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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Victory Day, UN issues, Nigeria Kidnapping, Eurosong, Iran, Polish scandal, Russian missiles, Bronze soldier, Opinion, Blogs and Sport

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  • #202

    May 9th is Victory Day in Belarus

    From: Wiki
    "May 9", Soviet poster based on the famous photo of the Soviet flag being raised over the Reichstag in 1945. The caption reads: "And the saved world remembers", a line from a Soviet post-war song about two young men who did not return from the war, and about how life in their home city has to go on without them.
    Victory Day (Russian: Den' Pobedy) marks the capitulation of Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union in the Second World War commonly referred to in the Soviet Union as the Great Patriotic War. This capitulation was signed late in the evening on May 8, 1945 (May 9 in the Moscow time zone), following the original capitulation Germany signed earlier to the joint Allied forces. The Soviet government announced the victory early on May 9 after the signing ceremony in Berlin.

    The May 9 Victory Day is celebrated in most of the successor states to the Soviet Union, especially in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. The day is traditionally marked by ceremonial military parades with the most prominent one being traditionally held in Moscow Red Square.

    Two separate capitulation events took place at the time. First, the capitulation to the Allied nations in Reims was signed on May 7, 1945, effective 23:01 CET May 8. This date is commonly referred to as the V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day) in most western European countries.

    However, the Soviet Union's only representative in Reims was General Ivan Susloparov, the Military Liaison Mission Commander. General Susloparov's scope of authority was not entirely clear, and he had no means of immediate contact with Kremlin, but nevertheless decided to risk signing for the Soviet side. However, he noted that it could be replaced with a new version in the future. Stalin was indeed displeased by these events. He believed that the German surrender should have been accepted only by the envoy of the USSR Supreme command and signed only in Berlin and insisted the Reims protocol be considered preliminary, with the main ceremony to be held in Berlin, where Marshal Zhukov was at the time, as the latter recounts in his memoirs:[2]

    “ [Quoting Stalin:] Today, in Reims, Germans signed the preliminary act on an unconditional surrender. The main contribution, however, was done by Soviet people and not by the Allies, therefore the capitulation must be signed in front of the Supreme Command of all countries of the anti-Hitler coalition, and not only in front of the Supreme Command of Allied Forces. Moreover, I disagree that the surrender was not signed in Berlin, which was the center of Nazi aggression. We agreed with the Allies to consider the Reims protocol as preliminary. ”

    Therefore, another ceremony was organized in a surviving manor in the outskirts of Berlin late on May 8, when it was already May 9 in Moscow due to the difference in time zones. Field-Marshal Wilhelm Keitel submitted the capitulation of the Wehrmacht to the Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov in the Red Army headquarters in Berlin-Karlshorst. To commemorate the victory in the war, the ceremonial Moscow Victory Parade was held in the Soviet capital on June 24, 1945.

    The anniversary of May 9 was celebrated not only in Soviet Union but in the countries of the Eastern Bloc as well. Since the fall of the communism in Central and Eastern Europe these countries, as well as the Baltic States, recognize Victory in Europe Day instead on May 8th.

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has congratulated fellow countrymen on Victory Day.

    From: BelTA
    “The last shootings of war died down a long time ago but the heroism and courage of soldiers and civilians who had defended the independence of our Motherland will always remain in memory of our people. This holiday is special for many generations: it brings the joy of victory and grief over losses. Millions of Belarusians were killed defending the most sacred thing – independence of their Motherland,” the congratulatory message goes.

    “Only united and strong in spirit people could have won the fiercest war in the history of mankind, could have overcome difficulties and severities of the post-war devastation, could have restored factories and plants, towns and villages,” the Belarusian leader stressed.

    Alexander Lukashenko wished veterans of the Great Patriotic War health and longevity.

    On the eve of the Victory Day, the President conferred state awards upon veterans, military, police and public prosecution officers, the presidential press-service told BelTA.

    According to the Belarusian leader, these awards are “a tribute of deep respect for war veterans and labour veterans, who fought heroically against Nazi invaders on the battlefront and as part of guerrilla units, and after that restored the liberated country from ruins”. He also noted, the awards signify the esteemed opinion about merits of the present Fatherland defenders, who protect peace and serenity of the Belarusian land.

    Alexander Lukashenko has expressed gratitude to the leadership and members of the Belarusian Public Association of Veterans whose active civil position and contribution to the patriotic upbringing of the youth play a significant role in the state.

    The President has said that the Association of Veterans is one of the most important pillars of the civil society which is based on partnership and creative activity aimed at building a strong and prosperous country.

    “Your activity aimed at preserving the historic memory of the heroism of the Soviet people who saved the world from the enslaving by the Nazis deserves all-round support and approval. We truly have the right to be proud of Belarus’ treating carefully and respecting memorials, which were erected in the fields of battle, and thousands of monuments in towns and villages. They mean a misanthropic ideology will never find support with the Belarusian people, as it has with some ‘democratic’ states”, stressed the Belarusian leader.

    Constant attention is paid in Belarus to enhancing the defence capacity of the country, according to the President. Everything necessary is done in Belarus so that its Armed Forces could be a reliable guarantor of the integrity and security of the country, for them to be mobile and well-prepared for counteracting any kind of aggression.

    “We can see that the situation on the planet has not become any more peaceful today. We have no right to forget the lessons of history which some people try to dishonestly reevaluate and deprive our people of their greatest achievement – the Victory over the Nazis. The Great Patriotic War taught us to cherish fragile peace, protect our land, counteract those who pose a threat of devastation,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    “They say, gunpowder must be kept dry at all times to avoid being caught unawares. It is one of the most important lessons the Great Patriotic War has taught”, said the Belarusian leader.

    The President added, at present the country’s leadership pays top-priority attention to ensuring the social and political stability, keeping law and order. Among the most important avenues of efforts Belarusian law enforcement agencies work in Alexander Lukashenko named fight against crime, corruption, and attempts upon the life of citizens and their property. “There are rather good positive tendencies in this fight”, the head of state said.

    “When I started my presidential term, I made a promise to the veterans, we will keep the country they have left to us, will straighten it out and will secure the level of the best Soviet times. Sometimes we have hard and difficult times, but, trust me, it doesn’t depend on the authorities and even not on our nation. It depends on the present situation in the world that we, the independent and sovereign Belarus, cannot influence like the big Soviet country could”, said the President.

    “I will never agree to letting my country and my people be humiliated. They have not deserved it. We have always sacrificed our people in the name of the victory, for the sake of the entire humanity, not for our own”, stressed Alexander Lukashenko during today’s state awards ceremony.

    The Head of State wished the awardees health, happiness and well-being.

    The veterans thanked the President for the attention and support given by the state.

    The awardees also congratulated the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, on the upcoming holiday and said that the 9th of May is an important reminder about the price of the victory and the value of peace.

    Following the tradition, on May 9, a march of the veterans of the Great Patriotic War will be held in Minsk and a wrath-laying ceremony at the Victory monument will take place. Both events will be attended by the Belarusian leader.

    Groups call 4 countries unfit for UN rights body

    From: Reauters
    Two human rights groups branded Angola, Belarus, Egypt and Qatar on Monday as unfit to sit on the U.N. human rights body, which all look set to join next week, because they themselves violated rights.

    The four countries are among 15 competing for 14 seats on the Human Rights Council, which last year replaced its largely discredited predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights. The U.N. General Assembly will elect the new members on May 17.

    In a report on the council's first year, one of the groups, UN Watch, said it had been little better than its forerunner, with the majority of its acts being condemnations of Israel.

    Some other groups have been less critical of the Council. In March, New York-based Human Rights Watch urged the United States, which has so far declined to stand for membership, to appoint a full-time envoy to the body.

    The group's executive director, Kenneth Roth, said in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that while the Council "is imperfect, it is the premier international forum for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. No viable alternative exists."

    Monday's joint report by UN Watch and Freedom House on next week's election said Angola, Belarus, Egypt and Qatar "are authoritarian regimes with negative U.N. voting records (on rights issues) and are not qualified to be Council members".

    Only 14 of the 47 seats on the Geneva-based Council fall vacant this year. Under the regional structure, only the Western group at present faces a contest, with Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands competing for two seats.


    Belarus and Slovenia are standing for the two Eastern European seats. Thomas Melia, deputy executive director of U.S.-based Freedom House, said Western countries seeking to push out Belarus wanted Bosnia to run as well, but diplomats said Slovenia had threatened to stand down if it did.

    The United States and European Union have long accused Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko of crushing all opposition and muzzling independent media.

    The Slovenian mission to the United Nations declined comment.

    The rights groups' report described Slovenia, Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands as "well qualified" for the Council. Among other candidates, it called Bolivia, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Nicaragua, the Philippines and South Africa as "questionable".

    India, Indonesia, the Netherlands, the Philippines and South Africa are existing members standing for re-election.

    The Council was set up after former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said its predecessor suffered from a "credibility deficit" that cast "a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole". That body had been criticized in the West for ignoring rights abuses in developing countries.

    But the Council too has been troubled by conflicting concepts of rights. Geneva-based UN Watch said it "has not been an improvement over the much-derided Commission. In some ways it has even been worse."

    Of 12 country-specific resolutions by the Council, nine had been censures of Israel, while three had related to Sudan, the group said.

    Belarus demands Nigeria ensure release of captured national

    From: RIA Novosti
    "The Russian embassy has already come into contact with the Nigerian foreign ministry, with law enforcement agencies and the management of the company where Iryna works. We are ready to leave for Port Harcourt, where the Belarusian national was kidnapped, at any time,"
    An expert at Belarus' top security service spoke out Tuesday against paying a ransom to militants who kidnapped a Belarusian woman in Nigeria, or her brother getting involved in the negotiations.

    Irina Ekpo-Umo, who is married to a Nigerian and is a senior manager with the local branch of the British services company Compass Group, was kidnapped Saturday night while returning from work in the country's main oil city of Port Harcourt. Gunmen stopped her car and took the woman away, demanding $1.2 million in ransom.

    "Hostages are sometimes released if the ransom is paid, but this leads to more kidnapping incidents," an expert at the KGB anti-terrorist center said. "If you pay once, the snowball becomes an avalanche."

    Compass Group has proposed Irina's brother travel to Nigeria to participate in negotiations for her release, but the source said such a move would be unreasonable.

    "If her brother goes to Nigeria, there will be a risk of being forced to pay a ransom for two people instead of one," the source said.

    Belarus has sent a note of protest to Nigeria's Foreign Ministry, demanding measures to ensure the release of a Belarusian woman abducted in the oil-rich African state Saturday, a Foreign Ministry official said Monday.

    "The Foreign Ministry of Belarus has sent a protest note to Nigeria's Foreign Ministry, demanding prompt measures to have the Belarusian national released as soon as possible," the ministry's information chief Maria Vanshina said Monday.

    A counselor at the Russian embassy in Nigeria, which is handling the case at the request of the ex-Soviet nation that has no diplomatic mission in the country, said Monday the kidnappers had contacted Compass Group and said the woman was alive, but had hung up the phone before making any demands.

    "Kidnappers contacted company executives this morning," Viktor Goncharov said. They only phoned to say she is alive and feeling well and then hung up the phone. They said they would telephone later."

    Goncharov said those behind the abduction were believed to be criminals and no political demands were expected.

    He said Russian embassy officials were in contact with Nigeria's Foreign Ministry, police, and Compass Group executives and were ready to take action any moment.

    Militants fighting against the Nigerian government for greater autonomy in the oil-rich Niger Delta have intensified their attacks lately on oil industry facilities that are largely run by western companies.

    Belarus has no diplomatic mission in Nigeria, and the Russian Embassy is handling the case at its request. Viktor Goncharov, an Embassy counselor, said earlier in the day that the Embassy had applied to the Nigerian Foreign Ministry for assistance in resolving the incident.

    He added that two employees of the Embassy had left for Port Harcourt to try to establish closer contacts with local law enforcement officials and find out what actions were being taken to secure her release.

    Goncharov said Monday, referring to Compass Group, that the woman was alive and in a satisfactory condition and that the abductors had made no other demands.

    Militants fighting against the Nigerian government for greater autonomy in the oil-rich Niger Delta have intensified their attacks lately on oil industry facilities that are largely run by Western companies.

    The latest kidnapping has brought the total number of foreign workers abducted in Nigeria to 28 in a week. Eight hostages have already been released.

    Serbia, Sweden and Belarus top European bookmakers' lists as favourites to win the Eurovision song contest in Helsinki on Saturday

    From: France 24 and Oiko
    Yesterday evening there was Slavic Party held in Royal Club Onulda in Helsinki, which was organised by Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. Only journalists were allowed to enter. The present guests were offered a lot of food. The entrants of the countries organisers were not the only ones presented their songs. The present journalists saw the performance of "Partners in crime" by Estonian entrant Gerli Padar, which was followed by "Love or leave" of the Lithuanian band 4 Fun and "Questa Notte" by Latvian entrants Bonaparti.

    After the Baltic entrants, Dima Koldun came on scene with the two female dancers. Even on a small scene of Royal Club, the whole James Bond routine looked impressive. Then Serebro girls with "Song number one" followed. The present audience welcomed the Ukrainian entrant Verka Serduchka who performed "Vsyo bude horosho" and of course "Dancing". Finally, the last ESC 2007 entrant followed. That was Natalia Barbu from Moldova who performed "Fight".

    After Natalia finished, the present audience could see the composer of the Belarussian 2007 entry and Russian ESC 1995 entrant Philip Kirkorov. After the performance, mr. Kirkorov introduced young singer Alexandar who sang an interesting Russian version of the ESC 1984 winning entry - Diggi lo, Diggi ley. The present journalists also could hear very famous Russian traditional songs performed by ms. Anastasya.

    The average odds by seven of the largest bookmakers gave Serbia the top position with 8-1 odds followed by Sweden with 9-1 odds and Belarus with 10-1.

    Britain's main bookmaker Ladbrokes was offering odds of 5-1 on Sweden, 6-1 on Serbia and 7-1 on Belarus.

    Out of the three favourites only Sweden has secured a place in the final on Saturday after finishing in the Top 10 last year. Serbia and Belarus will have to qualify at the semi-final on Thursday.

    Fred Bronson, a journalist for US weekly music magazine Billboard, said he also believed Serbia had a good chance to win, but mentioned Switzerland and Andorra as other favourites.

    "Serbia is very strong this year, but Andorra is coming fast," Bronson told AFP.

    Serbia's entry is entitled "Molitva", a love song about the uncertainties between God and man, performed by 23-year old Marija Serifovic.

    Bronson was pleased with the line-up this year.

    "We have a good quality and very different styles, new age, pop and even swing with the German band," he said.

    Other entries that are expected to place highly are Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Greece and Cyprus.

    Finnish monster rock group Lordi won the competition last year and host country Finland is again listed among the Top 10 favourites, this time with the more glamorous artist Hanna Pakarinen.

    The "big four", the founding countries and largest financial contributors Germany, Spain, France and Britain, are however not rated high on bookmakers lists.

    A record 42 countries are to take part in the 52nd Eurovision Song Contest in Helsinki on Saturday.

    Customs Union Has No Members

    From: kommersant
    The Russian Ministry of Economic Development and Trade has acknowledged that the formation of the Customs Union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan has been postponed indefinitely. It will be formed no sooner than Russia and Kazakhstan, and maybe Belarus, are admitted to the WTO, which can happen no sooner than the middle of 2008. Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov first suggested that the union should only be formed of WTO member states at the April Eurasian Economic Community negotiations in Astana.

    Russia has completed bilateral negotiations on WTO accession and is ready for the final stage of the process, that is, the signing of a multilateral agreement. Kazakhstan is engaged in bilateral negotiations. The April round of negotiations between it and the United States, but the Kazakhs hope to complete negotiations with the Americans by the end of this year, which would make accession in middle or late 2008 possible. Belarus began WTO negotiations in 1993. It has completed bilateral negotiations with nine countries so far.

    Deputy Economics Minister Vitaly Savelyev said that negotiations on the Customs Union were continuing on the expert level. The proposes considerably more liberal conditions for trade than the WTO, but Kazakhstan and Belarus want it to be even more liberal than Russia does. The former two countries want union members to have equal access to the infrastructure of the national oil and natural gas markets, which Russia has categorically refused. In addition, the future members have yet to agree on how the organization will make decisions.

    Belarus' petrochemical industry conglomerate to establish distribution company in Turkey

    From: Naveny
    Istanbul, Turkey
    The Belarusian State Petrochemical Industry Concern (Belnaftakhim) plans to invest $210,000 in the establishment of its distributor in Turkey.

    The money will be provided by the Belarusian Petroleum Trading House, a Belnaftakhim subsidiary, according to official information sources.

    The yet-to-be-established company is expected to distribute polyester and acrylic fiber and cord fabrics in Turkey.

    Belnaftakhim reportedly believes that the establishment of distribution networks abroad will help increase exports and remove intermediaries from foreign trade, as well as conduct a single trade policy in the external market.

    The Belarusian Petroleum Trading House also plans to set up distribution companies in Lithuania, Germany, the Netherlands and Poland this year.

    President of Iran will visit Belarus within next two weeks

    From: and BelTA
    The President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will visit Belarus within the next two weeks, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Iran to Belarus, Abdolhamid Fekri, told BelTA.

    The chief of the Iranian diplomatic mission has said the sides are nailing down the programme of the visit at the moment, which is designed to last for two days. A wide range of political and economic issues are to be discussed during meetings and talks in Minsk.

    “The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, invited Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Minsk and the invitation was kindly accepted. The exchange of top-level visits helps strengthen the bilateral relations and intensify the cooperation,” the ambassador said.

    Iran gives priority to expansion of relations with the southern littoral states of the Persian Gulf, government spokesman said on Wednesday. Gholam-Hossein Elham made the remarks in a weekly press conference, adding that the region needs more cooperation in all fields.

    Responding to a question on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's future trips to foreign countries, he added, "We witness such demand in regional states as well."

    "Expanding communications with all countries including regional states and upgrading interactions in all political, cultural and economic fields has been one of good achievements of the ninth government in Iran," he underlined.

    The spokesman also said that the first tour of Iranian president to the regional countries started by visiting Kuwait and will be followed by trips to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman.

    Pointing to Ahmadinejad's visit to Belarus, he noted that Iran has appropriate political and economic relations as well as exchanges with that country.

    "The Islamic Republic and Belarus have great commonalities on international issues and enjoy good potentials to affect global exchanges," he added.

    The spokesman added that the Iranian president will visit the UAE and Oman early next week and Belarus after conducting provincial tour.

    Kaliningrad-based retail chain Vester to open 12 supermarkets in Belarus by 2011

    From: NLIPRB
    Kaliningrad-based retail chain Vester plans to open 12 supermarkets in Belarus by 2011, BelTA learnt in the company’s press service.

    The supermarkets will be opened in Minsk, Gomel, Mogilev, Vitebsk and Grodno. The first retail outlet will appear in Minsk in November this year. It will occupy a territory of 3,000 square meters and will cost the Russian company about $3.2 million.

    Vester Group, the retailer of foodstuffs and consumer goods, was founded in Kaliningrad in 1990. The company’s turnover in 2007 is expected to reach $950 million as against $426 in 2006.

    In Q1 2007 the Vester chain had 35 supermarkets. By the end of the year the company intends to open about 25 new retail outlets.

    Belarus individuals to privatise land plots at cadastral cost

    From: BelTA
    Belarusians will be able to privatise land plots at cadastral cost. The novelty is introduced by Decree No. 213 Certain Aspects of Land Plots Privatisation by Individuals. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko signed the Decree on May 7, the presidential press service told BelTA.

    In line with the Belarusian Land Code individuals used to buy state-owned land plots at preferential or standard prices.

    Preferential prices were available only to citizens in need of better housing, who bought the land for building or maintaining a dwelling house. Before January 1, 2000, the preferential prices were also available to citizens, who came in possession of their land plots before June 16, 1993.

    The standard price was offered to all other individuals, who wanted to buy land. However, the standard price failed to reflect the real value of a land plot, failed to take into account the location of the land plot and the availability of engineering, transport and social infrastructure.

    Individuals can no longer buy state-owned land plots at standard prices since January 1, 2007.

    In 2003-2005 Belarusian land plots in residential communities and dacha societies were registered and assessed. The results testify that standard prices for the land plots do not reflect the real value of the land plots.

    For example, land plots in Minsk are priced at $209 per 100 square meters, while their cadastral value stands at $2,357 on the average. The cadastral value varies between $1,067 per 100 square meters to $6,930 depending on the location of the land plot and availability of infrastructure. For example, land plots near Rafiyeva Street and Golodeda Street cost around $1,300 per 100 square meters, Mayakovskogo Street — $3,600, Volgogradskaya Street — $6,900.

    In rural areas the standard value varies from $1.2 to $477 per 100 square meters depending on the soil type, while the cadastral value of such lands varies from $1 to $3,907. For example, land plots in the village of Borovlyany, Minsk district, cost $710-2,500 per 100 square meters, those in the village of Yuzufovo — $130-390.

    The application of the cadastral price for state-owned land plots sold to individuals is already taken into account by the new revision of the Land Code the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly has given the first reading to. The new Code rules out standard prices.

    Cadastral values will also be used when lands are pledged as security for bank loans, when land taxes are determined, when compensations or starting prices at auctions are defined.

    The purchase of land plots at cadastral values will compensate for the state investments in land improvement such as road construction, construction of engineering facilities and others. The novelty is also expected to contribute to the development of communities, effective land utilisation, and eradication of land plot profiteering.

    The Decree will not need additional state budget expenses for its implementation.

  • Around the region...

    Estonia's Bronze Soldier comes home to a bed of roses

    From: Monsters and Critics
    The Lone, but Undefeated Soldier
    Life for Estonia's most infamous monument has not been a bed of roses recently, but that all changed on Wednesday as Estonia's Russians visited it in its new home for the first time.

    By sunset, the gravel triangle in front of the monument was buried deep in flowers. The low walls on either side of it were piled with carnations, and candles smoked among the blooms.

    Wednesday marked the anniversary of Soviet victory in World War II, and a key date for Estonia's 345,000 ethnic Russians who vigorously opposed the statue's relocation from the capital city's bustling centre to the war cemetery.

    In fact, the broad swathe of grass beside the so-called Bronze Soldier was transformed into a flower-bed as hundreds upon hundreds of ethnic Russians paid their respect to the dead of World War II.

    'It's a good place,' said teenager Denis, looking around at the sunlit cypress and birch trees, with the birds singing in the branches. 'It's peaceful - not like the city centre.'

    Two weeks ago, Estonia's right-wing government decided to relocate the brooding seven-foot statue from the square in central Tallinn where it has stood for 60 years, to a military cemetery two kilometres from the city centre.

    Estonians see the monument as a reminder of their state's illegal occupation by the Soviet Union. Most ethnic Russians, however, see it as a tribute to their forefathers' sacrifices in WWII.

    The government's move sparked the worst rioting Estonia has seen since the Russians Revolution as protests at the move spilled over into violence and looting.

    'They shouldn't have moved the monument. It stood there in peace for 60 years, how did it hurt anyone?' pensioner Vera asked.

    Ten days ago, the monument was unveiled in its new location, a military cemetery at the end of a winding road on the southern edge of the city centre. The 12 coffins which it had covered for 60 years were disinterred, and their remains taken away for identification.

    Ethnic-Russian activists called on their compatriots to ignore the monument in its new location, and to celebrate May 9 at the former location, even though it was now fenced off.

    On Wednesday, many did so, coming to the city centre to lace flowers into the metal fences surrounding the monument's old site.

    But many more - several thousand at least - made the trek to the new monument, winding in long files up the narrow access road with bunches of roses and carnations in their hands.

    A cheerful solemnity filled the cemetery as whole families added their flowers to the piles. Children sat on their parents' shoulders to get a better view, or counted the flowers aloud in awed tones.

    'I'm surprised to see so many people here - it's hard to get to, and it's a long walk. There are always a lot of people celebrating on this day, but this is something more,' Denis said.

    The monument's new location, at the head of an avenue of cypresses, seemed to have won at least grudging acceptance.

    'It's not as good as the centre, but it's just about acceptable. It's too like a graveyard, too dark, too quiet, though - this is supposed to be a day for parties,' student Roman Nikolaev said.

    'It's a nice place, peaceful, but it was better in the old place,' schoolgirl Olya added.

    The saga of Estonia's war memorial is not yet over. The riots sparked a painful reassessment of Estonia's integration policy - a policy which was once seen as a cause of national pride.

    The removal of the monument, only two weeks before one of the most sacred days in the Russian calendar, caused immense anger in Estonia's Russian minority - an anger which it will not be easy to assuage.

    But as the sun set over Tallinn, and police reported that all was calm on the city's streets, it seemed that for the Bronze Soldier, at least, the saga had ended in a peaceful homecoming.

    Polish court begins hearings on anti-communist vetting law

    From: EU business
    Ludwik Dorn
    land's highest court on Wednesday began weighing up whether a new vetting law aimed at exposing collaborators with the communist-era secret police is in breach of the country's constitution.

    In a televised sitting, the Constitutional Court ruled it would begin hearing a case brought by the ex-communist Social Democrats and Poland's human rights ombudsman, who are contesting the new law championed by the conservative government, which would drastically extend an anti-communist dragnet.

    The court also rejected a separate motion brought by parliamentary Speaker Ludwik Dorn, a key ally of Poland's ruling Kaczynski twins, calling for the case to be adjourned until after May 15, the deadline for officials in a host of public professions to file declarations about their past.

    The so-called "lustration" law, which came into force in March, drastically extended the dragnet of earlier legislation, which required some 30,000 lawmakers, government ministers and judges to make sworn declarations stating whether or not they collaborated with the communist-era secret police.

    The expanded measures oblige some 700,000 Poles -- academics, journalists, managers of state-owned firms, school principals, diplomats and lawyers -- to file such affidavits or face the sack.

    The court's decision to debate the constitutionality of the new law is seen as a setback to President Lech Kaczynski and his identical twin, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who made purging Polish public life of communists a pillar of their successful election campaigns in 2005.

    Two key public figures -- European lawmaker and former foreign minister Bronislaw Geremek and Poland's first post-communist prime minister, Tadeusz Mazowiecki -- have been removed from honorary posts in Poland after refusing to comply with the new vetting law.

    Geremek, 75, has denounced the new law as "creating an Orwellian-style ministry of truth" in Poland, while Mazowiecki, 80, has called it humiliating.

    Giraffe Teaches Students a Lesson at Lithuanian Zoo

    From: SFGate
    Go ahead, make my day... punk!
    Think that Giraffes are the one of most gentle and peaceful species in the animal kingdom? Think again. As three Lithuanian students found out, Giraffes are not to be messed with, especially after you've had a few beers.

    A 22 year old student was attacked after drunkenly climbing into a Giraffe's cage at a zoo on May 7th in Vilnius, Lithuania. Apparently the three students thought it would be a funny prank to climb into the cage and hang out with the 1.3 ton animal. The Giraffe, however, had something much different in mind. The nine year old mammal, named Solut, attacked the 22 year old student breaking her collar bone and nose before she was finally able to get away from the enraged best. Her two friends remained unharmed throughout the attack as she suffered the brunt of Solut's rage. Zookeepers reported that the girl actually got off easy, as the animal could have easily stomped her to death with its massive hooves. It is reported that many of the animals in the zoo were already disturbed that night due to a loud partying group of students nearby. It is quite likely that the Giraffe felt its privacy was bothered long before the three twenty-something's entered into its cage.

    The question that is really on deck, besides the obvious, is how the students got into the zoo and then managed to scathe a 10 foot high fence to even get into the Giraffe cage. A police investigation on that issue is now underway.

    There are two lessons that we can learn from this event. The first is that even the most passive of animals will retaliate when they feel as if their privacy or wellbeing has been threatened by a trespasser. It doesn't matter if the animal is a turtle, a giraffe, or a grizzly bear, they don't want to feel as if they are in immanent danger and they will attack if they feel pressured. After all, you would do the same if you felt threatened in your home. Lucky for the students involved in this incident it did not turn out nearly as bad as it could have. We all do stupid things after a few drinks and this one is pretty high up on the list. But hey, at least she didn't hop in the lion cage.

    The other lesson we can all learn from this? Don't go to the zoo when you're drunk.

    "This was a very silly thing they did. The scared giraffe could have stomped her to death," Kaunas Zoo spokeswoman Angele Grebliauskaite said.

    The zoo reported that many animals had been disturbed Monday night as students celebrated a festival in a nearby condominium.

    Amnesty Says Russia Broke Arms Embargo

    From: Moscow Times
    Human rights group Amnesty International accused Russia and China on Tuesday of breaching a UN arms embargo by letting weapons into Sudan, where it said they were used in "grave violations" of international law.

    Russia and China quickly rejected the report, and Sudan's government said it was "not justified."

    Amnesty said it was "deeply dismayed" by the flow of arms allowed by Russia and China, both members of the UN Security Council, and said the weapons were often diverted to be used in conflicts in Darfur and neighboring Chad.

    "The authority of the Security Council itself is being greatly undermined as the Sudanese authorities and armed groups in Darfur are allowed to act with such obvious impunity before the eyes of the world, importing and diverting arms to commit flagrant violations of international law," Amnesty said.

    In Moscow, the Foreign Ministry denied the allegations, saying, "No Russian weapons have been shipped to Darfur."

    "Russia's military and technical cooperation with other countries is in line with international rules and norms," the ministry said in a statement. "Russia has fully abided by the provisions of resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, which ban arms shipments to Darfur."

    In March 2005, the UN Security Council extended an arms embargo already in force for the rebels and the Sudanese Arab janjaweed militia in Darfur to include Sudan's government.

    Amnesty said it was particularly concerned about Russian Mi-24 helicopter gunships acquired by the Sudanese Air Force that were allegedly being used to launch attacks in Darfur.

    Moscow and Beijing should have been aware that their military equipment was "deployed by the Sudanese armed forces and militia for direct attacks on civilians and indiscriminate attacks in Darfur," Amnesty said

    Sudanese government spokesman Bakri Mulah called the report "totally incorrect."

    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Chinese sales to African nations were "very limited and small in scale" but refused to say whether China has sold arms to Sudan. But Jiang said China does not sell arms to regions under UN embargo.

    More than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million made refugees in Darfur since 2003, when ethnically African rebels rose up against the Arab-dominated central government.

  • Opinion...

    To Move or Not to Move

    From: Igor Burlakov, editor-in-chief of the Estonian website “Russian Portal”.
    When I’m trying to understand what has been going on in Estonia recently, I come to the conclusion that, in fact, nothing unexpected has been happening. The Estonian government began speaking of moving the monument to Soviet Soldier from Tallinn’s center to a war cemetery a year ago, right after May 9th, 2006. By the way, it was Russian politicians and mass media that spoke loudly of the monument’s demolition, while Estonia spoke of its relocation only, which it eventually carried out.
    The Estonian authorities gave an absolutely articulate justification for moving the monument: Estonians respect the memory of those killed in the war against fascism, but this very monument in Tallinn standing in precisely that place reminds them not of the victory over fascism, but of the Soviet occupation of Estonia, of shootings and deportations. There is no point blaming Estonians for having this association. Even the Soviet propaganda machine failed to rid the nation of it. The country is called Estonia, it is populated by Estonians mostly, who have the right to decide where, when, and how to move monuments. Scolding the Estonian government, that was chosen by the majority, means scolding that majority, or the nation itself.

    The justification for relocating the graves that are under the monument, or, rather, under the square and a bus stop, was very clear as well: it is improper to dance, walk, and wait for the bus above the buried remains. They should be carefully exhumed and re-buried with honors in a suitable place. By the way, all religious denominations supported the idea at first, and only some time later the Russian Orthodox Church of Moscow patriarchy receded from its opinion, actually acquitting the blasphemy it had earlier denounced. That is, the Church asked to leave the remains where they are, so as to meet someone’s interests.

    Here, the question arises: whose interests? Apparently, that ‘someone’ is almighty, if the Orthodox Church itself agreed to let people keep walking over the graves. Many of those in Estonia do not doubt that Moscow is mixed up in the current events in Tallinn. The motives are unclear, though. One version is that Russia is hiding something else from its citizens by drawing their attention to the artificially played-up events in Tallinn. Anyway, when Russia speaks of fascism’s revival in Estonia, Estonia itself considers such accusations deeply unfair. There are no signs of fascism’s revival here.

    Speaking of Estonia’s interior situation due to the recent events, nothing unusual has happened. As expected, many were willing to fish in troubled waters. Larger part of the Russian-speaking population, being in Russia’s information realm, turned out to be subject to its propaganda. And the Kremlin took advantage of it, narrowing the list of those guilty of the conflict to the neighbor-Estonian and Uncle Sam from America.

    Certainly, there will be more political screaming yet. And there will be conclusions. However, these conclusions will be made not for the sake of truth and peace, but for the benefit of those who make them. For political or financial benefit.

    Opinion: Deployment of US anti-missile system in Czechia can result in new arms race

    From: Regnum
    On May 10, the first round of Czechia-US talks on US plans to deploy its anti-missile system is to start in Prague. As Deputy Chair of the Russian State Duma Vladimir Pekhtin said commenting on this event, the Russian State Duma welcomes the position of the Czech parliamentary leadership that arguments for the deployment of elements of US anti-missile system in Europe are not convincing, reports a REGNUM correspondent.

    According to Pekhtin, the Pentagon, to support its plan to cover the European continent with monitoring radars, says it is necessary to counteract the potential threat from Iran and North Korea. Deputy speaker of the Czech parliament announced, Pekhtin says, that the statements do not reflect the reality, and Moscow upholds this position. “Diplomatic tools have not been exhausted in the situation around Iran and North Korea, and compromises have been reached on some certain issues. We need to follow the policy further,” Pekhtin says.

    Willingness to deploy an American radiolocation station or elements of anti-missile system in Czechia show, according to Pekhtin, that plans to increase US military presence in the European continent are being implemented. “Moscow has repeatedly spoken against deployment of the anti-missile system in Eastern Europe, as it would break the strategic balance of forces in the continent and can result in a new arms race,” the MP said.

    Under most recent sociological data cited by Pekhtin, about 70% of Czech citizens are opposing deployment of the anti-missile system and almost 80% speak for holding a national referendum on the issue.

  • From the blogs...

    UNESCO world heritage objects in Belarus

    From: TOL
    Mir Castle
    It was a surprise for me to find out that neither Kalozha church in Hrodna, nor Sofia in Polatsk are included in the UNESCO world heritage list. In fact, there are only three Belarusian objects on the list: the Architectural Complex at Nesvizh, Mir Castle, and Belavezhskaya Pushcha.

    But even bigger surprise was that fact, that apart from Belarusian sites, we have one object of international significance on the list - the Struve Geodetic Arc. I can bet that less than 5% of Belarusians have even heard about the Arc, although it is a much more important achievement, than, for example, the favourite “historical monument” of Lukashenka and his buddy Hugo Chavez: the Stalin military defence line (which never managed to defend anything).

    The Arc was built between 1816 and 1855. It streches for 2820 km, going through 10 countries from Hammerfest in Norway to the Black Sea. The Arc was biult as a part of the first scientific attempt to establish the exact size and shape of Earth. The aim was achieved through international cooperation, a remarkable feat for those troubled times – and thus it was commemorated on the UNESCO heritage list.

    Out of 265 main station points there are only 34 left, five of which are situated in Belarus. Finland occupies first place with 6 main station points left. The five points left in Belarus are situated in:

    TUPISCHKI (Oshmyany, Grodno Oblast)

    LOPATI (Zelva, Grodno Oblast)

    OSSOWNITZA (Ivanovo, Brest Oblast)

    TCHEKUTSK (Ivanovo, Brest Oblast)

    LESKOWITSCHI (Ivanovo, Brest Oblast)

    Would be curious to know if anyone among our reader has been backpacking through those places, perhaps even have photos of them? Some of the readers on our Belarusian-language sister blog have already said they started planning their next trip through these spots after reading our post, so we might see some interesting photos later on!

    Interestingly enough, the Arc was going through only two countries when the construction was commenced (Norway-Sweden and the Russian Empire). