Issue No. 304 - January 14, 2003


by Paulyuk Bykowsky

by Angela Magherusan

by Aureliusz M. Pedziwol

by Paulyuk Bykowski

        More than any other, this past year has been significant for Belarus in considering its existence as a state, the criteria for statehood, the meaning of independence and determining ones fate, and the price for turning away from statehood.

        Outside forces stirred up the stagnant swamp of Belarusian politics. The most important political event in Belarus in 2002 was Russian president Vladimir Putin's suggestion that Belarus give up its sovereignty.

        It was not an entirely new idea. It was hinted at long in advance, as one possible development of events. As time passed, more and more influential persons made the same proposal, until it came from the Russian president as a polite ultimatum.

        The reader will recall that Putin stated in Moscow on August 14 that "today we could move toward full integration." He suggested two ways. The first path was a timetable to hold a general referendum in May 2003, electing a union parliament in December 2003, and election of a common head of state in March 2004 and the absorption of Belarus into Russia. The other choice was reminiscent of the European Union, with the decisions of the union parliament confirmed by the national parliaments of both nations.

        Putin spoke succinctly about the absorption of Belarus (including both the regions and Minsk, apparently) and the establishment of unified authorities under the constitution of the Russian Federation. This would represent the liquidation of Belarus as a state entity. The Belarusian elite was put upon to define its place. Thus began the Belarusian bureaucracy's search for a purpose in life.

        State propaganda did an about face and, for the moment, the nation's stance has become one of "Russia is bad and the West is only somewhat better." It is not a real shift in the government's orientation. Just as soon as there was a warming in relations, eastward-leaning politicians returned to their old allegiances. [The temporary switch] was important, though, because members of the elite were forced to decide whether they were Belarusians living in their own capital or provincial Russians, evidence of a raising of the bureaucrats' consciousness. Before this statement of identity, not even the highest bureaucrats were concerned with the issue. In rejecting the Russian proposals, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko said that he could not (did not want to?) explain why he was against integration.

        [There is a long way] to go in the process of weaning high-placed Belarusians from their self-interests to thinking of the interests of the nation's society. This process is continuing, however, and there remains time for greater self-reflection, since the crisis in Belarus-Russian relations has delayed a decision on the Union State.

        The Belarusian opposition has made the usual statements about the country's national interests. This is especially true of the Belarusian People's Front (BPF). But considering the opportunity to define their positions on the issue of state suicide, last year was not overly momentous in the life Belarusian opposition parties.

        Opinion split along two extremes. Some said that Putin was bad, but they still could not support "the last dictator in Europe." The BPF came up with the slogan "independence without dictatorship," but even that failed to win over all camps. Some of Lukashenko's opponents want Russia's backing so that they can become protectors of Kremlin interests in Belarus. Thus the United Civil Party refuses to march in defense of statehood to "nationalistic" slogans.

        The divisions that formed in the opposition after the presidential elections a year ago are now growing deeper. For Belarusians who did not read the independent press or listen to Radio Liberty, it became difficult to be sure that an opposition even existed in their country. When asked directly, opposition leaders could hardly list any what they thought were the main events of 2002. Some listed street protests as though they were an accomplishment in and of themselves. Those at a greater distance spoke of the sanctions imposed on Belarusian leaders by several countries.

        The Belarusian opposition, paraphrasing Descartes, might say, "I protest, therefore I am." Without any representation in the government, it has the luxury of being able to make any declarations it wants and meet with any foreign political leaders it wants. But until there is a real struggle for power or the opposition has some concrete presence within the country, this is only an imitation of action. Even allowing that protest actions can be effective or that elections may be won in such an undemocratic country, there are few signs of political struggle.

        One of the most important political events of 2002, therefore, was the eight-month round-the-clock watch volunteers kept over Kuropaty, an isolated area of Minsk that is the final resting place of victims of Stalin's repression. There was a specific goal—not allowing Kuropaty to be destroyed to rebuild the Minsk Ring Road—and the action was successful. Bulldozers did not disturb the remains buried there.

