Chernobyl remembered, Economic policy, Union State, Karen Stewart, Estonia row, Gay Poland, Opinion, Blogs and Sports
Special Emphasis Laid upon the Economic Revival and Sustainable Development of the Areas Affected by the Chernobyl Disaster
From: Office of the President
|The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, at a meeting-requiem in Bykhov to commemorate 21 years since the accident at the Chernobyl NPP|
Alexander Lukashenko surveyed the progress in the spring field work, the socio-economic situation in Mogilev region and Bykhov district, the ongoing implementation of the state programme for the development of small towns.
The governor of Mogilev region, Boris Batura, reported to the President that the spring field work in Bykhov district is planned to be completed by the 9th of May.
Alexander Lukashenko visited several enterprises in Bykhov established on the basis of former military facilities, he got familiarized with the organization of agricultural products processing with the involvement of foreign investments.
The Head of State took part in a meeting-requiem to commemorate 21 years since the accident at the Chernobyl NPP.
The President pointed out that today a special emphasis in Belarus is laid upon the economic revival and sustainable development of the areas affected by the Chernobyl disaster. Priority is given to the creation of new job places, favourable conditions for entrepreneurship, including tax reliefs and loans at preferential interest rates, opening of free economic zones.
Communicating with the residents of Bykhov, Alexander Lukashenko reminded them that the country’s leaders are not against the privatization process and joint-stockization of Belarusian enterprises provided the national interests are met to the maximum extent.
After socializing with the residents of Bykhov, the Head of State answered the questions from Belarusian and Venezuelan mass media.
Referring to the decision to begin television broadcasting to Belarus by an independent channel from Poland, Alexander Lukashenko said that “this is an absolutely stupid, slow-witted and unfriendly project” with regard to our country.
The President of Belarus said that he would pay a visit to Venezuela in the near future.
In his words, Venezuela is a strategic partner of Belarus in terms of natural resources, economy, unity of views in politics.
“Belarus is going to cooperate with Venezuela in all areas, starting from the military sector and ending in food supplies. Owing to the fact that the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, met Belarus halfway in diffcult times and is helping us in our sensitive areas, we will pay off Venezuela twice more that any Western firm can do. We will do for Venezula (our specialists are already working there) twice-thrice more than Western specialists,” Alexander Lukashenko stressed.
On April 27, the President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, continued his working trip to the areas, affected by the accident at the Chernobyl NPP. That day, the Head of State surveyed the socio-economic situation in Gomel region and the progress in implementing his earlier assignments.
During the trip, Alexander Lukashenko got familiarized with the progress in the spring field work in Gomel region. It was reported to the Head of State that the sowing campaign in the region would have been completed by the 15th of May.
Alexander Lukashenko visited the private agricultural unitary enterprise ‘Polesye-Agroinvest’ in Petrikov district. It had been formed in 2005 on the basis of four inefficient agricultural organizations of the district.
The Head of State heard the report on implementing his assignments given in September of 2005 for the development of the enterprise, specifically as regards the ways of optimizing the farming practices. The President gave specific directions with a view to continuing this work and applying similar scientific approach in other regions.
The same day, the Head of State visited a dairy farm in Petrikov district, Gomel region, belonging to the agricultural enterprise “Lyaskovichi.” The farm, built in pursuance of the President’s assignments, meets the latest standards.
Alexander Lukashenko got familiarized with the socio-economic development of the facilities within this major agricultural entity which had been formed by merging several loss making agricultural organizations.
Presently, Lyaskovichi is one of the best agricultural entities of Gomel region.
President of Belarus: opening of representative office of European Commission in Minsk is an act of goodwill on the side of Belarus
“In any case, [the representative office of the European Commission] will work within a certain framework,” he said.
Having taken the decision to open a representative office of the European Commission in Minsk, the Belarusian side expects the European Union will make steps reciprocal steps toward Belarus, the Head of State said. The absence of reciprocal steps would mean Europe does not want to have equal dialogue with Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko noted.
Belarus speaks in favor of formation of the single energy market of Europe which would allow for interests of producing, consuming and transiting countries. Such a standpoint was voiced by the Belarusian delegation in Geneva at the jubilee session of the UN Economic Commission for Europe, BelTA learnt in the permanent mission of Belarus to the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva. Founded in 1947, the UN Economic Commission for Europe marks its 60th anniversary this year.
The Belarusian delegation includes Minister of Transport and Communications Vladimir Sosnovskiy, Deputy Energy Minister Leonid Shenets, representatives of the permanent mission.
The Belarusian side drew attention to the special interest of Belarus in a multilateral dialogue on diversification of suppliers and types of energy and to the issues on energy and transport cooperation. Vladimir Sosnovskiy and Leonid Shenets articulated the Belarusian stance on the issues on improvement of transport and energy policy within the zone of the UN Economic Commission for Europe.
During the session the Belarusian delegation conducted bilateral meetings with UN Deputy Secretary General – Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe Marek Belka, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency Claude Mandil, Secretary General of the Energy Charter Secretariat Andre Mernier, representatives of foreign countries. The negotiations focused on joint projects and measures to boost cooperation.
PM Sidorski upbeat over Belarus economic prospects
He said that a government innovation development program would foster the country's economic growth.
The official was speaking at an international conference on innovation policy and competitiveness held in Minsk on Thursday.
He said that the economic performance of Belarus in the first quarter of this year had showed that the economy had survived amid higher energy prices.
"Yes, we did have a deficit [in foreign trade] in the first two months. We failed to process a sufficient amount of oil and sell a sufficient amount of petroleum products in January. But we see prospects," he said, adding that the most important thing was that the country had had a surplus in trade with Russia, its major trade partners, in the first quarter.
