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RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 5, No. 31, 26 August 2003

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

DISCUSSION ABOUT CENTER AGAINST EXPULSIONS REVIVES. The idea of a museum commemorating the fate of millions of Germans who were expelled, or rather forced to resettle, at the end of World War II from Central and Eastern Europe was raised by Erika Steinbach, who leads the League of Expelled Germans (Bund der Vertriebenen). Erika Steinbach and Peter Glotz, who are members of the German parliament, established in 2000 a special foundation aimed at creating the museum.

Debate around the idea started after Social Democratic Party deputy Marcus Meckel said last year that instead of a national museum in Berlin, a European Center Against Expulsions (Zentrum gegen Vertreibung) should be built in Wroclaw, Poland (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 21 May 2002). Meckel pointed out that the city could be a perfect location for the center as its German citizens were deported during World War II and then Wroclaw was repopulated by Poles from Poland's former eastern territories, mainly Lwow (Lviv in today's Ukraine). Consequently, Wroclaw is a living symbol of expulsions.

The debate was put aside during the Polish and Czech referenda on joining the EU. Yet, since last June there has been an increase in the temperature of the now European-wide discussion, with some harsh words being uttered. Generally, there is agreement in Germany about the necessity of establishing the center, yet its nature and location remain subject to argument.

Erika Steinbach claims that apart from the expulsion of Germans, the center will also present the suffering of other nations. Nevertheless, a number of European intellectuals and politicians are afraid that the center will contribute to projecting a relativistic view of the Holocaust, as its museum is already located in Berlin. They underline the contradiction in depicting the Germans as both war criminals and war victims. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said that "locating the museum in Berlin might lead to putting emphasis on German sufferings, which will conceal the historical reasons of the forced resettlements and will belittle the torments of other nations." On the other hand, Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber argued that "the place for a museum showing the dreadful fate of expelled Germans is in Berlin."

Some widely known German and Polish intellectuals and politicians, including Guenter Grass, Bronislaw Geremek, Jan Nowak-Jezioranski, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, and others, have recently signed an appeal regarding the Center Against Expulsions, Forced Resettlements, and Deportations, in which they stressed that the center should commemorate the peoples expelled during the entire span of the 20th century, not only Germans or Poles. In this shape, they argued, the center will unite rather than divide.

But surprising statements have also been made, such as that by Thomas Schmidt, a journalist with the German daily "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung." According to him, the museum should be a place of mourning for the Germans since "just as the Holocaust wiped out Jewish culture from Central-Eastern Europe, with the expulsions of the German population a certain cultural tradition disappeared." Schmidt forgets, though, that this German tradition in Poland resulted in part from German invasions of Poland and from more than 120 years of German occupation of northern and western Polish territories following the partition of Poland at the end of the 18th century. Moreover, the Germans, with their undoubtedly rich culture, arguably would have stayed in Poland had it not been for World War II unleashed by the Third Reich in order to, among other goals pursued by the Nazis, deprive Poland of its own culture.

The editor in chief of the "Die Zeit" weekly commented: "It would be better to locate a European monument to expulsions in Srebrenica or in Moscow. The Czechs and Poles were amateurs in comparison with Stalin, who expelled and exterminated millions of victims." On the other hand, some Polish right-wing Catholic politicians, such as Antoni Macierewicz from the League of Polish Families, claim that the center in Wroclaw would be an "antinational provocation" intended to "start anew the discussion about the Polish ownership rights to the northern and western lands." Such statements definitely will not facilitate the debate. Also, the location for the center proposed by Erika Steinbach and her colleagues is fairly controversial. Namely, she would like to locate the Center Against Expulsions in a wartime air-raid bunker.

The opposition to building the center in Berlin does not reflect a "distrust towards the German nation," as is argued by Herbert Hupka, a veteran activist among the expelled Germans. World War II was a traumatic experience from which most European nations suffered and the Germans were not the only ones to blame. Therefore, the above-mentioned appeal of European intellectuals and politicians over the Center Against Expulsions, Forced Resettlements, and Deportations seems to strike an extremely important note in asserting that "from the beginning the idea of creating the center should be a fruit of European cooperation. The partners should also decide together about the headquarters of the institution and its sources of financing and structure." A museum created in this way, they add, would be an "important sign of European reconciliation and mutual understanding."

GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLE REVEALS COMMAND-ECONOMY WOES. It is now commonplace to declare that Belarus has returned to the Soviet era under the rule of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. But which part of the Soviet period would best characterize his rule? As far as the economy is concerned, comparison with the stagnation period (zastoi) of Leonid Brezhnev appears to be at times appropriate for explaining how the economy is run and what consequences this style of management entails.

Thus, the government reshuffle on 9 July (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 29 July 2003) that cost the jobs of Prime Minister Henadz Navitski, his deputy Alyaksandr Papkou, and Agriculture Minister Mikhail Rusy, was caused by a misdeed whose name by now rings a bell only to those deeply interested in the history of the late Soviet era. Lukashenka's ire was provoked by "pripiski" or, in other words, reporting false data (overreporting) on the accomplishment of state-mandated economic plans and orders.

This common "crime" for a command economy turned out to be flourishing in Belarus, and the reason for pripiski was the government's inability to fulfill the president's order to repay the debts the state owes to collective farms for procured foodstuffs. Earlier this year, Lukashenka ordered the government to pay all the debts in full, but the government and local administrations failed to enforce payment of a relatively small sum of $15 million, preferring instead to inform the president that the problem was being solved. After the bluff was revealed, the responsible officials were punished during a televised conference (a typical move for Lukashenka's style of government), and the campaign of unmasking and sacking those responsible for overreporting at the local level began. Within a month, over 200 local officials were sacked countrywide.

Navitski's replacement is hard to explain if the government statistics that show a rather rosy picture of the national economy are taken seriously. Indeed, with the economy growing at 4 percent-5 percent annually, living standards on the rise, inflation declining, and the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble showing unusual stability, one has to wonder what was wrong with the government that managed to secure this sort of performance. Perhaps, the reason was that the official statistics themselves were full of pripiski. And yet, evidence of the public-sector deterioration can be found even in the data carefully prepared for public presentation as proof of the success of the Belarusian economic model. Thus, the dramatic growth of the number of loss-making enterprises and the near-bankruptcy of entire economic sectors looms as a legacy of the period when money and profits were not as important from the official viewpoint as the compliance with government-set production targets.

Let's take, for example, the situation in the agricultural sector that put an end to Navitski's premiership. As of May 2003, 70 percent of the total number of "kolkhozes" (collective farms) in Belarus have been loss making, and the profitability of the entire agricultural sector is -4 percent or, in other words, $1 of investment returns only 96 cents in sales. As a whole, the sector is bankrupt, which is partly due to the government's policy of maintaining low prices at which it purchases food products from kolkhozes. But even that money may not reach them, unless state-run food-processing companies sell their products.

But the agricultural sector also operates at a loss due to the fact that its production cannot withstand competition from imports (food-processing companies in Belarus suffer from a lack of investment, and Lukashenka recently declared that he would not welcome foreign buyers). And then, food-processing companies cannot be paid by state-run retail stores, many of which also lose money (the state-run retail-trade branch had a ridiculous 1 percent profit level last year). As a result, on 1 July, retail stores owed food-processing companies about 40 billion Belarusian rubles ($19 million), the latter owed 24 billion rubles to kolkhozes, and collective farms could not pay peasants more than 12 billion rubles in wages. When insolvency reaches such a scale and introduction of bankruptcy procedures is impossible due to political restrictions, it is no wonder that the old/new Soviet-style trick has been used to scale down the magnitude of the problem in the eyes of the top authority.

If the insolvency problem develops further to include other sectors, the revamped cabinet of Syarhey Sidorski (who still has to be confirmed in office by the Chamber of Representatives) will face even greater challenges and risks of more presidential reprisals. But what can it do if privatization and bankruptcy are unavailable policy options? The only lesson learned by the new cabinet from the previous experience of command economy seems to be negotiating favorable oil and gas prices with Russia that would give the Belarusian economy a respite when Lukashenka is approaching the moment of decision on whether and how to extend his term in office.

It is widely believed by independent analysts in Belarus that the need for a stronger negotiator in bargaining with Russian natural monopolies at this critical political point was the primary reason why Lukashenka decided to sack loyal but otherwise colorless Navitski and replace him with a new prime minister who has earned the reputation of a relatively efficient and well-connected bureaucrat and industrialist. But if this is true, Sidorski's efforts have already suffered a blow, as the first round of gas talks with Gazprom in August ended in failure. It should be remembered that Minsk's relations with Gazprom have already soured as Belarus refused to proceed with the previously agreed plans to create a joint venture on the basis of Beltranshaz, the national gas-distribution and -transportation network.

Meanwhile, the choice of other cabinet members reveals stagnation in the ruling elite, as Lukashenka routinely appoints provincial bureaucrats, many of whom he got to know during his career as a deputy of the Supreme Soviet in the early 1990s. Such nomenklatura-style cadres promise little change for the future. And while the continuation of the present course promises little improvement for the Belarusian economy, one can only wonder whether Lukashenka's regime will reach the stage when bad news is simply ignored, just as it was in Brezhnev's Soviet Union.


