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Thursday, June 21, 2007

President meets with EEC, Belarus dropped from UN list, EU trade sanctions, Business, Intrigue, Russia, Polish scandal, Blogs and Sport

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  • #214

    President of the Republic of Belarus meets with Secretary-General of the EurAsian Economic Community Grigory Rapota

    From: The office of the president
    Alexander Lukashenko meets with EurAsEC Secretary General Grigory Rapota
    The position of the Republic of Belarus in the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) has remained unchanged – this country steps up for the soonest complete establishment of the Customs Union so that the [EurAsEC] member states could co-operate more effectively, said the President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, at today’s meeting with the EurAsEC Secretary General, Grigory Rapota.

    The Head of State regards EurAsEC as the most promising and effective integration association in the post-Soviet space.

    Grigory Rapota has informed the Belarusian President on the preparations currently underway for the meeting of the Interstate Council of the Heads of State of the EurAsEC member states due in early October 2007 in Dushanbe. Today’s meeting also focused on the Dushanbe agenda, specifically on the issues related to preparing a legal framework for the creation of a Customs Union within the framework of the EurAsEC.

    Alexander Lukashenko has voiced several remarks on improving the Eurasian Economic Community, which, as Grigory Rapota emphasised, will be carefully considered.

    Recently Belarus put forward initiatives related to co-operation between countries in bio-technologies, in creating a single economic and energy space and exploiting efficiently the transit potential. Fulfilling projects in these areas will intensify economic integration within EurAsEC, Grigory Rapota said. “A kind of legal space can be created. But without being buttressed by projects in the real sector of economy, the integration will not be full, and maybe it will not even work at all,” he said.

    Currently, experts are working on an interstate programme of co-operation in the sphere of bio-technologies.

    According to the EurAsEC Secretary General, the Belarus initiative to develop transit potential of the EurAsEC member states is crucially important, not only for Belarus, which is one of the major linking bridges between Russia and Europe, but also for the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan and other states.

    There are several pilot programmes currently in progress, which will help in addressing this issue. For instance, the EurAsEC Transport Policy Council, which includes the heads of transport administrations of the EurAsEC member states, has taken a decision to design a pilot project for speeding up container shipments between the Chinese-Kazakh and the Belarusian-Polish borders.

    The EurAsEC Secretary General has reported to the President of Belarus on the results of the work on preparing the legal basis for the Customs Union. The work is progressing well, he said. “There are 2-3 issues still to be resolved before the upcoming EurAsEC summit,” he added.

    According to Grigory Rapota, one of the pivotal targets is to elaborate an acceptable form of providing equal access to energy resources for the member states. This problem is of major importance both for the Customs Union construction and the creation of a single economic space which would involve competition between economic entities under equal conditions for all. Belarus advocates the soonest resolution of this problem. It will furnish a good impetus for the development of the economies of the EurAsEC countries and will help raise their competitive capacity.

    In view of Grigory Rapota, yet another unresolved issue in the formation of the Customs Union is adoption of a decision-taking mechanism in the organizations which will be set up to control the customs territory and address tariff policy issues.

    The legal framework of the Customs Union should be based on 23 acting agreements. Presently, the member states are considering a plan of measures to harmonize these documents. It is expected that this work will have been completed before the forthcoming session of the Interstate Council of the EurAsEC heads of state.

    Five states – Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan have been the members of the EurAsian Economic Community since its founding. In January 2006, the EurAsEC was joined by Uzbekistan. In May 2002, Moldova and Ukraine were granted observes status with the EurAsEC at their request. In 2003, Armenia made a similar request, which was approved.

    Up to now, the EurAsian Economic Community has adopted 94 international treaties, 83 of them have entered into force while 11 are undergoing relevant interstate procedures.

    Post of UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus named senseless, futureless

    From: BelTA
    Former presidential candidate Sergei Gaidukevich
    It is obvious there is absolutely no need for a UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus the way it was. The post is senseless and futureless, BelTA learnt from Sergei Gaidukevich, member of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly, special representative of the Belarusian Foreign Minister for cooperation with European parliamentary institutions.

    Commenting on the UN Council decision to annul the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus, the politician said, the decision had been approved of by a majority. “The Rapporteur worked for six years and what has changed in the time? His reports have not advanced the dialogue between states-members of the Council, between Belarus and Europe. Contrariwise, the reports furthered confrontation”, believes Sergei Gaidukevich.

    In his words, there will be complete understanding only when Belarus, as a sovereign state, faces no more severe requirements and demands. Belarus actively and adequately pursues an open policy aimed at expanding the dialogue with all countries, including the European Union. There are no reasons for the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus, stressed Sergei Gaidukevich. “If a country moves on, towards, it should be welcomed. We try to make the movement bilateral. Which is why some European politicians have to calm down and treat the situation more pragmatically”, the parliamentarian is convinced.

    The decision of the UN Human Rights Council to abolish the politicised mandate of the so-called Special Rapporteur on Belarus reflects the natural intention of this new human rights body of the United Nations Organisation to secure a universal, unbiased, objective and nonselective approach to considering issues relating to human rights and to exclude possibilities of politicising human rights problems and the utilisation of dual standards from its work. The statement was made by press secretary of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, head of the Ministry’s information department Andrei Popov.

    “I think the decision of the Council is nothing extraordinary. What was supposed to happen has happened”, stressed the official representative of the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “The decision is totally compliant with the spirit of the UN General Assembly’s resolution ‘Encouraging equal and mutually respective dialogue on human rights’. Belarus was one of the main initiators of the resolution. Let us remind you the resolution stresses the importance of avoiding confrontational approaches and the use of human rights for political ends”.

    Andrei Popov said, with the decision to abolish the politicised mandate of the so-called Special Rapporteur on Belarus the Human Rights Council has convincingly demonstrated an ability to abide by the principle of a productive international dialogue and cooperation in human rights, as the Council is supposed to according to the UN General Assembly’s resolution 60/251 “Human Rights Council”.

    US disappointed by new rules for UN human rights watchdog

    From: Raw Story
    Sean McCormack
    The United States said Tuesday it was disappointed by new rules adopted by the UN Human Rights Council and accused the fledgling institution of denying its own members voting rights.

    The Geneva-based human rights watchdog decided on its ground rules after fractious wrangling Tuesday.

    "The United States is disappointed by the Human Rights Council’s first year and by the seriously flawed 'institution building' package announced today, said US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

    He charged that the council focused almost exclusively on close US ally Israel and failed to address "serious human rights violations" in countries such as Myanmar, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Belarus and Cuba.

    The 47 members of the council, presided by Mexico's Luis Alfonso de Alba, agreed to continue their scrutiny of Israel and sought the abolition of independent rights experts monitoring Cuba and Belarus.

    "Unfortunately, today the President of the Council announced a new rules package making these problems even worse, by terminating the mandates of the UN Rapporteurs on the Governments of Cuba and Belarus, two of the world’s most active perpetrators of serious human rights violations, and singling out Israel as the only country subject to a permanent agenda item," McCormack said.

    The council, of which the United States is only an observer, was formed last year to replace the discredited UN Human Rights Commission.

    As part of a compromise proposed by de Alba, council members agreed that current rights monitors "could continue serving, provided they have not exceeded the six's years term limit."

    Under that rule, 10 country rights monitors had their mandates renewed. Only monitors for Belarus and Cuba were not renewed, as they have served over six years.

    The United States said it was also concerned about what it called "procedural irregularities" employed to deny council members the opportunity to vote on the agenda.

