US Congress Passes Resolution,Kozulin offers to withdraw, Opposition jailed, Pro Lukashenka rhetoric, Cartoons
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Belarusian government okays adoption regulation
In line with Council of Ministers resolution #290 of February 28, 2006 the existing adoption regulation will be amended. The new regulation provides for a deeper examination and preparation of the persons, who would like to adopt a child. However, paperwork will not be made more complicated.
The regulation defines a list of documents, which should be prepared by future foster parents independently for the sake of keeping the adoption in secret and submitted to local educational authorities while examination of the foster family’s living standards is carried out. The examination should be done within a month.
Besides, psychological services will be more involved in assessing the readiness for adoption status and educating the foster parents on compulsory basis.
Specialists believe, the novelties will contribute to fuller implementation of every child’s right to live in a family and protection of adopted children rights.
U.S. Congress Passes Resolution in Support of Democracy in Belarus
|The US congress has decided to get involved in the Belarusian Elections|
The resolution was introduced by House Baltic Caucus co-chairman John Shimkus, who waved a denim ribbon on the House floor in solidarity with Belarusian democracy advocates during discussion prior to the vote.
The legislation urges the “Government of Belarus to conduct a free and fair presidential election on March 19” and also “pledges its support to the Belarusian people, their commitment to a fully free and open democratic system, their creation of a prosperous free market economy, and their country’s assumption of its rightful place as a full and equal member of the Western community of democracies.”
“The current regime of Alexander Lukashenko continues to harass and intimidate opponents, and suppress opposing views, ” the press release said. On March 8, Belarusian Popular Front party leader Vincuk Viacorka was apparently abducted, and later unconfirmed sources said he had been detained and will be charged for “organizing an unsanctioned meeting,” which is becoming an increasingly common charge in Belarus, it added.
Kozulin offers to withdraw from elections in deference to Milinkevich
Aleksandr Kozulin, an academic who was beaten and arrested by security officers last week, also suggested that the two candidates should seek a postponement of the election until July 16, the candidate's press office said.
Dr. Kozulin urged the other opposition candidate, Aleksandr Milinkevich, to decide who of the two should challenge the incumbent taking into account the internal and external situation. A common candidate should not irritate the leading geopolitical players Russia, the European Union and the United States, said Dr. Kozulin's press office.
Dr. Kozulin also offered Mr. Milinkevich to adopt a declaration on common actions.
"It is not important who is elected president, Kozulin or Milinkevich. It is essential to remove Lukashenko from office. If the two candidates continue the race, they take joint actions to inform the population, prevent falsifications, and monitor the voting process and the vote count," the press office said.
Mr. Milinkevich's reaction to the proposals was not immediately available.
Belarus' central election commission "has formal grounds" to disqualify opposition candidate Aleksandr Kozulin from the presidential race anyway, the commission's head, Lidiya Yermoshina, told reporters on Thursday.
The Prosecutor General's Office charged Dr. Kozulin with counts of "hooliganism" after he forced his way to the National Press Center on February 16 and attempted to attend a government-organized gathering of the Belarusian leader's supporters on March 2. He was severely beaten and detained by security officers when he tried to register for the event.
Recalling that Dr. Kozulin had submitted 150,000 ballot-access signatures, she said that the commission would not remove him from the race because the move could cause public outcry. "Although formally the commission can raise the issue," she added.
Lidiya Ermoshina: presidential campaign intensely monitored
“As of today 704 international observers have been granted accreditation in Belarus. There are over 814 nominees for the status of an observer. We expect some 435 CIS observers and approximately the same number of OSCE ODIHR observers to monitor the election”, the head of the Belarusian central election commission said.
Besides from the main two observation missions – the CIS and OSCE ODIHR – the status of international observers was given to representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Belarus-Russia Union State, the CIS Interparliamentarian Assembly, members of the central election commissions of Kazakhstan, Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Lithuania and Latvia. “EU ambassadors working in Belarus have also applied for a status of observers. They will be accredited as representatives of their countries”, Lidiya Ermoshina added.
The central election commission of Poland informed their Belarusian colleagues that its members will not attend the observation process in Belarus since it is not stipulated in the Polish legislation. The Ukrainian central election commission has not sent their representatives because a parliamentary election campaign in underway in Ukraine, Lidiya Ermoshina said.
Ermoshina added that early voting for the presidential elections in Belarus will begin March 14, chairwoman of the central election commission of Belarus Lidiya Yermoshina has told reporters today.
She informed that the election campaign goes in full compliance with the approved calendar plan of events. Polling stations are open to general public from 17h00 to 19h00 so that citizens can check on whether their names are not missing in the lists.
Belarus says to admit officially invited election observers only
Itar Tass, Belta
|Popov: The apparent goal of those visits (of the OSWCE observers) will be to provoke conflicts|
He said that according to recent statements of member of the European Parliament Bogdan Klich a special delegation is going to come to Belarus during the presidential election. “EP deputies do not even intend to apply for an invitation as they “do not acknowledge the legitimacy of the Belarusian parliament”.
Thus, they seek for an open conflict despite the fact that Belarus does not recognize the advisability of the visit. Therefore Belarus will admit only the observers it has officially invited to monitor the March 19 presidential elections.
“At this moment, a long-term observance mission of the CIS and a mission of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are working in Minsk,” Popov said.
The foreign ministry’s official has noted that in line with the Belarusian legislation only those observers who have been invited by Belarus can monitor the elections in this country. In accordance with the Election Code Art. 13, foreign (international) observers from foreign countries and international organizations are invited to visit Belarus by the president of the country, Chamber of Representatives, the Council of the Republic, Council of Ministers, foreign ministry, central election commission, Andrei Popov stressed.
He also noted that guided by the relevant provisions of the Election Code and the OSCE Copenhagen Document of 1990, Belarus has extended invitations to take part in international observation at the upcoming presidential election to a range of international organizations and inter-parliamentary associations which member the country is. “Inviting observers to monitor the presidential elections attests to the openness of Belarus”, foreign ministry’s spokesman has stated.
“A total of 434 observers representing the CIS and 450 observers representing the OSCE are expected to watch the presidential election,” he said.
As he commented on recent media reports that some foreign countries planned dispatching their observers to Belarus without Belarussian invitations, Popov said the apparent goal of those visits will be to provoke conflicts during the election and to destabilize the situation in the country.
He mentioned, in part, the European Parliament’s plans to send a delegation to Belarus without an invitation.
“The members of parliament doing this make a conscientious choice for a conflict,” Popov said.
“We’re looking forward to seeing the ones we invited, but we’re not awaiting anyone we didn’t invite,” he indicated. “That’s why it would make sense to refrain from provocations, including on our state borders,” he said.
Belarus opposition member jailed
|Vintsuk Vyachorka says his detention is political|
The sentence means Vintsuk Vyachorka will be unable to take further part in campaigning for the polls on 19 March.
He had played a key role in the campaign for Alexander Milinkevich, one of three opposition candidates.
They are standing against President Alexander Lukashenko who is seeking a third term in office.
Last week, another of the opposition candidates, Social Democratic Party leader Alexander Kozulin, was briefly detained by police after trying to get into a conference being addressed by Mr Lukashenko.
There were stand-offs with police as thousands of Milinkevich supporters held a rally in Minsk at the same time. The authorities had said the rally was illegal.
Mr Vyachorka and two others were sentenced to 15 days on charges of organising and participating in unauthorised rallies.
Before the trial in Minsk, he said: "It is a political trial.
"I am guilty of nothing. The election law permits representatives of a candidate running for election to organise meetings with voters."
Mr Milinkevich also condemned the sentences.
"The authorities want to behead the opposition," he said. "They are not even attempting to create the illusion of an honest election."
But Belarus' senior election official dismissed opposition claims, saying the election campaign was being conducted in accordance with the law.
"They are not ... being punished by the [presidential] administration - they are people who provoke those conflicts," Lidiya Yermoshina told the Associated Press news agency.
