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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Moscow House in Minsk, UN Blacklist, Severin, Bush attacks, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Ukraine, The EU, Economics and Blogs

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  • #213

    Alexander Lukashenko approves Moscow investment projects on the construction of facilities in Minsk

    From: BelTA
    The Mayor of Russia’s capital, Yuri Luzkov, presenting to the Head of State the drafts and mock-ups of the cultural and business centre “House of Moscow,” the residential quarter “Moskovsky” and the residential area “Lebyazhy”
    The President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, has approved the projects offered by the government of Moscow for the construction of facilities in Minsk. On June 15, the Mayor of Russia’s capital, Yuri Luzkov, presented to the Head of State the drafts and mock-ups of the cultural and business centre “House of Moscow,” the residential quarter “Moskovsky” and the residential area “Lebyazhy.”

    Alexander Lukashenko emphasized that all the aforementioned facilities should be brought into effect within the next 2-2.5 years.

    The President valued highly the professional skills of Moscow architects and invited them to take part in building other social and production facilities in the Belarusian capital. Specifically, the Minsk-City project has been given prominence.

    The Moscow House, which is supposed to be built in Minsk, will become a business bridge not only between Belarus and Moscow, but between Belarus and Russia as well, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said when meeting with Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov today.

    “The Moscow House will bring together business institutions and businessmen of the two countries and will also embellish the Belarusian capital”, said the head of state.

    He thanked the Moscow Mayor for investment projects in Belarus and underscored he supports them absolutely.

    Alexander Lukashenko also noted, the Belarusian side expects Moscow architects to come up with more proposals for building various social and industrial objects in Belarus.

    The construction of the Moscow House has already started at 86 Kommunisticheskaya Street in Minsk. The building is supposed to house a cinema hall for 300 seats, a conference hall for 100 seats, a library, studios, an exhibition hall, a three-star mini hotel of 15 rooms, a restaurant, a cafe and offices. A representative office of Moscow in the Republic of Belarus will be located here.

    The main purpose of the cultural and business centre Moscow House is to ensure effective cooperation between Belarus and Moscow in economic, scientific, cultural and humanitarian fields.

    In a related story, the Days of Moscow opened in Minsk on the 14th.

    Within the framework of the Days, large-scale events for the youth and children will be held, Aleksei Alexandrov, the Chairman of the Interregional Ties and National Policy Committee, a member of the Moscow Government, told the opening ceremony of the Days.

    Aleksei Alexandrov noted that the Moscow Government announced 2007 the Year of Child. So, the program of the Days of the Russian capital in Belarus includes a lot of events for the children and youth. Today, all side-shows in the Gorkiy Central Children’s Park of Minsk will be free for children. At 12pm, the movie theater Moskva will start to demonstrate cartoons and Russian movies (admission free).

    Children’s art groups from Moscow will perform on the stage by the capital’s Palace of Sport.

    Cuba, Belarus may be struck off UN blacklist

    From: Reuters
    Cuba and Belarus look set to be dropped from a blacklist of alleged rights violators as part of any deal on the workings of the United Nations' new human rights watchdog, diplomats and activists said on Friday.

    The 47-state Human Rights Council, set up last year in a bid to burnish the U.N.'s image on human rights protection, is struggling for agreement on its rules of operation by a Monday deadline.

    Some of the deepest divisions surround the submitting of individual countries to special scrutiny, so-called country mandates -- the "naming and shaming" of the Human Rights Commission, the council's discredited predecessor.

    The council needs to decide both the fate of 11 existing country investigations, including those covering Sudan, Somalia and North Korea, as well as Cuba and Belarus, and whether or not such mandates can be created in the future for other states.

    On the issue of the current mandates, the sources said there appeared to be agreement that nine could continue but probes into Cuba and Belarus, neither of which has allowed the U.N. special investigator to visit, would cease.

    "It looks like we will lose Cuba and Belarus," said one diplomatic source close to the closed-door negotiations, which were set to continue over the weekend. "The Cubans will be celebrating on Monday."

    Votes to censure Cuba on the old commission were very close, despite the 2003 jailing of dozens of dissident journalists, writers and members of associations, some for long terms.

    Russia -- a council member -- has led demands for an end to the mandate of the controversial special envoy for Belarus, former Romanian foreign minister Adrian Severin, who recently reported a "constant deterioration of the human rights record" in the former Soviet bloc country.


    The eight European Union (EU) countries on the council have made it clear they will turn down a deal that has no provision for the creation of special country investigations, even if they end up accepting some existing ones will fall by the wayside.

    "That is a red line," said one EU diplomat.

    Human rights groups, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have also said the new council would be toothless if it lost the ability to put individual states in the dock.

    "The council should have the possibility of picking up cases in countries with critical situations and should deal with them rapidly," Amnesty secretary-general Irene Khan told Reuters.

    Developing countries have traditionally been suspicious of finger-pointing, noting that it is mainly the poorer and less politically powerful states that are singled out.

    China, which the United States and rights' activists accuse of violating religious and political rights, routinely escaped censure at the commission while the United States itself was easily able to ward off any attempt to probe alleged abuses in the so-called war on terrorism.

    But a consensus appeared to be emerging on the question of submitting all U.N. member states to regular scrutiny every few years, the so-called 'universal peer review', which is one of the major innovations of the new body, diplomats said.


    From: Jamestown
    Adrian Severin
    A speech by Adrian Severin, special rapporteur, to the 5th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) of the UN General Assembly in Geneva on the worsening human rights situation in Belarus in 2006 has caused fury in Minsk. Belarus's permanent representative at the UN, Syarhey Aleynik, has called on the Council to annul Severin’s mandate and attacked his credentials.

    Last month, the UN General Assembly turned down Belarus' request for a seat on the HRC, offering the two seats available for East European countries to Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. A report from Human Rights Watch, assessing the Belarusian bid for HRC membership, chronicled the wide gap between the country's pledges and "the reality" of the human rights problems within Belarus. The analysis commented that the government of Belarus had failed to cooperate with the HRC, and the Special Rapporteur in particular, and that "all efforts to engage in constructive dialogue" have been futile (Human Rights Watch, May 17).

    It maintains also that at least seven other "special procedures mandate holders" made assessments similar to those of Severin and sent several urgent appeals to the Belarusian government. Most received no response; others merited a peremptory reply. Special representatives on human rights and torture requested permission to visit Belarus but were not invited to do so. In spite of a pledge to observe international human rights, Belarus failed to live up to its commitments during the 2006 presidential elections, detaining activists, obstructing access to the state media for opposition candidates, and failing to ensure a transparent vote count. As a result, the HRC representatives declared that Belarus' application for HRC membership was "nothing less than scandalous" (HR, May 17).

    Severin elaborated on these criticisms in his subsequent report to the UN on June 12, noting that all the recommendations made earlier to Belarus had been ignored, and the government had once again refused to cooperate, even refusing him entry into the country. In 2006, he commented, the human rights situation in that country worsened. He is seeking an official legal inquiry into missing and presumed dead journalists and senior political figures and the extent to which government officials were involved in these events. His conclusions, he asserts, are supported by many European organizations, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, and the Parliamentary Assembly of NATO (Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta, June 12).

    Belarus, through the figure of Aleynik, has responded to this devastating criticism by trying to undermine the credibility of the speaker, a reputable 53-year-old Romanian lawyer and politician. The report, according to Aleynik, is the product of an incompetent and politically engaged expert, desirous of creating a negative image of Belarus. Such a partisan attack constitutes interference in the sovereign affairs of the country, because it demands a change of political leadership, a revamping of the social-economic structure, providing technical and financial aid to non-government organs, andaltering the "national mentality." Therefore the mandate of this political activist should be annulled and the fulfillment of such a request would determine whether the HRC is able to overcome a legacy of political confrontations (Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta, June 13).

    Ironically, the latest publicity on the human rights situation in Belarus comes after the release of two prominent political detainees ahead of their official sentences, namely Youth Front leader Paval Sevyarinets and erstwhile Social Democratic party leader Mikola Statkevich (Belorusskie novosti, May 30). However, other prominent figures, such as former rector of the Belarusian State University and 2006 presidential candidate Alyaksandr Kazulin (detained on March 25, 2006), and Young Front activist Paval Krasouski (detained on October 5, 2006) remain incarcerated. Amnesty International considers the former to be a "prisoner of conscience" (Amnesty International, January 5) and his 5.5 year sentence under Articles 339 and 342 of the Criminal Code, particularly harsh.

    The government has never explained satisfactorily the disappearances of prominent politicians Viktar Hanchar and Yuri Zakharenka, businessman Anatol Krasouski, and cameraman Dzmitry Zavadsky, in 1999-2000. Two presidential elections (2001 and 2006) and three referendums (1995, 1996, and 2004) have been subjected to very strong international criticism.

    Severin's report is particularly problematic for the Minsk government because it comes at a time when the regime is trying to revamp its image in European eyes. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka stated earlier this year that he would welcome advice from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and that either Germany or Switzerland might be suitable models for his state rather than a union with Russia (Die Welt, January 29). Yet Germany, which currently occupies the presidency of the Council of the EU, was notably supportive of Severin's remarks. Outside Europe, the United States and Canada also expressed their concern over the violations of human rights by the government of Belarus (Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta, June 13).

    Such criticisms are not new, but they come during a difficult period for Belarusian-Russian relations, as illustrated by Lukashenka's remarks about the problems of the Russia-Belarus Union (Interfax, May 29). Increasingly, the president's visits to foreign countries as well as visitors to Minsk are limited to states that have shunned any pretensions to democracy: Iran, North Korea, China, and Venezuela. Official Belarus has few friends and for the moment the European avenue as a possible alternative to closer ties with Russia, has been firmly closed. A year into its third term the Lukashenka administration seems more isolated than ever.

    U.S renews sanctions against Belarus president, officials

    From: People's daily
    U.S. President George W. Bush on Thursday renewed for one year sanctions against Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and nine other individuals in the country for alleged "extraordinary threat" to the United States.

    In a memorandum to U.S. Congress, Bush said, "the actions and policies of certain members of the government of Belarus and other persons pose a continuing unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States." "These actions include undermining democratic processes or institutions; committing human rights abuses related to political repression, including detentions and disappearances; and engaging in public corruption, including by diverting or misusing Belarussian public assets or by misusing public authority," he said.

    On June 19, 2006, Bush issued an executive order imposing financial sanctions on Belarusan President Alexander Lukashenko and nine other top officials of his government in response to what Washington called a fraudulent presidential election in March 2006.

    In addition to Lukashenko, the nine other people include the justice minister, the head of Belarus state television, the internal affairs minister and the president's national security adviser.

    The order prohibits American firms and individuals from engaging in any transactions with those cited.

    City in western Belarus to host international forum on sustainable development through business, investment activity

    From: Naveny
    An international forum addressing the sustainable development of provincial areas through an increased business and investment activity will take place in Lida in western Belarus on July 4.

    The event is organized by the Minsk Capital Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers (MCUEE) and the Lida District Executive Committee in cooperation with the Belarusian foreign ministry, MCUEE Chairman Uladzimir Karahin told reporters in Minsk on Friday.

    The program of the forum includes workshops focusing on international experience of sustainable development in the context of business and investment cooperation, as well as round-table conferences on the introduction of innovative technologies and investment in the agricultural sector.

    The forum is expected to be attended by Uladzimir Sawchanka, chairman of the Hrodna Regional Executive Committee; Andrey Khudykh, head of the Lida District Executive Committee; and Turkmen Ambassador Ilya Veldzhanov, the dean of the diplomatic corps in Belarus.

    The Lida district is regarded as one of the fastest developing areas in Belarus, being home to engineering, metal- and woodworking enterprises, chemical companies and food producers. More industrial enterprises are to appear in the district and its transport and business infrastructure is to develop in the near future.

    Businesses, authorities and NGOs in the district are said to be actively involved in international cooperation programs.

    Group calls for criminal case against state newspaper's chief editor, reporter over "insult" to late pope

    From: Naveny
    The Union of Belarusian Poles (UBP) has called for the prosecution of Anatol Lemyashonak, chief editor of the Respublika state newspaper, and the publication's staff writer, Anton Andreyenka, over an article deemed "insulting" to the late pope, John Paul II.

    In the article that appeared on the pages of the June 15 edition of the Respublika, the author, Mr. Andreyenka, likened the Catholic church's missionary activity to "crusades" aimed at proselytism and said that John Paul II's alleged cooperation with the CIA in bringing down communist rule in Poland was "a devilish enterprise," UBP member Andrzej Poczobut told BelaPAN.

    "For us, Catholics, the pope is the highest moral authority. Mr. Andreyenka's assertion that Pope John Paul II allegedly engaged in "a devilish enterprise" is insulting. We believe that such allegations seek to offend and humiliate all Catholic faithful in Belarus. Such articles foment animosity between the country's faithful representing different denominations," Mr. Poczobut stressed.

    In a statement adopted at its June 16 meeting, the UBP Council accuses the government-controlled newspaper and its staff writer of an offense punishable under the Criminal Code's Article 130 that penalizes the instigation of race, ethnic or religious hatred.

    The UBP Council has urged Prosecutor General Pyotr Miklashevich to bring criminal charges against Messrs. Andreyenka and Lemyashonak in connection with the controversial article.

    Sergei Sidorskiy: Belarus economy successfully handles problems, which emerged early this year

    From: NLIPRB
    The Belarus economy successfully handles problems, which emerged early this year, Belarus Prime Minister Sergei Sidorskiy told media commenting on results of his report to Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko today.

    In his words, the profitability of enterprises totalled 12.6% in January-May, which corresponds to targeted parameters.

    Over the five months the GDP grew by 9% up on the same period in 2006. The growth rate of industrial and agricultural output has increased.

    “It is important that investment growth in the country stays at 20-22%. Over the five months over Br6 trillion has been invested in economic development. More than Br3 trillion worth of machine-tools, mechanisms and instruments has been bought for modernising Belarusian companies. These are good figures”, stated Sergei Sidorskiy.

    In January-May Belarus commissioned over two million square meters of housing. All in all, this year 4.7 million square meters of housing will be built. The President of Belarus had made a point that this year 70% of new homes should be given to people on the housing register.

    The government specially monitors payments for energy.

    Opposition in Kyrgyzstan wants to join Russia-Belarus union

    From: Trendz
    Felix Kulov
    Opposition in Kyrgyzstan, which has been locked in political turmoil, has initiated a nationwide referendum to join the union of Russia and Belarus, an opposition party said Thursday.

    After the initiative has been registered with the Justice Ministry, its authors will be allowed to start collecting signatures, with 300, 000 being the minimum. The decision was made June 2 on the initiative of the United Front, led by an ex-premier and the president's former ally, Felix Kulov, and other opposition parties.

    Ivan Makushok, spokesman for the state secretary of the Russia-Belarus Union State, said Kyrgyzstan could be accepted into the alliance.

    "Such proposals are fairly legal and welcomed by the permanent committee of the Union State," Makushok said, adding it did not contradict the fundamental agreement on the union.

    But he warned that it was premature to discuss the trilateral union. "The Kyrgyz head of state is skeptical about this referendum," he said. "If it is held and the people of Kyrgyzstan express support for such a union, the head of state will have to send relevant documents to the presidents of Russia and Belarus."

    The impoverished Central Asian state has been deadlocked in a political crisis since confrontation between the president and parliament resulted in Kulov's resignation in February.

    The opposition is accusing President Kurmanbek Bakiyev of failing to improve living standards, curb corruption and bring democracy, and has organized protests demanding his resignation and early elections.

    Belarus Opposes Russian Candidate

    From: SPTimes
    Alexander Veshnyakov
    Belarus has unexpectedly vetoed Russia’s candidate for the post of executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States, apparently because he criticized Belarussian elections.

    At an informal CIS summit last weekend, Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko told Presidents Vladimir Putin and Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, which holds the rotating CIS presidency, that he would not endorse former Central Elections Commission chief Alexander Veshnyakov for the post, Kommersant and Vedomosti reported Wednesday.

    The Belarussian government declined to comment on the matter Wednesday, Interfax reported. But a source in Minsk told Interfax that Veshnyakov had made biased remarks about Belarus and its electoral system while he headed the Central Election Commission.

    In December 2002, Veshnyakov criticized Minsk’s refusal to sign a CIS convention on election standards.

    But Nikolai Cherginets, chairman of the international affairs committee in Belarus’ upper house of the parliament, said the reasons for Lukashenko’s objection were unclear, telling Vedomosti that Veshnyakov knew nothing about Russian-Belarussian relations.

    Veshnyakov, who lost his job as elections chief in March, had been tipped to replace Vladimir Rushailo, whose term as CIS secretary runs out on Thursday.

    Veshnyakov’s departure from the elections commission has been linked to his criticism of Kremlin-backed electoral laws and political tactics, but he has denied the link.

    Lukashenko’s surprising move comes as relations between Russia and Belarus are increasingly strained.

    EU to withdraw trade preferences from Belarus as it fails to reform labor rights

    From: Kiyev Post
    The European Union said Friday it would withdraw preferential trade tariffs from Belarus for its failure to reform labor rights - a move that will increase the cost of some Belarus goods to European markets.

    EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said Belarus was clearly flouting International Labor Organization standards that insist all workers should be able to join trade unions and make collective wage deals with employers.

    Scrapping the EU trade breaks from June 21 will mean tariffs will be 3 percent higher for the 10th of Belarus exports to the EU that have preferential rates - mostly farm machinery and chemicals.

    It will not affect oil and gas exports that pass through Belarus from Russia to Europe.

    The European Commission said it regretted that Belarus had ignored repeated calls to make real changes to human rights law.

    "As soon as Belarus complies with its ILO obligations, the Commission will propose that its (trade) preferences are reinstated," it said. "The situation is now in the hands of the Belarusian authorities."

    "The Commission urges the Belarusian authorities to act now to ensure the full respect of Belarusian workers rights," it said. "Respect for workers rights should be an integral part of the EU's trade policy objectives."

    The EU has largely cut contacts with the Belarusian government, imposing financial sanctions and a travel ban on President Alexander Lukashenko and other leaders it accuses of rigging elections and cracking down on opponents.

    The Geneva-based ILO released a statement earlier Friday that said Belarus had not made progress on giving workers the right to join unions.

    It called on the government to make sure all workers' and employers' organizations could operate freely and to discuss with unions changes to a draft trade union law to make sure it complies with international commitments.

    The EU's executive first suggested withdrawing trade preferences in 2003, when it found the former Soviet republic was denying workers their right to join unions and to make collective deals with employers.

    In 2004, an ILO investigation found that Belarus was not obeying ILO agreements it had signed.

    Last year, the EU said it would broadcast a message to the people of Belarus holding out the prospect of increased trade, job opportunities, easier travel to the West, and EU aid to hospitals, schools, energy networks and the environment.

    To gain the benefits of closer contact with the EU, Belarus would have to allow free elections and meet standards of free speech, human rights, independent media and judiciary, the EU said.

    Trade between Belarus and the EU represents only about 0.1 percent of total EU trade flows. But some $6 billion of Belarus' 2004 external trade of $16.7 billion was with the European Union, according to EU figures.

    Top exports to the EU included mineral oils, lubricants and related materials, while top EU exports to Belarus were machinery and automotive products.

    Belarus, however, is the main land transit route from EU countries to Moscow. Russian oil and gas pipelines to western Europe pass through the country, including part of the world's longest oil pipeline, which transports oil from central Russia to Germany.

    Russia's Vneshtorgbank is ready to lend to Belarusian government, CEO says

    From: Naveny
    Vneshtorgbank is ready to lend to the Belarusian government, the Russian bank's president, Andrei Kostin, told reporters in Minsk on Friday.

    "We are ready to provide loans for the government of Belarus and regional administration if necessary," Mr. Kostin said. "We see that the country currently has a stable economy and stable macroeconomic indicators."

    As for the ongoing Belarusian-Russian talks on a stabilization loan for Belarus, the Vneshtorgbank president said that the bank cannot "substitute interstate lending."

    According to Mr. Kostin, in 2006 and 2007, Vneshtorgbank arranged for the Belarusian finance ministry and leading Belarusian banks and companies to receive loans totaling about $800 million.

    While speaking about the possibility of Vneshtorgbank's participation in placing the Belarusian government's securities in the Russian market, Mr. Kostin said that this work would become more active after Belarus received a sovereign credit rating. "Belarus is soon expected to get major ratings and I think that we'll then start placing bonds in Russia and beyond," he said.

  • Around the region...

    Commonwealth games

    From: IPT
    Although it is considered a distant corner of Europe to many, there is plenty of Middle East wholesalers and sub-distributors that have come to realise the financial advantages of implementing a CIS strategy.

    Unlike the Gulf landscape, the CIS spans an enormous geographic area that stretches from Europe's eastern peninsular right across to central Asia, and is home to 280 million people. The CIS was formed 16 years ago following the split of the Soviet Union and consists of 11 countries including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan is regarded as the 12th member of the CIS, but it only holds associate status after withdrawing its membership two years ago.

    In some ways, the CIS resembles the Middle East: outsiders often look upon it as a single territory whereas in reality it is a diverse collection of markets with very different characteristics.

    "Despite the common Soviet legacy there are considerable differences between various CIS markets," said Andrey Kostevich, VP of the Russia and Belarus region at components distributor Asbis. "These differences are mostly due to national mentality and traditions. Some markets in central Asia are extremely conservative and isolated, like those of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. On the other hand, there are booming economies in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, which thrive on natural energy resources."

    He added: "The Ukrainian IT market is also fairly big and promising despite the ongoing political volatility. The IT market of Belarus has seen some positive transformations over the past few years, driven by formidable GDP growth. We are also observing some attempts to improve Belarus' attractiveness for foreign investments, including the considerable reduction of tax burdens, which is expected to take effect next year."

    While vendors such as HP and Fujitsu Siemens are directly present in Belarus, they are competing in a PC market that only recently grew to more than 100,000 PCs a year and is heavily dependent on desktops. Local PC assemblers, such as national champion Xorex-Service, also wield plenty of influence in the market, a theme that is consistent across most of the CIS countries.

    Contrasting markets

    Peripherals vendor Genius Computer Technology has been doing business with the CIS ever since opening its Dubai office 10 years ago and general manager, Jihad Youssef, claims sales from the region continue to grow between 30% and 35% each year.

    “We have a large number of clients in the CIS, especially Kazakhstan and Georgia, which are two countries that have really developed,” he said. “Armenia is a country where we also see a big future and Azerbaijan is picking up fast. Other countries are doing well too, but there are sometimes political situations that stop the progress. The situation is still not very stable in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.”

    Russia aside, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan are cited by several sources as the most compelling markets in the CIS region. The constitutional republic of Kazakhstan, with a population of 15 million people, has become a bigger draw for IT vendors in recent years following efforts by the government to stimulate technology investment.

    Improvements in infrastructure, coupled with the dollars it attracts from oil production, are also driving the size of the IT market, although distributors selling into the country say they face challenges.“Last year there was a doubling of transportation and customs duties in Kazakhstan and that is why the sales dropped,” said Vladislav Rogovoy, managing director at Jebel Ali-based LightSpeed, a distributor of products such as Foxconn, Micronet and Toshiba notebooks. “Our customers have to take this cost and they are finding that it is now better to buy some products from other countries.”

    Most high profile foreign brands are visible in Kazakhstan, but any company with aspirations of strong growth needs to assemble a proficient partner network. Dell, for instance, uses two authorised service providers in the country — Comel and JSC — and also works with partner L&M Consulting.

    Its strategy elsewhere in the CIS follows the same channel-oriented principles with resellers such as Vallex IT in Armenia, Risk Company in Azerbaijan and DAAC Sistem in Moldova operating as official partners.

    SDC, a Jebel Ali-based distributor with a strong CIS presence, reckons 90% of business in the region is done in Russian — just one of the many factors that needs to be taken into consideration when endeavouring to cultivate relationships in the region.

    “First of all you have to understand the market and the competitors,” observed sales executive Shokh Shomakhmudov. “Product knowledge is important too. The same products, which we are selling in one country, we may not be able to sell in another. For example, we are selling fewer USB flash drives to Uzbekistan than Kazakhstan because consumers are buying from China, which is much cheaper.”

    Regulatory challenges

    Doing business in the CIS can be an exhausting affair due to bureaucratic complexity and frequent changes in regulations, especially in Russia. This makes the market extremely unpredictable.

    “The CIS is just an association, not a union like the European Union where the customs rules and goods movements is easy and smooth among members of the union,” said Mourad Mohamed, marketing manager at PC assembler and distributor FDC. “In the CIS, each country has its own customs rules and regulations and its own law. Therefore, we have to address each country separately, understanding its market situation and needs.”

    Indeed, physically getting the product into the CIS and moving it around can be an uncompromising task given the various formalities and barriers that companies face. While retaining the decision-making process and head office locally, many IT companies have actually established logistics and warehouse facilities in the Middle East — most notably in Jebel Ali — to simplify the job of getting product into the market as quickly as possible.

    The list of distribution companies that have earned a reputation for building strong channels in the CIS from Dubai include Fire Bird, Empa and Jel Corporation, the latter of which counts IT, mobile phone and photographic brands within its portfolio.

    “The logistics from here to Kazakhstan, or the other CIS countries, can be difficult,” said Youssef at Genius. “You have to ship from Dubai to Iran by sea, then from Iran to the Caspian Sea it goes by truck or train, and then from there it goes to the country. The processing of the logistics is slightly complicated and costly — a 40-foot container costs something like US$6,000 or US$7,000. When a container comes from Hong Kong to Dubai it costs us no more than US$2,000. That’s why they need very strong logistics operations here.

    Youssef added: “If a client is based in Dubai, the only thing we do for him is a transfer of ownership and he does the rest. If the client is not based in Dubai he will give us a list of shipping companies and we will advise him on which company to take. This is one of our specialities as we have to know who can actually do this service. It is not like the Middle East where the goods can be sent anywhere in three or four days.”

    Even when the product is in the CIS region, the work is rarely complete, according to Kostevich at distributor Asbis. “The major challenge we are facing in Russia and other countries is that it is a huge market territory with different time zones, which leads to more complicated logistics and remote work with partners — mainly in online mode. Face to face business meetings are rare.”

    The financial dangers of trading in the CIS are also at the forefront of distributors’ minds. “Even today, years after the decentralisation of the economy, the risks are huge and it is still not recommended to do business based on credit terms,” said Mohamed at FDC, which has a direct local presence in the CIS through a company representative.

    “It is true that since the inflation of 1998 in Russia, some progress has been made, such as the stabilisation of payments systems. Russia has also taken action which has translated into several laws such as the bank bankruptcy law and bank restructuring law. But the international trust in dealing with CIS customers on a credit basis is still not up to the desired level that guarantees the payment security.”

    Distributor Asbis has moved to strengthen its position in the last year by implementing the use of factoring in Russia as an additional financial facility, while Genius says it is more flexible with CIS firms that have a presence in Dubai. “The payment terms of these countries is either letter of credit, bank guarantee or telegraphic transfer in advance,” said Youssef.

    He continued: “However, we do deal with the clients who are based in Dubai and we give them credit and facilities. It is not a problem, but until now we haven’t opened any credit facilities for clients who are based in the CIS. They are not against this because they know the situation and I believe all the vendors are doing the same thing. We are working on more facilities now and looking to put insurance on the clients in the CIS market, but the insurance companies are still hesitating a bit. If they want to give you an insurance it’s at a high premium.”

    Yet for all its drawbacks, the CIS is a market that IT companies are finding increasingly difficult to ignore. Russia and the Ukraine remain the most developed of all the CIS states. “Russia’s market size for 2007 is estimated at 7.25 million desktop PCs, 175,000 servers and up to 100,000 mobile PCs,” revealed Kostevich at Asbis, which last year added Toshiba notebooks and the entire Dell range to its product portfolio. “The growth forecast for components distribution this year stands at 5% to 10%. In the long run, however, due to global commoditisation trends, this market is going to become more constricted, and will eventually be filled up with A-brands.”

    Retail boom

    Much of the growth in the CIS is coming from the retail sector, where consumers are showing a strong appetite for technology products offered by leading stores such as Eldorado and Technosila. Unlike the Middle East, there is also a flourishing online retail market place thought to consist of more than 1,500 e-tailers although it is the hybrid distribution-retail model that is beginning to enjoy the most prominence.

    “In the CIS the power retailers do not exist like they do in Dubai,” observed Youssef at Genius. “However, the distributors who are playing a major role over there and importing the product now have two divisions — one division for distribution and another division for retail. Before, in the CIS, most of the business used to go for trading and government tenders, but nowadays the business has also shifted to retail. Still, we receive a lot of orders for tenders — we have just received an order for a 20,000 mix between keyboards, mice and speakers for a tender in Georgia.”

    Rogovoy at LightSpeed added: “The market overall is getting more mature and there is now a lot of competition from the Russian countries. Convergence of electronics and computer stores is taking place and we are seeing the number of retail networks expand.”
    The Ukrainian retail channel has taken off within the last couple of years, emerging as the fastest growing region for digital cameras in 2006.

    Falling price points led shipments to climb almost 70% year-on-year to 600,000 units much to the delight of vendors such as Canon, Olympus and Sony, which have carved out the distribution channels that have ensured they represent a vast portion of this US$140m a year market. There is plenty of room for expansion too, according to Alexey Gvozdenko, research analyst at IDC Ukraine.

    “Despite the surge in camera sales, the Ukrainian market has a long way to go to catch up with Central European peers,” he revealed. “Only six out of every 100 households in Ukraine have a digital camera.”

    Russia Says It Opened Criminal Inquiry Into British Espionage

    From: NYTimes
    Russia’s intelligence service said Friday that it had opened a criminal investigation into British espionage here in Russia, based on statements and undisclosed evidence provided by a businessman who is accused of poisoning Alexander V. Litvinenko, a former K.G.B. officer and a Kremlin critic.

    The announcement by the Federal Security Service, the domestic successor of the Soviet K.G.B., further confused a murder investigation that has soured relations between Russia and Britain. The countries have staked out starkly different positions regarding the killing of Mr. Litvinenko and the motives behind it.

    Mr. Litvinenko died in London in November after ingesting a radioactive isotope, polonium-210. Last month, British prosecutors accused a business associate of his, Andrei K. Lugovoi, of carrying out the poisoning, and demanded his extradition.

    Mr. Lugovoi has denied the accusations. Two weeks ago, he held a theatrical news conference in which he accused Britain’s foreign intelligence service, MI6, of orchestrating the whole affair and recruiting Mr. Litvinenko and a prominent Russia tycoon in self-exile, Boris A. Berezovsky. He said they had conspired with British intelligence operatives to provide compromising information about President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

    Mr. Lugovoi’s assertions were the basis for the new investigation, the Federal Security Service said Friday, though its one-sentence statement did not mention who was the focus of any potential espionage charges.

    A spokesman, Sergei N. Ignatchenko, said in a telephone interview that the security service was investigating information that Mr. Lugovoi “did not voice at the press conference,” though at the time Mr. Lugovoi had suggested that he had incriminating evidence against Mr. Berezovsky and Mr. Litvinenko.

    Mr. Ignatchenko added that the investigation was focused on “reconnaissance work of the British intelligence service on the territory of the Russian Federation.” His comments suggested that the investigation could also focus on Russians who may have cooperated with British operatives here.

    Russia has accused Britain of spying before. In 2006, the Federal Security Service accused four British diplomats of communicating with Russian agents using a device disguised as a rock, though Russia chose not to expel them, as is standard practice in cases of suspected espionage.

    Also last year, a Russian court convicted a retired officer, identified as Col. Sergei V. Skripal, of having passed classified information to MI6 for a decade. The court sentenced him to 13 years in prison.

    The new investigation appeared to give an official endorsement to Mr. Lugovoi’s assertions. Although investigators here have said that they are looking into the circumstances of Mr. Litvinenko’s death, they have made it clear that Mr. Lugovoi is not a suspect. That has led to accusations by Mr. Litvinenko’s relatives and supporters that Russia was harboring an accused murderer.

    Russia has refused to consider a British request for Mr. Lugovoi’s extradition to face charges, since the country’s Constitution forbids it. Officials and the news media here continue to be scornful of the accusations that Mr. Lugovoi might have been involved in the killing.

    Russia’s prosecutor general, Yuri Y. Chaika, said Thursday that Britain had shared material that prompted the decision to accuse Mr. Lugovoi. But Mr. Chaika dismissed it as an “analysis of the evidence, no more than that.”

    In London, a British official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under civil service rules, said that prosecutors were “still awaiting the formal Russian response” to the extradition request. The official described the Litvinenko case as “a criminal matter, not an issue of intelligence.”

    U.S. to Keep Europe as Site for Missile Defense

    From: NYTimes
    Robert M. Gates
    Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates made clear Thursday that the United States would not alter plans to deploy parts of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, despite an unexpected proposal by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to use a radar base in Azerbaijan instead.

    During a session of defense ministers here, Mr. Gates also effectively secured NATO’s endorsement for an American plan to build the missile defense bases in Central Europe, overcoming the concerns of some alliance members that the effort could rupture relations with Russia.

    The radar in Azerbaijan offered by Mr. Putin at the recent Group of 8 session with President Bush in Germany could complement the sites proposed for Central Europe, Mr. Gates said, but not replace them.

    “I was very explicit in the meeting that we saw the Azeri radar as an additional capability, that we intended to proceed with the radar, the X-band radar, in the Czech Republic,” Mr. Gates said at an evening news conference after meeting with his Russian counterpart, Anatoly E. Serdyukov. American military officers have said that the X-band radar proposed for the Czech Republic is designed to spot specific objects in space and to assist interceptors in locking on and destroying an adversary’s missile in the middle of its flight. The system in Azerbaijan is an early warning radar, with a wider range but also less specific tracking ability.

    NATO support, described by its officials as a significant step forward for the American proposals, came in the somewhat coded language typical of the Atlantic alliance.

    NATO did not issue a specific endorsement of placing the elements of the system in former Soviet states in Central Europe. But it announced an effort that in essence was an agreement that the system would be deployed: a study of how proposed shorter-range NATO missile defense systems would be incorporated in the long-range American antimissile program. That American system will include 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a network of radar defenses in the Czech Republic.

    “There were no criticisms by any of the NATO allies of our missile defense proposals or of our moving forward,” Mr. Gates said. “There obviously is interest in trying to encourage the Russians to participate with us, to make the system complementary to NATO shorter-range missile defenses, and for transparency.”

    These systems would be “bolted on” to the American system, which is designed to counter long-range missiles, in particular a potential threat from Iran, alliance officials said.

    “The NATO road map on missile defense is now clear,” said Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the NATO secretary general. “It’s practical, and it’s agreed by all.”

    A senior American official, who described the closed-door debate under standard diplomatic rules of anonymity, was even more explicit than Mr. Gates in summarizing NATO’s support. “What you see here is allies agreeing to adapt NATO’s work to the reality that there will be a long-range system, as well,” the official said.

    NATO was already studying a theaterwide missile defense system, and the decision made Thursday alleviates the alliance of the financial and political costs of creating long-range missile defenses.

    The NATO study is to be completed by February. Its military experts will work on blueprints for short- and medium-range missile defense systems to shield allies not under the cover of the system proposed for Central Europe, including Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Turkey.

    In an unexpected development sure to be scrutinized by the Kremlin, Mr. Gates indicated an interest in pushing cooperation on missile defenses even further into the former Soviet hemisphere of Eastern Europe by raising the prospect of future discussions with Ukraine.

    Ukraine is not a NATO member, but is part of an alliance dialogue, the NATO-Ukraine Commission. Mr. Gates said that on Thursday he “indicated a willingness to share information, data with Ukraine” on the missile defense efforts in Poland and the Czech Republic.

    Russian officials have complained that the proposed system is a Trojan horse designed to counter Moscow’s strategic rocket forces, although Mr. Putin shifted the debate with a proposal last week to link the American system to a radar in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

    At the session of the NATO-Russia Council on Thursday, Mr. Serdyukov, the Russian defense minister, “made no threats” about the American plans, said senior American officials who had attended, speaking anonymously under diplomatic rules.

    While the United States, Poland and the Czech Republic are all alliance members, the negotiations on missile defense bases are being carried out in bilateral talks outside the NATO framework.

    Venezuela's Chavez due in Russia at end of month

    From: Caribbean net news
    Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez is to visit Russia later this month, his Moscow embassy said Friday, with speculation that he could place an order for submarines.

    "The Venezuelan president will be in Moscow on June 28 and 29 and in Rostov-on-Don (in southern Russia) on June 30," the embassy said, quoted by the Ria-Novosti news agency.

    It gave no details of his programme.

    Earlier this week the daily newspaper Kommersant said Caracas wants to buy up to nine submarines and could clinch the deal during the visit, a sale that would cast a shadow over the meeting between US and Russian Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin at the beginning of July.

    Chavez is one of the most outspoken critics of US policy in the western hemisphere.

    According to Kommersant, quoting sources in naval construction and the arms sales business, Caracas has ordered five 636 and four 677E Amur class diesel-powered subs.

    It said the submarines could be used to breach a possible United States blockade.

    Oil-rich Venezuela has been spending heavily on military equipment to modernise its armed forces, buying 24 Russian Sukhoi fighters, 35 Russian military helicopters and 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles.

    Ukraine opposition looks to Tymoshenko bloc to form new coalition

    From: Ria Novosti
    Pro-presidential opposition party Our Ukraine will only form a coalition with the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc in a new parliament, the party leader said Saturday.

    "After the November 30 election, we will form a coalition, but only with the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, not any of the forces that are today part of the 'anti-crisis' coalition," Vyacheslav Kyryllenko said.

    Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko resigned Thursday as a member of her eponymous bloc in parliament.

    Under an agreement reached previously between the Ukrainian president, prime minister and speaker, early parliamentary elections have been set for September 30, which requires that all MPs formally resign.

    A total of 105 MPs have thus far announced they are quitting their factions, including 50 YTB and 29 pro-presidential opposition Our Ukraine members.

    More than 150 MPs must quit the 450-member legislature for it to lose its legitimacy and to prevent the coalition, still reluctant to dissolve, from continuing its work.

    Yushchenko and his archrival, Viktor Yanukovych, agreed May 27 to hold snap elections in a bid to end a protracted political crisis in Ukraine, which was threatening to turn violent as troops loyal to both leaders were being drawn into the power struggle.

    The president suspended his April 2 order to dissolve the Supreme Rada for four days to give the legislature time to pass laws clearing the way for snap polls and to refresh the Central Election Commission (CEC).

    Yushchenko has been pressing for parliament's dissolution and early elections following the defection by 11 opposition members to the ruling coalition, which the president said was an attempt to "usurp power."

    Moscow-friendly Yanukovych, who was defeated by Yushchenko in the contested presidential elections in 2004, eventually agreed to early polls, ending two months of political infighting and street rallies.

    Yanukovych returned to politics last year, when his party won the majority of seats in parliament and formed the ruling coalition.

    The Big Question: Why has Lech Walesa published the files kept on him by Polish police?

    From: The Independant
    Lech Walesa
    Why are we asking this now?

    Five hundred pages of files kept by the Polish police on Lech Walesa when he was leader of the striking Gdansk shipyard workers in the early 1980s have just gone up on the internet. Walesa - who went on to become president of Poland - put them there himself to confound those who have spread rumours that he was a police informer in the old days before Communism collapsed in Poland in 1989.

    "I got sick and tired of the constant accusations, doubts and insinuations being peddled by these people and decided to publish these materials for all to see," he said. It is the most dramatic move yet in an argument that has been raging in Poland for months, over whether all the old police files should be made public so that everyone who spied on colleagues or neighbours for the secret police can be identified.

    What made Walesa such a controversial figure?

    There were many brave men and women involved in the battle for civil rights in the old Communist states. One could mention the Russians Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov, the Czech Vaclav Havel, the Slovak Alexander Dubcek - all of them remarkable. But until 1989, no one defied Communist authority as successfully as Walesa.

    In the summer of 1980, Communist Poland was paralysed by a strike of 100,000 workers protesting about increases in food prices. They elected a strike committee, with Walesa, an electrical engineer from the Gdansk shipyard, as chairman, and created the Solidarnosc (Solidarity) movement, which the Communists never succeeded in suppressing. The situation was replete with irony. Lenin, the founder of Communism, had exhorted workers to use the general strike as political. Now the self-professed Leninists who ruled Poland were forced to negotiate with a genuine strike leader who was not a Marxist but a practising Roman Catholic. In 1981, the crisis ended with a military coup.

    What happened to Walesa after that?

    Walesa spent seven years either under arrest or being harassed. In 1983, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1989, he was elected President of post-Communist Poland, but lost his position in the 1995 election. He stood again unsuccessfully in 2000, since when he has lectured around the world on the history and politics of central Europe. He is now 63.

    Why should this story matter now?

    All the old Communist regimes had extensive police networks which relied on information secretly passed on by informants, who spied on their neighbours or colleagues (the theme of the recent film The Lives of Others, which explored the police state that was the old East Germany). There are an unknown number of ex-informants still alive, perhaps still holding important jobs. In Poland, old police files are held by a trust called the Institute of National Remembrance. Every now and again, leaks emerge from historians with access to the archives. Last month, one of Poland's most eminent journalists, Ryszard Kapuscinski, who died in January aged 74, was "outed" as a former spy.

    In March the Polish government brought in a new vetting law, which required 53 categories of professionals - including politicians, journalists, academics, head teachers and directors of publicly listed companies - to declare whether they had collaborated with the police. It applied to about 700,0000 Poles born before 1 August 1972, and to foreigners working in Poland. Those who failed to sign a declaration before 15 May, or were caught lying, faced dismissal and other penalties. After widespread protests, the law was effectively annulled by the constitutional court. By that time, thousands had filled in their forms, but many others had refused, and were prepared to take the consequences.

    What is wrong with exposing ex-informants?

    There are Poles who personally have nothing to hide who vehemently oppose the sniffing out and naming of old collaborators, because of the mindset it induces. Too many people, they say, are obsessed with what happened before 1989, instead of dealing with the world they now live in.

    Adam Michnik, a former Solidarity leader who now edits Poland's largest newspaper, has spoken of there being two Polands: "A Poland of suspicion, fear and revenge is fighting a Poland of hope, courage and dialogue." Lech Walesa was among those opposed to opening the archives, saying that it would destabilise Poland's democracy. But the counter-argument is that while the information about ex-informants lies festering in the archives, it is a cause for suspicion, rumour and possibly even blackmail. Exposure would clear the air.

    Is this problem confined to Poland?

    The same problem exists in every one of the countries that used to be under Communist rule, 10 of which are now members of the EU. In 1991, the Germans passed the Stasi Records Act, regulating the access to the old East German police files. The law allows anyone who was spied on to see their file, and see who spied on them, but does not allow them to see the spies' files, to avoid the risk of revenge attacks. This Stasi law is regarded as a model of its kind. It has been copied in most of the other former Communist states of Eastern Europe. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, the new Iraq government also sent observers to Germany to study the Stasi law before deciding what to do with the mountain of files assembled by the Baathist police.

    This problem crops up wherever an oppressive regime has collapsed or been overthrown. In many cases wiser heads have argued that there is no point in exacting retribution. In France, after the war, the former prime minister Pierre Laval was shot, and the ex-president Marshal Petain died in prison, but a halt was called to further reprisals against Nazi collaborators. In Spain, after the death of Franco, the new democracy decided not to punish those who had worked with him, and most of the country has enjoyed political stability since. In South Africa, after the end of Apartheid, Nelson Mandela's government also chose reconciliation.

    What about the UK's experience?

    Very few Britons could be accused of collaboration with the Nazis, though the two most blatant offenders, William Joyce and John Amery, were hanged. But in a part of the UK, the problem is a live one. Peace in Northern Ireland was obtained at the price of allowing a large number of killers to walk free. There are still many unanswered questions about the period, including suspicions that some police or intelligence officers connived in terrorist murders, but the political leaders from both sides have decided to let bygones be bygones. How those caught up in the Afghanistan conflict in 2001, still imprisoned without trial or any prospect of release in Guantanamo Bay must wish that the US government would also choose reconciliation over retribution.

    So should informers from previous regimes be exposed?


    * The threat of punishment is by far the best deterrent for dictators and their servants

    * Victims of tyranny, like other victims, deserve to be heard and to see justice done

    * Since the Nuremberg Trials, it has been established that "I was only obeying orders" is no excuse


    * Stable societies are built on tolerance and restraint, not revenge

    * Hunting down every last ex-spy breeds an obsession with past wrongs

    * Dictatorships generate huge numbers of partial collaborators, many of whom are unwilling

  • From the blogs...

    Another Day, Another Humiliating Failure for Putin's Russia: Moscow, Mumbai . . . same difference

    From: La Russophobe
    Once again, an international reviewer gives Russia a failing grade. And once again, instead of admitting faults and seeking to reform, all Russian leaders can see is foreign conspiracy. Just as in Soviet times, exactly the attitude that brought the USSR to its knees. The Moscow Times reports:

    Moscow is the worst place to do business in terms of its economic stability, legal and political environment, according to a new survey of World Centers of Commerce published by MasterCard. London, the world's biggest financial center, topped the list ahead of New York and Tokyo, while Moscow came in 50th out of 50 cities. Immediately ahead of Moscow were Warsaw, Poland; Sao Paolo, Brazil; and Johannesburg, South Africa. Moscow city government officials said Thursday that the city's poor ranking could be partly due to a lack of reliable statistics. "It is clear at first glance that information about Moscow is clearly insufficient, a fact that forestalls active integration of the Russian capital into world economic processes," Yury Roslyak, the city's deputy mayor responsible for economic development, said in an e-mailed comment.

    Roslyak added that City Hall would "use the results of any research on Moscow in its development planning." The research model for the MasterCard index consists of six complex aggregates, which include cities' legal and political framework, economic stability, ease of doing business, financial flows, business centers and knowledge creation. The index takes into account more than 100 separate indicators that show the changing role cities play in promoting commerce around the world. Moscow, along with Sao Paolo and Mumbai, scored the lowest in political climate and economic stability, occupying the last positions in both. Stockholm, Copenhagen and Singapore enjoy the best political climate and economic stability, the report said.

    Political and economic institutions in Russia remain at a low level, compared with more advanced economies, the report said. The report said setting up a business or registering property remained a major hassle in Moscow, requiring heaps of paperwork and wasted time. A lot still depends on the whims of state officials while unclear rules can stifle business endeavors, the report said. The authors of the report define economic stability as stability in economic growth, national currency and inflation. For ease of doing business, Moscow inched up one place to 49th, ahead only of Mumbai. "Moscow taking the last place is not an accident but a sad commentary on the myriad of problems afflicting the megapolis," said Denis Vizgalov, an expert with Moscow's Economic Institute. "The black hole in the city's data collection system plays a big role as reliable statistics are difficult to come by in Moscow." Vizgalov said Russia's poor image abroad, coupled with the city's aggressive business environment, were big factors in the poor assessment. "Moscow needs to create a positive spin for itself abroad to shed its image as a city with lots of money but no organization," he said.

    The Voice of a People

    From: The Buckwheat Waffle Love Hour
    Linked here is a superb report by Freemuse in Denmark on freedom of musical expression in Belarus. The article includes a few downloads and translated lyrics by the more visible Belarusian-language groups working in the underground, including my old favorites N.R.M., as well as Krama, Partyzanskaja Shkola, Neuro Dubel, and others.

    I was listening to Belarusian rappers Chyrvonym pa Belamu's "Nie Zadaju." As far as production values go, it doesn't hold a candle to the likes of Jay-Z or whoever the f*** is big in rap these days (the whole market will turnover in 3 months anyhow). It features a poorly rendered sample from "Rock me Amadeus" to lay down the rhythm. But despite all this the song can still can hit me like a punch in the gut. I guess it's all down to the fact that the artists are "real." They rap what they live, what they know, what's in their hearts.

    My Belarusian is crap, but I catch bits and pieces of the lyrics. The words that hit me the most are the ones that, I imagine, hit native listeners just as hard: the simple statement of the country's name, or when he says "...maja Bielarus" (" Belarus").

    I don't think there's any other word that I've ever heard performed in any language which cuts me so deep. It's a word that, by most estimations, probably shouldn't exist. It defines a people and a nation who have been told for hundreds of years that they don't really exist. It's a word that's been hijacked by a brutal, murderous caveman who uses it as a pretense to his own aspirations to power. But he strips the word of all meaning that doesn't point to his own false claims to legitimacy, and in the process, has left the Belarusian people weak, frightened, ignorant, and vulnerable.

    Belarus is my second home. I was born in the United States with a mix of English, German, Scottish, and Danish blood, but as my wife and I have become one flesh, I feel my heart beating faster on hearing the word "Belarus."

    I've struggled a lot over the last two years finding some means of self-definition. In the process, I've stripped a lot of myself away, both good and bad. I feel less, I don't know, limber. I'm closer to iron, even if my physique doesn't necessarily reflect that. I don't bend or adapt as easily, but I can repel a lot more that comes my way.

    I'm on the cusp now of moving into the sort of work I've always wanted and believed in. I've never been interested in jockeying for position for the sake of prestige. I just want to do what I'm made to do, but I know now that to get something done these days, you have to build up a level of prestige to get people to listen to you and take you seriously, no matter how well your concepts and plans may stand on their own.

    If I get this job, I'm going to have a real launchpad to be an advocate for the artists who speak the word "Belarus" with meaning and conviction. Even if the "paid" work itself doesn't result in a single Belarusian artist on my workplace's stage, I'll have the title behind me to convince people that I know what I'm talking about. If it sounds like my potential new work place isn't actually in line with what I'm looking to do, I only have to go back to my interview two days ago. For whatever reason, I felt that I needed to tell the interviewers that I was working again to host the Free Theatre of Belarus in the States. They absolutely beamed.

    And so, maje Bielarusi, my promise to you, that has been proven with blood, toil, tears, and sweat in the past, is that I'm still here for you. It looks like fortune is giving me a stage and a microphone to speak for you, in contrast to the lonely street corner I've been occupying for the last few years. Stay tuned. Things look about to get interesting.

    The Perils of Managed Democracy

    From: Robert Amsterdam
    The biggest problem with managing fraudulent elections and appointing the next president of Russia is that you just can't be sure that individual "elected" will remain under your control. Though they may look calm and confident, the most recent diplomatic swagger and hubris from Moscow serves to conceal what are most certainly moments of great panic and infighting.

    From IHT:

    Andrew Kuchins, director of the Russian and Eurasian program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, agreed that Putin will likely try to step down without relinquishing most, or any, of his power.

    "What he's proposing to do is walk out of the Kremlin and remain a very influential guy," Kuchins said. "Most guys don't walk out of the Kremlin, and if they do they don't have any major influence on politics. What's he's proposing to do is entirely novel in Russian history."
    One way or the other, analysts say, Putin will probably cede formal power at least temporarily. That, Kuchins and others point out, entails considerable risk.

    Kuchins noted that when Boris Yeltsin named Putin acting president and his political heir in 1999, many of those around Yeltsin, including the billionaire Boris Berezovsky, "thought Putin would be their puppet."

    If that's what Berezovsky believed, it was a grave miscalculation. After his election in 2000, Putin had a falling out with Berezovsky and stripped him of control of a top television channel. The tycoon fled to Britain, but the Kremlin has pressed for his extradition, to face charges related to alleged economic crimes.

    The lesson is that transferring power can be risky. "The less risky thing for Putin to do is just stay on," Kuchins said. "The more risky thing is to try to create a new precedent in Russian history."

    A new cold war--where one side is a lot colder

    From: In the name of democracy
    A friend of mine worked for several years in Slovakia for the National Democratic Institute, spreading the good news about democracy. Last year, when things got nasty in Belarus--protests crushed, opposition politicians jailed, reporters beaten for covering this--my friend became nostalgic, worried. He was right to worry. Alexander Lukashenko won another election "victory" through intimidation and fraud, perhaps his last such theft, but still. At the height of it all, I asked my friend whether Russia was the democracy movement's next stop. I succeeded only in depressing him. "Russia's pretty big," he said.
    But the thing about democracy is that its champions do not always count the odds. Which is why bands of protesters have been standing up to police in Moscow and St. Petersburg, knowing their confrontations must end, as they did last weekend, under the cudgel and the jackboot. The detainees included Maria Gaidar, the daughter of a former prime minister, and, briefly, chess master Garry Kasparov, who has become a ringleader of the opposition to Vladimir Putin's regime.

    Putin is preparing to designate a successor who will inherit the police, security and captive-media machine that will ensure his victory in next year's "elections." The Russian state bears less and less resemblance to democracy. The democratic opposition has powerful friends in Washington and elsewhere, but it cannot win. Surely it cannot win. It will try anyway.

    The rest of us could use a guidebook to the events ahead. Along comes Mark MacKinnon, the former Moscow bureau chief for the Globe and Mail, with his first book, The New Cold War: Revolutions, Rigged Elections and Pipeline Politics in the Former Soviet Union. It's an ambitious if flawed work, connecting the dots between a string of democratic revolutions in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan to demonstrate the Western money and organizational muscle that helped each of them happen. These organizations include the National Endowment for Democracy, founded in 1982 by Ronald Reagan and funded by the U.S. Congress; the Democratic party's international wing, the National Democratic Institute, and its Republican counterpart, the International Republican Institute; and the various NGOs funded by the billionaire philanthropist George Soros. The influence of these groups, active for decades, became obvious during the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine. For MacKinnon, they represent the Western front in... well, a new cold war.

    "Just a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall," he writes, "Washington and Moscow were back at odds, again fighting tooth and nail in an undeclared battle that would bring down at least four governments and influence the development of two major oil pipelines over the course of Putin's presidency." The first Cold War was "fought on such far-flung battlefields as Angola and Vietnam," he adds. This one is happening in Moscow's backyard.

    But MacKinnon senses--and in my opinion, seriously exaggerates--a similarity of manner and morality between the two factions. On one side, the U.S., "once again donning the cloak of defending 'freedom' and individual liberties"; on the other, Putin's Russia, "with Kremlin officials occasionally pining openly for an outright return to the Communist system of days past." This new war, MacKinnon writes, is "as much about competing commercial interests" as it is "about political systems or ideologies."

    With that, MacKinnon goes racing all over the region, from Belgrade to Kiev to Tbilisi to Lukashenko's grim and terrified Minsk, where the author is awakened in the night by an ominous pounding at the door of his borrowed apartment. He does well not to answer; the same night, another reporter is lured into a fight outside his own apartment by another goon squad, beaten severely, then arrested for hooliganism.

    Which points up the book's central problem. MacKinnon is so eager to paint the struggle for democracy as a power game that he discounts the evidence of his own eyes and his own formidable reporting in weighing the two sides' morality. The book opens with agents of Russia's Federal Security Service planting a massive apartment bomb designed to look like the work of Chechen terrorists in the town of Ryazan in 1999. Belarusian thugs come for MacKinnon in the night. I don't see the NDI doing a lot of covert bombing or beating. So it's not moral sophistication, but a moral failure on MacKinnon's part to throw up his hands and say it's all much of a muchness and ordinary people are "caught in the middle."

    Fortunately MacKinnon's subjects understand what is happening. "Do I think the CIA used us?" Sinisa Sikman, a Serbian democracy activist who later trained activists in Belarus and Ukraine, asks. "Well, maybe we used the CIA for our own interests. If the CIA wanted to bring down Milosevic, and I, who grew up here, wanted to bring down Milosevic, who do you think enjoyed it more?"

  • Sport...

    Belarus submits bid for hosting 2013 world ice hockey championships

    From: Naveny
    Belarus has submitted a formal bid to host the 2013 world ice hockey championships, according to the Belarusian Ice Hockey Federation (BIHF)'s press office.

    The press office said that it "would be a great honor for the country to host the international hockey community."

    The BIHF pledged that the tournament would be organized on a high level.

    Bids to host the 2013 event also have been submitted by Latvia, Hungary and Sweden. The four countries are to present their plans for organizing the 16-team tournament before the end of July.

    The International Ice Hockey Federation will pick the venue of the 2013 championships at a congress to be held in Vancouver between September 19 and 22.

    The country suffered a setback in its bid to host the 2010 world championships, as it was outvoted in favor of its main rival, Germany. Minsk then said that it would bid for the right to host the 2011 championships but later dropped the plans.

    A 13,000-seat ice hockey arena is expected to be built in Belarus in a few years.

  • Endnote...

    Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in May 2007

    From: Viasna
    In May the public attention in Belarus was focused on the response of the Belarusian authorities to the decisive demands of the US and the European Union. In the end of April David Kramer, US deputy assistant secretary of state, made an official visit to Belarus. He stated that the US and the EU expect from the Belarusian authorities concrete steps for normalization of the relations with the international community. The first condition which the Belarusian government must implement for improvement of relations is to release all political prisoners and stop politically motivated harassment, including persecution of Young Front activists. ‘The statements of the Belarusian side about readiness for dialogue do not meet their actions’, stated the diplomat. Mr. Kramer also emphasized that the US still does not use all means of influence on Lukashenka’s regime which are provided by the Bill on support to democracy in Belarus.

    Due to such statements the Belarusian authorities had to make some concessions. On 22 May ‘parole for good behavior’ was granted to Pavel Seviarynets and Mikalai Statkevich, the political activists who were sentenced to corrective labor for organization of ‘mass riot’ which in fact was a peaceful protest action against the rigged parliamentary election 2004. Parole was granted to them despite the fact that earlier the court refused early release for them as they ‘did not realize their guilt and didn’t step on the path of correction’. Meanwhile, at the time of release only 2 months of corrective labor were left to the activists. On 25 May ‘parole for good behavior’ was also granted to 50-year-old human rights activist Katsiaryna Sadouskaya who was convicted for insult of the president and a judge. Besides, several criminal cases against youth activists were stopped, including the case against Dzianis Dzianisau and Tatsiana Yelavaya for organization of protest actions of the unregistered organization Bunt in June 2006; the cases against Krasnou, Viachaslau Siuchyk, Mikita, Natallia Starastsina, Aliaksandr Uryuski and Aliaksandra Yasiuk.

    The draft law On state social benefits, rights and guarantees for certain categories of citizens got a wide public resonance as well. On 23 May the Chamber of Representatives adopted it without any debates. By this law the 50% discount of transport fees for students was abolished, which increased the protest moods among youth. About 6 000 signatures against the repeal of benefits were collected and passed the Chamber of Representatives.

    ‘The deprival of groundless privileges in Belarus is not a caprice, but a part of the objective reality’, stated Aliaksandr Lukashenka. He added that soon there would be elaborated a transparent mechanism for address social support. The authorities consider that the population treated the law with understanding. However, the majority of Belarusians do not have even the possibility to express their attitude to this step. The National committee of the united democratic forces proposed to hold the political campaign against the total liquidation of benefits and social guarantees ‘Say NO! to Lukashenka!’. In the majority of cases the authorities banned the meetings and pickets which were organized within the frames of this campaign.

    On 21 May in Druzhby Narodau Park near Banhalor Square the police dispersed a peaceful student action against the repeal of benefits. According to witnesses, some of the action participants were severely beaten by the police.

    The decision of the authorities to ‘reconstruct’ the historical center of Hrodna with demolition of architectural monuments and destruction of the cultural lawyers of the 14-19 century revolted not only historians and local core researchers, but even ordinary citizens who try to prevent this barbarism. Activists keep 24 hour duty near the buildings of the Old Town who were put on the demolition list. On 29 May the activists of the civil campaign Let’s Save Hrodna applied to Hrodna prosecutor’s office against law violations during the construction works in the historical center of the city. The protest note was signed by 789 citizens. Besides, representatives of the intellectual circles of Hrodna intend to initiate a local referendum concerning the city planning and protection of the Old Town.

    On 24 May in Hrodna the police detained 13 young defenders of the Old Town, who protested against the demolition of an old steam mill and took them to Leninski police department of Hrodna. There the violation reports were composed. Then the activists were taken to Leninski court where the judge Dzmitry Matseyuk fined Maksim Hubarevich 320 000 rubles (about 150 US dollars) for alleged organization of the action. 7 more activists received official warnings. Journalists were not admitted to the trial.

    On 17 May a sitting of the UN General Assembly took place in New York. As a result of the voting Belarus was not included into the UN Human Rights Council. On the eve of the sitting a number of Belarusian and international human rights organizations expressed their firmly negative attitude to the possible inclusion of the country in the Human Rights Council. One of their main arguments was that such step would undermine the authority of this international organ and would put to doubt its principles. The adversaries pointed that the situation of human rights in Belarus is the hardest among all European countries.

    Freedom of conscience

    On 8 May the police department of Miadzel district annulled the residence permit to the Polish missionary, member of the United Church of Evangelic Christians Jaroslaw Lukasik and ordered him to leave the country within 1 month because of ‘activity aimed at doing harm to the national security of the Republic of Belarus in the field of inter-confessional relations’.

    On 16 May the priest’s wife directed an open letter to the authorities and on 18 May a similar appeal to the authorities was filed by 29 Protestant priests. ‘We consider it inadmissible to decide on the fate of the priest and his large family on the basis of far-fetched accusations. We are especially concerned with the fact that recently such situations have become systematic’, reads the appeal of priests to the presidential administration and the Department on citizenship and migration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

    On 27 May the police detained Jaroslaw Lukasik in a private house and took him to Tsentralny police department of Minsk. There they composed on him a report for unauthorized liturgy. Lukasik was released only on arrival of the Polish consul. On 28 May the chair of Tsentralny police department Vital Siniakou fined Lukasik about 15 US dollars, announced about his deportation since 7 June and five-year entrance prohibition.

    A citizen of the US, Protestant missionary Decker Travis Todd has been deported from Belarus as well after his residence permit was annulled, also because of ‘doing harm to the national security of Belarus’. However, which Todds’ actions presented danger to the national security is still unknown.

    On 28 May the deputy chair of Tsentralny court of Minsk Leanid Yasinovich fined the pastor of St. John the Precursor Church of the United Church of Evangelic Christians Antoni Bokun about 300 US dollars for unauthorized liturgy, which was considered as violation of article 23.34 of the Administrative Code.

    Administrative punishment of participants of peaceful actions

    On 3 May the judge of Savetski court of Minsk Liudmila Savastsian found the activist of Young Front Zmitser Khvedaruk guilty of administrative violation under part 2 of article 23.34 (violation of the order of organization or holding mass actions) of the Administrative Code and fined him 930 000 rubles (about 450 US dollars). On 26 April, after the end of Chernobyl Way the police attacked a column of participants of the rally and severely beat some of them. However, the authorities accused in it Zmitser Khvedaruk, who allegedly organized unauthorized procession.

    Savetski court of Minsk also tried several political activists for organization of Chernobyl Way rally. The judge Aksana Reliava dined the deputy chair of the BPF Party Aliaksei Yanukevich 930 000 rubles, judge Liudmila Savastsian fined 775 000 rubles (about 365 dollars) the member of the political council of the United Civil Party Valiantsina Palevikova and the member of Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada Anatol Sidarevich. All of them were found guilty in violation of article 23.34 of the Administrative Code because during the procession the column left the pavements (which were being repaired) to the carriage way. In fact, it was provoked by the authorities who changed the route of the procession as a result of which the procession had to go along the repaired pavements.

    On 4 May Savetski court of Minsk fined the acting head of Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada Anatol Liaukovich 620 000 rubles (about 300 US dollars) for violation of the same article during the festive actions on the Labor Day, 1 May. The matter is that representatives of BSDP gathered at the crossing of Kolas and Surhanau streets and proceeded to Banhalor Square, the authorized place of the action. This was considered as violation.

    On 24 May Maskouski court of Minsk fined Minsk students Mikalai Korshunau and Yan Mikhailau about 150 US dollars for participation in an unauthorized student action against repeal of benefits.

    3. Politically motivated criminal cases

    On 2 May the head of the political prisoner Aliaksandr Kazulin’s juridical service Aleh Volchak and Kazulin’s daughter Yuliya applied to Minsk prosecutor with a repeated complaint concerning the beating of the politician on 2 March 2006. According to the previous answer of the prosecutor’s office the applicants are not participants of a criminal process and don’t have the right to represent Aliaksandr Kazulin’s interests. In their repeated complaint Yuliya Kazulina and Aleh Volchak still demand to bring a criminal case against the policemen and other officials who participated in beating of the politician and give a legal evaluation of their actions.

    On 21 May the Supreme Court rejected the review complaints on the criminal case against Aliaksandr Kazulin because of ‘absence of reasons for issue of a protest concerning the abolishment of the previous verdicts and release of the oppositional politician’.

    In a letter to his family the political prisoner Andrei Klimau wrote that on 21 May at investigative isolator #1 he had a heart attack. He was taken to the national prison hospital. The term of his keeping in custody was prolonged for three more months. According to Klimau, during all the years he spent in jail his health considerably deteriorated. He complained about head and heartaches, but the administration of the isolator refused to accept any medicines from his relatives. Klimau’s mother twice applied to the health minister of Belarus with the request to put her son in the hospital.

    Andrei Klimau was arrested for the third time on 3 April 2007 and given charges under part 3 of article 361 of the Criminal Code (calls to overturn or change of the state order of the Republic of Belarus…, performed with the use of mass media). Andrei Klimau does not take the blame and refuses to participate in any investigative measures.

    In May the authorities continued the criminal persecution of the unregistered youth NGO Young Front. A number of its activists were given charges under article 193.1 of the Criminal Code (activities on behalf of unregistered organization). The trial was appointed on 28 May. On 8 May youth activists made an attempt to legalize their activity and passed documents for registration of Minsk city organization of Young Front to the Ministry of Justice. On 18 May they received a refusal because of alleged contradictions in the organization charter.

    At the same time, the authorities continued pressurizing regional activists of Young Front. On 8 May the prosecutor of Baranavichy, senior justice advisor Aliaksandr Smal brought a criminal case under article 193.1 against the minor Yaraslau Hryshchenia. In the ruling of Baranavichy city police department it was stated that on 20 April Hryshchenia filed a statement about cessation of activities on behalf of Young Front, but continued his activity in the organization during Chernobyl Way action on 26 April, which could be witnessed by a police video.

    On 11 May Hryshchenia was interrogated as a suspect. The same day the ruling about bringing a criminal case was handed to a youth activist from Salihorsk Ivan Shyla by an investigator of Salihorsk district prosecutor’s office Vitold Aliakseyeu. Shyla was interrogated as well. His father refused to give testimony against his son. After the interrogation 2 KGB workers searched the Shylas’ apartment.

    The trial of Barys Haretski, Zmitser Khvedaruk, Aleh Korban, Nasta Palazhanka and Aliaksei Yanusheuski was open and the present public could see that the accusation had no evidence. When the prosecutor demanded to sentence each activist to about 7 250 US dollars fine it became clear that the activists will not be imprisoned. On 29 May Barys Haretski, Aleh Korban and Aliaksey Yanusheuski were fined about 435 US dollars, Zmitser Khvedaruk – about 580 dollars and the minor Nasta Palazhanka received a warning. The activists disagree with the verdict and are going to appeal it to a higher court.

    Right to association

    On 4 May the Supreme Court satisfied the suit of the Ministry of Justice for liquidation of the national NGO Belarusian Literary Fund. The judge Valery Samaliuk explained the verdict by saying that during its activity the NGO made several violations of the legislation and its own charter and received three written warnings for it in 2006.

    The organization refused summons to court just one day before the trial. The council of Belarusian Literary Fund applied to the Supreme Court with the request to postpone the trial, because according to article 143 of the Civil Process Code summons to trial is to be served with consideration of the time necessary for preparation to the trial and directing representatives to it. However, the court rejected the petition, thus committing a process violation.

    According to the director of Belarusian Literary Fund Ales Danilchyk, the administration of the fund took into account all admonitions of the Ministry of Justice and corrected all defects in its activity. However, the Supreme Court was not interested in listening to the official representatives of the organization and issued the verdict the same day on the basis of its own opinion. The verdict is final and can not be appealed. Belarusian Literary Fund owned Islach sanatorium in Valozhyn district of Minsk region. It has already been put to an auction.

    Right to peaceful assembly

    Minsk city executive committee banned pickets in support of the political prisoner Andrei Klimau. The applications for the pickets on 21 and 22 May were filed by the deputy chair of the United Civil Party Ihar Shynkaryk. The authorities motivated their refusal with the fact that according to the law On public actions it is inadmissible to hold any actions less than 50 meters away from the prosecutor’s office and ‘the territories of the organizations which are responsible for state defense, security and vital activity of the population’.

    Hrodna city executive committee refused to the UCP activists Yury Istomin, Uladzimir Laryn and Viktar Padchynionkau in holding on 11 May in the center of Hrodna pickets against the destruction of the Old Town. During the pickets the activists intended to collect people’s signatures under a letter to the prosecutor’s office, the chair of Hrodna regional executive committee and Lukashenka’s administration to protest against the barbarian ‘reconstruction’ of the historical center of the city.

    ‘It is already the third refusal we get during the last three months. Now we can state for sure that the authorities of Hrodna put any public actions of democratic forces under a ban,’ commented the chair of Hrodna regional organization of the United Civil Party Yury Istomin. He also stated that as one of the next steps for protection of the historical heritage the public would sue the city administration. ‘We have no illusions concerning our courts, but we must go through all instances for protection of our rights’, stated Istomin.


    On 14 May the administrator of the Belarusian rock-band Krama Pavel Kashyryn applied to Minsk city executive committee with the request to issue to the band a tour certificate for holding a concert in one of Minsk club on 30 May. According to him, the club administration refused to hold the concert after a telephone call from the executive committee. At the same time, the culture department of the executive committee sent to the organizers of the concert-presentation of a new Krama album a refusal to issue the tour certificate grounded on the ‘opinion’ of the ideological department of the presidential administration, according to which Krama songs are of a low artistic value. It is worth mentioning that in 1994 Krama was recognized as the Best group of Belarus at Rock-Crown festival and won the first prize at Pokoleniye festival in Moscow.

    According to P.Kashyryn, soon the concert organizers will make several appeals to the public including Belarusian and foreign musicians, press and politicians concerning the concert prohibition.

    Liberty of speech

    On 4 May workers of Hrodna customs office exacted from the activist of Belarusian Independent Trade Union Aliaksandr Tkachou 281 copies of the newspaper of the Polish trade union of miners because decree #47 On restriction of materials handling the newspaper was to have been transported by a freight carrier (despite the fact that the newspapers weighed less than 5 kilos). The newspaper contained an article about a meeting of Polish and Belarusian miners and signing of a cooperation treaty between the Belarusian Independent Trade Union of Miners and the Polish Trade Union of Miners.

    Visa restrictions

    The deputy of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Lithuanian Parliament Emmanuelis Zingeris intended to take part in the Congress of Democratic Forces, but was denied visa. At the previous congress which was held in October 2005 Zingeris made quite critical statements related to the Belarusian authorities. The PACE deputy is sure that this is the reason why the Belarusian embassy in Lithuania refused to issue a visa to him.