Belarus, Ukraine: Lessons for Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway construction
From: Railway Market
The delegation surveyed wheels changing stations in the railways borders of Ukraine and Belarus with Europe and and discussed their work regime, Azerbaijan's Transport Ministry's official for Transport Policy and Economy Department Sedreddin Mammadov said.
This visit of the delegation targeted at lesson by these countries in Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway construction.
Final document on construction of Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway was signed between Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey in February in Tbilisi. Azerbaijani side has extendedUSD 200m loan for 25 years for Marabda-Karsi Railway LLC to construct Georgian part of the railway. At the expense of this loan new 29km-road and wheels changing station will be constructed and the old road will be reconstructed.
According to the calculations of the experts, after the operation of the road Azerbaijan will get USD 50m profit during first years.
Belarus exports to Turkmenistan increase 17 times
As a whole, trade turnover totaled US $ 3, 623,8 billion, including US $ 1, 445,6 billion in exports, and US $ 2,178,2 billion in imports. The volume of exports in terms of money increased by 24,4%, of imports by 9,3%. The balance of trade with CIS countries was negative amounting to a deficit of US $ 732,6 million.
In January-February 2007 Belarus increased exports to Turkmenistan 17 times, to Armenia almost 5 times, to Uzbekistan 1,9 times, to Georgia 1,4 times, to Azerbaijan 1,2 times. At the same time, imports from Armenia, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan fell.
Belarus most effective in banning chemical weapons
He noted, April 29 will mark 10 years since the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons came into force as the world’s first multilateral agreement to ban an entire type of weapons of mass destruction. The Convention also requires that chemical weapons be destroyed under strict international control.
At present 182 countries are parties to the Convention. The Republic of Belarus was one of the first countries to ink and ratify the document.
Belarus has no stockpiles of chemical weapons and no facilities to produce them. The main task is to keep an eye on chemical industry companies in order to make sure they produce nothing contradictory to the Convention.
The legislation of the Republic of Belarus has been brought into compliance with the Convention. According to estimates of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Belarus is one of the countries, which have taken most effective measures to execute the Convention on the national level. Besides, Belarus assists other states-parties in fulfilling their obligations the Convention specifies.
Belarus represents Eastern Europe on the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Belarus,Israel considering easier travel rules for citizens
From: Indian Muslims
He said substantial changes in the development of the bilateral legal base took place in 2006 when the Belarusian side ratified an agreement which regulates the establishment and functioning of cultural centres.
It was the final step in systematizing the previous achievements and fulfilling mutual obligations. Now the sides can continue developing the plan for enhancing the treaty relations and to sign new agreements.â€? said the diplomat.
He said after a long recess, a political visit from Israel to Belarus took place in 2006. Mark Sofer, the Deputy Director General for CIS and Central Europe of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, visited Minsk.
The two sides discussed positions of the two states in the international arena, mutual support at the United Nations and other international institutions as well as relations with third countries.
The head of the Israeli Foreign Ministryâ€™s economic affairs department, Ilan Maor, also visited Belarus. The official held negotiations with the Belarusian Foreign Ministry and the Economy Ministry.
Ben-Arie expressed the hope that the agreements reached during these visits would come true. â€œThe Israeli side has a lot of proposals Belarus may be interested in,â€? the ambassador stressed.
Putin: Russia committed to Integration with Belarus
"Russia is open to all forms and models of integration and is prepared to advance as far as our Belarusian friends are prepared to," Putin said on Thursday in his state of the nation address.
"The pace of the development of the Union State depends only on the content and real depth of integration processes. We are not pushing anyone and are prepared to discuss with our partners problems arising on this way," the Russian president said.
"The course towards comprehensive development of relations with Belarus in such vital sectors as the economy, transport, social welfare, healthcare and humanitarian cooperation is unshakeable for us," Putin said.
U.S. Ambassador Highlights Economic Potential; A brief interview with U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Karen Stewart
Back again in Minsk since September 2006, she talks to RFE/RL's Belarus Service about Belarus's political prisoners and the country's chance to embrace economic reform.
RFE/RL: The U.S. government has numerous times called on the Belarusian authorities to release prisoners of conscience. Have you met with any prisoners of conscience in Belarus or their families? If so, what impression did these meetings leave you with?
Karen Stewart: You've touched on one of the issues that are most important for my embassy and for my government -- seeking the release of political prisoners. By our count, we're up to 11 Belarusians who are in prison or otherwise detained on politically motivated charges. I have met a couple of these gentleman and have met several who were previously in prison and are now released and I've had a couple of occasions to meet with the families, to bring the families together, including a Christmas party last December. All of us at the embassy are so impressed by the courage of the political prisoners and by the courage of their families who have to wait and watch and suffer for these years, waiting to be reunited with their loved ones.
'It's important to continue assistance to political-party development, to civil society, and independent media.'RFE/RL: Summing up U.S.-Belarusian relations in 2006, you noted that, on an official level, there was very little positive to report. But if one were to speak about nonofficial contacts, contacts between individuals, NGOs, etc., is there any reason to be more optimistic?
Stewart: Yes, I am more optimistic about the personal contacts. I think they are really the basis for the long-term development of relations between our countries. The embassy encourages contacts between individuals and between organizations as much as we can through our exchange programs, through our cultural events, through our support for nongovernmental organizations. But there are also a number of private American organizations who are active in Belarus in humanitarian assistance with Chornobyl children or even just privately visiting and that's also a wonderful way to build up understanding between our two peoples.
RFE/RL: You've articulated the U.S. position regarding the crisis that erupted between Belarus and Russia over gas prices by saying that: countries should not use their energy resources as political weapons in international relations. It's clear that there will be negative consequences for Belarus as a result of the increase in energy costs. What positive effects might ensue from Belarus having to contend with higher gas and oil prices?
Stewart: You've accurately noted that the U.S. government is opposed to using energy as a political lever against other countries. But economically the best result is when countries are buying and selling resources at world prices as long as the adjustment to those world prices was phased in over time. The advantages to Belarus of being on the open market for energy prices are increased efficiency, it will be an incentive to conserve energy, [and] it will be an incentive to diversify sources of energy. Also, as industries in Belarus have to operate without subsidies, Belarus can see which industries have the most competitive advantages, where investment should be, and I hope that would also lead to the government adopting policies that would make Belarus more attractive for foreign investors.
RFE/RL: The mandate of the Belarus Democracy Act was recently extended. What will this mean for the democratic community of Belarus as a result of this? [The Belarus Democracy Act of 2004 is designed to promote democratic development, human rights, and the rule of law in Belarus, as well as encourage the consolidation and strengthening of Belarus's sovereignty and independence.]
Stewart: American legislation can be very confusing. The Belarus Democracy Act does not actually appropriate additional resources for assistance. But it does tell us where [the U.S.] Congress thinks it's important to use our assistance. And so the executive branch of the U.S. government, as we decide where to allocate assistance on a very tight budget year, we know that Congress thinks it's very important to continue to support democratic development in Belarus and that has meant that we have maintained the same level of assistance when other countries were being cut. So the act tells us it's important to continue assistance to political party development, to civil society, and independent media.
Belarus opposition supporters meet to remember Chernobyl victims
From: Ria Novosti
Police said about 2,500 people gathered in central Minsk to protest against the government's insufficient efforts to reduce the consequences of the devastating disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986, which killed and affected nine million people, according to UN estimates.
The protesters are also opposed to the authorities' plans to build a nuclear power plant and to allocate polluted areas for farmland.
Opposition supporters gathered near the building of the Academy of Sciences and moved toward a church built in memory of the Chernobyl victims, where they laid flowers and held a minute of silence.
The opposition holds the demonstration every year. The most violent meeting took place in 1996, when protesters turned over cars and beat up journalists.
96 Injured, 600 Detained in Clashes over Estonia Statue
Rioting and looting was also reported in the towns of Johvi and Kohtla-Jarve, in a mainly ethnic Russian region northeast of Tallinn.
BBC correspondents said a crowd of more than 1,000 demonstrators gathered on Friday evening where the monument used to stand.
There were reports of looting at department stores and other shops.
AFP news agency said the country's parliament was barricaded.
It was the second night of clashes between mainly ethnic Russians and police. One person died on Friday.
The monument was removed on Friday and taken to a secret location. Estonia says the memorial symbolised Soviet occupation. Supporters say it celebrated heroes who fought the Nazis.
By Saturday morning the situation in central Tallinn was described as calm, but the authorities are braced for more trouble, BBC reported.
Claims of Russia's part in clashes in Estonia unfounded - MP
From: Ria Novosti
Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said April 29 that biased coverage by Russian mass media and ill-intentional statements by Russian politicians were partly to blame for violent clashes between protesters and police in the Estonian capital after the Bronze Soldier statue was dismantled and removed early Friday.
"The statement is inadequate and is evidence that the Estonian authorities have failed to realize what is going on or pretend to do so," said Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the State Duma International Affairs Committee.
As a result of the clashes in the central streets of Tallinn, one man aged 19-20 died, 60 injured, and over 500 detained. The deceased was a Russian national.
"We have no relation to the civil society's reaction witnessed in the streets of Estonian cities," Kosachev said.
Apart from the 13 soldiers buried in 1947 under the Bronze Soldier, about 50,000 Soviet soldiers are believed to be buried in 450 WWII burials across Estonia.
Estonia has said the Bronze Soldier and other Soviet monuments - rallying points for ethnic Russians and places of their clashes with Estonian nationalists - "divide society," and the central square is not a proper burial place
Poland's PM Says More Gays are Bad for Society
From: Towler Road
According to the BBC, parliament held a debate over the issue on Wednesday, on which several Polish MEPs walked out: "British gay MEP Michael Cashman said a country that had lived under repression should know the value of fundamental human rights. 'You should be teaching us about fundamental values and that is why we will not hesitate to defend human rights and human rights' defenders wherever they are,' he said. But Polish MEP Witold Tomczak said homosexuality was against the law of nature, and called on "so-called defenders of human rights" to tackle 'discrimination against normal families...Every person has a right to life and deserves respect and help, including one who - lost and scarred - has given into homosexual tendencies. The solution is to help those who suffer and to provide them with the cure that they expect us to deliver.'"
Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski was quick to respond to the resolution. Said Kaczynski: "Nobody is limiting gay rights in Poland. However, if we're talking about not having homosexual propaganda in Polish schools, I fully agree with those who feel this way. Such propaganda should not be in schools; it definitely doesn't serve youth well. It's not in the interest of any society to increase the number of homosexuals — that's obvious."
Poland's President Lech Kaczynski and Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the "terrible twins" as they are known to many, have a long anti-gay history despite the fact that Jaroslaw may apparently be gay. Lech Kaczynski was condemned by rights groups in February for his statement that gays would destroy the human race.
Yanukovych is most trusted politician in Ukraine - poll
This follows from a poll taken by Sotsis social and political study center between April 20 and 27 involving 1,200 respondents.
The study indicated that 45% of the polled trust Yanukovych and 53% don't.
As for parliament speaker Oleksandr Moroz, Finance Minister Mykola Azarov and President Viktor Yushchenko their respective levels of confidence and mistrust were 33% and 62%, 32% and 45%, 32% and 64%.
Opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, leader of People's Self-Defense Yury Lutsenko and Communist leader Petro Symonenko had the following levels of confidence and mistrust 31% and 64%, 31% and 60%, 30% and 64% respectively.
The levels of confidence of the head of the presidential administration Viktor Baloha, Interior Minister Vasyl Tsushko and secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Vytaly Haiduk were much lower at 14%, 17% and 8% respectively. ml
Mikhail Kasyanov: “If the authorities persist in their current policy, a revolution in Russia is inevitable”
From: Zerkelo Nedeli (Ukraine)
Compared to what happened in Russia, our political bedlam might seem a supreme manifestation of democracy. Our Russian colleagues that conducted the brutal dispersal of demonstrations in Moscow and St. Petersburg sounded envious: “In Kyiv, dozens of thousands have been freely protesting in the streets for weeks, while our authorities will not tolerate a march of a handful of opposition members whose public support is almost non-existent”. You begin feeling proud for your country. Foreign Minister Arseniy Yatsenuik nurtured this feeling when during his first visit to Moscow last Monday reassured the Russian diplomats “concerned over the latest developments in Ukraine” that those developments are absolutely peaceful, whereas the pitting of nine thousand riot police against four to five thousand campaigners with subsequent severe beating in two major Russian cities cannot but raise concerns.
Ukraine at large, however, was so immersed in its own political crisis that it failed to pay enough heed to the Dissidents’ March and its cruel dispersal. Neither President Yushchenko nor Prime Minister Yanukovych, whose supporters have flooded Kyiv and march unimpeded from one square to another, commented on the thumping of protesters in Russia. Too busy were both leaders persuading Europe of their commitment to democracy. As far as I remember, Our Ukraine was the only political force in Ukraine to publicly condemn the Russian government’s actions.
In fact, Russian media also paid very little attention to the March, not only because of the rigid censorship, but for other reasons as well. Today’s Russia is not ready for protests: the opposition is too weak, fragmented and unpopular. Yet Russian opposition leaders think differently and believe in their possible success in the next parliamentary and presidential elections, at least they say so.
ZN interviewed Mikhail KASYANOV, leader of the Russian People’s Democratic Union, a co-chair of the “Other Russia” coalition that organized the Dissidents’ March, and a former Prime Minister of the Russian Federation.
— Mr. Kasyanov, Ukrainian TV channels gave extensive coverage to the clashes between the Moscow and St. Petersburg riot police and the Dissidents’ March participants but provided very little analysis of the motives that drove those people out to the streets. What do you and your allies disagree with?
— It would take several interviews to enumerate the facts and phenomena we disagree with. What we cannot accept in principle is that over the last two years, the Russian Federation dismantled the fundamentals of democracy that took us so long to establish. No longer do we have a federal state, free media and an independent judiciary. Contrary to what is stipulated in Chapter 1 of the Constitution, human rights are no longer valued the highest nor is the state guided by the common good and social interests. We wanted to ascertain in practice whether we still had the last freedom directly guaranteed to us by the Fundamental Law, i.e. the freedom of assembly, peaceful marches and demonstrations.
We strongly disagree with trampling on the Constitution, with the authorities’ humiliating people and treating them as nobody. A group of top officials in Russia are sure their power is forever, and they want to make Russian citizens believe it through the propaganda that has permeated our television. They tell the people: “No matter what you might do, we are in charge. We, the state, know better what you need – bread and circuses – and we will give it to you, but you must not even try to change anything”. This is what we renounce. So we consider it necessary to hold mass civil protests, alongside of day-to-day political work. These actions are strictly within the constitutional framework. The Fundamental Law directly entitles our citizens to organize peaceful marches, rallies and demonstrations. Moreover, it has a special article providing for the direct application of constitutional norms when it comes to human rights and freedoms; and nobody can interpret those norms arbitrarily, in any enforcing regulations. The powers that be have no right to ban demonstrations. The law on rallies and demonstrations that implements the relevant constitutional provision does not empower the government to cancel or prohibit mass gatherings, either. It requires that rally organizers and the authorities agree on the time and venue in order to cater to other people’s interests. Yet our government refuses to negotiate any mass gatherings, interpreting this norm in the following way: “agree” means it is up to us to give or withhold consent for a rally.
These are the key things we disagree with.
The above rights pertain to the basics of the country’s constitutional system and cannot be revised other than through a nation-wide referendum. Encroaches on the constitutional system are punishable under law. My allies and I, the people who support us (about half of the population) assert today that Russian authorities are trampling on the Constitution. The Russian Federation is pursuing the wrong course. People have been stripped of all fundamental freedoms and rights. The only lever left to them is presidential elections. Therefore, the People’s Democratic Union and our allies in the “Other Russia” coalition demand that those in power demonstrate their understanding and appreciation of the need for free and fair elections. They should assure society they have no intention to amend the Constitution to prolong the incumbent president’s tenure and use elections as a cover-up for appointing a figure-head successor. They should make it clear to the public they will not resort to such a practice and hold free and fair elections.
— And under the circumstances you still hope elections can spur Russia’s democratic development?!
— It is exactly what we demand from the situation that exists in Russia. Our major goal is to promote changes in the country’s political course so that it develops as a democratic market economy. My allies and I wish to achieve this goal peacefully, avoiding revolutions and cataclysms. Yet the government provokes civil disobedience. A revolution in Russia is inevitable, if not today, then three, five years from now, unless the next elections are free and fair. This is the only acceptable solution.
However, last weekend’s events, the profound disrespect of the Constitution by authorities and their lawless actions in Moscow and St. Petersburg indicate that tension and confrontation will escalate. Last Monday, Russia woke up to face a changed reality: the authorities broadened the gap between themselves and society. Of course, we will continue to bring pressure to bear on them in order to urge them to observe the Constitution and do their main constitutional duty – hold free and fair elections.
— How united and strong is the Russian opposition to nominate a single presidential candidate?
— I think the next two months will be decisive in answering this question. It is, indeed, a key question because if we succeed in agreeing on one candidate that will represent a broad democratic opposition, leftists and rightists alike, we will win.
— Are you prepared to run for presidency as a single oppositional candidate?
— I announced it two years ago and I reiterate it now: I am ready. Unfortunately, nobody else has demonstrated their will to do the same. Nevertheless, I do not give up on my plans despite the constantly growing pressure that I, my family, friends and allies are subject to. To us, the opposition, it is a unique chance for a joint effort and to fight for victory. We must lead our nation toward civilized development and democracy instead of harking back to totalitarianism and international isolation.
We have lost all our friends on the international arena: Ukraine and Belarus are no longer our closest partners. The Russian government treats all our neighbours as unfriendly nations. A foreign policy like this is erroneous; it stems from a delusion or, which is worse, deliberately misleading domestic policy. In fact, this foreign policy repositions the Russian Federation as an unpredictable and unaccountable closed state. No one in the world would like our country to be like that. We are an integral part of the international community; we are a powerful independent state and we want to move on together with the world as a powerful, independent and flourishing nation.
— Do you know who the government is likely to support as its preferred candidate for the 2008 presidential elections?
— As a matter of fact, we do not care who they nominate and promote. We oppose their current course and we will fight against any presidential candidate that wants to carry it on. And I am sure the next elections will take place as scheduled, i.e. in March next year.
— What do you think Vladimir Putin will do when his term in office expires?
— You’d better ask him or one of his representatives about that.
— In your opinion, where is there more freedom – in Russia or in Belarus?
— I am not an expert on the current situation in Belarus, but their recent quasi-referenda and quasi-elections testify that almost all aspects of political, economic and social life in that country are under totalitarian control. In Russia, the regime is not totalitarian, of course: our citizens can discuss and criticize authorities; the Internet is widely available and there are many other signs of a certain level of freedom that people value so highly, including opportunities to travel throughout the world and voice one’s dissatisfaction in the Internet, etc. In Belarus, I am afraid people do not have those opportunities. Yet if nothing changes in the present political course, in Russian we risk slipping into a Belarusian situation soon.
— Two years ago, right after the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, many hoped that the democratic progress here would cause a “chain-reaction” in neighbouring post-Soviet states, first of all in Russia. Yet judging by Russian TV reports and opinion polls, the Russian public has been inoculated against revolutions. Your media keep pointing the finger at Ukraine saying: “See what it leads to?” Why do you think Russia did not follow suit? Did Ukrainian politicians spoil it all? Is Russian society really immune to democratic reforms or is the TV censorship to blame for this inertia?
— There is no independent television in Russia. The only allowed vision is that of authorities, which is wrong and dangerous. Multiple TV channels offer a biased view of the situation in Ukraine, persuading Russian citizens that your country is hostile to ours. This, I repeat, is an inherently flawed approach. However, most Russians do not condemn the present developments in your country. We understand there is a political crisis underway in Ukraine, and crises occur from time to time in different European countries. The crux of the matter is that you are looking for a civilized resolution to the crisis: people in the street are not beaten just for gathering there to put their message to politicians and top officials.
— Our people are even paid for it…
— Well, it is your internal problem and you will sort it out yourselves. What I mean is that you apply legitimate, constitutional procedures to decide who is right and who is wrong. This is what democracy is about. There is no chaos; people in the streets are safe. Of course, it is a difficulty of a transition period. Of course, everyone wants this crisis to be settled as soon as possible in a democratic, rather than a confrontational way. Naturally, a lot of people feel unhappy about it as it hinders the country’s social development and economic growth. Yet these are transient problems, painful as they might be for Ukraine’s emerging democratic institutions.
— Do Russians that watch those TV channels realize it or do they trust the national media? Do they have a distorted picture of the situation in Ukraine?
— It is not that they have a distorted picture or are prejudiced against Ukraine: they are regularly fed with all those lies and forced to accept the point of view imposed on them. I would like to emphasize again that this policy pursued by the Russian government is harmful and perilous for both countries. Ukraine is our partner. It is not antagonistic to Russia. We should finally recognize that Ukraine is an independent state, and whatever happens there are the Ukrainian people’s internal affairs. Onlookers might differ in their assessment of these events depending on their political allegiances and preferences, but it is up to the Ukrainian people to decide what is best for them. That is why I think it is wrong of the Russian government and media to try to form a negative public opinion of the state of affairs in Ukraine.
— Do you think Russian authorities are intimidating people to prevent them from following Ukrainians’ suit?
— Of course they are. They use your crisis to brainwash the Russian people: “See the havoc in Ukraine? Do you want it here?” That is why I say this policy is damaging to both our own people and our neighbours.
— Sociological surveys in your country show that the level of protesting sentiment there is very low. Only a tiny share of Russians is ready to advocate their rights and freedoms openly, for example at mass rallies. Yet you argue a revolution is possible. What makes you think so?
— I am doing and will do my best to prevent any civil unrest. However, as I said before, it could occur in three to five years’ time because the government incites its unreasonable policy and practices. What I am speaking about is not a revolution in your interpretation of the term. I mean the unacceptable disruptive activities that jeopardize the country’s stability. If the authorities persist in their current policy (and they say they will), a revolution is inevitable. Not because somebody wants it to erupt, but because the government fails to grasp its possible repercussions. To our party and coalition, preventing such developments is the main objective. In order to gain it, we have to change the country’s political course for it to move toward prosperity, rather than toward stagnation.
Putin and me: The President of St. Petersburg College offers up an insider's look at the Russian evolution as Yeltsin is mourned and Putin presses on.
|Carl Kuttler is president of St. Petersburg College|
Putin, 54, is a muscular man, an expert in martial arts. He is quiet and perceptive - listens and doesn't talk a lot. He is precise and detail-oriented. If he tells you he will meet you at 8:02, he will be there at 8:01 and a half.
On my first trip to the Soviet Union, I flew in from Finland. I recall a chilling effect that brought goose-bumps when the pilot announced: "Ladies and gentlemen, we have now entered Soviet air space." At that time, the country was not open to lots of tourists.
My first impressions of the country included the need for infrastructure repairs. There were food lines. You couldn't buy cigarettes, and there were shortages of gasoline. The country operated on almost a bartering system. Today, the major cities are not like that. The main roads are lined with car dealerships and retail stores of all types from around the globe. Goods are more plentiful. And there is a sense of optimism among the people, especially those who are participating in a global economy for the first time.
My relationship with Russia had started in 1989, when four people from their St. Petersburg came here under the People to People program started by Rosalynn Carter. We spent three or four days showing them around the area. At the end of that visit, we all agreed the two St. Petersburgs should forge a closer relationship - and that St. Petersburg College and St. Petersburg University in Russia should do so as well.
Soon after began the move to change the Russian city's name back to the original St. Petersburg. Then it was suggested that the two colleges exchange presidents, or rectors, as college presidents are known in Russia. So we did, which led to my '90 trip.
Putin asked me to arrange a visit of 15 leaders to Washington, D.C., and St. Petersburg College. I raised $150, 000 for the visit. The Russian delegation included Anatoly Sobchak, the mayor of St. Petersburg and one of Boris Yeltsin's closest friends. They asked us to set up meetings with the president, the vice president and some key members of Congress. We did that, and Sobchak addressed the nation via C-SPAN.
When Sobchak met with the first President Bush in a meeting we set up, I was later told by several Russians that it was most productive. But I was never told what it was all about. All I remember is that I believe there were major understandings between Bush and Sobchak regarding oil. Russia was in the beginning of its oil development industry, and our oil companies became partners - proving that Americans and Russians can team up successfully. Oil is helping change the politics of Russia. Americans and Europeans are investing in Russia's oil resources and the country is exploring untapped sources for oil and gas.
I have made about a dozen trips to Russia over the past 19 years. More than 200 Russian leaders in fields such as law, government, education, journalism, engineering and the like have visited Pinellas County.
On one of my early trips to Russia, I carried with me an honorary degree from St. Petersburg College for President Yeltsin. The ceremony was planned, we had carried with us the proper regalia, and at the last minute, Yeltsin was called out of town, so I never got to meet him. I wound up presenting the honorary degree to a deputy, but still I am proud that Yeltsin was an honorary graduate of St. Petersburg College for he was a leader in the opening of his country to the world.
New and old
It is my understanding that Yeltsin asked Sobchak to be his vice president but it never occurred. After one term as mayor, Sobchak was defeated. That meant both he and Putin, Sobchak's vice mayor, were out of office.
Many in Russia didn't want Sobchak to succeed. Sobchak had started the movement toward an open Russia and to change the name of the city from Leningrad back to St. Petersburg, and many old-timers didn't like that. It was very hard to tell who represented the old ways and who represented the new ways.
It was rumored that Yeltsin tried to get Sobchak to become a part of his administration - prime minister, United Nations ambassador, or another position at that level. Something happened and Sobchak ended up in exile in Paris. That was hard on Yeltsin and on Putin, too. Rumors were that Yeltsin was asked to take care of Putin, Sobchak's protegee.
Putin re-entered government service at a mid-level executive position for a short time, but he was promoted rapidly and ended up in the Kremlin and close to Yeltsin. I lost track of Putin for a short time but began corresponding with him again when he started working for Yeltsin. By the time Yeltsin retired, Putin was in a position to succeed him.
Feeling a chill
Yuri Ushakov, the Russian ambassador, offered a glimpse of a new relationship between our countries in an opinion piece that appeared in the Washington Post. It said America and Russia can never afford to be enemies again, but they will not always be friends. To Russians and Americans who would like to have the closest relationship, it's possible those words were a bit of a wakeup call.
(More evidence of that came Thursday in Putin's final state of the nation address when he announced he was suspending Russia's obligations under the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, a pact to limit tanks and heavy weapons dating from the final days of the Cold War. His stance raises the volume of an argument with NATO over U.S. plans to build a missile defense system in Eastern Europe with the cooperation of Poland - where 10 interceptor missiles would be based - and the Czech Republic - where the alliance would build a radar tracking station. The United States sees it more as a defense against North Korea or Iran than a threat to Russia. Putin vehemently disagrees. In that same speech Putin noted Russia's growing economic power, as it has been using petroleum revenues to pay off old debts even as he pointed out that daunting challenges remain: low birth rate, short life expectancy and poor housing.)
Successful educational and entrepreneurial partnerships between our two countries will result in stronger relationships. Last week, St. Petersburg College was host when the rector from Orenburg State University in Russia visited Florida. We signed an "agreement of cooperation" before he left, promising to promote a student and faculty exchange in the fields of education, science and culture.
When Putin visited the United States in May 2002, I arranged for St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker to meet him at a reception in the president's suite at Columbia University. Putin, who is not a tall man, shook Mayor Baker's hand and immediately compared him to Peter the Great, who was 7 feet tall. Friendly exchanges like this also will cement relationships between our countries.
The world's view of the Russians can be a bit unfair. They are some of the most talented, intelligent and energized people in the world. Their definition of "democracy" is different than ours. Putin has said in some very strong words that Russia must be allowed to define its own form of democracy. Some Americans have decided the Russian form of democracy they read about is not the form they wish for the Russian people. But it is doubtful American democracy will be replicated in Russia.
One of the most frequently asked questions in Russia is who will be Putin's successor? It's a legitimate question, but I believe when Putin gives the nod, the Russian establishment, which is showing signs of economic growth, will support his candidate. Presidential elections are scheduled for March 2008, and Putin is barred by the Constitution from running again.
America has enjoyed the services of one of Russia's most competent diplomats in Ambassador Ushakov. He and his wife, Svetlana, understand in great detail the best parts of America's institutions of government. The next president of Russia would be wise to seek their counsel.
Belarus shadow economy
From: Belarus News and Facts
With the current administrative and legal system in Belarus corruption is invincible. Lukashenka and his government had pledged to tackle corruption, but they have achieved limited success so far. The problem is not about the lack of determination on the part of the authorities, but about the system functioning in Belarus.
Schneider and his team, who conducted the survey in 145 countries, note the intensity of regulation and corruption among the major driving forces of shadow economies. They concluded that complex government regulation is conducive to corruption and slows economic growth. Therefore, the Belarusian government's attempt to boost growth relying on intervention in the economy is doomed to produce a worse result than a free market economy.
A poll conducted by Minsk-based Privatization and Management Institute (PMI) in spring 2007 found a high level of government intervention in the economy. Nearly 38 percent of small and medium-sized business managers said the authorities set output targets for their enterprises. In a situation where businesses often are short of cash for development, administrative intervention is reminiscent of mistakes that caused the collapse of the centrally planned Soviet economy. It should be noted that the level of intervention in business of big factories is higher. Foreign investors being wooed by the Belarusian authorities must be aware of this.
Setting the price of goods, something that should be easy for any vendor, is like taking a higher mathematics test for vendors in Belarus. Tax regulations change so often, that accountants and lawyers often have to purge their brain of professional knowledge acquired before. The big size of Belarus' shadow economy is a direct result of hundreds of pages of regulations, edicts and directives issued by the government.
Belarusian businesses consider the risk of being caught evading taxes is smaller than risks associated with the payment of all taxes and compliance with all regulations. This explains their answers to the question about the share of unreported income. Only 33.4 percent of SME managers said they report all income to the authorities, while 23.2 percent said they conceal up to 10 percent of their income, 19.3 percent conceal between 10 and 25 percent, 13.2 percent do not report between 26 and 50 percent and 7.6 percent said more than 51 percent of income goes unstated.
One of the ways to avoid punishment for tax evasion is to bribe officials. The poll found that 28.8 percent of SME managers never give bribes, but the high percentage may be attributable to managers' fear of repercussions of disclosing the truth. More than 45 percent of managers occasionally give bribes and 22.7 percent give bribes on a regular basis. Bribes are paid to tax inspectors and customs officers in return for turning a blind eye to violations of various rules.
The likelihood of bribes depends on who distributes public funds, quotas and issues licenses and permits. Asked how widespread are kickbacks in Belarus, 33.4 percent said they were not aware of such a form of bribery, 17.6 percent said kickbacks accompany every tenth/fifth deal, and 22.2 percent said kickbacks are used in every third or second deal.
Does not only an increase of the shadow economy lead to reduced state revenues, but it also makes it difficult for new companies to access the market. It can also lead to an increase in the tax rates for companies and individuals in the official sector. Shadow economies are based on traditional ties that tend to resist economic change.
In Belarus, the shadow economy size, which excludes informal household businesses, is 10 percentage points larger than the average size in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. In developed democratic countries shadow economies are more than 60 percent smaller than in Belarus.
If the economic situation deteriorates, the acquired bribery habit may contribute to the formation of oligarchic groups in Belarus. Although officials say that Russian or Ukrainian models of economic management and privatization are unacceptable, there is a risk that the country will face corruption problems similar to those of the neighboring countries.
europe.view column: how to fight back; Counter-attacking the Kremlin
From: Edward Lukas
THIS week’s Russian Economic Forum in London was a fiasco. The Kremlin signalled its current displeasure with the British government by making all the top Russian participants pull out at short notice.
That is a satisfying come-uppance for the morally myopic businessmen who shun any mention of Russia’s political problems. But it also highlights the Kremlin’s ominous use of commercial clout to influence decisions abroad.
Should Britain allow Boris Berezovsky to keep up his ill-phrased assault on Vladimir Putin’s regime from his Mayfair eyrie—or should he be encouraged to move abroad? Is it really in the public interest for Britain to issue arrest warrants for a couple of well-connected Russians who seem possible culprits in the radioactive poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko?
The British business view on these issues is a sorry mixture of pleading and panic: just give the Kremlin what it wants, so that we can get back on the gravy train. It’s the same story all over Europe. During the cold war the capitalists and the freedom fighters were on the same side. Now that alliance is broken, and the cause is muddier.
It is easy to conclude gloomily that the Kremlin has all the cards: oil, gas, money, decisiveness. The West is distracted, easily intimidated, and even more easily bought.
But counter-attack is possible.
New Times is pretty much the only truly independent weekly left in Russia. Its editorial staff includes two of the remaining leading lights of serious Russian journalism: Yevgenia Albats, the country’s best investigative writer; and Raf Shakirov, fired from the editorship of Izvestia, once a top Russian daily, for his coverage of the botched anti-terrorism operation in Beslan. Its website carries footage of the Kremlin’s bully boys beating up opposition demonstrators—pictures that Russian television will scarcely touch.
The magazine is not perfect. Some may find it too wordy, or self-important, or shrill. But at least it is independent: it has no “sponsors”, no “roof”. The publisher, Irena Lesnevskaya, was told by a top Kremlin official that hiring Ms Albats was a “mistake”. Almost any other magazine in Russia would have hurried to correct the “mistake”. Ms Lesnevskaya politely refused.
Sympathetic outsiders who read Russian might consider subscribing. Every little helps. But what New Times really needs is advertisers. And in Russia now, nobody wants to risk incurring the Kremlin’s displeasure. Advertising in New Times would be commercial suicide, Russia’s top business people explain, while insisting that privately they are devoted to the cause of press freedom.
The only people who can help are those who have nothing to lose. It is time for Polish sausagemakers, Georgian wine producers, and Estonian sprat-canners to step forward for their unlikely moment of glory. They have suffered Russia’s spiteful boycotts and bans for months. Diplomacy has got them nowhere. They are mostly now thriving in other markets. So why not hit back, by taking out advertisements in New Times. “Dear Russian customers! We are sorry we can’t sell you our products right now—but please rest assured, we will return to you as soon as better times allow.”
The cost would be tiny relative to the psychological impact. Perhaps the tourist authorities could join in, underlining the welcome that awaits Russian visitors—sometimes to their surprise—in Warsaw, Tallinn and Tbilisi. Even Mr Putin’s Russia won’t touch the freedom to travel, leaving little scope for Kremlin revenge.
Outsiders can’t stop the Kremlin closing the New Times if it wishes. But they can at least help make it a commercial success while it lasts.
Czech Republic's 8-2 victory over Belarus in Group B preliminary round
From: Euro Hockey
|Czech Republic's Tomas Plekanec, centre right, watches as the puck gets behind Belarus' goaltender Andrei Mezin, and defenders Alexandr Zhurik, left, and Aleksandr Makritsy during their World Ice Hockey championship in Mytischi, Russia, just outside Moscow yesterday|
Oleg Antonenko, one of few Belarussian players that did a good performance, scored his first of two goals at 16.18 to give his team some hope. But the hopes were killed only 13 seconds when Tomas Plekanec made it 3-1 for the Czechs.
"It was crucial to get those early goals," said Czech goalie Roman Cechmanek. "We worked hard to make sure that we got off to a good start."
Plekanec who was the only Czech that scored two goals also assisted on Rostislav Olesz short handed goal late in the first period and with the score 4-1 after the first period the game was basically over. The Czechs continued to score and at the end the game ended with a impressive 8-2 win for the Czechs that showed that they are one of the main contenders for the championship.
For Mezin it was a somewhat disappointing outing after having starred in last years tournament earning him a spot on the All-Star team. Expect him to come up big in Belarus' next game against Team USA on Sunday. The Czechs are looking to add another three points to their total when the face Austria on the same day.
Yuri Romanov KO’s Tontcho Tontchev To Defend European Boxing Belt
Romanov, 19-2 (13), overcame the long experience of Tontchev, 37-5 (21), to shatter the Bulgarian veteran’s composure with powerful blows that soon found Tontchev on the canvas and unable to continue by the third frame of the contest.
This bout was a homecoming of sorts for Romanov, who for years had been a road warrior posting significant victories in England before winning the European crown with a knockout of Juan Carlos Diaz Melero in Cuidad Real, Spain.
For Tontchev, this may have been his best opportunity to stop the long slow decline of his career that began with a loss to Daniel Attah in 2002.
The near future may see Romanov return to his old stomping grounds in the UK as a showdown with durable British Champion Jon Thaxton has been rumored although the Ukraine’s Andrei Kudriavtesv may get the next crack at that Battling Belarus fighter.
Where is Belarus?
Belarus President Alyaksandr Inkashenka recently visited India and was warmly received. But just for the heck of it, this columnist asked over a dozen friends whether they could place Belarus on the world map. None could. They had not even heard of it.
Belarus is a friend of India and in an interview to The Hindu (16 April) given in the country’s capital Minsk, President Lukashenka said that “it is not fair that India, a nuclear power like China, with a billion-odd population and advanced economy, does not sit on the Security Council”. He also said that India “is a top priority for us, along with Russia and China” and asked: “What isolation of Belarus are they talking about in the West when we have such excellent relations with these three major nuclear powers?”
If so many educated people one talked to could not have any geographic conception of the place of Belarus in Asia, shouldn’t our newspapers have given their readers a clue as to where in Central Asia it is situated by publishing a map?
Why should our newspapers presume that readers are as familiar with Belarus as they are with, say, Sri Lanka or Singapore? The Hindu interview is an exclusive and credit should go to it. But even The Hindu failed to identify Belarus’ place in a map.