KUCHMA OFFERS NEW POLITICAL-REFORM PLAN. Speaking to the nation on 23 August, the eve of Ukraine's Independence Day, President Leonid Kuchma said he is ready to support a new constitutional-reform plan that was agreed upon with the opposition during consultations earlier this month. "Despite certain drawbacks, I believe this draft law has to be approved by the Verkhovna Rada, as I think it will almost certainly be supported by a constitutional majority [300 votes in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada]". The previous day, Ukrainian media reported that Kuchma withdrew the political-reform draft bill he submitted to the parliament in June (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 25 June 2003).

The Ukrainian president did not reveal any details regarding the new plan for overhauling the constitutional system in the country. He only asserted that "a parliamentary-presidential form of rule is best suited to the political psychology and the political archetype of our people." And he noted that future presidents should "guarantee civil rights and represent the state on the international arena". But some details were supplied last week by Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz and Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, who reportedly held several meetings with presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk in August to discuss the new political-reform draft.

Moroz said the new plan suggests that parliament confirm the prime minister and all cabinet ministers. The prime minister will propose all cabinet members except for the defense minister and the foreign minister, both of whom are to be nominated by the president. The president is to appoint the prosecutor-general, who must subsequently be approved by the Verkhovna Rada. The president and the parliament are to appoint the Constitutional Court and the National Council for Broadcasting on a parity basis. The president is to have the right to veto parliamentary bills.

Moroz also divulged that a key innovation is the presidential administration's proposal that the Verkhovna Rada elect the president. He said he opposes this scheme and opts for a direct presidential ballot. Meanwhile, Symonenko said the Communists want the current election law to apply to the 2004 presidential election, but are in favor of reducing the president's mandate from five to two years. Symonenko added that a new parliament, if elected under a fully proportional system, could elect a new president for a full term in 2006.

What is also important, the new constitutional-reform draft reportedly drops Kuchma's previous proposal that presidential, parliamentary, and local elections be held in the same year. This proposal was widely seen by the opposition and political analysts as a legalistic ruse intended to prolong Kuchma's remaining in power by two or three years.

The new plan seemingly does not provide for any political role for Kuchma after the end of his second presidential term in November 2004. But some Ukrainian analysts suggest that if Kuchma rejects the future of a political pensioner, he can try to seek the post of prime minister, whom the new plan makes the central political figure in the country. And some speculate that he even could seek the post of president in 2006, following a two-year break. The Ukrainian Constitution in its current wording 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.

It is apparent that the new political-reform plan -- at least in the intention of the presidential administration -- aims at preventing Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko, the country's most popular politician, from becoming the president in 2004. Jointly, the pro-presidential majority, the Socialists, and the Communists can muster 300 votes required to push the constitutional reform through parliament. If the Verkhovna Rada approves the plan with the stipulation that the president is to be elected by parliament, Yushchenko seems to have no chance of being elected. On the other hand, if the "Symonenko option" -- electing the president in a direct ballot in 2004 for two years -- prevails, Yushchenko might become an "interim" president, but with essentially curtailed prerogatives, if compared with those of Kuchma.

Even if this new plan eventually collapses, as have several former attempts on the part of President Kuchma to revamp the constitutional system, its launching nonetheless seems to be a political master stroke on the part of the authorities. Some Ukrainian commentators suggest that Medvedchuk is the originator of this plan and the main driving force behind it.

First, the plan placed in the same "working team" presidential aide Medvedchuk with Moroz and Symonenko, both of whom not so long ago were involved in a fierce campaign intended to oust Kuchma. The presidential administration seems to have managed to drive a significant wedge between Yushchenko on one side and Moroz and Symonenko on the other, thus creating additional obstacles to any future alliance of these three.

Second, the unexpected alliance of the pro-presidential centrists with the not-so-long-ago antipresidential leftists creates brighter prospects for Kuchma himself to avoid political and/or legal responsibility for his deeds after the end of his political career.

Third, the plan also seems to play into the hands of Medvedchuk, who stands no real chance of being elected president either by direct ballot of by parliament, but may well apply after the end of Kuchma's tenure for other important political jobs -- for instance, as leader of a parliamentary majority or parliamentary speaker.

No doubt, this new plan also presents a serious dilemma to Yushchenko about what to do now. Yushchenko said last week that a presidential model of government for today's Ukraine is more efficient that a parliamentary-presidential one. Which is no surprise, given his presidential ambitions. The real problem, however, is whether he will now be able to convince other important political players that he is right. One such player is Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych who, according to Ukrainian observers, is harboring strong presidential ambitions and, therefore, is not likely to seek the post of a figurehead in 2004.

On top of everything else, Kuchma's latest constitutional-reform proposal is set to dominate the political agenda in Ukraine after the summer vacation, involving both the pro-presidential and opposition forces in the Verkhovna Rada in a predictably ferocious battle over the redistribution of political power. "Almost half of [Ukraine's] GDP is produced in the shadows," Kuchma lamented in his Independence Day speech last week. But his political-reform plan will hardly contribute to changing this lamentable situation. As many times in the past, during the upcoming political season the problem of socioeconomic power in Ukraine will almost certainly be left in the shadows. (Jan Maksymiuk)

"The phenomenon of the uniformed criminal has reached the scale of a national epidemic.... The image of a corrupt law enforcer has become so terribly commonplace that people fear the uniformed criminal more than the bandit who routinely breaks the law." -- Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in his Independence Day speech on 23 August; quoted by Ukrainian Television.

"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 PRESIDENT SUPPORTS POTENTIAL ELECTION OF PRESIDENT BY PARLIAMENT. Leonid Kuchma said on 26 August that he is ready, "if need be," to support proposals that Ukraine's president be elected by parliament, Interfax reported. Last week, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz disclosed that the Socialists and the Communists are discussing a new political-reform draft with the presidential administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 25 August 2003). A key element of the draft, Moroz added, is the presidential administration's proposal that the Verkhovna Rada elect the president. Kuchma mentioned a new constitutional-reform plan, albeit without divulging details, in his Independence Day speech on 23 August (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 26 August 2003). JM

CZECH SECURITY INFORMATION SERVICE SEES GROWING THREAT FROM ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS. In its annual report covering 2002, the Czech Security Information Service (BIS) said the country is facing a growing danger from Islamic extremists and from organized-crime gangs with close Russian connections, CTK and dpa reported. The report said the Czech Republic has ceased to be merely a transit country for Islamic extremists. Posing as refugees, the BIS said, those extremists move freely into the country. It also said Iran's government representatives in the Czech Republic "are mainly interested in military, political, cultural, and business issues and in monitoring the Persian community in our country," according to dpa. The report also said the Czech extreme right is attempting to establish a foothold in the Czech political scene. It also warned that foreign mafias, particularly Russian and Ukrainian, operate in the Czech Republic and are involved in business and "protection" activities. Crime gangs with Chinese and Albanian connections, as well as gangs from Chechnya and Daghestan operate in the Czech Republic, according to the report. MS

Negotiations between Moldova's communist government and pro-Russian separatists in the breakaway region of Transdniester have been under way for several months, despite interruptions and occasional disputes between negotiators. The talks are being held within the framework of a proposal presented by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that was put forward last year during a meeting in Kyiv between the two sides and international mediators from the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine.

But the OSCE proposal -- which envisages turning Moldova into a federation in which Transdniester would have special status -- has triggered a wave of opposition from several Moldovan NGOs. They say the plan is meant to bring Moldova back under Moscow's control with the blessing of the OSCE.

That position was recently echoed in a series of articles and editorials in "The Wall Street Journal-Europe," which argued that the OSCE plan is "a recipe for instability which gives international imprimatur to Russian military meddling there [in Moldova]."

But the OSCE disagrees. William Hill, the head of the OSCE mission to Moldova, said the proposal, which enjoys the support of other international bodies, is meant to support Moldova's sovereignty and territorial integrity. "The OSCE mission, along with the other mediators and OSCE participating states and a number of major international actors -- international organizations such as the European Union and the Council of Europe -- have assisted in this process and have expressed support for the basic lines of the Kyiv proposal," Hill said. "That is, a federal-type resolution to the conflict that involves a special status for the Transdniestrian region, but which respects Moldova's unity, independence and territorial integrity."

Details about the plan are sketchy. But according to a draft released to the media in February, Transdniester would become a subject in the new Moldovan federation but retain its own governing and legislative bodies, as well as its own budget and fiscal authorities. Transdniester would be entitled to its own language policy on its territory, while Moldovan would remain the state language.

Hill says a constitutional commission was formed in April and began working on a new constitution last month. A referendum to approve the new constitution is eventually due to be held in both Moldova proper and Transdniester. But Hill says that basic disagreements remain over the exact form the federation would take.

The plan also has its critics. Last week, a group of some 15 Moldovan NGOs issued a public statement warning that any referendum held in Transdniester would make "a mockery of democracy." The statement blames the OSCE's Moldova mission for failing to address adequately the crisis during the past decade and for kowtowing to what it calls Russia's "neo-imperial games."

