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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Belarus reviving small towns, OSCE, Economics, Nature conservation, Gas prices, Samand, US sanctio, Musicians, Russian polls, Minsk Hotel and Blogs...

  • From the Top...
  • #261

    Reviving of small and medium population centres should be developed into nationwide project

    From: The office of the prsident and BelTA
    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko at the regular seminar for top-level officials of the central and local government bodies
    “The reviving of small and medium population centres should be developed into a large-scale, nationwide project. It should be regarded as a paramount state priority and, therefore, treated with all due responsibility. To carry out this project, it’s necessary that all government bodies – national, regional and local authorities as well as heads of companies, entrepreneurs, and, certainly, the population – join their efforts,” said the President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, at the regular seminar for top-level officials of the central and local government bodies today.

    Belarus President wants development targets of small towns raised

    The president of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has tasked the government and oblast administrations with raising main development targets of small and medium urban communities.

    “The development goals should be as tense to reach as possible,” remarked Alexander Lukashenko, as he was summing up results of the permanent seminar for executives of national and local state administration bodies.

    “It is bad when I’m told that the measures outlined by the state programme have been fulfilled, with more than half of them ahead of schedule, but no tangible economic effect has been felt. It means either the reports use perfunctory parameters or the measures themselves are perfunctory,” the head of state told the government and representatives of local government bodies. Alexander Lukashenko said, “Quit being official and get down to work with rolled up sleeves. No additions or formalism can work here.”

    The state programme for the development of small and medium urban communities provides for building 57 new industrial enterprises, modernising 80 existing ones, reconstructing 56 agribusiness and service facilities. According to the President, it is insufficient. The President believes, the existing manufacturing facilities should be optimised in view of the available raw stock supply areas, regional specialisation and possible sales areas.

    The revival of small and medium urban communities should be turned into a large-scale national project and treated as a top government priority with all the responsibility, noted the President. Alexander Lukashenko underlined, joint efforts of all government bodies, businessmen and people will be needed to implement the project. According to Alexander Lukashenko, “We should not commit the errors and blunders the start of the rural revival programme saw.”

    The President of Belarus has demanded that occupation and worthy living standards should be ensured in small and medium urban communities.

    Alexander Lukashenko noted that low incomes of citizens are the acutest social problem in small and medium towns. In small towns salaries make 83% of the country’s average, he stated. While the average salaries approached Br710,000 in September 2007, in some towns salaries totalled as little as Br300,000-400,000.

    “Neither the government nor local authorities should forget that incomes of individuals should be raised essentially in the next few years. If average salaries in neighbouring countries reach $1,000, we will have no other options,” said the head of state. In his words, special attention should be paid to problem towns with high unemployment levels. At present such towns account for more than 70% of those listed by the programme for developing small and medium towns.

    Addressing oblast and regional administration heads, Alexander Lukashenko stressed, if employment situation stays complicated for several years, “one should think about setting up enterprises to settle the unemployment problem once and for all.” “The resolution of these problems cannot be postponed any longer,” the President is convinced.

    Apart from that, in all problem urban communities an essential economic growth should be achieved along with financial steadiness of corporations, manufacturing and social infrastructure should be developed. Enterprises should be retooled. Business plans concerning investment projects in small and medium towns should be revised with participation of local authorities. According to the head of state, manufacturing should be a priority in their development. Housing, social sphere, municipal service can come next.

    Alexander Lukashenko warns against wasting rural housing money

    In May-June 2008 comprehensive measures will be taken to audit all aspects of the implementation of the rural revival and development programme.

    “In every oblast we will carry out auditing actions, with possible involvement of the President. It will be a serious trial, after which an assessment of performance of oblast governors and regional executives will be given,” said Alexander Lukashenko.

    The Belarusian head of state warned local government executives about the responsibility for the inefficient utilisation of the money appropriated for the rural revival programme. Alexander Lukashenko severely criticised rural housing construction practices. “Some homes built for specialists in rural areas cost as much as $40,000. We cannot build houses as large as 100 square metres at such paramount prices. Local executives still stick to thinking ‘it is not our money, it will be written off all the same’. But they will be made responsible for that,” underlined the President.

    Alexander Lukashenko added, decisions concerning the cost of rural homes had been made long before, with the roomage of rural homes specified. “Keep in mind that all the loans will have to be returned. We cannot ‘beach’ banks and destroy the banking industry,” he said.

    The President said he wanted better work done creating jobs for agricultural workers, who are laid off as manufacturing facilities in rural areas are streamlined. “Set up small flexible enterprises, develop crafts,” the President told executives of local government bodies.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus unsatisfied with OSCE/ODIHR activity, Sergei Martynov says

    From: BelTA
    The Republic of Belarus remains unsatisfied with the activity of the OSCE/ODIHR which “ignores the instructions given by the member states to improve election monitoring practices, Foreign Minister of Belarus Sergei Martynov said when speaking at a session of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Madrid, BelTA has been told in the press service of the foreign political department.

    The Minister noted that the main problem was “persistent unwillingness to establish single rules and intelligible principles in the OSCE election monitoring”. Belarus and several other countries suggested adopting such principles during the session of the Ministerial Council in Madrid or starting working on them immediately at the level of the ad hoc Council. “We need to understand that the lack of uniform, universal, transparent and intelligible rules of monitoring damages the idea of international election observation,” Sergei Martynov said.

    He expressed concern over the so-called “autonomous” activity of some executive structure of the OSCE which is encouraged by some countries. “Such activity is counterproductive and can lead to most serious consequences for the future of the organisation. The institutes and missions of the OSCE are the instruments of assistance which should strictly perform their mandates and tasks determined by the member states,” the Foreign Minister of Belarus believes.

    OSCE reforms are skidding

    The OSCE comprehensive reform and the organization’s adaptation to modern realities are skidding. Several important decisions of the Brussels Council of Foreign Ministers were not fulfilled.

    "The lack of concerted steps in raising efficiency of the organization can lead to further aggravation of the crisis trends. Along with that Belarus is interested in not only preservation but also in strengthening of the OSCE, this unique forum for broad political dialogue based on principles of equality of all its members.

    “We are in flavour of turning the OSCE into a full-fledged international organization which goals should be reflected in its founding document, i. e. OSCE Charter. The speedy development and adoption of the charter is the basic tenet of streamlining the work of the organization which will help make it systematic and transparent,” the Foreign Minister of Belarus said.

    Belarus points to need of protecting OSCE energy infrastructure from terrorists

    Belarus has put forward an initiative to protect the energy infrastructure in the OSCE zone from the terrorist threat.

    "The OSCE needs to focus on solving the most important security problems, i.e. terrorism, organized crime, trafficking in drugs and people, illegal migration. Belarus speaks for the development of a dialogue on energy and ecological security within the OSCE."

    Sergei Martynov hailed the fact that many participants of the session noted the importance of the fight against trafficking in people. During the United Nations General Assembly Belarus voiced an initiative to set up the global partnership against slavery and trafficking in people in the 21st century. We support OSCE efforts in counteracting trafficking in people and broadening interaction with other international structures in the sphere,” he said.

    The head of the Foreign Ministry of Belarus believes that strategic vision and realization of unity of purpose and responsibility were needed to enhance security in the OSCE zone.

  • Economics...

    Three companies from Turkey, USA and South Africa become main investors of High-Tech Park development

    From: BelTA
    Three companies from Turkey, the USA and South Africa have been chosen as the main investors to develop the Belarusian High-Tech Park (HTP), Valery Tsepkalo, the director of the HTP Administration, told reporters on November 30.

    According to him, on December 3, one of the companies will be determined as the main investor, the other ones will become co-investors.