Alyaksandr Milinkevich: Regime Is On Losing Side
“It’s a total lawlessness! The unknown arrest and beat up people in broad daylight. The current regime knows that it is losing to the people, so they use any methods. But the authorities would not manage to intimidate us in this bandit-like way. There is the Electoral Code, it is in force. The Article 45 stipulates for meetings in any convenient places. We shall meet with people, and nobody would stop us. The victory will be ours, as the Truth is on our side!” Alyaksandr Milinkevich said.
As we have informed, the politician has been detained today in the district Paudnyovy Zakhad (“Southern West”) after the meeting of the single candidate with voters. He was seized together with a microbus with sound-amplifying equipment. The mobile phone of the politician is switched off. The activist of Alyaksandr Milinkevich’s headquarters informed to the Charter’97 press center that it had been possible to reach him on the phone some time earlier. The leader of the BPF party lifted the handset, but said nothing. However, the sound of beating was heard at that moment. The yells were heard: “An agent?! Face to the ground!”
Policemen have been withholding information about the detainees for 5 hours. Only at 6 p.m. it was informed that V. Vyachorka and Milinkevich’s camp activists were taken to the remand prison in Akrestsyn Street.
(Note: Milinkevich is schedualed to speak in Pinsk Saturday, March 11th)
Fradkov Bolsters Up Lukashenko
|Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov (L) and his Belarussian counterpart Sergey Sidorsky leave a governmental residence after a news conference in Minsk, March 7, 2006. Fradkov arrived in the Belarussian capital for a one-day working visit.|
Straight from the Minsk airport, Fradkov went to bilateral meeting with his Belarus counterpart Sergey Sidorsky. The next point of agenda was the talk with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.
“Remember me to Alexander Grigorievich [Lukashenko],” Russia’s President Vladimir Putin pointedly told Fradkov before the visit, making clear his priority.
Fradkov found some time for the Union State ministers only after the talk with Lukashenko. The clear sentiment of the rather brief event was Fradkov’s desire to avoid aggravating relations with Belarus.
Actually, Russia made the best election gift to Alexander Lukashenko in early this year. In 2006, the gas of Russia is pumped to Belarus at the record low price – just $46.68/1ths cu meters vs. $230/1ths cu meters paid by RosUkrEnergo that delivers gas to Ukraine.
Russians Support Union with Belarus
|Lukashenka and Putin|
Russian president Vladimir Putin and Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenko signed a bilateral treaty in late 1999, where the two nations agreed to eventually merge their tax systems and currencies.
In July 2005, Putin voiced his support for a proposed economic unification of the two nations, saying, "Russia needs the union. We need it in a geopolitical sense and most important of all, we are a single nation on the whole. (...) In a broad sense, we are a single nation and we will only benefit if we unite, having gained advantages in relations with other countries."
In October, a draft version of the proposed Constitutional Act of the Union State of Russia and Belarus was presented. The proposal calls for a 103-member House of Representatives—including 28 lawmakers from Belarus—and a 72-member House of the Union, with equal legislators from the two nations. 35 per cent of respondents believe Russia and Belarus should become a united state, with one president, government, flag and currency.
On Mar. 7 in Minsk, the heads of government of the two countries expressed satisfaction with bilateral relations. Belarusian prime minister Sergey Sidorski declared, "Trade turnover between Russia and Belarus grew by three-fold during ten years of integrated relations." Russian prime minister Mikhail Fradkov declared, "The growth of cooperation in the fuel and energy sector is especially impressive."
Belarus will elect a president on Mar. 19. Lukashenko is eligible for a new five-year term. Opposition candidates and supporters have repeatedly complained about harassment from the authorities, and presidential contender Aleksandr Kozulin was arrested earlier this month for allegedly "pushing a policeman" and "damaging a picture of the president at the police station."
If a referendum on a Russia-Belarus union was held now, would you vote for or against it?
For a union
Against a union
I would not vote
Hard to answer
Which of these unions for a Russia-Belarus union do you prefer?
Russia and Belarus should become a united state,
with one president, government, flag and currency
A union of independent states with close
political and economic relations
Relations between Russia and Belarus should be
similar to those between other CIS states, there
should be no special union
Hard to answer
Belarus target of latest ‘democracy’ campaign
People's Weekly World
|Kozulin being dragged away from the All People's congress|
However, there is growing evidence that the U.S. and Europe are backing Kozulin’s campaign and the campaigns of others like him with the aim of ousting a progressive, democratic government. The scenario is reminiscent of the media-savvy “Orange Revolution” that catapulted a pro-Western politician into office in the Ukraine two years ago.
Belarus, a former republic of the USSR, will hold its presidential election on March 19. Four candidates are vying for office.
According to public opinion polls, President Aleksandr Lukashenko is the clear frontrunner. Lukashenko has the backing of the Communist Party and the allied Agrarian Party, and enjoys widespread popular support.
Under Lukashenko’s leadership, Belarus has been the only former Soviet republic that has maintained its stability and kept its public sector from completely falling into the hands of capitalist oligarchs, observers say.
While the rest of the former Soviet Union is full of homelessness and poverty, Belarus is, relatively speaking, an island of stability and prosperity. Wages, for example, are projected to grow significantly by the end of the country’s next five-year plan.
The Western media, however, has been harping on Lukashenko’s alleged “anti-democratic” tendencies. The Kozulin incident is a case in point. Even though critics say Kozulin entered the Congress with the aim of provoking an incident, including the picking of a fight with security guards, he has successfully managed to portray himself as a persecuted democrat.
In general, Lukashenko’s government has been careful to avoid charges of bias against opposition candidates. Nikolai Lozovik, head of the Central Elections Commission, said that the authorities have been lenient toward Lukashenko’s opponents, even when it comes to campaign law violations. “In the latest parliamentary elections candidates were denied registration for far smaller violations,” he told the ITAR-TASS news agency.
For example, the authorities allowed a rally by another opposition candidate, Aleksander Milinkevich, which drew a few thousand people, to proceed even though rally organizers lacked a permit.
The charge that another pro-Western “Orange Revolution” is under way is not that far-fetched.
Two radio stations — the Poland-based Radio Racja and the Lithuania-based Baltic Waves — have recently sprung into existence in order to beam anti-Lukashenko propaganda into Belarus. While the stations call themselves bastions of “independent journalism,” the BBC has reported that Baltic Waves, at least, is part of a $2.4 million media campaign by the European Union. Plans are under way for weekly television programs as well.
A U.S.-based organization called Students for Global Democracy (SGD) has instituted the “Bell Campaign,” which explicitly aims to remove Lukashenko. The campaign’s web site calls for people to “donate money to support the Belarusian democratic opposition.” SGD is linked to the National Endowment for Democracy, a U.S.-government-aligned group that is notorious for its efforts to subvert democratic governments and install dictatorships.
There is substantial evidence of foreign interference. For example, Milinkevich’s campaign boasts that it has volunteers from 17 countries, something that would no doubt be condemned in a comparable U.S. campaign, for example.
Belarus’ security forces have warned that a coup d’etat is being plotted following the election. Stepan Sukhorenko, head of the country’s intelligence agency, said that Western embassies are involved in planning the coup, which could involve the staging of riots, bombings and terrorist attacks. He said security forces have found evidence that the opposition has already drawn up plans to falsify exit polls, showing Lukashenko with only 41.3 percent and Milinkevich with 52.7 percent.
It remains to be seen whether such interference will succeed. According to The Economist, Lukashenko “remains by far the country’s most popular political figure, having satisfied the desire for stability of much of the electorate.” But the opposition can still cause turmoil and violence.
Europe and the US decide the winner before the vote:
Belarus's government will be targeted if the west doesn't get the result it wants in this month's elections
Of course not, you would say. In Bill Clinton's famous phrase, "it's the economy, stupid". Unless there are overriding issues of political or personal insecurity - incipient civil war, ethnic cleansing, mass arrests, pervasive crime on the streets - most people will vote according to their pocketbooks. And so it is likely to be in Belarus in nine days' time.
