verkhovna Rada should also appoint all ministers except for the foreign minister, the defense minister, and the interior minister, who are to be appointed by the president. Under Kuchma's constitutional-reform bill, the president has also the right to appoint the heads of the Security Service, the State Customs Committee, the State Tax Administration, and the State Border Committee.

The new bill stipulates that the president has the right to disband parliament if it fails to create a permanent majority within one month; if a new cabinet composition has not been approved for 60 days after the resignation of the preceding government; and if parliament fails to approve Ukraine's budget for the next year by 1 December.

The new bill also retains Kuchma's previous proposal that the president, parliamentarians, and local deputies be elected for five-year terms in elections held in the same calendar year. "Ukraine needs a stable electoral cycle, because one cannot regard as normal the practice where society only passes from one electoral campaign to another, while politicians literally never leave the electoral barricades," Kuchma said. "I believe that elections should be held once in five years. This is quite enough.... I have repeatedly stressed and I want to stress it again: the next presidential election should be held in 2004."

However, Kuchma did not tell television viewers how he envisages switching to this new electoral cycle. But Ukrainian print media highlighted a provision in the bill stating that the Verkhovna Rada must approve a date for the first such elections within two months of the constitutional reforms' passage. According to some Ukrainian observers, the provision is a clear indication that Kuchma is seeking to outwit the opposition and prolong his term in power beyond 2004. While constitutional amendments require 300 votes for passage, the approval of a bill setting the date for the next presidential elections (as well as parliamentary and local ones) would require just 226 votes -- well within the reach of the pro-Kuchma parliamentary majority. And this date, Kuchma's opponents argue, may be set for 2005, 2006, or even 2007.

The Socialist Party has launched the collection of signatures among lawmakers under a petition requesting the Constitutional Court to rule whether Kuchma may run for a third presidential term. On the other hand, Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine called on lawmakers to introduce a moratorium on making constitutional amendments until 2006, when a regular parliamentary election is to take place. It seems that Our Ukraine has finally decided that it is not going to take part in reforming the constitutional system as long as Kuchma is in power. Without Our Ukraine's participation in the process, it is rather unlikely that the pro-Kuchma forces in the parliament will be able to muster 300 votes necessary for the passage of the Kuchma-submitted bill, especially as the Socialist Party and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc are sponsoring a different constitutional-reform bill.

The weekly "Zerkalo nedeli" in its 21-27 June issue commented sarcastically on Kuchma's recent constitutional-reform proposal by saying that the number of scenarios allowing him to remain in power longer than two terms is constantly increasing. The weekly cited four such scenarios.

Scenario 1: The Constitutional Court rules that the Kuchma may run for a third term since he was elected in 1994 and 1999 under different constitutions (Ukraine promulgated its current constitution in 1996, when Kuchma was serving his first time). Thus, under the 1996 constitution, Kuchma is formally serving his first term.

Scenario 2: The Verkhovna Rada passes the constitutional-reform bill proposed by Kuchma and the pro-presidential majority subsequently schedules the next presidential election well beyond 2004.

Scenario 3: The Verkhovna Rada passes the constitutional-reform bill proposed by Kuchma, a new president is elected in 2004 for a transition period until 2006 or 2007, when the country is to enter the five-year electoral cycle. Kuchma does not participate in the 2004 election but chooses to run again in 2006 or 2007. The Ukrainian Constitution prohibits one person from serving more than two consecutive presidential terms, but it does not restrict the number of presidential terms for the same person!

Scenario 4: A new president and new parliament are elected in 2004. The parliament fails to form a permanent parliamentary majority or a cabinet, or to approve a budget within constitutional terms, and the president disbands it. And this automatically means that a new election cycle is to be launched in the country, and Kuchma obtains the possibility to run once again.

"It is simply amazing how it is possible for one to go hunting so many at the same time," "Zerkalo nedeli" wrote. "Will the 450 potential hunters [lawmakers] ever become tired of being game?" the weekly marveled. A good question, indeed. (Jan Maksymiuk)

"President Kuchma wants to obtain support from foreign partners and he has a 'way' with each of them. In dealing with the United States, he pretends that he wants Ukraine to join NATO. In dealing with Russia, he pretends that he wants Ukraine to fully integrate with this country. And in dealing with Poland, he pretends that he desires full reconciliation.... It will be very bad if Ukraine's current leadership, which has tiny social support, chooses to close the problem of the Volhynia tragedy in such a light-hearted way." -- Yuliya Tymoshenko in an interview with "Rzeczpospolita" on 24 June, commenting on the planned Ukrainian-Polish commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Volhynia massacres.

"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.

OUR UKRAINE OPPOSES 'REVERSE' USE OF ODESA-BRODY PIPELINE. Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine said in a statement on 24 June that the use of the Odesa-Brody oil pipeline to pump Russian oil from Brody to Odesa would run counter to Ukraine's national interests, Interfax reported. The statement came in apparent response to recent appeals to employ the Odesa-Brody pipeline, which was built to pump Caspian oil to Europe, in a "reverse mode" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June 2003). Our Ukraine called on President Leonid Kuchma to take a clear stand on using the pipeline exclusively in accordance with its original design. Meanwhile, Kuchma said the same day that Ukraine will not use the Odesa-Brody pipeline in the reverse direction if the European Commission takes "specific steps" to use the oil pipeline in its planned direction. Kuchma also observed that the Odesa-Brody oil-pipeline project "perfectly characterizes the Ukrainian mentality." "First we did it, and then we asked ourselves -- why have we done this?" he said. JM

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT MEETS EU OFFICIALS. President Vladimir Voronin, on the second day of an official visit to Brussels, met on 24 June with European Commission President Romano Prodi; External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten; and Guido Podesta, a deputy speaker of the European Parliament, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau and Infotag reported. The EU leaders reportedly told Voronin that the organization understands the economic difficulties Moldova faces and is prepared to render assistance to overcome them. They said the EU is ready to provide Chisinau with 40 million euros ($46.2 million) in immediate assistance, and will later provide an additional 15 million euros to help Moldova overcome its trade deficit. Prodi and Patten said they appreciate Moldova's contribution to debates on the concept of "EU neighbors," adding that an individual plan will be prepared for Moldova after the expected enlargement of the organization next year. They also said it is important for Moldova to control its borders efficiently, particularly the Transdniester section of the Moldovan-Ukrainian frontier, and that the EU is pursuing an intense dialogue with Ukraine to that end. Voronin told Podesta that his country values the European Parliament's recommendation that Moldova be included in the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU. MS