    "The Human Rights Council was intended to be the world’s leading human rights protection mechanism. Its proceedings should be a model of fairness and transparency," McCormack said.

    "Instead, in the interest of political expediency, procedural irregularities denied members the right to an up or down vote on principled human rights concerns -- a right guaranteed by the rules of the institution," he said.

    The council rejected an attempt by Canada to reopen the consensus deal.

    The Canadian representative to the talks claimed not to have given his assent to the deal brokered by de Alba but it was rejected by the other members.

    Canada had objected to the suppression of the independent rights monitors for Cuba and Belarus.

    The Geneva negotiations had gone down to the midnight (2200 GMT) Monday deadline set by the UN General Assembly. Eleventh-hour disputes included conflicts over the rights monitors and a demand by China for an increase in the threshold for passing a country-specific resolution to a two-thirds majority.

    China only gave up insisting on a two-thirds majority at the last minute, in exchange for tougher language on how country resolutions are brought to the council, diplomats said.

    Ambassador Michael Steiner of Germany, which currently holds the presidency of the European Union, conceded the deal was not perfect but argued it offered the best opportunity to further the council's mission of protecting human rights.

    Belarus Rejects EU Sanctions

    From: Houston Chron and Ria Novosti
    The EU Council of Ministers agreed in December 2006 to "a withdrawal of GSP privileges from Belarus with the condition that Belarus would have six further months to implement its ILO obligations."
    The European Union's decision to scrap preferential trade tariffs for Belarusian goods will only end up hurting ordinary Belarusians, the Foreign Ministry said Monday.

    The decision Friday by the EU to withdraw tariffs because of Minsk's failure to reform labor rights will increase the cost of some Belarus goods _ mostly farm machinery and chemicals _ sold to European markets. It will not, however, affect oil and gas exports that pass through Belarus from Russia to Europe.

    "We consider the decision to be absolutely groundless, absolutely counterproductive and _ I'm not afraid of this word _ absolutely anti-people at its core, inasmuch as it will be a direct blow to the interests of the common Belarusian citizen, about whose well-being the European Union pretends to care," ministry spokesman Andrei Popov said.

    The ILO [International Labor Organization] adopted [June 15] its assessment that Belarus has not acted to ensure the protection of certain key labor rights related to freedom of association in Belarus. Belarus' GSP trade preferences will be therefore withdrawn from 21 June 2007," the EU said on its Web site.

    The EU Council of Ministers agreed in December 2006 to "a withdrawal of GSP privileges from Belarus with the condition that Belarus would have six further months to implement its ILO obligations."

    In 2003 Belarusian independent trade unions submitted a complaint about the violations of trade union rights to the ILO. Experts say Belarus could lose $100 million to $300 million annually once removed.

    In 2005 Belarusian exports to the EU reached some $7 billion, including almost $3 billion of supplies with EU tariff preferences, which cover mostly Belarusian mineral fertilizers, textiles, clothes, and timber.

    However, the EU said that the removal of tariff preferences would not halt Belarus' exports to the EU, as the organization would reinstate the standard tariffs, which are 3% higher than GSP tariffs. "The withdrawal will affect around 10% of Belarus exports," the EU said in a press release.

    In response to the EU warning last December the Belarusian foreign ministry accused the organization of hypocrisy and said the decision was "in a complete discord with the positive dialogue maintained by the Government of Belarus with International Labor Organization."

    International human rights groups have repeatedly voiced concerns over democratic processes in Belarus, after President Alexander Lukashenko took office for a third time in elections described as fraudulent by the United States and Europe.

    Last year, the U.S. and the then-25 member EU also imposed an entry ban on Lukashenko, dubbed by Washington as "Europe's last dictator," and other top Belarusian officials following Lukashenko's landslide victory in a presidential election last March.

    The move is the latest from the EU targeting the government of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko. The bloc has cut most government contacts, imposed financial sanctions and a travel ban on Lukashenko and other leaders it says have rigged elections and quashed opposition.

    Alexander Yarashuk, head of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Labor Unions, said the country could lose between 200 million euros and 400 million euros ($270 million to $540 million) annually with the loss of the tariffs. He praised the decision, however, as an "adequate answer" to government prohibitions on labor demonstrations and other forms of protests.

    "Now Lukashenko will get that Belarus stands in the same row as Burma, where there is a military dictatorship and slave labor," Yarashuk said.

    Fourteen of 19 key targets for Belarus' economic and social development reported met in first four months of 2007

    From: BelaPan
    Fourteen of 19 key targets for Belarus' economic and social development were met in the first four months of 2007, the press office of the economy ministry said.

    Among the projected figures that were not obtained were those for export growth, the limitation of imports, export surplus, and consumer goods output, according to the ministry.

    In particular, the export of goods and services rose by 11.6 percent year-on-year, with the annual target being between 13.2 and 14.5 percent, the import of goods and services jumped by 22.1 percent, whereas a rise of no more than 9.5 percent had been projected.

    There was a $741.8-million deficit in foreign trade in goods and services, whereas an export surplus of $500 million to $600 million had been projected.

    The output of consumer goods in the first four months of the year increased by 5.6 percent year-on-year, whereas a rise of 8.5 to 9.5 percent was the annual target.

    The output of food reportedly decreased by 1.6 percent from the level of the same period in 2006.

    According to the economy ministry, the energy intensity of GDP was reduced by 17.2 percent, with the annual target being six to seven percent.

    Labor productivity rose by 7.9 percent year-on-year, whereas a rise of 7 to 8.6 percent had been projected.

    The real income of the population in the first four months was 17 percent higher than in the same period in 2006, with a rise of 7.5 to 8.5 percent being the annual target.

    Belarus businessmen visit northwest Ohio; Group sees American development firsthand

    From: Toledo Blade
    Toledo, Ohio
    Andrei Derekh of Minsk, Belarus, accompanied Marty Pauken and his family out to breakfast on Sunday for Father's Day.

    "He's a wonderful young man," Mr. Pauken said.

    Mr. Derekh, 38, is director of JSC "Investment Company UNITER," a private organization in Belarus that supervises investments, develops business plans, and consults on investments.

    Also a member of the Minsk Capital Businessman Union, he is one of Belarus' best and brightest professionals in the business field.

    He and nine other professionals have come from Belarus to northwest Ohio for three weeks to learn firsthand about local economic development in the United States.

    The professionals will participate in seminars, panel discussions, and site visits to share information and ideas about self-governance and collaboration between public, private, and nongovernmental sectors to promote local development, all while living with area host families to create cross-cultural dialogue as well.

    Monday included discussions with Lucas County Administrator Michael Beazley and state Rep. Peter Ujvagi (D., Toledo).

    During the next three weeks, the professionals will meet with officials of WSOS Community Action Commission; Tom Blaha, executive director of the Wood County Economic Development Commission; J.C. Wallace, executive director of the Ohio Economic Development Association; Randall Hunt, state director of rural development; David Berger, mayor of Lima, Ohio; Timothy Wagener, mayor of Maumee, and Robert Sawyer, regional director of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

    Many of the professionals already have U.S. public and private sector contacts.

    Aliaksandr Kustou, the director of a private company that specializes in household appliances, construction materials, furniture, and jewelry, has worked with the American Embassy to renovate a military hospital for World War II veterans for five years.

    Taisiya Yeletskikh, an associate professor in the department of economics at the Belarusian State University of Informatics, hopes to make contacts with universities while in the United States to explore the possibility of exchange programs.

    During the panels and discussions, she said she would like to learn as much as possible about the government policies for local and state development, investment opportunities and strategies, the development of entrepreneurship, and local self-government.