        It is noteworthy that the fight to save Kuropaty received a response from the public at large and from opposition youth groups, who finally achieved some concrete results in their struggle. The watch was led by members of the unregistered youth organizations Young Front, Zubr (Bison), and the Belarusan Freedom Party.

        A total of about 300 people took part in the watch over Kuropaty, most of them were teenagers. Several "adult" politicians helped them, some by bringing food and others by helping settle the many conflicts that came up with construction crews and law enforcement. Nonetheless, the watchers felt betrayed by the adults and their loss of faith in their older cohorts was another important consequence of the action. That is hardly enough to initiate a new political force. The youth lack experience, but possess great energy. Therefore, their disappointment may have been the most productive possible outcome of their running up against adult ambitions.

        Speaking of adults, 2002 saw the breakup of yet another opposition party, this time the women's party Nadzeya, and a failed attempt by social-democratic groups to form a new party that might counterbalance the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Narodnaya Gromada). So far, not all of the announced founders of the United Social Democratic Party will even acknowledge its existence. The leader of the Belarusian Social Democratic Gromada, Stanislav Shushkevich, is an example of this, which brings the Ministry of Justice to mind here.

        When the OSCE Consultative-Observation Group ceased functioning in Belarus last year, it took the Consultative Council of Opposition Political Parties (CCOPP) with it. Both the BPF Party and the Belarusian Communists' Party have announced that they are leaving the Council. Some have noted that there is no sense in a "superwide opposition coalition" and others have decided to distance themselves from right-wing forces while facing elections.

        Both the OSCE group and the CCOPP lost their original purpose after the presidential election. But there is no doubt that, if the political situation changes, they will continue in one form or another. Nearly all the members of the CCOPP have announced their withdrawal from it, but only the splinter Conservative Christian Party of the BFP, led by Zenon Poznyak, has actually left. The rest announced their departure loudly, then several leaders saw fit to come back to it quietly.

        The formation of a new oppositional center is being much discussed in political circles. Depending on the speaker's prejudices, it is either the resurrection of the Coordinating Committee of Democratic Forces (comparatively rightist) or of the coalition For Social Transformation (comparatively leftist). After the scandal involving the OGP and Russian money, many observers began dividing the Belarusian opposition into pro-Russian and pro-Western factions.

        Of course, categorizing political parties according their declarations, or even their sources of financing, will always leave room for disagreement.

        This author is convinced that the real criterion for judgment is the fruit of a party's labors. Since a party cannot put its political programs into action or carry out the program of its sponsors until it comes into power, all classifications up to that point are conditional. That is why ephemeral unions arise among those with opposing political views, so long as they are not in power. Until then, they are just searching for the meaning of their existence.

• • •

by Angela Magherusan

        The Romanian political showroom seemed until recently quiet and predictable. Since the 2000 elections, the winning Social-Democrat Party (SDP) was joined by its main governing partner, the Democrat Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR). Everything looked peaceful despite some problems regarding the Hungarians' demands on the Romanian state. The opposition remained quite harmless, torn apart by the results of these elections. In this situation, the SDP danced undisturbed to the rhythm of the Romanians' desperation to finally escape poverty. This entire political framework benefited from a very efficient propaganda system centered on the figure of Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, a system reaching its climax in Prague, when Romania was invited to join NATO.

        But all this lasted only until the end of 2002. In December, the public could clearly see some problems among the dancers. At first, they seemed to be stepping on each other's feet, and then they tried to hide it all by bringing down the curtain. But the people could still see the problems behind it. Finally, the leading dancers, president Ion Iliescu and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, admitted that there was something going on and that they were not the political pair they once were. And so began an entire public debate with serious consequences on the image of the power in Bucharest, which is far from being over. The dispute all started with the issue of early elections, supported by the prime minister but strongly opposed by president, and it continued with the possibility of reshuffling the Nastase cabinet and with a discussion on Ion Iliescu's intentions regarding his political future following this third term as president of Romania.

        The most interesting part of the story is that the entire crisis started from the inside and not the outside, as the Social Democrat Party has feared for a long time.

        It is all a question of authority between Romania's two main political characters. President Ion Iliescu more or less created the SDP during the Romanian Revolution, exactly 13 years ago, in December 1989. During this whole period, he was accompanied by a younger but not less charismatic figure, Adrian Nastase. Step by step, especially after the 2000 elections, they came to represent two different currents in the party: the elder and the young social democrats. In the same evolution, people from inside and outside the party began to see Adrian Nastase as the natural follower of Ion Iliescu, although the president never implied it clearly. This expectation continued after 2000, when Nastase became prime minister and took the presidency of the party, with Ion Iliescu elected president of the country. During this last two years, Iliescu saw Nastase's political rating constantly growing and a distance developed between the two.

        Confirmation of the two's split came in the big debate regarding the early elections requested. The prime minister said it was the only solution to continue real reforms started by his government. The president rejected the idea from the very beginning, saying that elections were not a priority at the moment, and that the government should concentrate on reducing corruption and developing the economy. When it became obvious that neither was about to give in, Iliescu and Nastase met behind closed doors at the end of December to settle things. In this meeting, the President probably knew from the very beginning he did not have very much chances to persuade Adrian Nastase into not organizing early elections, so he came up with a possible compromise solution: a reshuffling of the Nastase cabinet. The prime minister neither opposed nor agreed to it.

        According to the President, the changes inside the cabinet were meant to reduce the central administration, to make the administrative structures more efficient and to reduce the bureaucracy. Besides this general objective, Ion Iliescu and Adrian Nastase did not discuss any concrete aspect of the reshuffling, but they agreed to have another meeting on the subject in January.

        Although it looked like Ion Iliescu had won the argument, the press speculated that it was only temporary. The real winner, they said, is Adrian Nastase: he may have sacrificed a political project for the moment, but in the long term, he obtained Ion Iliescu's promise not to expect any executive positions in the Social-Democrat Party after stepping down as Romanian president. Apparently, Nastase can feel a little bit more secure that by then, he will not lose the leadership of the SDP.

        But the subject is far from being closed. The distance and contradictions between them were highlighted again in the speech given by Ion Iliescu to the parliament to mark his two years of presidency. In fact, it consisted of a rough attack towards everything and everyone connected to corruption, group interests, and political advantages. Although the speech had a general tone, everyone felt that it was addressed to the [young] social democrats. Analysts went further by saying that it was the first time in 13 years that Ion Iliescu replaced diplomatic expression with direct speech, shocking in its explicitness and humorlessness.

        Feeling attacked, the prime minister proposed the resignation of his entire cabinet. No one, not even his ministers, or the president, or public opinion, understood anything in this move. And the end of the year came leaving everyone in wonder and uncertainty. Everything has been left to be solved right at the beginning of the New Year, which came quickly, in waltz
steps, up and down, up and down.

• • •

by Aureliusz M. Pedziwol

        Polish premier Leszek Miller is following the footsteps of the German federal chancellor, Gerhard Schröder: Miller has joined the ministry of economy with the ministry of labour and social welfare.

        The news came on the Monday, January 6. In connection with the second reconstruction of his cabinet, Miller also fired two inconvenient ministers and shuffled few people around, from one chair onto another.

        Not all were happy with the idea that economy, labour, and social welfare belong together. For Maciej Plazynski from the liberal opposition Citizen Platform (PO) and for the Chief of the conservative Rights and Justice Party (PiS), Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the ministerial union came as a surprise. The former minister of privatisation, Janusz Lewandowski (from PO), fears that it will be a ministry for all problems: from mining and steel industry to unemployment and the pension system. Donald Tusk (PO) sees in it even a fiasco of the economic policy of the Millers government.

        But Wieslaw Walendziak (PiS) finds the ministerial union to be "very interesting": it allows solving of problems, he said. The old labour minister, Michal Boni, adds the adjective "courageous," but he thinks that it would be better to join the ministry of labour and social welfare with the ministry of national education, as Great Britain did.

        However Bohdan Wyznikiewicz, the expert of the liberal Institute for Market Economy (IBnGR), is unsure whether something that is good for Germany will be good for Poland, too: "It would be better if such complicated decisions were the result of a real confrontation of opinions."

        Controversial Ministers Leave

        With this decision Miller has patched together something. The minister of economy is leaving, although two hours before his dismissal, Jacek Piechota ensured the public that he would be staying.

        His program to revive the Polish economy was praised even by the opposition, but Piechota had not had that much success in other instances:

        The prime minister surprised also the minister of finance Wieslaw Kaczmarek with his Epiphany-day action, a man who had not much success with privatisation programs. Instead of 6.7 billions zloty (1.7 billion euro) in income, as it was predicted in the 2002 budget, he could show the treasury income of only 3.7 billions zloty from privatisation. Paradoxically, his greatest success—the privatisation of the energy firm STOEN in Warsaw, which was sold to the German energy concern RWE for 1.5 million zloty—was  fatal for him, causing a violent storm in the country and obstruction of the parliament.

        As Kaczmarek's successor was named an almost political unknown, an unengaged expert of the capital markets, Slawomir Cytrycki. In 2001, he admitted that he had been a collaborator of the communist secret police.

        The new super-ministry for economy, labour and social affairs is headed by the current labour and social minister, Professor Jerzy Hausner. This was the only decision from this day of Epiphany that everyone accepted, even the opposition: Hausner is here really at home, in both labour and social policy and the economy.

        Both changes were presented by the premier as good for the economy because it should not be exposed to the political pressure. But the opposition does not believe it. After economic reconstruction, Miller will get stronger, commentators say. Two controversial, but weighty politicians (Kaczmarek, Piechota) were exchanged by the independent experts (Hausner, Cytrycki).

        There are yet a few other changes in the Millers team. Lech Nikolski, until now the chef of the cabinet of the prime minister, will be the new Minister for Europe and will have to prepare the accession referendum.

        European structures in the Polish government will be further complicated. There is the Committee for European Integration (KIE), with the prime minister in his head. There is an Office of KIE (UKIE), which will be guided by a state secretary in the foreign ministry, Mrs. Danuta Hübner, who was called until now the European minister of Poland. And now, Nikolski will take her this title.

        Nikolski's deputy was the plenipotentiary of the government for EU information campaign, Slawomir Wiatr (another secret agent of past times Miller's neighbourhood). He should make here the same work but this movement will be interpreted as criticism for his not too successful labour.

        Last but not least, Aleksandra Jakubowska takes the old chair of Nikolski. "Is it a promotion?" asked reporters of the deputy minister of culture who was until now busy with the preparation of the new law for radio and TV. "Yes, it is!" she answered. It is unclear whether she will further work on this very important law (see further).

        Will it help to the Polish economy?

        There are no doubts that now the economy should be the affair number 1 of the government of Poland.

        The Polish economy slowed down in the last years (in 2001 and 2002, GDP grew only about 1 percent per year) and now it should get a little bit better (one expects in 2003 a growth of 3 or even 3.5 per cent), but not good enough to catch up to the developed West. Inflation is very low, even better than in the euro zone (under 1 percent), but it is a result of lowered domestic demand that follows from restrained economic growth. The only really good news is that the exports speed up and the deficits on trade and current accounts are now far below the limits beyond that the danger of a currency crisis would be acute.

        However the main problem is still unemployment, which rose already to almost 18 percent. Hausner promises that it will fall in 2003, but not sure how quickly. Will the changes help to solve economic problems in Poland? The experts doubt it. Many do not see really meaningful personnel movements. But it can be something yet behind it.