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Friday, November 11, 2005

Eu resolution against Belarus, accounts frozen, borders closed; Moscow sides with Belarus

Note: The BHTimes has offered editorial comment concerning the EU's proposed sanctions against Belarus for two other websites. The posts can be found in the comments sections of the following two blogs:

Coming Anarchy/ Belarus Watch

Tobias Ljungvall on Belarus

From the Top


Looks as though the fighting has just begun
MINSK. Nov 10 (Interfax) - The European Union's resolution on the political situation in Belarus shows "a desire to impose its will on the [Belarussian] authorities and society, not stopping even at threats," the Belarussian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The EU foreign ministers issued a statement in Brussels on November 7 to express concern about the political situation in Belarus and warn that new measures could possibly be taken against the Belarussian leadership, including visa denials and the freezing of bank accounts.

At the same time, the EU foreign ministers reaffirmed their commitment to the improvement of relations with Belarus on condition that that country's government clearly demonstrate its respect for democratic values and the rule of law.
Belarussian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ruslan Yesin told Interfax on Thursday that "such an approach is not constructive and has no prospects."

"This sort of focus is unconstructive and without perspective. Belarus has repeatedly said, including to our partners in the EU, that the upcoming presidential elections in 2006 will be held in strict accordance with existing electoral laws and international standards," Yesin said.

"Not to mention that the EU's persistent attempts to 'flexibly' finance political processes in our territory, bypassing the incumbent Belarussian authorities, show disrespect for our sovereignty. Such 'backdoor' financing is simply illegal in most countries," Yesin said.

Belarus is open to equal dialogue, he said.


Sources: Xinhua (China), Itar/Tass, Mos News, Novosti

Kremlin: Belarus, we are behind you all the way!
The Russian Foreign Ministry Thursday refuted the European Union's assertion that Belarus is "a problem zone", saying that the EU should consider the country's realities, the Itar-Tass news agency reported.

"We cannot agree with the European Union's assertion that Belarus is a problem zone, as regards democracy," the foreign ministry said.

Russia maintains that "any steps to promote democratic process in Belarus, just as in any other country, should be adjusted to local realities," it added.

The ministry emphasized that imposing some universal schemes on individual countries does not help strengthen democracy and create a united Europe.

Earlier in the week, an EU commissioner told a Moscow news conference that the EU could expand the range of measures against Belarus to include freezing its foreign bank accounts if the country’s 2006 elections failed to meet international norms.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Valery Loshchinin told journalists Russia was against possible economic sanctions against Belarus. "Pressure in this case is not only unfounded, but is an unseemly means of influence," he said.

Loshchinin said he expected "the purposeful campaign underway against Belarus will intensify with the approach of the presidential elections [due not later than July 2006]."

Russia backs expanded dialogue between the EU and Belarus and believes that "would help remove the existing concerns of the EU," said the ministry.

Note: The preceding 2 articles are directly related to the following from 7 November


Brussels, 7 November 2005 (RFE/RL)

The EU appears to be getting serious about Belarus.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner
The European Union is threatening fresh sanctions against Minsk as it steps up pressure for democratic reforms ahead of Belarus's presidential election in 2006. EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels yesterday did not specify the measures they might take against the government of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, but some EU officials say they could include visa bans and asset freezes.

After an unprecedented, hour-long debate among the EU's 25 foreign ministers, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw delivered a tough, unanimous EU message to Lukashenka.

"[There was] profound concern at the democratic state -- or at the flaws to the democratic state in Belarus, and in particular, we want to see free and fair presidential elections," Straw said. "And in the event of failure to uphold international standards, the draft conclusions make it clear that measures such as asset freezes or visa bans could be taken against those responsible."

However, the formal EU declaration adopted later omitted any indication of the types of sanction the EU would apply. References to visa bans and asset freezes had been present in drafts initially examined by the meeting and seen by RFE/RL.

Their omission suggests that Poland was unable to achieve all it had sought.

Poland has been at the forefront of new EU states that have argued vociferously for a harder line from Brussels toward to the regime in Minsk. But the European Commission, among others, has argued that the Lukashenka government must not be pushed too hard before it is given the chance to respond to EU calls.

The EU in general wants to see greater openness to democracy in Belarus. But the measures threatened yesterday specifically target the conduct of the 2006 presidential election, whose exact date has yet to be released.

Lukashenka wants to stay as president regardless what the EU has to say
Lukashenka is set to run for a third term in office. Voters in Belarus passed a referendum in 2004 to change the constitution to allow him to seek reelection. The EU, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United States condemned the plebiscite as not meeting democratic standards.

The EU wants next year's election to be fair and free and open for all eligible candidates. Yesterday's EU declaration also called for the election to be monitored by international observers, preferably under the aegis of the OSCE.

The EU is already refusing entry to six senior Belarusian officials. Four of them stand accused of involvement in the disappearances of opposition politicians in 2000, while the EU has penalized the other two for their roles in a violent crackdown on protests in 2004.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said yesterday that any further visa bans would not extend to top politicians such as Lukashenka, as the EU wants to keep open some channels for political dialogue.

EU officials are keen to emphasize that any new sanctions will only target officials and not the Belarusian people at large.

The EU's assessment of the conditions in Belarus is sufficiently bleak to have provoked some measures already. Ferrero-Waldner said after yesterday's meeting that the European Commission has begun reorienting its aid to Belarus.

"We have [the] greatest concerns on Belarus and on the pressure that is there on the democratic forces, on the civil society and also on the independent media," Ferrero-Waldner said. "For that reason, we in the [European] Commission have said we would like to focus our aid specifically to civil society and to media. And this is what we have started to do."

The type of EU money for which Belarus is eligible -- known as TACIS funds -- requires the prior approval of the recipient country's government before it can be spent. The EU is now re- channeling increasing amounts of aid to minimize the need to consult the Minsk regime on how it is spent.

The commission is also pushing for a large-scale reassessment of how the EU spends future aid in its immediate neighborhood.

The 2007-13 budget, yet to be adopted, is expected to make provisions for a new European Neighborhood Policy Instrument. This new fund would have a freer hand in directly financing nongovernmental and civil society institutions in countries such as Belarus.

17:01, 10/11/2005

From Charter ‘97

The Belarusian foreign ministry’s spokesman Ruslan Yesin told reporters in Minsk on November 9 that the decision to open the European Commission’s office in Belarus should be agreed upon with the Belarusian authorities.

"The decision on the opening of a European Commission representation in Minsk cannot be one-sided by definition," said Yesin, acting chief of the foreign ministry’s Information Office. "This kind of issues should only be considered in close cooperation with the official authorities of Belarus."

According to Mr. Yesin, there exists a "certain legal procedure that everyone should observe."

In their conclusions on Belarus, adopted at a November 7 meeting of the EU Council in the "General Affairs and External Relations" configuration, EU member states` foreign ministers welcomed the European Commission’s decision to open a "regionalized delegation" in Minsk by the end of 2005.

In response to the declared EU intention to support Belarus` civil society, Mr. Yesin said, "We ...stress that the European Commission should clearly understand that we regard projects carried out in violation of or bypassing Belarusian regulations as illegal funding. Some time ago, the Belarusian side requested the European Commission to provide an official clarification with regard to the procedure of giving and spending funds coming through `various channels` and its compliance with Belarusian laws. We are still waiting for the European Commission’s reply to our request."


From Radio Free Europe and Charter ‘97

Charhinets: Foreign politicians visiting Belarus engage in practices other than what they state on their visa applications
Mikalay Charhinets, the chairman of the Standing Committee on International Affairs and National Security of the upper chamber of illegitimate Belarusian “parliament” calls upon the Foreign Ministry of Belarus to consider the question of granting the right to enter Belarus for different foreign politicians more attentively. His initiative was declared at the meeting with journalists on November 9. The meeting was organized at request of Charhinets, who had been denied entry visa to the USA for participation in the 60th UN General Assembly session in New York.

Charhinets, in particular, is not satisfied by the fact that some foreign politicians, declaring a certain aim of their visit to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, are “doing something else” when they come to Belarus. As said by him, there are examples when during the stay of a foreign politician the questions of parliamentary cooperation were to be discussed, however they have not visited the “national assembly”. Besides, they are getting aquatinted with one point of view to the situation in the country, consciously denying listening to the other. According to N. Charhinets, the Belarusian side must not “regard quietly” at such facts.

“It’s time to learn working adequately… We are taking criticism too tolerantly… If they do not recognize us and are coming here to pick up lies, the principle should be used: “those who do not recognize us, will not be recognized by us,” Charhinets said. At the same time, he said that he was not speaking of creation an “iron barrier”, but competent authorities are to work.

Charhinets told journalists on 9 November that in refusing a visa to him to attend a session of the UN General Assembly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 2005), the U.S. authorities violated their 1947 agreement with the United Nations, under which they should not put obstacles to the participation of people invited by the UN and its agencies to official UN events, Belapan reported. Charhinets said that some foreign politicians visiting Belarus engage in practices other than what they state on their visa applications. He said he is aware of instances in which foreign politicians arriving in Belarus for the declared purpose of discussing issues concerning interparliamentary cooperation never show up at the National Assembly.


From Itar/Tass

It looks as though the union is really going to happen
MINSK, November 9 (Itar-Tass) - The Belarus Republic and the Russian Federation have settled all the disputable aspects of the draft agreement on the equal rights of the citizens of the two countries, pertaining to their movements and choice of places, which they wish to visit or where they prefer to live on the entire territory of the Belarus-Russia Union State, First Deputy Interior Minister of the Belarus Republic Alexander Shchurko told Itar-Tass on Wednesday. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko had authorised him to hold talks with the Russian side on the draft.

According to Shchurko, all the Belarus and Russian national structures concerned had agreed with the text of the document on the equal rights of the citizens of the two countries to move freely on their respective territories. Now the draft agreement will be submitted for approval to the next meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State.

“The draft document, drawn up in accordance with an instruction issued by the presidents of the two countries, grants the Belarus and Russian citizens much broader rights on the entire territory of the Union State than those enjoyed by the citizens of other countries. Most noteworthy are their equal rights to free movement and free choice of domicile,” Shchurko noted.

For instance, it has long since been much easier for Russian citizens to get residence permits in the Belarus Republic than vice versa. This gives rise to serious problems linked with pensioning and medical aid. Moreover, Belarus citizens are often obliged to fill in migration cards in the hinterland regions of Russia, although the two countries had verbally agreed that Belarus citizens can do without this in Russia.

“All those, as well as several other problems, will be settled after the foregoing accord is endorsed,” Shchurko stressed. The document, he added, prolongs the permitted time of the stay of Belarus citizens in Russia and of Russians in the Belarus Republic without having to be registered at police stations, from three to thirty days. It also envisages an easier procedure for getting residence certificates. Russian children, aged up to fourteen, will be allowed to stay in the Belarus Republic if they have a birth certificate. The agreement also indicates that the citizens of the Belarus Republic and of the Russian Federation will not have to fill in any migration cards on the territory of the Belarus-Russia Union State.


From Itar/Tass

MINSK, November 10 (Itar-Tass) -Republic of Belarus is creating unprecedented conditions for the progress of high technologies, Dr Mikhail Myashnikovich, the President of the National Academy of Sciences said.

“The Belarussian high-tech park will have a more encouraging environment than one may find in Russia, India and Ireland,” he said.

“This park will have a major distinction from other high-tech parks, zones, or valleys – it will be exterritorial,” Dr Myasnikovich said in a comment on a recent decision by the national parliament to endorse President Alexander Lukashenko’s decree on setting up the park.

“The regulations effective for that high-technology park will apply to any interesting projects if they are offered by any Belarussian company located anyplace in this country, or from foreign companies,” Dr Myasnikovich said.

The companies and organizations domiciled in the Belarussian silicon valley will enjoy sizable tax benefits, as they will not have to pay the taxes on sales revenue and on works and services, as well as the customs duties and VAT for imported commodities.

“The income tax for private individuals will reduce to 9%,” Dr Myasnikovich said.
President Lukashenko signed the decree on the high-tech park at the end of September. The document is called upon to boost Belarussian science, on the one hand, and to expand the exports of IT and original Belarussian soft, on the other hand.

Experts believe the high technology park will begin functioning early next year.


From Radio Free Europe

“All three newspapers received denial notifications simultaneously”
Alyaksey Karol, editor in chief of the private weekly "Zhoda," told Belapan on 9 November that Belposhta, Belarus's state postal service, has decided not to include his newspaper in the state subscription catalogue for 2006. Similar notifications were received somewhat earlier by two other private newspapers, "Narodnaya volya" and "Salidarnasts" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 2005). According to Karol, in explaining its move against "Zhoda," Belposhta used the same argument as in the case of the other two other barred periodicals. "Each economic entity has the right to be guided by economic expediency in its commercial activities," Belposhta reportedly wrote to Karol. "Since all the three newspapers received denial notifications simultaneously and the explanations were in fact identical, I believe this was a planned move toward the liquidation of the non-state press in Belarus before the 2006 presidential election," Karol said. JM


From Viasna

On 7 November in Lenin Square in Homiel the police detained the member of United Civil Party Maryia Bahdanovich for distribution of Tovarishch newspaper (edition of the Party of Communists of Belarus) together with the enclosed fly-sheet concerning problems of the housing economy. She was detained at a police station for two hours. The police took explanations from her and confiscated 72 copies of the newspaper. They didn’t compose any protocol of confiscation. According to M. Bahdanovich, the main pretensions of the police concerned the fly-sheet that contained no issue data. The fly-sheet included the comparative table of the public utilities fees for 2001 and 2004 along with related remarks of officials and ordinary citizens.


From Viasna

Sapotskin : A political statement, or simply apolitical?
On 6 November the meeting of members of the Union of Poles with Iuzaf Luchnik (whom Belarusian authorities consider as the chair of the UPB) was to have taken place in the town of Sapotskin in Hrodna district. Members of the union were informed about the meeting by announcements and some of them even received personal invitations. However, the town citizens ignored the meeting: only two persons came to it. The majority of the town citizens are Poles, but they still support the democratically elected chair of their organization, Anzhalika Borys, despite the refusal of the authorities to confess her official position.

In Sapotskin the former pupil of Iuzaf Luchnik, vice-chair of United Civil Party Iaraslau Ramanchuk saw the meeting didn’t take place:

"I told Mr. Luchnik what I wanted to: he tries to again impose on people some communistic ideals concerning the situation where the state decides what to do with the Union of Poles instead of its members. I think it is very good he heard it together with other people who were there, including the chief editor of the newspaper that was taken away from the Union of Poles that is headed by Anzhalika Borys."

Iaraslau Ramanchuk and his parents are members of the Union of Poles. He thinks that in Sapotskin and other towns and cities many people still associate the Union of Poles with Anzhalika Borys who was democratically elected by delegates of the 6th assembly half a year ago.

The activist of the union headed by A. Borys Andrei Pachobut thusly treats this situation:

"Sapotskin is the town where almost all citizens know Luchnnik for being a school director there and in the village of Sonichy as well. Prior to the latest events he used to have certain authority there which was used by the officials during preparation to his election in Vaukavysk. However, the people who used to greet Luchnik, now revert the eyes and don’t speak to him."


11:19, 10/11/2005, By Steve Rosenberg, BBC News

Lavrov: There is no experience in world history where you can achieve democracy overnight
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said some former Soviet states cannot be expected to become Western-style democracies overnight. In an exclusive interview with the BBC, Mr Lavrov also called on the West to recognise that Russia has legitimate interests in the former Soviet space.

His comments came as thousands of opposition supporters demonstrated in the Azerbaijan`s capital Baku.

They called for the results of the recent elections to be overturned.

Mr Lavrov told the BBC that Moscow sought stability and prosperity for countries that had once been part of the Soviet Union.

Moscow would, he said, work together with Europe and America to achieve that.

He said he did not believe though that Western-style democracy could be forced upon the region.

"We believe that you cannot just demand from these countries, from many of these countries, to take a law which would pronounce their full democracy western style and there is no experience in world history where you can achieve democracy overnight," he said.

His comments followed talks with a delegation from the European Union.

The EU has called for more democracy on Russia`s borders. This week it criticised Azerbaijan`s parliamentary poll and it threatened Belarus with economic sanctions unless democratic elections were held there.

Mr Lavrov acknowledged that the West had legitimate interests, like energy resources, in some parts of the former USSR.

But he called on the international community to recognise what he described as Moscow`s legitimate interest in areas which only 15 years ago had been part of the same country as Russia.