    Valery Tsepkalo noted that eight companies-residents of the High-Tech Park expressed their wish to fund the preparatory works to develop the Park. The housing and scientific-production zones of HTP will be designed by OAO Institute Minskgrazhdanproekt. Belstroitsentr Company will control over the construction works and monitor the implementation of the project.

    The construction of the HTP facilities is expected to be started in spring next year, the director of Belarus’ High-Tech Park noted.

    Investment environment in Belarus attractive for foreign investors – ATEK

    The investment environment in Belarus is attractive for foreign investors, director of the Austrian ATEK Company Alexander Muraviev said when speaking at a seminar for seniour officials of the national and local authorities.

    According to him, the companies which come to Belarus are the example to follow. “In our work we are guided by the principle of creating modern productions. We also believe that it is more efficient to set up industrial clusters on the basis of one enterprise. In this way we can reap maximum benefits for the company as well as for the region where it is deployed,” he said.

    According to Alexander Muraviev, from 2002 to 2006 ATEK invested EUR 40 million into the projects in Belarus. In 2006 a decision was taken to implement new projects to the tune of EUR 200 million.

    Belarus expects 17-25% investment growth in 2008

    In 2008 the growth of investments in the Belarusian economy is at 17-25%, Deputy Economy Minister Tatyana Starchenko told BelTA.

    According to her, the Economy Ministry set forth such high parameters in the draft socio-economic development forecast. However, these are not final figures “as they are yet to be submitted for consideration of the Presidential Administration” Tatyana Starchenko said.

    The 2008 socio-economic targets are very ambitious, she said. This year the growth of capital and construction investments will make up 14.5-17% as it has been projected, Tatyana Starchenko noted. In January- October the growth was 15.1%.

    In October Belarus’ foreign debt 1% up, internal debt – 5.2% up

    In October 2007, the foreign government debt of Belarus increased by 1% and made up Br1780,68 billion (roughly by $827 billion) as of November 1, BelTA has been told in the Finance Ministry.

    As of November 1 the debts issued against the guarantees of the government amounted to Br637,64 billion, or 36% of the total foreign debt. In October they ramped up by 2.9%. The debt of the central government was equal to Br1143 billion, or 64% (82% are long-term borrowings). The Finance Ministry notes that this index has not practically changed in October.

    In October 2007, the internal government debt increased by 5.2% and totaled Br5586,83 billion as of early November. The debts against the guarantees of the government grew by 18.7% to Br1646,31 billion and accounted for 29% of the total internal debt. The debt of the central government reached Br3940,52 billion, 0.4% up in October.

    The total debt increased by 4.1% in October to make up Br7367,52 billion as of early November.

    Belarusian and European experts to consider ways of improving nature conservation regime in Belovezhskaya Pushcha

    From: BelTA
    Belovezhskaya Pushcha
    Belarus experts in partnership with their counterparts of the Council of Europe will consider the ways to improve the nature conservation regime in the National Park Belovezhskaya Pushcha. The main purpose of the project is to prepare recommendations on extending the European Diploma of the Council of Europe for the National Park in 2008.

    The agreement was reached during an annual session of the ad hoc Committee of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wild Life and Natural Habitats of the Council of Europe held in Strasburg, France. The Belarusian delegation was headed by Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of Belarus Galina Volchuga.

    The delegation reported about the nature conservation policy in Belarus and the progress made in streamlining the policy to meet the standards of the Council of Europe. The delegation also held negotiations with the Directorate of Culture, Cultural and Natural Heritage of the Council of Europe, a group of experts for European Diplomas for protected areas of the Council of Europe, Secretariat of the Convention and delegations of other countries.

    The Convention on the Conservation of the European Wild Life and Natural Habitats was signed by 46 countries both members and non members of the Council of Europe. Belarus has a status of observer. The ad hoc Committee drafts recommendations to award European Diplomas to protected areas. This is a prestigious award of the Council of Europe testifying to exemplary nature management. The National Park Belovezhskaya Pushcha has been holding the diploma since 1997.

    Belarus to take part in UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

    A Belarusian delegation will take part in the 13th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) scheduled for December 3-14 in Bali, Indonesia, BelTA learnt in the Foreign Ministry of Belarus. The delegation will be headed by First Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Alexander Apatsky.

    The delegation will hold consultations with the UNFCCC Secretariat and Kyoto Protocol signatories on the Amendment to Annex B of the Kyoto Protocol regarding qualitative obligations of Belarus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

    In accordance with the Amendment, Belarus is set to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8% as compared with 1990.

  • From the international press...

    Belarus expects to pay less than $120 for '08 gas

    From: Reuters
    Belarus expects to pay no more than $119.5 per 1,000 cubic metres of Russian gas next year compared to $100 now, state-run news agency BelTA quoted a deputy prime minister as saying on Thursday.

    "We expect the price of Russian gas to Belarus to be $119.5 per 1,000 cubic metres... As talks go on, it is possible that this price could be lowered by $7 to $8," First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko was quoted as saying.

    Ex-Soviet Belarus and Ukraine are both in difficult talks with Russia's gas export monopoly Gazprom (GAZP.MM: Quote, Profile, Research), which on Tuesday said it had agreed to pay $130-150 per tcm for gas it is to buy from Turkmenistan next year against $100 now.

    Analysts have said that the surprise increase -- Gazprom's previous agreement with Turkeminstan was due to last to 2009 -- is bound to be passed on to some Gazprom client countries.

    Gas price negotiations have led to disputes before between both Belarus and Ukraine and Moscow.

    Last year, Gazprom threatened to cut supplies to Belarus as talks stalled but Belarus eventually agreed for the price to be doubled as of the beginning of this year.

    In January 2006, Gazprom cut supplies briefly to Ukraine, transit country for most of Russian gas to Europe.

    Iran's Samand automobile gaining foothold in Belarus

    From: Payvand
    A top Belarusian official says that Iran's national automobile Samand is expected to flood into the former Soviet republic's auto market.

    "The Belarusian transportation industry counts much on the production of the sedan car to be produced inside the country," Anatoliy Rusetskiy, the Belarusian industry minister, told Iran-Khodro Managing Director Manouchehr Manteqi.

    Rusetskiy gave assurances that his ministry would support the production of the car which is to be turned into a 'national car' in future.

    "Belarus can turn into a hub for exporting Samand spare parts into the neighboring countries," Manteqi said.

    Iran-Khodro has battered big names such as Japan, China and South Korea to win the license to produce the car in Belarus.

    The leading Iranian car factory annually manufactures 1,500 Samand cars in Belarus and anticipates promoting the product to 18,000 within the framework of a five year-term plan which starts from 2009.

    Biogas comes to Belarus

    From: Reuters
    German engineering company Biogas Nord said on Friday it will open two biogas plants in Belarus over the next few weeks, providing the ex-Soviet state with a popular source of environmentally friendly energy.

    "The Belarusian government approached us for these plants and we have had a really good cooperation with them," Michael Hauck, head of marketing at Biogas Nord, which specializes in biogas plants, told Reuters.

    The plants -- the first of their kind in the country -- have been ordered by state farms, and will be fed with chicken, pig and cow manure, which ferments to form biogas, Hauck said.

    Another name for methane, biogas as a source of electricity cuts man's contribution to global warming by burning the potent greenhouse gas, otherwise released into the atmosphere.

    One plant, near the capital Minsk, will have a 340 kilowatt capacity (2.68 million kw/hour annually), with plans to increase this next year. The second, near Brest, will have a capacity of 340 kw, to be extended to 520 kw sometime next year, he added.

    Hauck said orders for more plants in Belarus were being negotiated.

    While Biogas Nord would not comment on the price, such plants usually cost over 1 million euros ($1.48 million) each.

    Like liquid biofuels -- used to power cars -- biogas involves generating energy from organic matter. It has the same structure as natural gas, is transported the same way and is becoming increasingly popular in Europe and Asia.