Why, then, are western governments, echoed by most western media, developing a crescendo of one-sided reporting and comment on one of Europe's smallest countries? Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, last year called it an "outpost of tyranny". Stephen Hadley, the US national security adviser, recently complained that "there is not enough outrage and international attention on Belarus". As if on cue, we now have thundering editorials and loaded reports in America and Europe claiming the imminent election is a farce and the regime deeply unpopular.
We saw similar conformism little more than a year ago in Ukraine, when one side was glorified to the skies, as if only a tiny minority of benighted Sovietera automatons did not support the pro-western candidate, Viktor Yushchenko. His opponent actually got 44% of the vote, and may even emerge with the highest number of votes in Ukraine's parliamentary elections in two weeks.
In Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko is certainly no liberal. He manipulates state television; he bans distribution of critical newspapers from state-owned kiosks (which are the majority), and often has those that are printed abroad confiscated at the border; he makes it hard for opposition parties to hold rallies; and he uses the police in a partisan and frequently brutal way. Students fear expulsion and government employees the sack if they join protests.
This was already true in 1996 when I monitored a constitutional referendum on behalf of the European Institute for the Media and reported that the electoral climate was neither free nor fair. At that stage Lukashenko had only been in power for two years. An authoritarian populist and control freak then, he has remained true to form (not, however, a communist; Belarus has two communist parties, one of which is illegal).
The change is in the economy. Like other former Soviet republics, Belarus suffered a massive collapse after 1991, with output dropping by more than half thanks to "shock therapy" reforms. But in 12 years of power Lukashenko has righted that, as my opening statistics show (all taken from the IMF's country report on Belarus in June 2005).
I haven't been in Belarus for 10 years, but residents I speak to on the phone, as well as western visitors, report that most people are satisfied with their living standards. Many have family or other ties to Russia, their giant neighbour, and feel grateful for the stability, moderation and absence of an oligarch-dominated economy that Belarus enjoys.
Contrary to claims that Lukashenko's repression has produced an "information black hole", the choice of news is wider than in 1996. The EU-funded EuroNews channel is available on cable, which millions of people have, and access to uncensored websites is easy in internet clubs and cafes or at home.
Despite this, there is a huge campaign by foreign governments to intervene in the Belarussian poll, even more controversially than in Ukraine in 2004. While Russia is hardly engaged in this election, Europe and the US are pumping in money. According to the New York Times, cash is being smuggled from the US National Endowment for Democracy, Britain's Westminster Foundation and the German foreign ministry directly to Khopits, a network of young anti-Lukashenko activists.
Poland has reopened a state-owned radio station on its eastern border to beam programmes across Belarus, while the German government's Deutsche Welle started broadcasts to Belarus this year. Alexander Milinkevich, the main opposition candidate, has been touring European capitals and getting endorsements that amount to blatant interference in a foreign electoral contest.
Some of this foreign money will be used to fund street protests promised by opposition activists if Lukashenko is declared the winner. They have already dubbed it the "denim revolution", giving supporters little bits of the cloth as symbols to copy the successful demonstrations in Ukraine and Georgia.
But why is the US, with the EU in its wake, so concerned about Belarus? Is it because Belarus stands out as the only ex-Soviet country that maintains majority state ownership of the economy and gets good results? Is ideological deviance forbidden? (The IMF, while admitting Lukashenko's economic success, calls it "ultimately unsustainable", being based on cheap Russian energy imports and wage increases that outstrip productivity growth.) Is the problem Lukashenko's independence, his friendliness to Russia and resistance to Nato, his abrasive, don't-push-me-around style? As one Minsk resident put it to me, he's a "Slavic Castro".
The revolt against Lukashenko within Belarus is genuine, idealistic and, in some cases, courageous. As in the rest of eastern Europe, nationalist intellectuals and the urban elite, particularly in the capital, include many who want change and feel the rewards are worth the risk. They want the west's moral support and its freedom, as well as its money. But they are not the majority. A poll in January by Gallup/Baltic Surveys, and reported in the emigre Belarusian Review, found only 17% in favour of Milinkevich and nearly 55% supporting Lukashenko.
Western funders claim their motives are innocent, with help offered merely to develop "democracy" and "European values". In that case they should insist that the groups and the media they aid in Belarus are fair, accurate and intelligent, rather than one-sided demonisers of their opponents, mirroring Lukashenko's approach. But when western media, despite their vaunted objectivity and years of democratic experience, also report on Belarus in a way that is narrow and partisan, this is asking a lot.
Cartoonists SDay What They Think
|The Belarusian government is not immune to criticism from abroad|
Slovak daily SME, Polish Gazeta Wyborcza, Czech Lidove Noviny and Hungarian
Magyar Hirlap, each printed cartoons on Lukashenko. In addition, the four
newspapers, together with the Belarusian "Third Way" Internet community,
appealed to Europe's mainstream print media to commission and print similar
cartoons on Lukashenko, "the last dictator of Europe," in advance of the
Presidential Elections in Belarus scheduled for March 19, 2006. Maidan
International, a pro-democracy non-profit organization, also welcomed the
common stance of media and Belarusian civic activists.
"This international effort will provide a unique possibility to express
solidarity with the isolated Belarusians and let them see what European
cartoonists think about their regime," said editors-in-chief of those four
Central European leading newspapers in their common appeal posted on the
website http://www.svoboden.org .
"Let's make it clear: dictators have no place in Europe," said Mr. Martin
SHOOTY Sutovec, the Slovak author of several Lukashenko cartoons: "The Danish
case uncovered the power of cartoons. This is the time to use it for
In 2005, civic activists from Belarus published flash cartoons on their
website (http://www.3dway.org). The cartoons were about life in Belarus, electoral
fraud, Belarus' isolation, and Lukashenkos notorious preoccupation with
sports. The activists may face up to five years in prison for publishing the
In next five years Belarus to intensify satellite broadcasting for other states
In the next five years Belarus will intensify satellite broadcasting for other states, BelTA was informed in the ministry of communications and informatization of this republic.
According to the ministry, it will enhance the image of the republic at the international level as a country with a stable political and economic situation and attractive for foreign investments.
In line with the program on developing satellite broadcasting by 2010, in 2007-2010 TV satellite broadcasting programs will be made for this purpose. In the future Belarus can set up one more TV channel analogous to Belarus-TV. The Belarusian State TV and Radio Company, the closed companies Second National Channel (ONT) and Stolichnoye Televideniye (STV) and other private TV companies will take part in the project.
According to the ministry of communications, at present STV Channel broadcasts for Minsk oblast through Teleport satellite communication systems.
Belarus' Mirnyi to tangle with Hewitt
|Lleyton Hewitt was in exultant mode after his win over Max Mirnyi om January 14th, 2006.|
Mirnyi trails Hewitt 2-3 in head-to-head encounters, and is keen to extend the rivalry in the first Davis Cup tie between the two nations.
"I've seen Lleyton Hewitt for so many years now and seen how competitive he is," Mirnyi said.
"Whenever he steps on a court, particularly in Davis Cup, he's been very successful.
"It would be more meaningful to us if we were to win the tie with Lleyton being there," he told the Tennis Australia website from his home in Florida.
Hewitt did not play in Australia's first round victory over Switzerland in Geneva, but has made himself available for next month's tie on Rebound Ace at Kooyong, which last hosted a Davis cup tie 13 years ago.
Mirnyi and his long time partner Vladimir Voltchov are likely to play both singles and doubles after upsetting the powerful Spaniards on carpet in Minsk in January.
"We know it's a very tough team with an incredible Davis Cup history and we know the task that's ahead of us," he said.
Hewitt is likely to be joined by Chris Guccioni and Peter Luczak.