Igor Munteanu heads Viitorul, one of the groups to sign the statement criticizing the OSCE plan. He said that no lasting federation can be established until democracy takes root in Transdniester, and crime and armed gangs are eradicated.

"The reaction and the motive for this [opposition] statement are questioning not the federalization principle itself, but the subject with which Moldova is supposed to federalize itself," Munteanu said. "Three elements were very clearly highlighted in the statement as being the conditions for a successful negotiation process: demilitarization, ensuring the conditions for the democratization of the [Transdniester] region, and the disarming of the troops in this region. One should not forget that even if Russia fulfills its obligation [to withdraw arms and troops from Transdniester] according to the 1999 Istanbul summit, a considerable amount of military equipment will be left in the hands of the unconstitutional Transdniestrian forces."

Others are also skeptical about the validity of a referendum in Transdniester, where there is no democratically elected government. Reuters correspondent Dmitri Chubashenko, a Russian-speaking Moldovan, said that Transdniester remains under the control of an oppressive, Soviet-style regime, in which people are afraid to express their opinions. "Transdniester is a kind of Soviet-style oppressive regime," he said. "And many refugees from the left bank [of the Dniester River -- i.e., from Transdniester] -- Moldovans who supported Moldovan independence -- they came to the right bank [the part of Moldova controlled by the legitimate Moldovan government]. And those who remained don't have the possibility of expressing their political opinions there [in Transdniester], because the political police are following all the dissidents. They are afraid to express their opinions."

Responding to the statement of opposition issued by the 15 NGOs, OSCE mission head Hall strongly denied that his organization is biased in favor of Russia or Transdniester. "I totally reject the charge, or such allegations, that the OSCE has been working to support some sort of neo-imperialism or Russian national aims in Moldova," Hill said. "This is sheer demagoguery that's used by political figures in Moldova for their own private political aims. The basic policy of the OSCE and the OSCE mission in Moldova is to support Moldova's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to achieve a peaceful political settlement to the Transdniestrian conflict."

Hill said the NGOs speak for only a part of Moldovan society, and that there are other civil organizations and political leaders who support the OSCE's efforts. "The Wall Street Journal-Europe" also reported that the European Union might soon decide to deploy a peace-consolidation force to Moldova.

But Christina Gallach, spokeswoman for the EU's foreign and security affairs chief, Javier Solana, said the 15-member bloc has no immediate plans to deploy peacekeepers to the region. Gallach also expressed the EU's support for the OSCE-backed federalization plan.

"At this moment, there is no specific plan on a EU military deployment in Moldova," Gallach said. "The European Union is supporting the efforts of the OSCE in order to help the political process overcome the crisis in the country. And the European Union is ready to help it in the process of the constitutional reform, the process of federalization and in whatever means are needed. And the eventual deployment of a EU peacekeeping force at this moment is just an eventuality, it is not a plan. And we have to look at this process later on, depending on the political evolution and the circumstances."

But some analysts are urging the EU to take a more active role in resolving the Moldova crisis. German political scientist Claus Neukirch works with the International Crisis Group (ICG), an international NGO dedicated to resolving conflicts worldwide. He said the EU stands to benefit from a democratic and prosperous Moldovan state.

"Moldova is outside the EU border, but it is going to be a new EU neighbor, and in 2007, when Romania becomes an EU member, there will be a direct border between Moldova and the EU," Neukirch said. "And then, if Moldova will be a volatile region, Transdniester will still have the problems it has today -- contraband, criminality and so on. I don't think Brussels wants to have something like that so close to the EU. And if we judge by all the signals that the EU has given lately, Brussels is interested in having a stable and prosperous neighbor. But Moldova will not be stable and prosperous unless the Transdniester conflict is solved."

Neukirch recently authored an ICG report on the issued titled "Moldova: No Quick Fix." In it, he reports that the "quick fix" envisioned by the OSCE's Dutch chairmanship is undesirable and unlikely to be realized this year.

While he, too, favors a federalization of Moldova rather than a large degree of autonomy for Transdniester, Neukirch calls for comprehensive, step-by step approach to the adaptation. Only in this way, he says, will the settlement be sustainable.

Neukirch, who is due to become the OSCE's new spokesman in Moldova next month, makes a series of recommendations to the OSCE, the EU, and the United States on how gradually to resolve the crisis. They include a systematic and synchronized democratization of both Moldova proper and Transdniester; a reconstruction program for a unified Moldova; the presence of an EU-led peacekeeping force under an OSCE mandate; and a sanctions regime to be imposed on the Transdniestrian leadership if it continues to block the negotiation process.