    The Great Lakes Consortium, an organization founded as a cooperative effort by Bowling Green State University, the University of Toledo, Lourdes College, and WSOS to coordinate international training and development efforts, is organizing the program.

    Called Community Connections, the program is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and administered by World Learning.

    Despite the packed official itinerary, the professionals will be able to spend time getting to know their host families. To Mr. Derekh, that is the best way to understand the true mentality of a country.

    Mr. Pauken still corresponds with a Tanzanian architect he once hosted in the Community Connections program, and he said what strikes him the most about the two men he has hosted are the similarities between him and them, and not the differences.

    "In newspapers, you only hear about the governments," he said.

    Belarus' business delegation leaves for Ukraine's Kharkiv province

    From: Navany
    Ukraine's Kharkiv province
    Representatives of Belarus' business circles left for Ukraine's Kharkiv province on June 19 for cooperation talks, the Minsk branch of the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), told BelaPAN.

    The delegation reportedly includes representatives of five Belarusian woodworking and furniture companies such as Maladzyechnameblya, Zyalyonaborskaye, Serge, Kimens and Sasnovy Bor.

    While in Kharkiv, the Belarusian businesspeople will hold talks with representatives of the city's business community and visit several local companies.

    The objective of the visit, organized by the BCCI together with the Kharkiv chamber of commerce and industry is to develop trade and economic and other ties with the Kharkiv province. According to the Ukrainian embassy in Belarus, trade between Belarus and the Kharkiv province rose by 73 percent in 2006 to more than $144 million, with Belarusian exports amounting to $65 million.

    In the first three months of 29007, trade totaled $34.7 million, a 30-percent year-on-year increase.

    Belarus police deny involvement in abduction of journalist

    From: Itar Tass
    Belarussian Interior Minister Vladimir Naumov flatly denied the allegations of police involvement in the kidnapping of journalist Dmitry Zavadsky. "It's pure speculation," he told Russian reporters on Tuesday.

    The problem of abductions in Belarus is no more acute than elsewhere. As for the notorious Dmitry Zavadsky case, the group behind this crime, has been exposed and they are serving their sentences; two abductors have been sentenced to life," Naumov underlined.

    Other kidnapping cases are investigated under standard procedures. "I don't think law-enforcement bodies should pay all their attention to criminal cases with political implications, as it will limit their work in other fields," the interior minister said.

    Dmitry Zavadsky, 27, a Russian Public Television cameraman, disappeared without a trace on his way to the Minsk airport to meet a colleague of his on July 7, 2000.

    Several months later, police ascertained that the Russian journalist had been kidnapped by a gang which included several former employees of the Belarussian Interior Ministry and its Almaz special task force unit.

    Protestant pastor loses appeal against hefty fine

    From: Naveny
    Pastor Antony Bokun and family
    A judge of the Minsk City Court on Tuesday threw out an appeal filed by a Protestant minister against a hefty fine imposed on him over a religious service.

    Antony Bokun, the pastor of a Minsk-based Protestant community called St. John the Forerunner, was fined 620,000 rubels ($290) on May 28 for "holding an unauthorized mass event." The penalty was imposed over a religious service that Mr. Bokun led in his home the day before. He was grabbed by police midway through the service.

    In his appeal, the Protestant minister said that the rules requiring congregations to obtain permission for holding a religious service at residential premises ran counter to the constitution and international law, and may not be applied.

    In an interview with BelaPAN, Mr. Bokun said that he had expected the judge to reject his appeal. "At the same time, if the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations started to be applied in full, thousands believers would appear in the dock," he added.

    Mr. Bokun announced plans to take the case to a higher court.

    Six days after receiving the fine, the Protestant minister was once again arrested during a prayer in his home. He was sentenced to a three-day jail sentence the following day.

    Transneft to develop existing oil terminal bypassing Belarus

    From: Budapest Business Journal
    The port of Primorsk
    The head of Russia's Transneft said Monday the pipeline monopoly would develop the existing terminal of an oil pipeline that helps Russian crude reach world markets without passing through transit countries.

    „The port of Primorsk has a lot of space capacity, while (a new oil terminal at) Ust-Luga would have to be started from scratch,” Semyon Vainshtok, CEO of Transneft, said in response to earlier proposals to build a second terminal for the Baltic Pipeline System 2. The terminal's annual capacity can be increased by 50 million metric tons from next year without additional construction, he said. This statement comes days after Valery Serdyukov, the governor of the Leningrad Region surrounding St. Petersburg where the current destination (Primorsk) and the prospective one (Ust-Luga) are based, asked President Vladimir Putin to consider whether the expanded BPS should use two terminals, citing environmental concerns.

    The Transneft CEO said Primorsk not only has enough spare capacity to handle the additional oil without new construction, but also provides safe approach for tankers. Ust-Luga would require costly canal maintenance every year, Vainshtok said. BPS transports Siberian crude oil to a Russian sea terminal with potentially global reach. Its extension BPS-2 is widely perceived as an alternative to the Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline network which was built in Soviet times to pump Russian oil to Europe through Belarus and terminals in the Baltics.

    Late last year, Russia briefly suspended oil transport via Belarus over a transit pricing dispute, and has ceased to supply crude via Druzhba to the Lithuanian Mazeikiu refinery, sold earlier to a Polish, rather than a Russian, company. Russia has cited the need for urgent repairs, while Lithuania says the decision is political.

    Russia, Germany, Poland, Belarus set up rail JV

    From: Ria Novosti
    Russian Railways, the country's rail monopoly, said Monday it had set up a joint venture with Germany, Poland and Belarus to streamline rail services and increase cargo traffic with Western Europe.

    The company said in a statement: "The main goal in setting up the joint venture is to streamline the transportation process, improve the quality of services, and increase the volume of freight shipments along International Transport Corridor No. 2 linking Berlin, Warsaw, Minsk, Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod."

    Russian Railways' share in the joint venture, Eurasia Rail Logistics, is 40.1%, Germany's Deutsche Bahn holds 34.9%, and Poland holds 15%. The venture has charter capital of 1.7 billion rubles ($65.3 million).

    The company is expected to help coordinate differences in the four countries' transportation, customs, border and technological rules and thereby cut travel times and increase the volume of shipments.

    The countries within the transport corridor are considering extending the route to Yekaterinburg, in the Urals, and linking it to the Siberian rail network, eventually creating an alternative trade link between Europe and Pacific Rim nations.

  • Around the region...

    The Palestinian Conflict And Russia

    From: RIA Novosti
    To appease Hamas was a lost cause.
    A terrorist spree in Gaza caused a final split in Palestine, and forced Mahmoud Abbas to introduce a state of emergency and establish a new Cabinet.

    Russia's mediation of contacts with Hamas failed. As they visited Moscow, delegates from the Hamas leadership had a tour of the Kremlin, but even the sight of its art collections did nothing to civilize them.

    To appease Hamas was a lost cause. That was clear from the start and made Moscow's foreign political blunder all the more regrettable. As history proves, any force, including terrorists, can cunningly use democratic procedures, which, however, do not make that force a respectable political entity. The old diplomatic rule, "Better negotiate than do nothing," does not work in such instances because terrorists are per se no partners in talks, and getting to the negotiating table with them is counterproductive or, at best, pointless. Coaxing makes terrorists bold enough to shoot at bedridden hospital patients.

    Russia has not to this day recognized Hamas as a terrorist organization. This makes its Middle Eastern policies even more doubtful, especially considering the Gaza atrocities.

    Alexander Shumilin, an independent expert and director of the Mideast Conflict Analysis Center in Moscow, says: "Hamas leaders are obstinate. They think they have made too many concessions in talks with Saudi Arabia for a national unity government. They think they are efficient leaders. Encouraged by Iranian and Russian moral and political support, they would not give up their principles and allow Abbas to lead the show, on which the Saudi leadership and the entire Arab world insisted."

    Politics is tough, so let us leave ethics aside and see what Russia would gain with its current line.

    The situation is clear. The whole world sides with Fatah against Hamas. Even more importantly, the most reasonable forces in Arab countries have a similar preference. True, Hamas militants were not alone to take up arms in the conflict, and an ad hoc commission of the League of Arab States will investigate Gaza violence next month. However, recognition of Abbas' new government by many influential Arab countries shows which of the Palestinian forces the Arab majority believes is legitimate. In fact, Hamas has lost even the semblance of legitimacy it had kept up.

    Theoretically, it takes a dialogue between all Palestinian forces to bring peace to the region. That's what Russia's Foreign Ministry insists on. But to state one's position explicitly is one thing and to go on with a practice proved erroneous is another. Moscow should not resume its losing attempts at direct mediation, which would lead us nowhere - just add another headache. So it would be wiser to draw a lesson from recent history and leave mediation for Arab countries or any other who dare try their luck in the Middle Eastern minefield.

    Hamas is a force to be reckoned with, but there are different ways to go about it. It can be confronted. One can also try to appease or gradually transform it. The latter option is theoretically possible - remember Yasser Arafat's evolution - but it would be a very slow and difficult process.

    The attempt to appease Hamas has failed. To confront it, Russia needs strong and influential allies to do so. As for transformation, Russia has quite different foreign political priorities, so the game isn't worth the candle.

    Possibly, it would be wiser for Russia to tackle the Palestinian problem solely as a Middle Eastern settlement co-sponsor - a position that would offer exhaustive information about the developments and allow it to keep a safe distance. After all, dashing to and fro in no-man's land during a skirmish is not the most reasonable thing to do.

    Russia rejects Kosovo plan

    From: LA Times
    Serbia and Kosovo
    Russia rejected a draft Security Council resolution on Wednesday designed to win its support for an independence plan for Kosovo, saying it would not back statehood for the province until Serbia does.

    The United States and other European countries had proposed four more months of talks to allow leaders from Serbia and Kosovo to agree on a plan for the Serbian province's future. If they did not come up with a new alternative, the Security Council would automatically endorse a U.N. roadmap for Kosovo's phased independence under the supervision of the European Union and NATO.

    The resolution contained several other concessions to gain Russia's backing, including a new special envoy to monitor the return of Serbian refugees to the province.

    Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin called the new resolution "unacceptable," in part because of the limited time for talks. "This in my mind is not good enough, because such kind of formula is not going to provide sufficient incentive for the two parties to negotiate seriously," he said.

    Diplomats suggested that a compromise might be forged in a meeting between President Bush and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin on July 2 in Kennebunkport, Maine.

    Russia, a longtime Serbian ally, also is wary that having the Security Council grant independence to a province of a sovereign country might set a dangerous precedent. Moscow is dealing with rebellions among its own restive minority regions, including Chechnya.

    Churkin arranged a Security Council trip to Kosovo in April so diplomats could see firsthand the depth of the rift between the province's majority Albanian and minority Serbian communities.

    But many diplomats came away convinced that Kosovo, which has been governed by the U.N. since a devastating civil war eight years ago, cannot continue much longer in its uncertain status.

    In late March, U.N. mediator Marti Ahtisaar gave up after 14 months of talks and said that independence was "the only viable option" for Kosovo. He suggested a transition period overseen by an EU representative and NATO troops while Kosovo built political and legal institutions to ensure its autonomy while guaranteeing rights for the minority Serbian community.

    Among most council members, there is a strong sense that Kosovo is moving steadily toward independence, and it is better for the Security Council to help guide it than to have it unilaterally declare itself free of Serbian rule. That might spark violence, or lead to a parallel secession from Kosovo by the Serbian population, said diplomats.

    "I think it is fair to say that one way or another, Kosovo's independence is going to be inevitable," said Karen Pierce, Britain's deputy ambassador to the U.N. "One should bear in mind the ability of events on the ground, particularly in the Balkans, to overtake what we might want to do here in New York if we don't address the concerns of the people of Kosovo."

    Polish homosexuals flee persecution in exodus to UK

    From: Daily Mail
    Robert Biedron, a left wing party activist and head of the Polish Foundation Against Homophobia says Polish homosexuals are fleeing their homeland for the UK
    Polish gay rights groups say thousands of homosexuals have fled the country to the UK to escape increasing persecution.

    Robert Biedron, a left wing party activist and head of the Polish Foundation Against Homophobia, said "huge numbers" of Polish gays had now fled the country following the rise to power of the current right-wing conservative government.

    He said: "It is incredible. The Polish gay community has just moved away because of the climate of fear and persecution.

    "Most of the people I know are now in England because of the current political situation. Not for economic reasons, but because of the persecution of homosexuals going on here.

    "It’s impossible for gays to be themselves in Poland. Around two million Poles have left the country seeking work and thousands of gays are joining them.

    "Many gays are approaching our foundation for help in emigrating to the UK."

    Poland’s Catholic, conservative right-wing government has members who are openly anti-gay and the health ministry has created a special committee responsible for "curing" gays, according to local media.

    Deputy health minister Marek Grafowski said the ministry was also planning to identify how many people in Poland were gay and work out a set of behavioural guides to assist parents and teachers in recognising warning signs of potential "gay" behaviour.

    The police have also been compiling a database on gays and the gay community in Poland which although illegal under EU law, is apparently being done as part of a police investigation into a bomb threat two years ago by a gay man.

    He had reportedly identified himself as a meber of the gay community angry when a gay rights march was banned in Warsaw.

    "The Police are not allowed to catalogue ‘homosexual data’ but it’s enough to look into the police investigation associated with the bomb in order to establish a list of names and addresses," said Ewa Kulesza, a former personal data protection general inspector.

    Polish riot police break up nurses' protest

    From: Dominion Post
    "They treated us like hooligans in a stadium," said Izabella Szczepaniak, president of the Association of Nurses and Midwives. "They pressed us against the barriers so hard we could hardly breathe ... police should not treat health workers like criminals."
    Polish riot police have used batons to break up a protest by nurses in Warsaw, escalating an already bitter stand-off between the conservative government and health workers demanding better pay.

    Hundreds of hospitals have been affected by strikes for six weeks. Strikers are also calling for reform of the creaking state health service and threaten to join the exodus of Polish workers to Western Europe if their demands are not met.

    Police forced several dozen protesters, mostly women, off a street in front of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski's office, where they had camped in tents overnight. A police spokesman said minimum force was used to clear the illegal protest.

    "They treated us like hooligans in a stadium," said Izabella Szczepaniak, president of the Association of Nurses and Midwives. "They pressed us against the barriers so hard we could hardly breathe ... police should not treat health workers like criminals."

    Protest leaders said several nurses had been roughed up.

    Several thousand doctors and nurses marched through Warsaw, waving signs reading: "Protest of white slaves" and "We want a decent wage".

    The prime minister, who met union representatives, has offered pay rises of 15 percent per year over the coming three years, but protesters say wages were low to start with and those for other professions are rising faster.

    A wave of young Poles heading west since Poland joined the European Union in 2004 has already created bottlenecks in other professions and that could easily spill over to healthcare. Polish doctors and nurses earn salaries way below counterparts in Western Europe.

    Kaczynski has said he is ready to negotiate but would not deviate from "economic realities". Polish wages rose almost 9 percent year-on-year in May, raising expectations that interest rates would go up again soon.

    Opposition leaders said parliament should investigate the police action against the protesters.

    "Sending police at nurses is not the way to solve this conflict," said Donald Tusk, comparing it with the way armed riot police dealt with protestors under the communist regime.

    Ukraine at half-past Yushchenko

    From: Kiev Post
    President Viktor Yushchenko
    Sometime in June, President Viktor Yushchenko will mark two-and-a-half years (or about one-half) of his presidency. The anniversary is likely to be a quiet affair. The ongoing political turmoil is just one reason that may dampen a celebratory mood. The other lies in the sad reality that Yushchenko’s tenure has so far failed to achieve a qualitative breakthrough in moving Ukraine from the post-Soviet era.

    In foreign affairs the country’s standing is continuously declining. Consider the recent condescending remarks by Russia’s President Putin about the guys in Ukraine who screwed up. Ukrainian Euro-Atlantic ambitions are in tatters. The prospect of NATO membership has turned into a specter that haunts Yushchenko, or anyone, for that matter, who dares to dream of it. All the talk about the country’s EU aspirations remains a compilation of buzzwords with little substance and, at this point, with little potential. One can only imagine the thoughts of EU bureaucrats as they watched the burly lads of Berkut storming the general prosecutor’s office. As a result, on the international arena, Ukraine finds itself once again in a strange place. Being neither a success nor a failure, it is reminiscent of a perennial teenager who, years after his high school graduation, still cannot figure out who he is or wishes to be and, more importantly, what he wants to do with his long-acquired independence.

    On the domestic front, the president has failed to make the democratic gains of the Orange Revolution irreversible. His wobbly attitude toward the 2004 constitutional changes continues to keep the door half-open for future amendments. This, in turn, generates the feeling of uncertainty sufficient to keep all the major players vigilant for a window of opportunity when the fundamental institutional arrangements can be redefined in a wholesale manner. It also allows the political establishment to stay engaged in a futile debate on the theoretical merits of a particular model of government (a task better left to political scientists) at the expense of specific economic and social reforms. The resultant institutional and political volatility retards progress in other areas. The fight against corruption, which Yushchenko promised to wage so vociferously, is now the source of acerbic jokes and sarcastic smiles. Perhaps inadvertently, the presidential decree to dissolve the parliament delivered a lethal blow to the country’s already feeble judicial system. Put together to be a magic wand in the hands of a semi-authoritarian ruler, the Constitutional Court is inherently incapable of functioning in a democratic environment. Unsurprisingly, the institution is collapsing slowly, yet spectacularly in its own impotency. To sum up, the president’s domestic agenda can be described as a failure, which in the end has further deepened the chasm between those in power (regardless of their political affiliation) and the “little Ukrainians.”

    Against this depressing backdrop, there are unending rumors that in April Yushchenko was pushed to action in part because of the intention to revive his lackluster second-term chances. Yet one should hope that his re-election bid extends far beyond a reshuffle of the parliament that is widely expected to produce the same electoral outcome. Profound changes are in order if Yushchenko does not want his presidency (irrespective of how many times he will get elected) to become a footnote in Ukrainian history.

    They need to begin with more sensible personnel decisions. Recent appointments look like a Brownian motion of molecules rather than a thought-out process with some logic and purpose. Candidates’ competence should finally trump the president’s personal comfort with the individuals he appoints. This is the only way to ensure that a healthy amount of dissent and introspection are always present in his decision-making process.

    The second step should involve taking a closer look at the 2004 presidential promises to see which ones can be watered down to concrete proposals with achievable and demonstrable results. The revolutionary fatigue, which overwhelmed many Ukrainians, is partially a result of general slogans and hyped expectations that were initially impossible to fulfill. The advantage of a clearly stated agenda lies in the ability to track down its fulfillment. It also helps avoid the perils of power that include squabbling among the allies (the relationship between the president and Yulia Tymoshenko is an obvious example) and distractions on currently peripheral, yet emotionally explosive ideas (like Yushchenko’s worthy, but untimely suggestion of building a museum of Soviet occupation). Luckily, the president has no shortage of issues to solve. Ukraine’s dependency on Russian energy supplies and a non-existent diplomatic engagement on that matter with Central Asian states immediately come to mind. Other areas encompass serious reforms in such sectors, for instance, as education and healthcare that would bring the country to EU standards in real, not rhetorical terms.

    Implementing large-scale changes is, of course, not a one-man show, and Yushchenko will need all the help he can get. This brings us to the third point. Because the elections in September are an attempt to remedy the utter mess, which the parliament has become as a result of irresponsible coalition-building efforts within the Orange lot, the president should forge a firm commitment on the future alignment of the pro-Orange forces, no matter whether they gain the majority or remain in opposition. Otherwise, post-election developments will be a re-run of the travesty that we saw in April-August 2006.

    It is clear that the next two-and-a-half years will be critical not only for Yushchenko’s political viability as a second-term presidential candidate, but also for the viability of democracy as a form of governance in Ukraine. The skyrocketing levels of apathy and contempt by ordinary Ukrainians toward politicians of all colors may create a dangerous longing for ‘an iron fist’ and engrave the idea that a Western-type democracy is somehow not applicable for Ukraine. To see what happens in a country where the public gets disenchanted with politics, one should look no further than neighboring Russia. If Yushchenko fails to bring about a real change in the second half of his presidency, this may be the only legacy that he will hand down to his successor.

  • From the blogs...

    Kasparov: Russia Takes Small Steps, the West Stays Quiet

    From: Robert Amsterdam
    Garry Kasparov
    Garry Kasparov is visiting my hometown of Toronto this week, and has given a speech at the Empire Club arguing Kurt Goedel's "incompleteness theorem" for Russia - arguing that Russia cannot solve some of its problems internally without outside help. I believe it is safe to say that both Garry and I share a certain level of disappointment with Western governments and businesses for their lacking will to confront Russia.

    Other quotes:

    "Things are getting worse now ... (Russian President Vladimir) Putin has learned that if he does things in small steps, the West will say little and do nothing," Kasparov said. "We ask that the leaders of the free world stop providing Putin with democratic legitimacy."

    Toronto Star:

    And, he insists with the unshakable confidence for which he's famous, "two weeks of unrestricted television and this regime will go bust. It can only continue with suppression of the media. But things are changing, and when people understand what is going on, by the end of the year we will be living in a different reality."


    Kasparov expressed dismay that Western leaders have not taken Putin to task for the worsening situation in Russia.
    "Canada, the U.S. and Europe are doing a lot of business with China, but nobody is rushing to call Chinese leaders democrats," he said.

    Canadian Press/CBC:

    "I do not know the name of the exact person who murdered Anna Politkovskaya but I know their address."

    Star Wars, Part II: The Final Conflict

    From: La Russophobe
    The empire's final solution: The Death Star
    You wouldn't think it would be possible for a country so recently destroyed by a futile attempt to compete with the mighty economies of the West in a space-based arms race to once again launch itself into exactly the same crazed behavior -- but then again, you wouldn't think it would be possible for a country to once again empower the same KGB that murdered more of its citizens than its foreign enemies. Yet, this is Russian reality. America alone has an economy at least 12 times larger than Russia's and twice the population, and America is part of the NATO alliance that confronts Russia with resources that completely dwarf Russia's. Yet, Russia's deluded, pathological "leaders" want Star Wars, Round II. The Associated Press reports:

    Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov on Tuesday called for the development of space-based defence systems to defend against 'any scenario of events,' less than a month after Moscow tested two new missiles perceived as a response to US missile defence plans. 'It's possible to expect that in the foreseeable future the main goals of war will be achieved on account of air and space intelligence and strikes,' said Ivanov, who is considered a possible successor to Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2008. 'Although the likelihood of military actions against Russia in the foreseeable future is minimal, we must be ready for any scenarios of the development of events,' he added during a meeting of the Russian government's Military-Industrial Commission in Moscow, Interfax said. Ivanov did not elaborate on what sort of systems would need to be created. He added that Russia had approved an outline for long-term air and space defence in April and that 'concrete, practical steps' needed to be taken to carry out that document and 'create an effective, consolidating and coordinating mechanism for the conducting of an entire complex of works in the sphere of air and space defence.'

    The country's most prominent satellite effort to date has been its Glonass system of satellites designed as a Russian answer to GPS. Russia wants to have 24 satellites orbiting by 2010; currently, 17 are in orbit, but some of them do not transmit a signal. Six launches are planned for 2007. Ivanov's comments came months after China destroyed one of its own orbiting satellites with a rocket, becoming the first country to attack a satellite since the Soviet Union and United States did so in the early to mid-1980s. Both before and after Beijing's test-launch in January, China and Russia have been among the most vocal opponents of space weaponry, calling for the United States to ban the use of space weapons. The two nations told the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament in February that 'the notion that introducing the threat of force into outer space could be a sustainable way of securing strategic advantage and legitimate defence objectives is fundamentally flawed.' Ivanov on Tuesday said it was 'not a secret for anybody that in recent decades space and air apparatus have been widely used for reconnaissance and attack during conduct of military actions.' Russia last month tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and a short-range strategic missile, an action Putin hinted was related to Russia's opposition to US plans to construct a missile defence shield in Europe.

    Kremlin leaders have promised Russia would find an 'asymmetric response' to the missile shield, which Washington says is directed at Iranian and North Korean rockets. Putin last month said a new arms race had begun. Ivanov in February said Russia's 300 billion-ruble (11.3 billion- dollar) 2007 military budget would allow for 17 ICBMs and four 'military space apparatuses,' which he did not elaborate on. Russia's coffers are flushed with billions amid high oil prices, and Ivanov in February said five trillion rubles (188 billion dollars) would be put toward military equipment by 2015.

    Detective Renko and the mystery of the missing credibility

    From: Edward Lucas
    So a vision of Stalin haunts the Moscow subway late at night? For anyone with a sense of history, he is there all the time. The cavernous marble-clad halls and endless tunnels of that extraordinary engineering project were the workplace -- and deathplace -- of countless forced laborers, the human fuel of the Stalinist command economy.

    But the vision of Stalin that Arkady Renko, the pariah of the Moscow prosecutor's office, is assigned to investigate is not an echo of the past but a present-day stunt that promises a sinister future. Martin Cruz Smith's "Stalin's Ghost" is the sixth outing for the somber, reflective Renko; his first, in "Gorky Park" (1981), was a rare appearance in Western Cold War fiction of a "real" Soviet Russian. Mr. Smith still manages to mix a convincingly humdrum backdrop of gritty daily life in Moscow with a lively -- perhaps too lively -- plot. Renko, his personal and professional lives troubled and tangled, is up against Russia's most up-to-date demons: Kremlin-sponsored extremists in cahoots with foreign consultants and brutalized veterans of the Chechen wars.

    The author clearly prizes authenticity. His command of physical detail is fastidious: Anyone who has not examined the corpses in a Russian morgue, suffered brain damage or excavated a battlefield (all in fairly quick succession) will finish this book with a good idea of what to expect. More important, Mr. Smith also expertly captures Russia's repellent contrasts between wealth and poverty, humanity and hatred.

    The characters are a bit less realistic but richly drawn. Renko's horrible Soviet-era childhood, when he was tortured by his father, is mirrored by the patricidal feelings of his half-adopted son, Zhenya, a young, troubled chess genius who lives on the streets. Stalin, the most perverse father figure imaginable, looms over the whole story -- and the whole country.

    The terse, witty dialogue is a treat, though it may jar readers who know Russia. The people there usually address each other by first name and patronymic -- so President Vladimir Putin, son of another Vladimir, would be called "Vladimir Vladimirovich." Close friends use diminutive versions of their first names (Mr. Putin is "Volodya" or "Vova"). Admittedly, both forms of address can look a bit odd in English. Neither appears in the book. Instead the characters, sounding quite Anglo-Saxon, 8frequently call each other by their surnames.

    Late-Night Sightings

    Other weaknesses are more serious. Russian policemen and prosecutors do not, as a rule, pay much attention to practical jokes -- and that is what the subway ghost appearances too obviously are. A ragbag of passengers reporting late-night sightings of Stalin would be more likely to attract a curt rebuke than a dogged investigation. This improbability undermines the elaborate plot, which is further weakened by rather too frequent lucky escapes and convenient coincidences.

    The most puzzling question, though, is whether someone as honest, determined and loving as Renko could ever have started work in a place as corrupt and brutal as the Moscow prosecutor's office, much less survive there for years. The story begins, on an entirely credible note, with a woman who wants the agents of law and order to murder her errant husband. Thereafter corruption and political pressure are central themes in "Stalin's Ghost," but somehow they never ultimately define -- as they ought to -- Renko's everyday life at the office. The Russian prosecution service, perhaps the least reformed sector of the country's whole criminal-justice system, is itself a Stalinist ghost, a fact that goes unremarked by the author.

    A gruesome scene in which the excavations for a new basement coffee shop in the supreme-court building uncovers a mass grave -- victims of instant Stalinist justice -- is all too horribly believable, as is its hurried coverup. Renko, passing by chance, is told by a pompous police colonel: "I can assure everyone that there will be an investigation of the dead to see whether criminal charges will be brought." Renko puts his arm around the officer's shoulders and says: "Congratulations. That's the best joke I have heard all day."

    Brainy, Diligent

    Why Renko is not fired or even murdered for scoffing at the coverup of the mass grave -- or for subverting his office's other sleazy doings -- is barely less puzzling than why a brainy, diligent, English-speaking workaholic does not look for work elsewhere. Modern Russia offers plenty of jobs for such people: Some such paths in life even allow you to preserve an honest reputation. Renko's lingering professional pride (in what, Russian justice?) and vague distaste for carrying a briefcase hardly seem reason enough for him to keep going at his ill-paid and dangerous work.

    The only plausible answer is that fate -- or rather Mr. Smith -- keeps giving him fascinating cases and lucky breaks. Saving your country from fascism, winning back your beloved girlfriend from your maniac adversary and rescuing a tormented waif -- not bad going for a few weeks' work.

    But it's not quite enough. For Mr. Smith to join the first rank in his field, he needs to create characters, like John le Carre's George Smiley, so convincing that the reader can imagine them leading their lives independent of the author's guiding hand. Though Arkady Renko's grit, guts and laconic humor are certainly appealing, they do not outweigh the basic flaws in the story of his life and work. Setting his detective novels in Russia has served Mr. Smith well. But the exotic backdrop constrains credibility just a little too much.

    Did Saddam’s WMD Go to Syria? Part III

    From: Flopping Aces
    On March 29 and 30, Saddam contacted Belarus. The former Soviet Republic had been one of many that offered Saddam exile in the days just prior to the war. Instead of accepting the offer, Saddam had a Belarusian IL-76 transport plane flown to Baghdad, allegedly loaded with “sensitive cargo” and immediately flown back to Belarus.
    The 1990-2003 War Against Saddam has millions of untold stories. Perhaps one of the most important happened at the onset of the invasion. On the evening of March 22 there are several reports that Russians were witness to an American airborne assault near the Syrian / Jordanian / Iraq border, on or near Highway 11, and in the vicinity of Akashat. Allegedly American airborne troops and/or Special Forces were trying to seize WMD. They were detected by Iraqi forces, surrounded, and as many as 30 were killed or captured. Forces from Jordan were sent to provide air support and rescue for the survivors.

    There are no reports of this incident in the mainstream media, but Russian intelligence reports that were published on the internet during the invasion were generally close to the mark in accuracy (albeit embellished with a distinct political slant), and the Department of Defense has said affirmed that the reports do seem credible and accurate-particularly the ones that reference radio intercepts. This report of the border incident stems from such radio intercepts. It’s also echoed in Yossef Bodansky’s book, The Secret History of the Iraq War, but he cites several Russian eyewitnesses as well.

    That the casualties are not listed in the DoD’s casualty list is not unusual since the words “Ranger” and “Green Beret” are missing from that list entirely. It seems Special Forces casualties are not generally reported in the same manner as conventional forces. If true, the presence of American forces captured and taken into Syria perhaps might be one of the reasons why more pressure hasn’t been exerted on the Assad Regime. In any event, on March 24th President Bush called Russian President Vladamir Putin and there can be no doubt that the issue of Russian support for Saddam’s regime was discussed. That the phone call (widely reported by the press at the time) came immediately in the wake of the border incident is interesting and poignant.

    On March 29 and 30, Saddam contacted Belarus. The former Soviet Republic had been one of many that offered Saddam exile in the days just prior to the war. Instead of accepting the offer, Saddam had a Belarusian IL-76 transport plane flown to Baghdad, allegedly loaded with “sensitive cargo” and immediately flown back to Belarus. In December, Yevgeny Primakov’s plane had been reloaded with “sensitive cargo” (ie cargo the Americans would want-like WMD, WMD equipment, documents, and people), and flown to Belarus. All flights in and out of Saddam International were monitored closely by the USAF, British Intelligence, and a list of other foreign intelligence services.

    Many of the Russian-made weapons procured through Syria’s front companies-like SES International-had come from Belarus. After the fall of Saddam’s regime, it was found that many of the senior leaders who had fled went to Syria and Belarus (sometimes in that order). If one asks, “What happened to all that WMD?” Then a finger can be pointed towards the former Soviet Republic at the very least for enabling the former leaders of Saddam’s regime to escape and orchestrate an insurgency, clearly for removal of “sensitive items” from Saddam’s regime, and very likely for accepting Saddam’s WMD, WMD equipment, documents, and people.

    On April 5th, CENTCOM reported spotting a large column of Iraqi vehicles, and braced for a possible counterattack. Rather than race south to certain defeat and death, the column slipped into Syria. Russian intelligence reports reiterate this event as do Lebanese sources. Mainstream media reports only confirm the convoy’s sighting. Allegedly the convoy included Russian-made mobile rocket launchers some with chemical weapons.

    The exodus from Iraq to Syria by Saddam’s allies and the highest ranking members of Saddam’s regime didn’t end on April 9th, but it was fully brought to the attention of the world when American Special Forces intercepted a Russian convoy headed into Syria. The Russians said that the convoy was on a diplomatic mission following a convoy that carried Primakov himself. To this day no one knows for sure. Some reports claim that Primakov’s convoy carried Russian WMD people, documents, and equipment that could not be left to fall into the hands of the Coalition. The contents of the convoy that American commandos attacked remain classified, but former deputy undersecretary of defense for international technology and security, John A Shaw, reports that American intelligence has documents confirming that Saddam’s Regime paid Russia to provide security forces for Iraq’s Russian-made arms and paid Russia to conduct counterintelligence activities that would prevent the Coalition from discovering the illegal arms supply line from Russia through Syria. “An Arabic-language report obtained by U.S. intelligence disclosed the extent of Russian armaments. The 26-page report was written by Abdul Tawab Mullah al Huwaysh, Saddam's minister of military industrialization, who was captured by U.S. forces May 2, 2003.” Other intelligence officials confirm the possession of these documents and more. “The materials outlined in the documents included missile components, MiG jet parts, tank parts and chemicals used to make chemical weapons, the official said.”

    One wonders how differently the war in Iraq would look if American commandos had been able to seize elusive WMD and present it to the world? As more and more captured documents are being released every day, why not present these documents as well? That answer will come later.

    Read part one here
    Read part two here

    UN Human Rights Commission Makes It Official: They Will Only Monitor, Condemn Israel

    From: Mere Rhetoric
    Belarus and Israel
    No one else - only Israel - is subjected to specific and permanent scrutiny:

      The first of two measures adopted places Israel automatically on the council's agenda for debate while all other countries in the world are dealt with under an overall global subject heading. The second move calls for Israel's activities in the Palestinian territories to be permanently reviewed until it withdraws from the West Bank. "The Council focused almost exclusively on a single country - Israel - failing to address serious human rights violations in other countries such as Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Belarus, and Cuba," said US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack... the Council aggravated problems by terminating the mandates of the UN rapporteurs on the Governments of Cuba and Belarus.

    Belarus, incidentally, is such an egregious rights violator that as of tomorrow morning the EU has cut off trade privileges that it extends to developing economies. As for Burma and Zimbabwe - well, Israel is probably worse. What with rampant lawlessness and racially targeted mass killings going on in Israeli streets, right? Here's the best part:

      The council, which has been in existence for only a year, replaced the Human Rights Commission, which was scrapped largely because it allowed 'abuser nations' such as Sudan and Libya to take part and repeatedly singled out Israel.

    And thus does UN reform proceed apace. On the other hand, we're kind of conflicted. Maybe this is the best part:

      The European Union, which played a key role in the negotiations, said ahead of the meeting that it remained to be seen how the council could perform on the basis of the agreement. "The package is certainly not ideal, but we have a basis we can work with," said Ambassador Michael Steiner of Germany, which currently holds the EU presidency.
    Germany thinks that this is "a basis" for German and EU policy. Almost hard to see how those tools could announce they were dropping the boycott against Hamas on the day before Hamas went on a killing spree that cost over 100 lives.

    Belarusian forrest gives a glimps of The World Without Us

    From: Biology in science fiction
    A dark, brooding forest with wolves howling and tons of moss hanging off the trees. And there is such a place. It still exists on the border between Poland and Belarus.
    The latest issue of Scientific American interviews science writer and journalism professor Alan Weisman, author of a new book, The World Without Us. The title pretty much sums up the premise: what would happen if all humans vanished tomorrow? Weisman looks at the subsequent fall of New York City and the regrowth of wilderness.

      "To see how the world would look if humans were gone, I began going to abandoned places, places that people had left for different reasons. One of them is the last fragment of primeval forest in Europe. It's like what you see in your mind's eye when you're a kid and someone is reading Grimm's fairy tales to you: a dark, brooding forest with wolves howling and tons of moss hanging off the trees. And there is such a place. It still exists on the border between Poland and Belarus*. It was a game reserve that was set aside in the 1300s by a Lithuanian duke who later became king of Poland. A series of Polish kings and then Russian czars kept it as their own private hunting ground. There was very little human impact. After World War II it became a national park. You go in there and you see these enormous trees. It doesn't feel strange. It almost feels right. Like something feels complete in there. You see oaks and ashes nearly 150 feet tall and 10 feet in diameter, with bark furrows so deep that woodpeckers stuff pinecones in them. Besides wolves and elk, the forest is home to the last remaining wild herd of Bison bonasus, the native European buffalo.
    Of course our remaining wilderness doesn't tell the whole story, since even the wild corners of the globe are affected by pollution and climate change. And there would be an open niche for the rise of another intelligent species. Weisman's vision would fit right into the Planet of the Apes.

    According to Alan Weisman, baboons might have a reasonable shot. They have the largest brains of any primate besides Homo sapiens, and like us they adapted to living in savannas as forest habitats in Africa shrank. Writes Weisman in The World without Us: "If the dominant ungulates of the savanna —cattle—disappear, wildebeest will expand to take their place. If humans vanish, will baboons move into ours? Has their cranial capacity lain suppressed during the Holocene because we got the jump on them, being first out of the trees? With us no longer in their way, will their mental potential surge to the occasion and push them into a sudden, punctuated evolutionary scramble into every cranny of our vacant niche?"

    Of course we'll never know if it happens, but it's kind of fun to think about.

    * The place Weisman refers to is Bialowieza National Park. There are some great photos of the forest's mighty oaks.

  • Sport...

    Tennis: Just one example of why men and women still aren't equal

    From: Dolly Mix
    Maria Sharapova is the highest earning sports women in the world. But is that because she's won the most tournaments, or because she's attractive enough to get the most magazine shoots and sponsorship deals?
    There's no suffragettes any more, there's feminists, sure, but who wants to be labelled one of them? All in all, us girls have accepted that we're getting an equal deal to the men, and we're all too busy going about being career women to bother about fighting the corner for women. Because we don't need to any more, right?


    Name a famous female sports person. Now name another. Right now another. And another? Ideas running low yet? Not only is our list of female sports icons direly short compared to the men, but they're getting paid less for it, too. Until this year, women players didn't get equal pay at Wimbledon, in fact even as recently as 1999, men were awarded a higher pay rise than the women. Apparently they wanted to keep the pay gap as a point of principle. Umm, what principle exactly?

    The sexist principle? One clever clogs, (quite obviously a man) claimed that women always got paid more pro rata at Wimbledon than the men, because they play less sets. Now, since when tennis been about quantity rather than quality? In fact, I'm quite sure the enjoyment per set (for men at least) is much higher when Maria "grunt-a-lot" Sharapova is playing than Greg Rusedski.

    But perhaps even more depressing than the hard fact that the pay gap has only just been closed, is the reaction to the news. On a Telegraph article reporting equal pay, the first comment is, "girls r shit at tennis boys are better :)", followed swiftly by "the current situation now definitely discriminates against men.". Say what? The chap, full name Alex Syed, goes on to say, "women can't just cherry pick the situations where they have parity with men". No mate, we're not trying to. We should be equal in every situation.

    Are men always destined to overpower us just because they're genetically stronger. Just because they have more testosterone does that mean they deserve more money?

    Add to this the fact that female sports stars all too frequently appear bikini-clad in mens' magazines, and I'm even less convinced of this equality we're apparently enjoying. Maria Sharapova is the highest earning sports women in the world. But is that because she's won the most tournaments, or because she's attractive enough to get the most magazine shoots and sponsorship deals? I'm taking a wild stab at the latter. Maybe I will become a feminist after all...

  • Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden and Max Mirnyi of Belarus will face Daniel Nestor of Toronto and Mark Knowles in the semi-final at the Queen's Club grass-court championships in London

  • Endnote...

    What is being had?

    From: The Story
    I have been asking this question a lot lately. Passing that five year mark has been tough on me. I have the interesting situation of both watching the possibility of the statute of limitations running out on attempting for some Polish justice, but at the same time in my heart I do not believe there is any justice in Poland to hope for. I mean how do you sue the entire justice system? How do you convince a judge that a judge is guilty when other judges have apparently refused to even allow my side of the case to be heard.

    Dear Adam,

    I know you're not blogging for your health, but in reading the blog entries relating to the Polish mess I am struck by your rage. I am more struck by your rage than I am by the injustice of what happened to you, and the injustice of it f-in' sucks. But I am having to fill in for myself the sense of injustice because your rage is in the way.

    Not that you have no right to be seriously pissed, but you have to give the rage a context. And you have got to stop being angry at Poles in general. It's not valid, there are some that are very nice and kind people. (Picture yourself listening to or reading an anti-Semitic rant by someone who was done wrong by one or more people who are Jews, and think what your personal reaction to it would be.)

    Reorganize your material and rewrite. This may or may not be a book, but if it isn't it's a series of articles or essays. It's already not a new story, which means it's not news unless you have some recent developments. Research who could have an interest in publishing this -- RFE/RL? Others?

    A movie could be interesting. Alan Bates in "The Fixer" suddenly appeared in my head.

    Frankly, I think the story of what an American is doing living in post-glasnost/perestroika Belarus is more interesting, maybe because I never encountered any other Americans who'd even thought of doing it, let alone who were actually doing it. I don't even know any Americans who've been there more than once, and even they are quite few.

    You need an editor, regardless.

    So I do this blog. It is interesting and I meet some interesting people because of it. But I am not convinced that I am really any closer to solving the being had problem then I was when I started?

    I just took a look at the site - and still say that when I go to i shouldnt have to click on anything to get to the main message you are trying to get across - which is your news section (right?). It's still all very confusing when I hit the main page - I think you have too many links between the left and right sections - maybe try to consolidate some of them...

    all this stuff: It's about Lies
    It's about Corruption
    It's about Freedom
    It's about Fighting for what is Right
    It's about Belarus
    It's about Poland
    It's about Bikes
    It's about the Blogs
    It's about Being Had

    should be somehow incorporate in the top middle section where it says "trying to get it straight since..." The middle section of your first page is your most important real estate and its not being used (in my opinion) to capture the audience.

    I mean, what I am trying to do is to make an injustice public and to have my chance at some satisfaction. I know the issue gets clouded when I add in that I moved to Belarus. I don't really think that this should matter but I know that it does. There are attitudes and misunderstanding to go along with the embargoes and sanctions and all of a sudden, I am more political than I ever intended to be and worse, people have a built in excuse not to listen to me.

    You got what you deserve. When you lay with dogs you get up with fleas. When you go to live with cannibals don't be surprised to find yourself in their soup. Such imnmature idiocy to ask for money to prove something to the most anti=Semitic goyim in European history, while Jewish kids in Israel, mutilated by bombings, with their parents killed or wounded don't know how to pay for basic expenses. You are big and healthy enough to earn money for your own legal expenses. Are you single mother with four kids? Why are you shnorring?

    I don't think it is really like I have hit a wall, per se. It is just more like, I am torn by the relevancy. I want to move on, I just can't understand what I am doing wrong. Where is the key? What is the answer?

    I like the idea of your appeal to establish a fund for legal fees and gather that legal aid for righteous claims as to people subjected to foreign abuse and state oppression which invariably is always 'dressed up' as a criminal prosecution is not yet readily available in Belarus.

    Your case, as I am aware, is highly relevant, extraordinary and exceptional as the abuse you have suffered at the behest of officials acting for the state (i.e. Poland) is excessively disproportionate and offensive to the common standards of decency. My advice is that it is worth a try to approach the Authorities in Belarus and petition your concept to them.

    So I ask you: what can I do? How do I break this open? I am open to suggestions.

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