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NEARLY HALF OF UKRAINIANS SEE GOVERNMENT IN POSITIVE LIGHT. Ukraine's Social Research Institute and Social Monitoring Center found in a 6-12 March poll that 14 percent of respondents have a positive attitude toward Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's cabinet, while for 32 percent describe their opinion as more positive than negative, Interfax reported on 23 March. Of those polled, 16 percent said their evaluation of the government is negative. The poll also examined the presidential prospects of Ukrainian politicians under two scenarios: a) Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko runs as the single opposition candidate and there is no single pro-government candidate; b) Yanukovych runs as the single pro-government candidate and there is no single candidate from the opposition. Pollsters predicted that, under the first scenario, Yushchenko would win 30 percent of the vote and Yanukovych 14 percent, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko 12 percent, National Bank head Serhiy Tyhypko 3 percent, and presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk 2.5 percent. Under the second scenario, Yushchenko would be backed by 25 percent of voters, Yanukovych by 18 percent, Symonenko by 10 percent, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz by 7 percent, Yuliya Tymoshenko by 6 percent, and Radical Socialist Party Chairwoman Natalya Vitrenko by 3 percent. JM

POLISH POLICE RELEASE FOREIGNERS DETAINED ON SUSPICION OF TIES TO TERRORISM. Authorities on 22 March released three Pakistanis and one Ukrainian who were detained the previous day on suspicion that they might have links to terrorists, PAP reported on 23 March. Police spokesman Dariusz Nowak told the agency that all the men were in Poland legally and may remain in the country. Polish media reported on 22 March that police detained two Pakistani nationals in Warsaw on 21 March in connection with "a terrorist threat" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2004). JM

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 19 March held a conference with the Republican Council of Rectors of Higher Educational Institutions, a body he created in 2001. Lukashenka briefed rectors on the role of the state in universities and colleges, both state-run and private, and told them what they need to do to reflect state policies in the educational process more fully. Apparently, Lukashenka has become seriously concerned with the indoctrination of students as his potential electorate.

Lukashenka began the conference with the announcement that he is extremely disappointed with the council which, he said, has failed to become a "real generator of constructive ideas and efficient measures." At the same time, he stressed that the council is an "absolutely democratic body" where every rector "should express any point of view he likes and defend it with any possible means until a decision is made." However, as transpires from an extensive report on the conference by Belarusian Television, it was primarily Lukashenka who was speaking and suggesting decisions.

According to Lukashenka, universities in Belarus have already undergone a process of improving their educational process which, in his opinion, essentially boiled down to preserving "all the best" from the Soviet-era educational system and drawing on some experience of European and world universities.

One of the modified Soviet-era constituents of the university education process was the recent introduction of an obligatory course called "Fundamental Ideology of the Belarusian State," which is seen by many in Belarus to be a present-day incarnation of the Soviet-era subject called "The History of the CPSU." Lukashenka said he is not satisfied with how the state ideology is being imparted to students. "I see that we have begun to introduce the course of ideology with a revolutionary swoop," Lukashenka said. "Formally, higher educational institutions have all necessary plans for carrying out ideological work...but in actual fact this work is of a very symbolic nature.... Quite often informational and ideological work is replaced with socializing and entertaining measures." Lukashenka expressed his discontent with the fact that ever more students, instead of enhancing their state-oriented awareness, are becoming addicted to alcohol, drugs, and "various malpractices."

Lukashenka suggested that universities in Belarus should improve a system of preferences to enlist more students from rural areas, who, in his opinion, are educationally and socially handicapped in comparison with their urban peers. "[We need to] open the way to education for rural children in order not to violate the major principle of our state -- social and national justice," the Belarusian president stressed.

Last year, graduates from schools in the countryside taking entrance examinations at universities in Belarus were given grades bumped up by three points -- in a 10-point evaluation scale -- to equalize their chances of competing with students from the city. Belapan reported on 22 March that the Belarusian State University in Minsk is pondering whether to extend this differentiation. Additional preferences may be given to rural children from Mahilyou and Homel oblasts, that is, the areas that were most heavily affected by radioactive fallout from the 1986 Chornobyl disaster. "[Unless we offer preferences to rural schoolchildren], we will cut off the most stable and conservative -- in the good sense of the word -- segment of our society," Lukashenka said at last month's conference on secondary-school education in Belarus.

Lukashenka also stressed that there should be no difference between state-subsidized and private universities as regards the inculcation of a "state approach" into students. "The state approach should permeate the essence of all educational subjects, to prevent them from contradicting one another," the Belarusian leader said. "Nobody is forbidden to have his own ideas and convictions, but if you work in a state-run or private higher educational institution, you should teach from the standpoint of the state."

Stanislau Knyazeu, rector of the Presidential Academy of Management, which trains state ideologists in Belarus, suggested that ideological indoctrination should be started much earlier than during the university years of Belarusian youths. "Ideological work with people should be started from their childhood -- so as to make them feel patriotic and proud for their country in the period when they play with toys and are told fairy tales," Knyazeu asserted. "Incidentally, this is being done in many countries."

GUUAM MINISTERIAL MEETING CONVENES IN BAKU. A meeting of the GUUAM group's national coordinating committee convened on 22 March in Baku, according to Baku Today. The meeting was attended by visiting officials from all GUUAM member states -- Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Moldova. A number of foreign ambassadors in Baku and representatives of international financial organizations also attended the opening session. According to Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov, the meeting agenda includes the security of GUUAM transport and energy routes; the promotion of trade and transport; frontier and customs control; and the planned establishment of a regional center to coordinate combating terrorism, organized crime, and narcotics trafficking. The meeting also resolved to increase cooperation with the United States in the global war on terrorism and will discuss new initiatives with Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Turkey. Originally established as a four-nation regional-security group in October 1997, the group was widely seen as an attempt to counter the Russia-dominated CIS. It was expanded to include Uzbekistan in 1999, although Uzbek participation in GUUAM has generally been inconsistent in recent years. The current meeting represents a new attempt to reactivate the group after a significant period of inactivity. RG