    Belarus has long expressed interest in diversifying its energy supplies away from Russia, which provides Belarus with almost all its gas.

    U.N. On Belarus Human Rights

    From: VOA
    A United Nations General Assembly committee has passed, for the second consecutive year, a resolution condemning the human rights situation in Belarus.

    During his thirteen years in office, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko has stamped out dissent and strengthened his authoritarian rule through rigged elections, flawed referenda and decrees that undermine the rule of law. The U.N. resolution cites in particular the "severely flawed" presidential election in March 2006 "due to arbitrary use of state power." Throughout the election campaign and in the months afterward, some one thousand opposition and civil society activists were beaten, harassed, fined or imprisoned. Local elections in January 2007 likewise failed to meet international standards.

    "As the last dictatorship in Europe," said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Zalmay Khalilzad, "[Belarus] continues to imprison people as part of its political strategy." Regrettably, the Belarusian government has not responded to repeated calls by the U.N. or to recommendations by other international bodies to reform its governance and human rights practices. If anything, repression of the political opposition has increased.

    The U.N. is urging the government of Belarus "to release immediately and unconditionally all individuals detained for politically motivated reasons and other individuals detained for exercising or promoting human rights."

    The resolution also voiced concern over the lack of academic and press freedom in Belarus. Under the current regime, no one can criticize the government publicly without fear of reprisal, and authorities impede criticism of the government by videotaping political meetings, frequent identity checks, and other forms of intimidation. In the last year, no permits have been granted to any new independent newspapers. Meanwhile, authorities closed at least two independent newspapers, continue to threaten others and block access to the internet.

    Ambassador Khalilzad said the resolution, which the U.S. sponsored together with thirty-six other countries, sends a strong message that "we don't just hold developing countries accountable but developed countries as well." It is time for the government of Belarus to respect freedom of speech, assembly, and association, and to meet international standards for elections. The government should also suspend officials implicated in cases of forced disappearance, summary execution, and torture.

  • Analysis...


    From: jamestown
    On November 14, the United States Treasury announced financial sanctions on the Belnaftakhim gas and chemical conglomerate and its subsidiaries outside the country. With this maneuver, Washington expressed its dissatisfaction with the Belarusian government’s failure to improve the human rights’ situation within the country. It follows other moves directed against the Lukashenka government by the EU and the United Nations.

    The recent sanctions comply with the order given by U.S. President George W. Bush permitting the Department of the Treasury to freeze assets of those individuals or companies believed to be responsible for human rights violations in Belarus. The United States has blocked the undisclosed personal assets of 16 Belarusian officials, including President Alexander Lukashenka, since last year. The EU, meanwhile, has expelled Belarus from its preferential list of partners, a decision that became effective in June 2007. It is estimated, however, that the annual losses incurred by Belarus from this move will amount to €12 million annually, or about 0.4% of the value of all Belarusian exports to the EU. In this sense, the punishment might be considered more symbolic than severe.

    On November 21, the United Nations General Assembly committee dealing with social, humanitarian, and cultural issues accepted a draft resolution led by the United States, the EU, Canada, Israel, Japan, and Switzerland that condemned the continuing violations of human rights in Belarus and demanded that the government adhere to international standards in the conducting of elections. The resolution was approved by 68–32, with 76 abstentions (Charter 97, November 22). Likewise such admonitions have become somewhat ritualistic, given the Minsk government’s apparent refusal to change its ways.

    The impact of the sanctions on Belnaftakhim is harder to assess. Some analysts believe the company has a relationship to Belarus similar to what Gazprom is to Russia – one of the government’s principal assets. It consists of 38 enterprises, of which 23 are industrial companies. It includes chemicals and oil output, transport, and procurement technology and employs about 120,000 people. Over 70% of the output produced by Belnaftakhim divisions is distributed to 90 different countries. The company accounts for about 35% of the exports and over 30% of the country’s industrial output. The most important export products are mineral fertilizers (especially potassium chloride) and oil products. The company has offices in Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Germany, and China, and a subsidiary firm, Belnaftakhim USA. New company branches are being created in Turkey and Poland.

    Belarus’s response to the U.S. decision was two-fold. On the one hand, a protest note was handed to U.S. Ambassador Karen Stewart on November 15. The authorities claimed that the new sanctions were “illegal” and derived from exclusively political motives. It demanded that the company’s assets be immediately unfrozen. The note also stated that the decision of the Bush administration was contrary to the norms of international law and WTO trade guidelines. It also reportedly violated the current trade agreement between the United States and Belarus, by which Washington agreed to promote the supply of Belarusian goods and services on the U.S. market.

    On the other hand, the Belarusian side was insistent that the new sanctions would not affect the smooth operation of the Belarusian economy. Speaking to the German-run Minsk Forum conference, Uladzimir Sizou, head of Belnaftakhim’s oil processing arm, remarked that the only branch of the company affected was the one in United States. He maintained that the sanctions would not impede the transport of crude oil through Belarus or domestic oil refining. A separate report suggests that Latvia will suffer adversely from the sanctions, as transport of Belnaftakhim exports in 2006 yielded the Baltic country some $174 million in transit fees that will now presumably be lost. Some impact may be felt by other enterprises, such as the Mazyr oil refinery, which sells the United States about 50,000 tons of gasoline monthly.

    Belarusian analyses have speculated that the united stance of the United States and the European Union on human rights violations and the need to release political prisoners in Belarus may be undermined by the new sanctions, since the Europeans, in their view, do not support these additional measures. However, there has been no overt opposition from Brussels to the announcement from Washington, and similar sanctions on EU trading with Belarusian companies would be potentially devastating to the Belarusian economy.

    The direct financial impact on Belarus of the sanctions is difficult to gauge without access to Belnaftakhim company records. What is clear, however, is that the country’s energy sector has come under intense pressure over the past year through increased costs of imported oil and gas from Russia and a distinct cooling of relations with its traditional ally. The U.S. sanctions step up the pressure on the Lukashenka regime’s main economic asset: reprocessed oil products, which, at 54% of the total volume of exports, are the country’s most important export item outside the boundaries of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

    Although the latest sanctions may not elicit immediate internal changes, they may lead the Belarusian government to seek new accommodation with Russia or to make some concessions to the demands of the EU – perhaps by releasing some prisoners. Other options seem distinctly limited.

  • Cultural news...

    Belarus’ National Library presents Estonian artists’ exhibition of illustrations for children’s books

    From: BelTA
    National Library of Belarus
    The exhibition Triennale: Illustrations of Tallinn, which opened at the National Library of Belarus on November 29, is organised by the National Library of Estonia in cooperation with the Consulate General of Belarus in Tallinn. The exposition features 43 illustrations by 25 Estonian artists for the children’s books published recently in Estonia.

    According to Linda Kolk, the Consul General of Estonia to Belarus, the exhibition Triennale: Illustrations of Tallinn will become one more important event in the cultural life of both the states the friendship of which strengthens from year to year. The exhibition is a scheduled event envisaged in the cooperation programme between the two libraries.

    The document, which was signed in early 2007, has significantly promoted cultural cooperation between Belarus and Estonia. In 2006, six exhibitions of Belarusian artists were held in Estonia. More than ten Belarusian folk bands performed in Tallinn, Johvi, Maardu, Narva, Sillamae. Representatives of this country successfully participated in the Narva Piano Contest, the Tallinn Contest of Russian Romance, the international festival Theatrical Autumn in Tallinn, the international contest of children’s drawing Paints of World. Students of Belarusian State Academy of Music gave two great concerts in the main hall of Estonian Academy of Music and Theater. Representatives of the Estonian art took part in the international festival Slavonic Bazaar, the film festival Listapad, the contest of modern choreography in Vitebsk and a number of other cultural events in Belarus.

    In February this year, the National Library of Belarus exhibited the books from its stock in the National Library of Estonia. The exhibition took place in the towns of Kokhtla-Yarva, Maardu and Narva.

    A photo-exhibition of the Belarusian News Agency BelTA “Modern Belarus” opened in the Library of Estonia on November 12. Hundreds of people have already visited it. In December, the exhibition will move to the Centre of Russian Culture in Tallinn, later to the city hall of Maardu and in January 2008 – to a library of Vilyandi.

    Minsk is first hotel in Belarus to receive Diamond Star

    From: BelTA
    The four-star hotel Minsk has received a Diamond Star, the main prize of the 11th international award ceremony Leaders of Travel Industry. Director of the hotel Nikolai Zhuravsky received an honorary order for his personal contribution to the development of tourism.

    The award ceremony was held on November 29 in Moscow.

    The ceremony is a big event gathering together representatives of travel agencies, Nikolai Zhuravsky told BelTA. The Hotel Minsk has been invited to the ceremony for the fourth year in a row. In 2004, the hotel received the Silver Crown, in 2005 – the Golden Crown, in 2006 – the Platinum Crown.

    The Diamond Star is made of gold and decorated with semiprecious stones (amethyst, topaz and citrine) and 16 diamonds with the Leaders of Travel Industry logo in the center. The star nests on a holder made of silver and greenstone.

    The Leaders of Travel Industry prizes have been awarded since 1996. Every year more than 150 entries are filed for the awards.

  • Around the region...

    Russia goes to polls today

    From: NDTV
    As Russia starts voting for a new parliament today, many say, these elections are looking like a foregone conclusion.

    With President Vladimir Putin's supporters most likely to win these elections have in a sense turned into a plebiscite on Putin's rule.

    Opposition parties allege that the entire process is rigged, which is why this time there are hardly any independent observers.

    In fact, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) decided not to bother sending observers at all for the elections.

    Yuri, Resident, Moscow said ''The only irregularity is that the advertising campaigns have been a little one-sided for one party than for others, but people are mostly in favour of that party anyway.''

    Although eleven parties were authorised to stand in the polls by the country's Election Commission, only three other parties hold a realistic chance of showing some if not a strong opposition to the United Russia party.

    Analysts have said that the only possible enemy for Putin is a low voter turnout.

    ''These are elections, this is politics. The results will be known when voting is done. We hope United Russia wins,'' said Alexandra, Moscow resident.

    ''Of course we will be voting for Putin, for United Russia. We only want him to win,'' said Valentina, another Moscow resident.

    When these Russian residents were asked why they want to vote for Putin, they replied, ''We like him as our leader.''

    It may in many ways be considered as a non-election. But Sunday's elections are just another move by President Putin to push his pro-democracy policies in the former Communist nation.

    Outside View: Moscow relief at higher cost

    From: UPI
    When Turkmenistan announced last week it would raise the gas price for Gazprom by 30 percent, the Russian energy giant actually sighed with relief.

    It had long expected Ashgabat to raise the prices, and $130 per 1,000 cubic meters is a moderate price for today, considerably lower than the rumored $150. In the end, the news is one more proof that Russia's increase of gas prices for Ukraine is justified.

    On the other hand, an agreement on new prices has not been signed yet. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said Ukraine was prepared to pay $160 per 1,000 cubic meters; this is not a contractual price but only a vocalized desire. The price might be $180, depending on the format and party leanings of the new Ukrainian Cabinet and the board of Ukraine's state-owned oil and gas company Naftogaz.

    Prices are not the only problem in gas relations between Moscow and Kiev. Another problem is debts, which the two sides addressed a month ago. The system of paying for Russian gas through the sole supplier of Russian gas to the country, RosUkrEnergo, which is 50 percent owned by Gazprom, malfunctioned because of the rapidly growing consumer debts.

    The debt portfolio of RosUkrEnergo went from $100 million to $3 billion in 2006. By October 2007 the debts of Naftogaz to RosUkrEnergo exceeded $700 million, and UkrGazEnergo, a joint venture established by RosUkrEnergo and Naftogaz, owed $300 million.

    The debt problem showed that it is not enough to make direct gas deliveries to Ukraine; it is also essential for the clients to pay for them. Analysts encouraging Gazprom to learn the routine of collecting payments cannot be serious. Gazprom said logically that if the political future of the Ukrainian authorities depends on Russian gas deliveries, they should ensure the uninterrupted operation of effective, if not very efficient, schemes.

    The signature of Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on the agreement on debt repayment will settle the problem, but it would also make the Ukrainian government the guarantor of repayment. This will give Gazprom a formal pretext for turning off gas in case of debts arrears. If Yulia Tymoshenko comes to power, it will be much more difficult to make the Ukrainian authorities pay for Russian gas.

    Even a layman will tell you that Gazprom will have problems with its clients. Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and other former Soviet republics depend on Russian gas deliveries almost fully, while Europe imports 25 percent of its gas requirements from Russia. Yet gas prices depend on European deliveries, and their growth will determine Gazprom's strategy of gradually leveling off prices for all of its clients.

    Gas prices are growing rapidly, and Russia will have more conflicts with the former Soviet countries over its attempts to adjust gas prices to European standards.

    Gazprom intends to raise gas prices for Western Europe by 60 percent in 2008. Deputy CEO Alexander Medvedev, head of Gazprom Export, said on Nov. 20 that gas prices for Western Europe might grow from the current $250 to $300-$400 next year.

    A "third gas war" may be provoked not only by growing energy prices and the fall of the U.S. dollar. According to Medvedev, Gazprom believes that the European Commission's plans to liberalize the EU energy market are spearheaded at the Russian gas monopoly's investment plans.

    "The liberalization of the European (energy) market will create a situation where prices will soar," he said.

    This may threaten Gazprom's plans to increase its share in gas supplies to Europe to 33 percent by 2015 in response to the growing gas consumption. Putting forth the concern's views on the European energy initiatives, Medvedev warned the EU about "a serious negative effect (this may have) on long-term supplies of natural gas to Europe," unless the European Commission revises its stance. He even hinted that Gazprom might turn off gas, as it did in relations with Ukraine and Belarus.

    The expected decision by Turkmenistan to raise gas prices for Gazprom is one more proof of the global trend of unstoppable growth of fuel and energy prices. The process is bound to provoke conflicts, because the clashing interests of the supplier and the consumer increase tensions at the price talks.

    One more factor in the case of Russia's CIS neighbors is the psychology of consumers who had received Russian natural gas for peanuts for many years. No wonder the transition to market relations is so painful. Moscow has put an end to its fuel paternalism and is also ending its strategy of using subsidies to support domestic producers. All consumers will soon have to pay market (read: high) prices.

    Gas-consuming countries have long sensed the trend. Brussels is thinking of diversifying gas supply routes yet has put Nord Stream to deliver natural gas from Russia to Europe along the bottom of the Baltic Sea on the list of priority projects, contrary to its own directives. Europe knows that it will be unable to satisfy its growing energy and environmental requirements without Russian gas.

    Likewise, the CIS countries are aware of the worth of Russian gas, which is why 10 out of the 12 CIS prime ministers came to Ashgabat for a routine meeting last week, the highest attendance ever. All of them wanted to know the price of Turkmenistan's gas for Gazprom, but the news was made public only after the end of the meeting.

    Gas suppliers and consumers in the Commonwealth of Independent States should at least coordinate their actions, if not act jointly. "We need an alliance of gas transiting, exporting and producing countries," Yanukovych said.

    Although nobody openly supported the idea of a "gas OPEC" in Ashgabat, the centripetal trend is growing stronger by the day. Gas suppliers from the former Soviet countries will be able to coordinate their actions after they sign the agreement to build the Caspian pipeline. It is clear that Gazprom will accept the new price of the Turkmen gas, thereby opening the door to its expanded deliveries through the Russian gas transportation network.

    The presidents of Russia, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan are expected to sign the agreement in December, thus expanding gas transit from Central Asia across Russia. The construction of the Caspian pipeline and the expansion of the Central Asia-Center system will together account for some 100 billion cubic meters of gas a year.

    Is an increase of $30 per 1,000 cubic meters too much to pay for promoting gas cooperation of the CIS countries?

    Unmasking President Putin's Grandiose Myth

    From: Moscow Times
    Putin Putting Russia Back into the World
    Most political leaders are mediocre, a few are heroes and some are just plain lucky.

    In Russia, many see President Vladimir Putin as a hero -- an authoritarian reformer who has brought economic growth and stability to Russia. But let's scrutinize his record a little closer. Russia's outstanding achievement is that its gross domestic product has increased six fold from $200 billion in 1999 to $1.2 trillion this year, but this is primarily a result of the market reforms undertaken in the 1990s.

    The real growth rate is not outstanding. The whole Eurasian region raging from China to the Baltics has been growing at rates from 7 percent to 11 percent annually since 2000, but Russia's growth rate has only been 6.7 percent. In spite of its abundance of oil and gas, it ranks 9th among the 15 former Soviet republics in growth for this period. The reason is that Russia is lagging behind in most reforms.

    Financial stabilization remains incomplete. Last year, inflation stopped at 9 percent, but it is rising. Before the State Duma elections, the government has abandoned macroeconomic caution. Although inflation is rising, the government is sharply increasing public spending. At the same time, it has imposed informal price controls on gasoline and food, and this has caused some shortages. In this way, detrimental Soviet economic thinking has been revived.

    What political stability is possible when nobody knows anything about Russia's political future after March 2008? In his speech on Nov. 21, Putin said, "In the next several months, a complete renewal of Russia's highest state power will take place," but he refuses to explain what he meant, thus leaving the country in complete uncertainty. He also has not explained what the well-advertised "Putin's Plan" is.

    Putin has built a personal authoritarian system in which he makes all major decisions himself. This overcentralization of power leaves the decision makers poorly informed about everything they decide, and the government-controlled media has suffocated all policy debate. As a result, fear is rising with the steadily increasing repression.

    As a consequence, central decisions are few and of poor quality. During his second term, Putin has undertaken virtually no economic reforms, and therefore has not contributed to economic growth. His entire endeavor has been to reinforce authoritarianism and to let his KGB friends from St. Petersburg indulge in lawless renationalization and larceny that has impeded investment and production, especially in energy.

    Personal authoritarian systems are not very stable because they depend entirely upon one ruler. If he leaves office, such a system usually collapses. Since Putin has conscientiously undermined many state institutions, he has obviously intended to stay on all along.

    This system has no other legitimacy than economic growth. Fortunately, Putin has not developed any ideology, even if he toys with Russian nationalism. Nor does he have any party. After all, United Russia is only a bunch of state bureaucrats. It is interesting that Putin's big Moscow speech on Nov. 21 managed to mobilize only 5,000 supporters. When the regime fails to deliver steady high economic growth, it is likely to be frail even while maintaining a policy of repression.

    Everybody around Putin is completely corrupt, but many think that the president himself is honest. In February 2004, presidential candidate Ivan Rybkin named three men as Putin's bagmen, including Gennady Timchenko, the co-founder of the Gunvor oil-trading company. After Rybkin made this statement, he vanished from the political stage. In September, the Polish magazine Wprost wrote that Timchenko, a former KGB officer and member of Putin's dacha cooperative in St. Petersburg, has a net worth of $20 billion. Officially, Timchenko sells the oil of four Russian oil companies, but how are the prices determined to generate such profits?

    In a sensational interview in Germany's Die Welt on Nov. 12, Stanislav Belkovsky, the well-connected insider who initiated the Kremlin campaign against Yukos in 2003, made specific claims about Putin's wealth. He alleged that Putin owned 37 percent of Surgutneftegaz (worth $18 billion), 4.5 percent of Gazprom ($13 billion) and half of Timchenko's company, Gunvor (possibly $10 billion). If this information is true, Putin's total personal fortune would amount to no less than $41 billion, placing him among the 10 richest in the world.

    These shareholdings have been rumored for years, but now a prominent international newspaper has published such allegations made by a well-informed source. If these numbers contain any truth, Putin would be the most corrupt political leader in world history, easily surpassing Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and Zaire's Mobutu.

    Last year, a private arbitration tribunal in Zurich, Switzerland, ruled that Putin's close St. Petersburg friend from his days in foreign intelligence, IT and Telecommunications Minister Leonid Reiman, is the beneficiary of telecommunications assets presently valued at $6 billion. Putin's only reaction was to block this information in Russian media.

    Both the World Bank and Transparency International assess that corruption in Russia has increased after 2004, while it has declined in most post-Soviet countries. Recently, a few senior officials have been arrested for organized crime, but this has nothing to do with the actual fight against corruption. The common view is that these arrests are only part of a turf war among Putin's KGB men from St. Petersburg.

    Nor has Putin brought some law and order to Russia, according to an excellent analysis by Brian Taylor of Syracuse University. Despite sharply rising expenditures on law enforcement, the average annual murder rate under Putin has been higher than under Yeltsin. According to Taylor's report, no country outside of Iraq and Afghanistan has suffered so many terrorist attacks as Russia (even outside of Chechnya) after Sept. 11.

    The final claim of Putin's supporters is that he is re-establishing Russia on the world stage and restoring its military, but even that is not true. Military reform has stopped, and hundreds of conscripts are driven to suicide every year because they are exploited as slave labor. Military procurements and wish lists focus on the priorities of the Cold War in the 1970s -- intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers -- rather than new smart weapons for contemporary military needs.

    My verdict is that Putin has had tremendous luck, which he has utilized to build up an anachronistic authoritarian reign. One could draw a historical parallel between Putin and Tsar Nicholas I, who ruled from 1825 to 1855 to the benefit of nobody except his own close circle. Abundant oil revenues have made it possible for Putin to avoid difficult reforms and to allow his inner circle to indulge in some of the worst corruption the world has ever seen.

    Seven injured in new blast at Ukraine mine


    At least seven people were injured early Saturday in a new blast at the Zasyadko coal mine in eastern Ukraine where 101 workers were killed in a methane blast two weeks ago, a spokesman for the Emergency Situations Ministry said.

    "The blast took place at 5.55 a.m. local time (GMT0355) at the Zasyadko mine in Donetsk, seven miners have been hospitalized, four of them were diagnosed with methane inhalation," said spokesman Igor Krol.

    He said that 385 miners were underground when the blast hit the mine, 63 people were in the immediate vicinity. But he did not give further information.

    The Interfax news agency reported earlier that five workers were injured with severe burns, 20 miners had been evacuated from the mine and 35 others' fate were still unknown,

    The Zasyadko mine, one of Ukraine's largest coalmines, produces up to 10,000 tons of coal every day. Several deadly accidents, however, have taken place at the mine, claiming more than 100 lives in recent years.

    The Nov. 18 blast at Zasyadko was the worst coal-mining disaster in Ukraine's history with 101 miners killed. About 10 bodies still have not been found by now.

    Ukraine Godzilla croc dies after 6 months on the run

    From: Reuters
    A crocodile that escaped from a travelling circus in Ukraine and evaded capture for six months died on Friday after two days back in captivity, officials said.

    "The crocodile was lying in the water and suddenly he just floated to the surface," Oleksander Soldatov of Ukraine's Emergencies Ministry said in the eastern city of Donetsk.

    "We pulled it out of the water and the body felt all cold. It seems clear he was alive before and just died."

    Ministry officials, unsure whether the crocodile was comatose or dead, had earlier called in a vet to examine the reptile. Nicknamed Godzilla or Godzi, it was captured alive this week after escaping from a travelling circus in May.

    It had been spotted several times lurking around industrial sites near the city of Mariupol, on the coast of the Sea of Azov. But it repeatedly eluded search teams.

    It was finally found basking in a pool at a thermal power station, where the water was warmer than the nearby sea.

    The crocodile, which was over a metre (yard) long, was then taken 100 km (60 miles) by car to Donetsk where it was freed into a fire service tank.

    The crocodile's owner, quoted by the daily Segodnya, said he could only collect it on Monday because of circus commitments.

    Soldatov said Godzilla would be cremated.

    "This is an exotic animal. He simply cannot be buried," he said.

  • From the blogs...

    Putin Out to Fix Russian Election

    From: Kim Zigfeld for Pajama's Media
    Russians head to the polls on Sunday to vote in their country’s parliamentary elections. Kim Zigfeld warns that it won’t be a fine moment for democracy because President Vladimir Putin is determined to manipulate the outcome.

    Up to 110 million eligible Russian voters could head to the polls this Sunday to choose a new lower house of their legislature (though in the last election, 2003, there was just 56% turnout). Called the “Duma,” it is analogous to the U.S. House of Representatives except that its members serve four-year terms.

    It doesn’t look, however, like it will be one of democracy’s finer moments.

    Russians have plenty of reasons to favor change. Nadezhda Pitulova of Transitions Online, writing for Business Week, explains that Russia today is much the same as it was in both Tsarist and Bolshevik times — it has a tiny cadre of elite living high on the hog while a vast unwashed population languishes in amazing poverty. Old-age pensions hover around $60 per month while the minimum living wage published by the government is three times that figure. Five million are homeless, twenty-three million live below the poverty line, and the average monthly wage is only $400 — just $2.50 per hour for a full-time job. Meanwhile, rumors surfaced that Putin may have personally squirreled away over $40 billion in personal energy assets during his tenure. Russia isn’t in the top 100 nations in terms of healthcare quality as rated by the United Nations. The average lifespan of an adult male is less than sixty years.

    But because of numerous new obstacles that have been created to block access to the Duma by opposition forces, it doesn’t look like many of these concerns will be very vividly expressed in the new parliament.

    In the 1990s, before Vladimir Putin became Russia’s president, the upper house of Russia’s legislature (known as the Council of the Federation) was elected by the people and consisted of the governors of Russia’s version of states (the giant landmass has more than eighty of them).

    Today, Putin himself appoints the governors, and hence the entire membership of the upper house (whose speaker routinely calls for Putin to serve as president for life).

    Before Putin, individual candidates could run for a seat in the Duma regardless of party affiliation. Before Putin, a political party only needed to have 10,000 registered members in order to get its name on the ballot, and a party only needed to garner 5% of the vote to earn itself Duma seats; those below 5% could form coalitions in order to move up to power.

    Today, individual candidates are banned from seeking Duma seats, voting coalitions have also been barred, and parties must have 50,000 members to get on the ballot and must win 7% of the vote to earn seats. A three-party coalition took fourth place in the 2003 elections; none of those parties are on the radar screen this time around.

    Though daunting in and of themselves, these legal “reforms” were only the first set of obstacles Putin’s regime felt it needed to place in the path of those who would seek to challenge his authority in the legislature. The extremity of breadth of the restrictions indicates that Putin isn’t really as rock-solid popular as many claim him to be, and that it’s crucial for him that his party, United Russia, dominates the outcome. He’s indicated he may move from the presidency to a temporary stint as prime minister, enabling him to run for president in 2008 against the prime minister who would succeed him when he resigned. He cannot seek a third consecutive term under the current Constitution. To guarantee the prime ministry, his party needs to own the Duma. In a pre-recorded speech to the nation on Thursday, Putin appeared to imply that the nation could not survive voting against United Russia. He said that “we should not allow back into power the people who… want to change and muddle Russia’s development plans [and] return to a time of humiliation, dependency and disintegration.” He gave no further details about his post-election plans.

    So, in a double-whammy, Putin then ordered United Russia not to engage in public debates with any rival party, and denied all the others access to state-owned television, radio and newspapers (which dominate the country’s market share). More recently, he instituted Soviet-style price controls on staple household goods, which had seen nosebleed-inducing levels of inflation, in order to undercut any attempt to whip up a grassroots backlash.

    Next, Putin ratcheted up his anti-Western rhetoric, referring to opposition parties as “jackals” and warning the the U.S. State Department was seeking to undermine the legitimacy of the elections, and used this accusation as a pretext to ban virtually all foreign polling place observers from the country. After that, Putin started cracking down on domestic observers too. On Thursday, the Moscow Times reported that the offices of an NGO that engages in vote monitoring had been raided on allegations of using pirated software (the same allegations that were used weeks before to close down the local outpost of Anna Politkovskaya’s paper Novaya Gazeta) and its activities ground to a halt. Russia doesn’t have a reliable system of exit polling, making it that much easier to conceal fraud, and in another jolting announcement it was revealed that Putin’s youth cult “Nashi” would conduct its own exit polling, further muddying the waters. Thus freed from any type of oversight, his minions became amazingly bold in expressing their intention, should it be necessary, to stuff ballot boxes in order to guarantee that Putin’s party dominated the proceedings. Putin’s rhetoric became so intense that Leonid Sedov, senior researcher with pollster the Levada Centre, told Reuters that he “would describe Putin as a non-funny version of [infamous nationalist extremist Vladimir] Zhirinovsky. He borrowed a lot from Zhirinovsky in the way he operates, his anti-Western rhetoric, to say nothing of employing salty phrases. And this crudeness, this slightly mischievous behavior, also appeals to some voters.” Sedov speculated that, having stolen so much of Zhirinovsky’s thunder, the nationalist’s party might not make it past the 7% barrier and find itself, too, excluded from the race. Similar speculation was offered about Putin’s efforts to be more “communist” than the Communist Party, his leading challenger.

    And finally, aggressive steps were taken to physically crush the last viable elements of the opposition parties. During the campaign cycle, Putin’s police seized millions of campaign brochures, already approved by elections officials, before a leading rival party could distribute them, and forced another party to take down hundreds of its campaign billboards. At campaign rallies the weekend before the vote Russia’s two most famous opposition party leaders, Boris Nemtsov and Garry Kasparov, were both arrested, as were a host of their followers, many preemptively (Kasparov’s book, due to be published in Russia during the election cycle, was suddenly squelched). Nemtsov was quickly released, but Kasparov was sentenced to five days in prison (Kasparov had been more quickly released after his first arrest months earlier, making it seem the Kremlin was probing the West to see how much it could get away with). It was as if George Bush had arrested John Kerry and John Edwards at a rally sponsored by right before he lost control of both houses of Congress, and world leaders condemned Putin’s actions with marked and appropriate severity in their language (even Bush let Putin have it, he who once infamously looked into the dictator’s eyes, saw his soul and found it “trustworthy”). That same week in Russia’s war-torn Chechnya region, two opposition political figures (including one candidate for the Duma) were assassinated. Police even threatened a local party organization with arrests because of jokes they were telling about Putin, and there were rumors of shakedown efforts by Putin’s party to coerce campaign contributions in the manner of la cosa nostra.

    With all these obstacles in place, some speculated on the possibility that no party other than Putin’s would be allowed to pass the 7% barrier, leaving Russia with a formalized one-party state similar to China’s. Leading opposition party leader Grigori Yavlinksy told the BBC: “When you have no possibility for independent financing, no access to independent media, no access to independent justice, then by European standards there’s no possibility to become an opposition.” Party leader Nikita Belykh accused the Kremlin of adopting “totalitarian methods” and major opposition figure Vladimir Ryzhkov echoed him, saying the election would be “the first absolutely non-free election since the end of the Soviet Union” and adding: “It’s becoming more and more like Soviet political system, with one centre of power: [the] Kremlin and Kremlin administration, which controls everything - parliament, courts, the party system, media, regional authorities and local authorities. [It’s] a pyramid of power headed by one man.”

    The Christian Science Monitor called them “Potemkin elections.” Slate said that Putin arrests his rivals simply “because he can” and that the similarities between today and Soviet times were “more than merely visual.” An editorial in the Financial Times bluntly called the proceedings a “travesty” and observed: “Given such a foregone conclusion, it is hard to understand why the Russian authorities are fighting such a foul election campaign. Yet in the system of ‘managed democracy’ espoused by Mr Putin, nothing can be left to chance.” Indeed, even without these measures the parliament was already acting like a rubber stamp for Putin’s initiatives, so it was difficult to understand why Putin felt he needed so many draconian measures, which would surely alienate much of his Western support. Difficult, until you remember that these elections were key to Putin’s plan to remain in power after his second term ends next year.

    Ultimately, seven parties ended up making it valiantly onto the ballot despite the long odds, but only two other than Putin’s are currently at 7% or greater support in opinion polls — those being the Communists and Zhirinovsky. United Russia is currently polling at 60% or better (it won less than 40% of the party seats in the Duma four years ago); it only needs to improve on that marginally, by hook or crook, to seize control of virtually the entire body. It seems that Russian law requires that if only one party wins more than the requisite 7% then the highest runner-up will be awarded an automatic 7% share as the token opposition, but there are actually two parties in the race that are fanatically loyal to Putin, United Russia and Fair Russia (led by the Council Speaker). Fair Russia is currently polling around 5%, so it only needs a bit of goosing at the expense of the communists and the nationalists in order to supplant them and hand the entire body to the Putin cadre. Both of the two opposition groups to Putin that embrace Western democratic values, Grigori Yavlinsky’s Yabloko and Boris Nemtsov’s Union of Right Forces, are polling below 1% — and despite that Putin is still so afraid of them that he found it necessary to arrest them and crush their relatively feeble public demonstrations.

    Jewish Museum Turns 5!

    From: Babushka
    5 years seems like a short amount of time for Minsk, a city which just celebrated its 940th birthday since its establishment. But in a post-Soviet city where communism almost completely destroyed 500 years of Jewish history in Belarus, 5 years of the existence of the Jewish Museum in Minsk is the only thing keeping the community from completely forgetting. The only Jewish Museum in Belarus, housed in the Minsk Jewish Campus, is only one room small, but is filled to the brim with Jewish artifacts, photos, and maps depicting Jewish history in Belarus before, during, and after the Holocaust. The Museum holds an archive of Jewish family names which helps Belarusian Jews and Jews from abroad discover their roots.

    At the 5-year birthday party of this prized project was hosted by director Inna Gerassimova who founded this Museum before she was even receiving a salary for her work. The party celebrated supporters of the Museum, with the most honored being the volunteers who develop the projects of the Museum by acting as museum docents, text translators, and exhibit builders.
  • Note: Erica Fishbien, the author of the Babushka blog is finishing her tenure in Belarus at New Years. Over the year and half she has been in Misnk she has been one of the most active and respected organizers for the Jewish community in the Republic of Belarus and her presence is most certainly going to be missed.


    From: TOL
    That was a long time since I witnessed such emotions on the Net. What was the reason? - A couple of musicians - well-known in their country - have consented to meet one top official from “president’s” administration and have published all info immediately after having talked to this guy. They could keep that a secret, they could restrain from talking to journalists. All in all, these 20 minutes or 1 hour did not seem such a big event to tell everyone. But no, they would tell that, sometimes too emotionally, but all are people, no robots.

    All demons of hell had been unleashed after that interview. Iryna Chalip** had produced an article where she stated that those musicians were being invited to the opposition concerts just as a matter of giving them some place to play. These poor guys, barred from major concert halls, let them play somewhere, she said.

    Young “fighters” issue one original idea after another, like coming to a future concert in a state-owned place, shouting “Shame” altogether and leaving. Other ideas include deleting music from hard drives and throwing away CDs with traitors’ records.

    That seems like a ban from another side. Or I’m mistaken?

    But were have they been, these young fighters, for the last three years. Was there anyone protesting in front of the mayor’s office which refused to rent concert places for our concerts? There was not even an idea to do something in support of the banned groups. But why? Weren’t they blacklisted after having played in an opposition concert? What was the problem then? Or you need the EU bureaucrats to set the guidelines for you to organize a meeting?

    BNF*** guys used to collect signatures for our concerts to be allowed, and I thank them for that, at least something! But the practice shows that signatures are not an effective means in our country.

    To be honest, I expected some public unease, moves, action. The result was a big fat zero. Pasa Kasyryn used to visit mayor’s office with his layer like his own office, came there everyday in a senseless attempt to get an official permission for a concert. Net reaction had been minimal! Minimal, uncompared to today’s battle!

    What was the most disgusting thing about that is that no one could prove that the ban existed. They just used to call to the director of the establishment we were meant to have concert in, and say, “Wanna be a director for 1 more year? There should be no concert!” Canceled…

    And that looked like everyone was satisfied with the status-quo. The West (and everyone) are O.K. with the situation now, “Look, here they are, our saints, banned musicians. They sit without any concerts but they have their dignity, they don’t work with the evil regime!!!”

    But wait, haven’t we been on the ONT, BT, state radio three years ago? Does that mean that our dignity is not crystal clear? Is it a normal thing to have a concert in the Palac Respubliki, or in the “Minsk” concert hall? Both are state-owned halls, playing in any of them will result in a flow of shit on your head, do I understand that correctly?

    I think it is very comfortable to be a professional anti-regime fighter while working as a programmer or a marketing manager in some big company. After having worked in the office you come home and start your fight on the Internet, calling to boycott the traitors. But I guess, you can receive more public attention by burning a pile of disks publicly in the Bangalor square. This will be the protest! This will be the act worth of something!

    I just try not to say anything about the opposition not to create additional precedents for the Net to talk about. However, another side in this dispute is far from keeping silence. Like, say, Chalip. Pani Iryna, was that really too difficult to wait for a couple of days while emotions calm down and one could reason? Let us frankly say that you invited us to your concerts not for the sake of pure altruism. Why then? You had your reasons I won’t talk about not to create a media precedent.

    Varaskievic* is 47. He had his last concert three years ago. Kulinkovic got his “Stasi” presentation cancelled. Shock and stress, I can’t even look at him.

    Pani Chalip: “We will make it without your songs at our meetings”. So what will you do then? Start singing?

    Opponents of the powerful utilize the same methods like the power side. They never listen what others are saying. I guess being a professional “fighter” results in such behavior.

    While politicians used to write addresses to Piatkievic**** and conduct meant-to-be-joint actions with the state which unluckily went unnoticed by another side, the fighters weren’t shouting anything but put on stickers on the entry doors in residential blocks. But when we decided to talk to the administration of the “president”, we were called traitors.

    We promised nothing to anyone, neither to the power side, nor to the opposition side or the European Union. Those who say that we became popular just for being protestive don’t realize how many fans we have all around the world who don’t understand texts of our songs.

    Keep throwing our disks out the window. Someone will come to pick them up.

    Polish convicts to build soccer stadiums?

    From: Beatroot
    Hard labour for convicts will return to Poland, if the new government gets its way.

    Poland has to build six new stadiums before co-hosting with Ukraine the Euro 2012 football tournament. Problem is, many of its construction workers are in the UK and Ireland. Damn! How to make up the labour shortage?

    Bus in the convicts. Brilliant, isn’t it?

    But the idea doesn’t just have an economic rationale, I detect. Justice Minister Zbigniew Cwiakalski (photo...scary!) told RMF FM radio that he wants to restore a ‘sense of punishment’ to prisons which will be ‘visible’ to the general public.

    Why does this all sound a

    Prisoners would be bussed into public construction sites to get their pick axes and stuff out. Isn’t that a know…dangerous?

    “I don’t mean all types of prisoners. Not murderers or paedophiles,” chuckled Cwiakalski, member of the liberal Civic Platform. Feeew! “There are some prisoners sentenced for unintentional crimes [running down grandma, while driving sober?]. Nothing stands in the way of them building the stadia,” he explained.

    It’s basically community work for minor criminals, with pneumatic drill thrown in as an added bonus.

    It’s also a way of dealing with the tens of thousands who the penal authorities can’t find places in prison for. The homeless ‘unintentional’ criminal and mates with time on their hands.

    Getting prisoners – and would be prisoners - to break rocks and stuff for the new football stadiums is actually one of the ideas his predecessor Zbigniew Ziobro and the Law and Justice government were kicking around earlier this year.

    But wait a minute. Didn’t Poland used to get convicts to do hard labour? When was that, then? Oh, yeah – it was one of the methods of justice under the People’s Republic of Poland – meaning, the communist era. My girlfriend remembers passing gangs of them on the streets. She said it was ‘scary’. Now she thinks it’s a good idea.

    “It gives them something to do,” she explained, bemused why I found this a funny idea.

    So why don’t they try and educate their cons and crims, get them to read books and stuff? Teach them a skill, or two.

    “It does teach them skils. Construction skills...The problem is, the system doesn’t have enough money to do that,” now catching on this was one of those times when she was going to have to explain something about Poland very simply, as if talking to a confused, but well meaning person. Or child.

    “It’s sensible. And they get money for sandwiches.”

    The Justice Minister remembers back then, too, fondly, it appears.

    “Paradoxically, punishment worked better, in those days,” Cwiakalski told RMF FM.

    Polish liberals. Don’t you just love em?


    From: Mikes Vacation
    The bulk of the fall out from the Chernobyl disaster fell on Belarus. A giant percentage of the arable land was ruined by radiation.

    Life goes on in Belarus, people live, die, fall in love, have children, and proably even sometimes forget about this disaster for a few minutes, hours, or days.

    Life is good in Belarus. People there are cash poor, brave, honest, and kindhearted.

    Life is good in spite of the problems that will be discussed in the following videos.

    Celebrate and love the people of Belarus, for they are a surpreme example of what excellent mankind has to offer!

  • Sport briefs...

    Yuri Foreman fights for title

    Yuri Foreman
    NABF CHAMPION and Ukraine born Andrey Tsurkan (25-2, 16 KO’s) defends his title against undefeated Yuri Foreman (23-0, 8 KO’s), born in Belarus in a 10 round Junior Middleweight bout at the Paradice theatre in Brooklyn on December 6th.

  • A Russian acrobatic gymnast lost her World Cup final title and was banned from competition for a year after testing positive for a diuretic last spring. Tatiana Okulova, who won the mixed pairs title with Revaz Gurgenidze at the World Cup final in April, was suspended for 12 months after testing positive for furosemide, the International Gymnastics Federation said.

    Maria Kovtun and Anton Glazkov of Russia, who finished second to Okulova and Gurgenidze at the World Cup final, will now be listed as the winners. Wee Xiau-Ling and Andre Solodar of the United States move up to second, while Anastasia Zharnasek and Sergei Bykhavtsov of Belarus now get the bronze medal.

  • At the ATP MASTERS CUP in Shanghai, P Hanley (Australia) & K Ullyet (Zimbabwe) bt J Bjorkman (Sweden) & M Mirnyi (Belarus) 7-6 (7-3) 6-4

  • Endnote...

    Blowback From Moscow

    From: By Patrick J. Buchanan for Anti-War
    Our next president will likely face a Russia led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, determined to stand up to a West that Russians believe played them for fools when they sought to be friends.

    Americans who think Putin has never been anything but a KGB thug will reject accusations of any U.S. role in causing the ruination of relations between us.

    Yet the hubris of Bill Clinton and George Bush I, and the Russophobia of those they brought with them into power, has been a primary cause of the ruptured relationship. And the folly of what they did is evident today, as Putin's party, United Russia, rolls to triumph on a torrent of abuse and invective against the West.

    Entering the campaign's final week, Putin, addressing a rally of 5,000, ripped the Other Russia coalition led by chess champion Gary Kasparov as poodles of the United States, "who sponge off foreign embassies ... and who count on the support of foreign resources and governments, and not of their own people."

    "Those who oppose us," roared Putin, "don't want our plans to be completed. They have completely different tasks and a completely different view of Russia. They need a weak, sick state, a disoriented, divided society, so that behind its back they can get up to their dirty deeds and profit at your and my expense."

    Putin is referring to the time of the "oligarchs" of the Yeltsin era, who looted Russia when its state assets were sold off at fire-sale prices.

    Putin is also accusing his opponents of attempting to use the Western-devised tactics of mass street protests to bring down his government. "Now that they have learned some things from Western specialists and tried them in the neighboring republics, they are going to try them on our streets."

    Putin is talking here about the "color-coded" revolutions that the U.S. and NATO embassies, the National Endowment for Democracy, and allied foundations and front groups engineered in Ukraine and Georgia. Governments tilting toward Moscow were dumped over and pro-Western regimes installed – to bid for membership in NATO and the European Union.

    Blowback is a term broadly used in espionage to describe the unintended consequences of covert operations. The revolution that brought the Ayatollah to power is said to be blowback for the U.S.-engineered coup to overthrow Mossadegh in 1953 and install the Shah.

    The nationalism and anti-Americanism rife in Putin's Russia is blowback for our contemptuous disregard of Russian sensibilities and our arrogant intrusions into Russia's space. How did we lose a Russia that Ronald Reagan and Bush I had virtually converted into an ally?

    We pushed NATO into Moscow's face, bringing six ex-Warsaw Pact nations and three ex-Soviet republics – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – into our Cold War alliance and plotted to bring in Ukraine and Georgia.

    We financed a pipeline from Baku through Georgia to the Black Sea to cut Russia out of the Caspian oil trade. After getting Moscow's permission to use old Soviet bases in Central Asia to invade Afghanistan, we set about making the bases permanent. We pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty over Moscow's objection, then announced plans to plant ABM radars in the Czech Republic and anti-missile missiles in Poland.

    Putin has now responded in kind, and who can blame him?

    As we tried to cut him out of the Azerbaijan oil with a Black Sea pipeline, he is slashing subsidies on Ukraine's oil and colluding with Germany on a Baltic Sea pipeline to cut Poland out of the oil trade with Western Europe.

    As we moved our alliance and bases into his front and back yard, he has entered a quasi-alliance with China and four nations of Central Asia to expel U.S. military power from the region.

    As we abandoned the ABM Treaty, the Duma, in November, voted 418 to 0 to suspend participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which restricts the size of the Russian army west of the Urals.

    If we recognize Kosovo as independent, at the expense of Serbia, Putin is now threatening to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the breakaway republics of Georgia and Transdneister, claimed by Moldova.

    Where we backed the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Rose Revolution in Georgia, Russia backs its favorites in Kiev and supports street protests in Tbilisi against the pro-American regime of Mikhail Saakashvili, whom the United States now seems powerless to help.

    It was not NATO that liberated Eastern Europe. Moscow did – by pulling out the Red Army after half a century. Why, then, did we think moving NATO into Eastern Europe was a surer guarantee of their continued independence than the goodwill of Russia?

    Many among our foreign policy elite now talk of a Second Cold War. John McCain wants Russia kicked out of the G-8.

    But do we not have enough enemies already that we should add the largest nation on earth?
  • Note: This article was sent in by Liz Milanovich, who publishes an e-mail based journal of news from Serbia and Kosovo. If you are interested, please contact her at: