Batka Bashing comes into style, Year of the child, Helsinki Fnd. nominated for Nobel, Territorial fights, Polish "Batka" scandal, Opinion, Sport, Blog
Year of Child should bring substantial results in terms of birthrate improvement, president says
The year of 2007 has been declared the Year of Child, the president said. “A foundation for improving birthrate, child safety and everything that a child needs has been laid down in the last years, Alexander Lukashenko said. – This is why this year should bring substantial results in the sphere of implementing concrete measures in this direction”.
The president deems it appropriate that the project has been widely debated throughout the country. All the concerned parties should express their opinions about the program, especially this concerns heads of oblast executive committees, the head of state said.
The national program of demographic safety of Belarus for 2007-2010 should provide a comprehensive system of measures of socioeconomic, legal and organization character which implementation will ensure gradual stabilization of the demographic situation in eh country and create pre-conditions for further demographic increase.
The head of state highlighted that the document should present a clear concept of how to meet the objectives and outline the most effective ways of improving the demographic situation in Belarus both in the short and long runs.
Alexander Lukashenko noted that “a lot has been done in this difficult period for our state” but a lot still needs to be done. “The program should crown the work we have been doing in previous years,” the president highlighted.
Belarus has been registering an upward population trend since 2004. Last year the birth rates were 7% up, while death rates were 3% down.
The head of state took a special note of this positive factor in contrast to what is going on in neighboring countries and in the world.
Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko believes, the adoption of the national demographic security programme was delayed because of the Council of Ministers fault.
However, the initially prepared document turned out to be imperfect under scrutiny. Instead of concrete measures it contained just declarations of intent. “Only now we are ready to table the project we talked about five years ago”, said Alexander Lukashenko.
The president noted, before the final decision on the project is made, it is necessary to make sure the programme will work and will be required by the state.
Today’s session will have to consider specific solutions the programme outlines to encourage birth rate and decrease premature mortality, what measures will allow extending the expected life span of people, in what ways migration processes are supposed to be optimised.
The head of state said: “There should be no unnecessary spending. This program, just like other programs, must not beget dependency. Now we will give money only in case substantial results are expected. Therefore, special attention should be paid to finding out how efficient and feasible the plans are. There should be no sand castles here. Everything must be well-calculated to analyze feasibility of plans”.
The participants of the meeting discussed the financing of the program, namely, the volume of financing and the sources. It is still to be decided whether any adjustments will be necessary with regard to financing bearing in mind the current uneasy economic situation.
The president also focused on the machinery of the program. He wanted to know how effective the liaison among authorities and executors will be. It is absence of good coordination between governmental agencies and departmentalism that are the biggest problems in implementing any large-scale program, he said. “This is why I would like to hear the main reporter and other spokespersons tell us how fully all our agencies and structures are involved in the program, how well peculiarities of regions are met,” the president added.
Deputy premier Alexander Kosinets is expected to deliver a report during the meeting.
Belarus government raises first child benefits to $394
Vice-premier Alexander Kosinets reported, the national demographic security program consists of 7 sub-programs which are geared to address demographic security challenges in certain areas which include birthrate improvement, strengthening of families, protection of health of mother and child, promotion of a healthy life style and creation of an enabling environment for health improvement and increase in life expectancy, optimization of migration processes, scientific support and legal and support.
According to Mr. Kosinets, the sub-program “Birthrate Improvement and Family Strengthening” will require Br270,665 billion. The program provides for increasing lump-sum childbirth benefits and children care allowances, rendering financial assistance to young families to pay off loans given to reconstruct or purchase housing, to build housing (from 20 to 50 subsistence wages to repay a loan granted on equal terms depending on the number of children in a family; from 30 to 70% of the loan is paid off by the state if a family has three children or more and was given a privileged loan).
In line with the program all children’s hospitals will be fitted with up-to-date equipment to prevent physical abnormalities and situations connected with the distortion of genetic parameters.
The projected results of the program are as follows: the growth of the gross birthrate to 10-11 per one thousand people by 2010; the growth of the cumulative birthrate to 1,4-1,5; the decline in the gross mortality rate to 10-11 per one thousand people; the annual gradual decline in the mortality rate by 8% a year by 2011; the decline in infant mortality to 6 per one thousand infants born alive; ensuring the annual increase in population by 5 thousand people due to the external migration.
Russian top lawmakers angered by Lukashenka`s remarks in interview with Reuters
From: Charter '97
"Russian policy is more and more like US policy, which they never cease to criticize," Reuters quoted the Belarusian leader as saying in a February 6 interview. "There is some imperial style in their behavior."
"Russia tries to ignore the former Soviet countries based on the false assumption that they will not go away, they will remain firmly attached but that is a false assumption," Mr. Lukashenka said.
"The Belarusians leader`s remarks, including those concerning relations with Russia, by no means contribute to the establishment of the Union State," the Interfax news agency quoted Vladimir Pekhtin, vice speaker of Russia`s State Duma, as saying.
"Russia is seeking to develop open relations of partnership with all members of the Commonwealth on the CIS territory," the lawmaker said. "The transition to market rules in the energy sphere in relations between Russia and Belarus sets clear and transparent rules of play on mutually beneficial conditions, and we can no longer subsidize the economies of other countries, including of Belarus, at the expense of Russian taxpayers."
Lyubov Slizka, another vice speaker of the Russian lower parliamentary house, accused Mr. Lukashenka of "betraying" the two countries` common interests by attacking Moscow in interviews with the Western media.
"It would be more honest to sit down together with the Russian president and discuss the painful issues, sort out who, why and when did not deliver on the promises, including those regarding the Union State establishment," the politician noted.
Helsinki committee nominated for Nobel Prize.
The two groups, formed in 1970 and 1976 respectively, were at the forefront of the struggle to free Soviet Jewry, and advanced human rights in the country throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the groups transformed into monitoring organizations that keep a close watch on human rights in the FSU.
"It's an important and good initiative," said Natan Sharansky, one of the founders of the MHG and - as he puts it jokingly - a "beneficiary" of the UCSJ's activism during his time in prison.
"There's no doubt these groups played a central role in advancing the release [of prisoners in the Soviet Union]," he continued, saying the "two organizations conducted grass-roots activism, each in its own way. The UCSJ connected housewives with international activism, and refuseniks with the international community."
The Moscow Helsinki Group, meanwhile, turned the articles of the Helsinki Accords, including their human rights commitments that were initially considered mere lip service by Soviet leaders, "into a central element" of activism, he said.
The HMG tracks former Soviet republics' compliance with the 1975 Helsinki Accords, particularly articles seven and eight of the "Declaration on Principles Guiding Relations between Participating States," which call for "respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief," and "equal rights and self-determination of peoples" among signatories.
The UCSJ is a coalition of eight local councils throughout North America that was founded to help in the campaign to free Soviet Jewry. It has bureaus in FSU countries, including Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Latvia, Georgia and Belarus.
It publishes reports on anti-Semitism, xenophobia, the rise of fascist political forces and human rights abuses throughout the FSU, and from 2004 to 2006, it ran an EU-funded campaign in the Russian Federation in cooperation with the MHG, which included: nationwide monitoring, a hate crime hotline, national and regional legal defense clinics and the development of curricula for schools and the criminal justice system on the subject of racism and xenophobia. In cooperation with other groups, the UCSJ is now beginning a similar initiative in the Ukraine.
While the Nobel nomination comes for the two groups' past successes in advocating for Soviet Jewish refuseniks and human rights generally in areas under Soviet influence, it also seeks to shine the spotlight on the troubles human rights NGOs are currently experiencing in the FSU.
Reached by phone, UCSJ president and author of the popular Peoplehood.org blog, Yossi Abramowitz, told the Post this week that the two organizations were "putting up a good fight" to attempts by Russian authorities to discredit and limit the actions of NGOs in Russia.
This was evidenced most recently by the claim of Federal Security Service chief Nikolai Patrushev that there was a "sharp increase" of foreign spies working under the auspices of international NGOs operating in Russia.
Over the past few years, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been widely criticized for measures seen as "anti-democratic" by some, including the cancellation of the popular election of regional governors and reported persecution of journalists who come out strongly against government policy.
Belarus to get $50 mln by raising tariffs on Russian oil transit
From: Itar Tass
Tariffs on oil transit will be raised on February 15 by 31-35 percent on a decision of the Belarussian Economics Ministry. Commenting on this decision, Kostyuchenko said that Belarus had not changed tariffs on oil transportation from 1996. They were “the lowest over the entire post-Soviet space”. According to the director, tariffs remained intact as a result of allied relations. Now, Kostyuchenko continued, the level of tariffs, suggested by the Belarussian side, is in line with the domestic Russian level.
According to the director’s information, his enterprise annually pumps around 80 billion tonnes of oil, or approximately 30-33 percent of all exported Russian oil.
Kostyuchenko also said that the Russian side was informed of the tariffs rise in good time.
However, Minister of Industry and Energy Viktor Khristenko said on Tuesday that his ministry has no official document from Belarussian authorities so far about a change of tariffs on Russian oil transit.
Minister for Economic Development and Trade German Gref also said on Tuesday in an interview with reporters that such measures can be taken “only on the basis of a bilateral agreement”. “We should receive a notification in good time and hold talks,” Gref continued. According to the economic development minister, Russia does not plan retaliatory measures on the rise of tariffs on oil transit by the Belarussian side.
Belarus' vice premier said to be satisfied with energy talks in Kyiv
The Belarusian official met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Andriy Klyuyev, and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich to discuss cooperation in the energy sphere, in particular electricity supplies, Oksana Ptashka, spokeswoman for Mr. Klyuyev, told BelaPAN.
Under discussion also was "the coordination of efforts and the creation of favorable conditions for cooperation with other countries in the oil and gas sphere."
"We need to create as much favorable conditions as possible in Ukraine and Belarus for other countries' cooperation with us, including on the issue of raising the amount of gas transit supplies," Mr. Klyuyev was quoted as saying at the talks.
Apart from this, the negotiations focused on joint agricultural and transport enterprises.
Trade between Belarus and Ukraine reached $2.46 billion in 2006. The countries plan to boost trade to $5 billion in the future.
Belarus ready to discuss with RF settlement of transport conflict
Belarussian and Russian “specialists and experts should come to terms,” Andrei Popov said. In his view, “There are all legal and organizational prerequisites and conditions” for the problem settlement.
“It is sufficient to recall the agreement on the principles of cooperation and conditions of relations in transport that was signed back in 1992,” Popov told Itar-Tass.
“There is also a corresponding organizational intergovernmental mechanism that is the coordination committee for the formation and ensuring the operation of a unified transport system of the Belarus-Russia Union State,” he pointed out.
These organizational instruments are quite sufficient. The prime ministers of the countries confirmed it “under the agreement on lifting problematic issues in mutual trade, which was signed in Moscow in January,” the spokesman remarked.
“Thus, the choice is obvious: it is necessary to come to terms and lift all mutual concerns. There is no choice, as millions of tonnes of cargoes are shipped via Belarus from Russia and backward every year,” Popov indicated.
Since January 8 Belarus tightened customs control over Kaliningrad transit. Incidentally, long traffic jams emerged on the Belarussian-Lithuanian border. Russian freight carriers also sustain additional expenses for the obligatory convoying of vehicles via Belarus.
In reply to Belarussian steps the Russian Transport Ministry said on February 7 it “does not believe it possible to consider the issuing of Russian permits to the Belarussian side for transit freight shipments in and from third countries.”
Belarus opposition youth leader released from KGB jail
From: Axis globe
|Maladi front activists|
KGB agents and uniformed police arrested Fedoruk, his associate Oleg Korban, and some thirty other government opponents during a Sunday raid on a Minsk apartment.
Fedoruk and Korban were questioned by the KGB until today morning. As the initiators of the apartment gathering, they will stand trial for violating public assembly law banning the gathering of Belarusians for political purposes, unless they are members of an organization sanctioned by the government.
The pair, both aged eighteen, face a potential two-year jail sentence. Fedoruk was nonetheless defiant of KGB threats to send him to prison, saying "I don't understand why there is a case against me. If there are more political prisoners then that will harm Belarus' reputation in talks with Europe, and our president said that was important. "
KGB officers according to Fedoruk threatened the activist with immediate sentence with no chance of appeal "But as you can see they then released me," he said. He linked the crack down against Maladi front to the group's upcoming traditional protest day, February 14th, and a government attempt to intimidate Maladi front members.
Belarus to partake in Munich Conference on Security Policy
Attendees will discuss “Global crises and global responsibility” as well as several other urgent issues. Belarus will be represented by foreign minister Sergei Martynov.
The annual Munich conference is a forum addressing the European regional security and defense issues. Besides the NATO participating countries the forum is regularly attended by representatives of the member states of the NATO program “Partnership for Peace”. Belarus is one of them.
This year the conference will gather FRG chancellor Angela Merkel, secretary general of the EU Council Javier Solana, NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, presidents, defense and foreign ministers of most European states.
US State Department official warns EU against "going soft" on Belarus
"We must not sacrifice our principles, democracy and human rights, just because the regime in Minsk is facing pressure from Russia. We should not throw a lifeline to this regime," said David Kramer, deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs at the US Department of State.
"Now is the time to maintain our resolve and not go soft... Mr. Lukashenko says he wants dialogue, but his actions don't back that up," he added, citing rigged local elections in January and the arrest of about 30 young opposition activists on February 4 as examples.
Mr. Kramer raised the prospect of beefing up US sanctions against the Lukashenka regime. "I'm not saying we're going to do it, but it is possible," he said.
He added that "those responsible for human rights abuses and electoral fraud" should be held accountable."
Belarusian opposition leader Alyaksandr Milinkevich said at the meeting that the recent energy conflict with Russia has seriously undermined the position of Alyaksandr Lukashenka. However, he warned that Mr. Lukashenka would not abandon his totalitarian methods and would not allow liberalization.
He also suggested that that the EU should not to engage too deeply with Russia on political change in Belarus, saying any Russian plan would not tend to democracy or independence. "In Moscow everyone tends to see us as part of a Russian sphere of influence," he said.
The conference was organized by the European Parliament's largest group, the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats (EPP-ED).
Wielgus spy scandal tears at fabric of Poland
From: Chicago Tribune
|Bishop Stanislaw Wielgus|
The prime minister called the scandal a "national crisis." Many of the faithful are worried that the moral authority of the Roman Catholic Church will be compromised in the country where a young archbishop named Karol Wojtyla openly opposed the communist regime from his base in Krakow before he took the throne of St. Peter as Pope John Paul II.
The revelations and subsequent resignation of Bishop Stanislaw Wielgus were for many Poles a painful reminder of the days when they feared their government, and a bitter confirmation that thousands of those who consoled them from the pulpit may have in fact been informing on them.
Polls indicated that most people want the church to reveal still more about its past. The Polish Bishops' Conference on Friday agreed to ask a panel of lay experts to examine the files of all the country's bishops but said it would only turn over the findings to the Vatican "to judge and assess."
"I am disappointed with the attitude of the bishops. They refuse to say the truth publicly," said Stefania Kononowicz, 91, who still manages to attend mass every Sunday.
She said church leaders "should have been strong enough" to admit their wrongdoing years ago, before they were forced to do so by disclosures in the newspapers.
Miroslaw Nowicki, 51, was more forgiving as he stood outside the gothic spires of the Corpus Christi Church in Warsaw's scruffy Praga district.
"We should remember that Wielgus is only a human being, an ordinary man like we all are. But he must now retire from public life. He disgraced the Polish church and lied to the pope," he said.
On Friday, Archbishop Jozef Michalik, chairman of the Polish Bishops' Conference, called the issue "painful and a humiliation" but also "a process of maturing for the church."
The fact that several thousand priests served as informants has been part of the historical record for years. That a significant number of priests would be compromised was almost inevitable given that the enemy Poland's communist leaders most feared was the Catholic Church.
Janusz Kurtyka, the young historian who heads the Institute of National Remembrance, the agency responsible for investigating the secret police files, compared the situation to a Greek tragedy.
"The church was an institution like any other, and it was infiltrated with agents just like any other," he said in an interview. "But the church was also an institution without which our march to freedom would have been impossible."
Separating present from past
When the communist regime fell in 1989, Poland's new democratic leaders decided that the best way to proceed was to draw "a thick line" separating the present from the past. The hope was that time would heal the wounds, and all the betrayals would recede softly into the mists of history.
That turned out to be overly optimistic. The former communists--now reformed communists--proved to be nimble in recovering their position at the top of the political and economic ladder. Corruption became rife in the new free-market Poland, and the resentment of ordinary people, especially the 10 million who had been members of the Solidarity movement, grew.
Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the piously Catholic identical twins who serve, respectively, as Poland's president and prime minister, were carried to power in the 2005 election on a promise to root out "the post-communist monster" that many believe haunts the country.
Last month, President Kaczynski signed a new bill opening millions of volumes of communist-era secret police files to public scrutiny. No one doubted the files would contain embarrassing information on church collaboration.
"The communists considered the church their No. 1 enemy," said Kurtyka. "So one can assume the degree and the mechanisms of infiltration were particularly nasty."
Poland's secret police, the SB, opened a filed on every seminarian. Every priest had an agent assigned to his case. To recruit collaborators and informants, the SB used a range of carrots and sticks.
In the case of Bishop Wielgus, the man at the center of the present controversy, his weak spot was an ambition to study medieval philosophy in Germany.
As a doctoral student at Lublin's Catholic University in the late 1960s, the young priest was eager to pursue his studies abroad. In order to obtain a passport and permission to travel, he agreed to cooperate with the SB. The "cooperation" lasted for at least a decade, according to two panels that examined the Institute of National Remembrance files after a Polish newspaper first raised doubts about Wielgus.
Both panels--one appointed by the Polish bishops and the other by the state ombudsman--reached the same conclusion: "Numerous, essential documents exist that confirm Rev. Stanislaw Wielgus' willingness for conscious and secret collaboration with the security organs of communist Poland," according to the bishop's panel.
When confronted with these findings, Wielgus claimed he signed one document of collaboration "in a moment of weakness" after he was "forced with fists," and that he never harmed anyone. He also said he that he disclosed this information to Pope Benedict XVI, but the Vatican says the pope knew nothing of Wielgus' past at the time the appointment was made.
Zbigniew Nosowski, a member of the ombudsman's panel, said it was possible the infamy suffered by Wielgus as a result of the disclosures "may not be proportional to his sins" as a collaborator.
Others who have seen the files say there is some evidence that while Wielgus agreed to be an informant, he failed--perhaps purposely--to deliver much.
But that misses the point, said Nosowski, the editor of Wiez, a respected Catholic magazine. "The SB was interested not only in information, they also were interested in weakening the church by compromising its priests," he said. "Most priests refused. It was not so difficult to say no."
The revelations about Wielgus raise questions about how much Pope John Paul II knew about the collaboration of Polish clergy and whether he should have been more forceful insisting the church acknowledge its failings.
Historians are likely to be forgiving: By the time the secretrecords became legally available to researchers in 2004, the pope was a dying man of diminished capacity.
The details of Wielgus' collaboration were first published by Gazeta Polska, a weekly paper that is generally sympathetic to the Kaczynskis' conservative Catholic agenda. The story came out Dec. 20, two weeks after Wielgus' appointment was announced by the Vatican.
Tomasz Sakiewicz, the paper's editor, said he was presented with Wielgus' file by a confidential source, and decided to publish the story after concluding that the archbishop's collaboration was much more extensive than a one-off moment of weakness.
According to Sakiewicz, SB summaries of its contacts with Wielgus suggested that he secretly tape-recorded fellow priests and steered SB agents to others who might be recruited.
Before publishing its first story, the newspaper confronted Wielgus with its findings.
"He responded the way SB agents are trained to respond. He said that everything was untrue," said Sakiewicz.
Sakiewicz, who considers his newspaper to be part of Poland's independent Catholic press, said it was "a miracle" that prevented "one of the most important communist spies in the church from becoming the most important bishop in Poland."
Support for Wielgus
Last Sunday, at the mass that was supposed to have marked Wielgus' elevation to the archbishop's throne but instead produced his dramatic downfall, two of Sakiewicz's reporters were roughed up by churchgoers. In another city, a Gazeta Polska journalist was severely beaten by skinheads.
The mass was attended by President Kaczynski, who applauded when Wielgus announced his resignation from the altar, but he quickly stopped when he heard the cries of support for the archbishop from the back of church.
For the Kaczynskis, the scandal poses a tricky dilemma. They came to power by promising to settle scores with the old regime. They certainly understood that this would involve some collateral damage to the church, but they expected that delving into the SB files would focus the spotlight on those who ran the system, not on their collaborators, who in many cases could be seen as victims.
Opinion surveys show that Poles, by a 2-1 ratio, agree that Wielgus' resignation was necessary. They also want the church to come clean about its past. But the minority who see the disclosures as an unfair attack by the media tend to be the rural Catholics who voted for the Kaczynskis or for their coalition partner, the Catholic nationalist League of Polish Families.
Cardinal Jozef Glemp, the man Wielgus was supposed to replace, also blames the messenger. Glemp, who established a reputation for being politically tone-deaf during his 26 years as primate of Poland, was dismissive of the evidence in the SB files, calling them "scraps of paper and documents photocopied for a third time."
But others say the church has no choice but to come clean if it hopes to maintain its position of moral authority in Poland.
"What's at stake ... is the credibility of the church," said Nosowski, the Wiez editor. "If the church demands high standards of morality from those in public life, it has to demand even higher standards of itself."
In 2006, crime rate falls by 2% in Belarus
According to the prosecutor general, positive processes took place in the dynamics and structure of crimes due to well-coordinated actions of the law enforcement bodies.
The prosecutor’s supervision over the execution of legislation in the economic sphere was especially strict in those branches which directly influence the economic, food and energy security of the state. After demand of prosecutors more than 33 thousand law breaker were brought to disciplinary, material or administrative responsibility; out of court natural persons and juridical entities compensated for the material damage they did to the sum of more than Br95 billion. The ordinary and economic courts of the country sustained more than 17,5 thousand cases and recovered damages worth of more than Br160 billion.
The president demanded from the prosecutor general to take all necessary measures to repair damages inflicted on the state and demanded from the prosecutors to be more active in bringing monetary order to the fuel and energy industry.
This year the procuracy bodies of Belarus have been set a task to more efficiently coordinate the actions of the law enforcement bodies aimed at combating crimes and at taking effective measures to detect crimes.
Businesspeople in Greece, Albania interested in investing in joint enterprises in Belarus, says chairman of Greek-Albanian
According to Mr. Karas, the chamber that he chairs unites about 400 companies, which, in particular, are interested in establishing joint enterprises that would be engaged in construction or manufacture plumbing equipment and furniture components. In addition, he said, there are Greek firms interested in purchasing leather, sugar, tires, chipboard and whole wood to manufacture furniture.
On February 9, Mr. Karas was expected to have meetings at the Minsk City Executive Committee and the Minsk branch of the BCCI, visit the Keramin tile plant and the Kazlow Minsk Electrical Equipment Plant.
He said that following those meetings, he would make a decision on the expediency of sending a delegation of Albanian and Greek business circles to Belarus.
Henadz Chamerka, head of the BCCI external economic cooperation department, provided Mr. Karas with information about Belarus' economic and export potential and said that the BCCI is ready to render assistance in the organization of the visit
More Russians Shun Union with Belarus
From: Anguss Ried
Conversely, 29 per cent of respondents support creating an association of two equal states, while 23 per cent would welcome Belarus as a component of the Russian Federation.
In late 1999, Russian president Vladimir Putin and Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenko signed a bilateral treaty, where the two nations agreed to eventually merge their tax systems and currencies.
In late 2006, Russia announced it would double the price it charges Belarus for natural gas. When the Lukashenko administration imposed a "transit fee" on Russian crude bound for Europe, Russia opted to suspend all oil supplies to Belarus.
In a Feb. 6 interview, Lukashenko criticized Russia’s government, saying, "Russian policy is more and more like U.S. policy, which they never cease to criticize. There is some imperial style in their behaviour. Russia tries to ignore the former Soviet countries based on the false assumption that they will not go away, they will remain firmly attached but that is a false assumption."
On Feb. 8, State Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov acknowledged problems in bilateral relations, saying, "We must keep the possibility of creating the union. Nowadays, it’s under threat."
How should the Russia-Belarus union be enacted?
As an association of two equal states
Jan. 2007 29%
Apr. 2005 29%
Belarus becomes a component
of the Russian Federation
Jan. 2007 23%
Apr. 2005 39%
Association is not necessary; Belarus
hould be treated as just another state
Jan. 2007 39%
Apr. 2005 25%
Hard to answer
Jan. 2007 9%
Apr. 2005 7%
Belarus: Lukashenko's lonely life: Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko in recent weeks has alternately defied Russia, flirted with Europe, and stressed his determination to go it alone.
"If God gives me strength to fulfill all that I have promised to the Belarusian people, if health permits me and I achieve my goals, if I am still as active as you say I am, then I will tell you honestly, I will not abandon political struggle," Lukashenko told Reuters.
Is "Europe's last dictator" that dedicated to his job, or simply loathe to consider the alternative?
In fact, autocratic leaders like Aleksandr Lukashenko, irrespective of political philosophy, all share a key instinct - keeping themselves in power.
That's according to US journalist David Wallachinsky, the author of "Tyrant: The World's 20 Worst Living Dictators," a detailed account of presidents, kings, and princes who rule their countries with an iron fist.
Wallachinsky divides dictators into three categories.
There are those who inherit their power from a family member, like Syria's Bashir al-Assad. There are those, like Cuba's Fidel Castro, who take over the country by force.
And then, Wallachinsky says, there are those who simply rise up through the political ranks to take power - as is the case with Lukashenko and other post-Soviet autocrats.
"In the case of Lukashenko, Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, [Saparmurat] Niyazov of Turkmenistan, et cetera - these gentlemen were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, when communism collapsed in the Soviet Union," Wallachinsky says.
"They were able to transform themselves into the symbol of a new, independent country while retaining quite a bit of the old Soviet system."
Wallachinsky, who refreshes his list each year, ranks his subjects from one to 20, one being the worst.
The ranking is based on criteria such as violations of free speech and religion, rigged elections, an corrupt judiciary, and the inability to stage public protests or criticize the government without punishment.
In this year's list - due to be published 11 February, Lukashenko ranks 14th, the same position he held in 2006.
This puts the Belarusian leader slightly ahead of Karimov at No 8, and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at No 5.
But it leaves him below a newcomer to the list, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who enters the ranking at No 20 - nudged in, perhaps, thanks to the space vacated by Niyazov, last year's No 8, who died in December.
The absolute worst living dictator, according to Wallachinsky, is President Omar Hasan Ahmad Al-Bashir of Sudan, who has been accused of orchestrating the murder and displacement of hundreds of thousands in his country's Darfur region.
Other world leaders on Wallachinsky's list are North Korea's Kim Jong-il (No 2), Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (No 3), China's Hu Jintao (No 4), Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (No 7), and Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan (No 15).
Of all the figures on Wallachinsky's list, Lukashenko is the only leader whom the journalist has had occasion to observe up close and in person.
At the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, Wallachinsky witnessed the Belarusian leader several nights in a row in a section of the ice hockey arena reserved for elite guests.
His overwhelming impression, Wallachinsky says, was that Lukashenko looked and acted like a "gangster."
"On the first couple of evenings, he showed up dressed in a suit and tie, as befits a world leader. And his bodyguards were dressed similarly," he says. "And then suddenly they started showing up in sports outfits - you know, track suits. [But] in no way did it change their appearance. They still appeared to be a political mafia."
|Or, maybe the man simply enjoy's sports?|
He says he does this to remind readers of the disturbing fact that these are real people, not invented monsters.
While researching Lukashenko's private life, Wallachinsky hit a dead end trying to find a picture of the president's wife. When he asked a group of Belarusian sports journalists at the Olympics, they said they had never seen her, or even a picture of her.
Wallachinsky found this missing link bizarre. He now says it helped him develop a theory about Lukashenko's personal demons.
"I got the impression that he was kind of ashamed of his background, that he wanted to be the sophisticated world leader, and if you met his wife, you'd know where he really came from," he says.
In fact, Lukashenko's wife, Halina, has never officially served as first lady. She lives alone in the small Belarusian city of Shklou, where Lukashenko held a job at the beginning of his career.
Lukashenko is now believed to live with a mistress, with whom he has a young child. But this side of his life is kept under wraps as well.
No easy out
So what does the future hold for the 53-year-old Lukashenko?
Tyranny expert Wallachinsky says this is a difficult time for the Belarusian leader, as he struggles to find a balance between the country's almost crippling economic dependency on Russia and growing pressure from the West to end its self-imposed isolation.
But Lukashenko's autocratic style is going to be a problem if he tries to forge new friendships, Wallachinsky predicts.
"Lukashenko's in a difficult situation, because this is not an era in which the European powers are willing to overlook human rights violations," he says. "He just stands out like a sore thumb in Europe. To be a dictator like he is is to be part of times gone by, from a European point of view."
So where does it leave Lukashenko if he is rejected by both his traditional ally, Russia, and a Europe that refuses to do business with a politician of his ilk?
In such a scenario, Wallachinsky believes, Lukashenko will do what many besieged dictators do when they need help - look to others who are just like him.
"If he's having trouble with the Europeans, and he's having trouble with the Russians, he'll do what a lot of other dictators do - he'll turn to the Chinese, he'll turn to the Iranians, he'll turn to that whole world of dictators who try to help each other. And he'll increase trade with China, with Pakistan, with Iran, with certain African nations if they have anything that he can use."
Lukashenko, in fact, has already forged ties with the leadership of countries likes of Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela. It's unclear, however, if those alliances will be enough to sustain his reign as "Europe's last dictator."
Belarus Dictator Is (What Else in New?) Blaming Everybody Else
From: Vital Signs
Lukashenka repeated his hopes of an official political union with Russia but emphasized that Belarus will never be simply absorbed by the Russian state. "There are increasing imperial tones to Russian policy," remarked Lukashenka, "I believe that this aspect of the policy of the Russian leadership is dangerous...And the reason behind that is the huge funds coming into Russia from sales of oil, gas, and other natural resources. But it won't always be like that. Our time will come."
However, in the same interview Lukashenka rejected the calls from the West for increasing democratic freedoms in Belarus, thus making his new calls for cooperation from the E.U. sound very hollow indeed. "All the demands on Belarus on human rights and democratization, made at the instigation of the Americans, were tantamount to saying that we should dismantle our political system. And it is also understood throughout that the current president is illegitimate and should step down."
Lukashenka's claims that he does want "to sort out" relations with the West, but yet he blames the responsibility for the current chill on the travel ban on Belarusian officials imposed by the EU and the United States. According to Lukashenka, the opposition to his rule in Belarus is a group of "renegades" and mercenaries paid by the West.
John McCain lashes out against Russia
From: Right Trains
After meeting Putin for the first time in June 2001, Bush said he had been able to gain “a sense of his soul” and had found Putin to be “very straightforward and trustworthy.”
Recalling Bush’s assessment just months after taking office, McCain said: “Look, we all say things that are stupid. ... I’m sure that the president has re-evaluated his position in light of Putin’s recent actions.”
McCain, R-Ariz., added: “Look, the president wanted to develop a good working relationship with Russia and with Putin, and I’m sure that the president has re-evaluated his position in light of Putin’s recent actions. At the time I think he was—remember, it was early in his presidency, the president was trying to develop a good relationship with Putin.
“I don’t mean stupid. I’ll say it was stupid as far as I’m concerned, but all of us make statements that are sometimes not correct in hindsight.”
McCain, a possible presidential contender in 2008, said Putin has repressed Russians and their media, supported Belarus’ authoritarian president and not cooperated with the U.S. in dealing with Iran’s suspected development of nuclear weapons.
Belarus’ Hopes Revived After Davis Doubles
From: Davis Cup.com
|Max Mirnyi and Vladimir Voltchkov|
The rubber featured a clash of two of the top doubles’ players in the world: Mirnyi is No. 1 at the ATP ranking, while Bjorkman is at No. 2. They are close friends and regular doubles partners, winning Roland Garros in 2005 and 2006, and two weeks ago, they reached the Australian Open final.
But this time, Mirnyi and Bjorkman happened to be opponents. Thus they had to forget about their friendship, since the match was of a vital importance for both sides. “I treated Jonas as an ordinary rival, and I think he did the same”, the 29-year-old Belarussian said. “It was not his best game today, he definitely had some problems with his serve”.
Bjorkman and Aspelin fresh
|Simon Aspelin and Jonas Bjorkman (SWE)|
In the long and thrilling tenth game, Mirnyi and Voltchkov had three chances to break Aspelin’s serve and clinch the set. That time, the Swedes managed to weather the storm, but in the twelfth game, the Belarussians broke after Bjorkman’s double fault and took the lead.
In the second set, however, the Scandinavian team improved their performance. Bjorkman and Aspelin broke in the first game and held their own serves, which allowed them to win 64.
Third Set Crucial
|Max Mirnyi and Vladimir Voltchkov interviewed after the match|
“That was probably the crucial moment of the match”, Sweden team captain Mats Wilander said. “If we hadn’t let them break back, we would have had good chances to win the set, which could have made our life much easier”.
Following that, it was a tight struggle, until the Belarussians broke Bjorkman’s serve in the 12th game and took the lead again.
The Swedes broke Mirnyi’s serve at the start of the fourth set, but unlike in the second set, Mirnyi and Voltchkov broke back immediately, and they did the same in the eighth game. In the ninth game, Bjorkman and Aspelin had their last chance to win this rubber. They were up 40-15 and therefore had two break points, but the Belarussians, with huge support from the local fans, pulled themselves together and reversed the game.
Mirnyi and Voltchkov Inspired
|Belarus team celebrates|
Vladimir Voltchkov admitted that he and Mirnyi had felt some extra inspiration during the match. “Our fans gave us a real boost. We played a really good game and won deservedly”, the Belarussian said.
Belarus still needs to win both Sunday singles to earn a quarterfinal spot. Max Mirnyi is expected to face Robin Soderling first, followed by Vladimir Voltchkov against Thomas Johansson. Both captains can still make changes to their nominations, but it is very unlikely that Mirnyi and Voltchkov can be replaced by some of their young teammates.
Mats Wilander, however, has more options that his Belarussian colleague Dmitri Tatur. But the Swede refused to comment on the possible Bjorkman’s participation on Sunday. “I haven’t made up my mind yet, and even if did, I wouldn’t say it to anyone!”
Former NHL star eager to lift Belarus hockey team
From: Kiev Post
And 49-year-old Ohio native Curt Fraser might seem typical if it weren’t for his impressive past as a hockey pro.
Only a few years ago, Fraser was head coach for the Atlanta Thrashers, following 12 years as a left winger for the Vancouver Canucks, Chicago Black Hawks and then Minnesota North Stars.
But at the end of 2002, he was dismissed by the Thrashers, and his job prospects looked dim – at least until he was offered the chance to take charge of the Belarusian national hockey team, the darling of Europe’s last dictator, Alexander Lukashenko.
Fraser, who took up the position in Minsk last October, admits that he knew little about Belarus and the region before his arrival.
“All I knew about the place was the kind of food you have – ‘Pyrogy’. I lived with native Ukrainians when I was playing junior hockey.”
And the middle-aged Midwesterner wasn’t motivated by the money he would earn – around $100,000 a year.
“My annual salary is probably half what I was getting as an assistant coach in the States and nearly one tenth of a head coach salary.”
Instead, Fraser, who was referred to by the web-based Legends of Hockey database as “one of the most underrated power forwards in the NHL,” is hoping that if he can lead his new team to success, it will earn him recognition and opportunities back at home.
“Working in this environment, understanding these players, learning how to motivate and push the right buttons, will make me a lot better back home – there is a ton of European players going to North America.”
From the states
Despite making the enviable transition from pro player to head coach in the NHL, Fraser’s career was on a downslide.
Before the Belarusian offer, the thirteen-year coaching veteran could only find work as an assistant coach with such teams as the New York Islanders and Saint Louis Blues.
“I wanted to be a head coach. I didn’t want to be an assistant coach anymore.”
Then he was given a call by Glen Hanlon, the Washington Capitals coach who during the NHL lockout in 2004/2005 had been invited by Lukashenko to coach the Belarusian National Team for a year.
Under Hanlon, the Belarusians made it to sixth place in the World Championship last year.
“He enjoyed it very much over here, and so do I - it has been a very pleasant surprise… Minsk is like a small town in the US,” said Fraser.
Fraser also has a one-year contract and is expected to bring back a medal from the World Championship in Moscow this April.
“It is a tough mountain to climb. Those top teams [Sweden, the Czech Republic, Finland, Canada and Russia] are loaded with NHL players.”
Under the best of circumstances, Fraser will have three NHL players on his squad and around a dozen from Russia’s leagues.
“If we don’t get these, we will have to find some nice surprises in the Belarusian league.”
Added to his difficulties, Fraser speaks minimal Russian: “only about 100 words.” But he gets some help from a few Belarusian players who have played in North America and two local coaches who speak fluent English.
“I wish I could learn quicker. I am used to talking more to the players on the bench.”
Fraser said that besides technical aspects of the game, his job is to switch the players’ mentality from “hoping” to win against the world’s best teams to “believing” they can do it.
“Here the players want to believe it, but they have a difficult time maintaining that belief.”
Before the arrival of Fraser’s predecessor Hanlon, the Belarusian national team was headed mainly by Russian coaches. Fraser is unequivocal about what makes their coaching style different.
“U.S. coaches demand and push players a lot, but they would never put them down and scream at them.”
The expatriate trainer said he is anxious about the possibility of playing the American team during the World Championship.
“I will be very angry and motivated to win against them, but their players are so damn big and good!”
Fraser goes back home to Saint Louis for a month every six weeks to visit his wife and three kids. Otherwise, he spends his free time mainly traveling, including to neighboring countries such as Russia, Latvia, the Czech Republic and Austria to watch hockey games. Sometimes he travels just for fun – usually accompanied by someone from the Federation.
“Eduard, Slava and Konstantsia [from the Federation] always make sure I am not sitting still at the hotel doing nothing… There is always something going on.”
In short, Fraser stays out of trouble, which might seem difficult in a country like Belarus, which is virtually a pariah state in the West.
The country’s top law-enforcement official, Vladimir Naumov, serves as the Federation head.
“I keep my nose out of politics… all I can say is that I have never met any hockey players that I did not like. The fact that the game gets so much attention at the very top only brings the game great benefits – new rinks, better, faster players – it is all part of the president leading the way.”
Fraser said that a couple of times he even played against Lukashenko, himself a dedicated and solid hockey player, and his team.
Despite being referred to as one of the NHL’s “toughest customers” for his aggressive style and duration of penalty minutes, Fraser wouldn’t say whether he bumped into the Belarusian strongman on the ice.
Iran, Belarus tie in seesaw football Friendly
From: Iran Sports
Iran failed to add the second in defiance of possessing the ball and field in the first half.
The Belarusian side played an offensive football after the interval, hitting two in six minutes.
Vyacheslav Hleb cleared three markers in the box to celebrate the equalizer with a shot that found its way into the net after passing through the legs of substitute keeper Vahid Taleblu on 53 minutes.
The striker doubled the scoring in a melee, firing home with a side-footed drive in the 59th minute.
Striker Mehdi Rajabzadeh, however, salvaged a draw two minutes from normal time when he sent an Iman Mob’ali curling corner in with a drilling header.
Italy’s Livorno fullback Rahman Rezaii blamed his hoodoo as his header three minutes deep into stoppage time hit the far post and his goal-bound kick was blocked in the goalmouth seconds later.
Earlier in the day, the Belarusian Under-23 team beat Iran’s Olympic squad 1-0.
Lukashenka calls on Europe to cooperate
"You should understand that you will have to cooperate with us unless you want to have tension in you home... and create a territory similar to Chechnya. And as civilized people you will have to acknowledge that the Belarusians also have their own national interests," the Belarusian leader said in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday.
"We tell you, 'Let's talk, negotiate. And you will see that Belarus, the Belarusian leadership, our country is the best partner you could wish for. We are the most reliable and decent people."
Mr. Lukashenka vowed that Belarus would set out on a "civilized" path some day but rejected the European Union's conditions for closer contacts as "unacceptable," saying that Europe should instead learn from Belarus' policies of creating full employment for its people.
The Belarusian leader denied that the country was isolated from the rest of the world.
"Rampant opposition newspapers are freely available in Belarus. Foreign media outlets are 'shooting through' our country in terms of information."
Mr. Lukashenka attacked the country's opposition. He said that his opponents were outcasts who had failed in government and lived off foreign donations.
"Middle-ranking, well-paid European officials come here, walk around the streets, meet the opposition, collect some data, come up with some criticism of the so-called dictator Lukashenko and go back home," the Belarusian leader said.
"You are not even cooperating with the opposition, but rather with a group of renegades who were unsuccessful as members of President Lukashenko's team," he added.
Asked if he would run in Belarus' next presidential elections, Mr. Lukashenka replied:
"May God help me to fulfill in these four years everything I promised the people. If I do that and if my health permits and if I remain the same active, businesslike man ... I have no intention of abandoning political activity. Let me be honest about that."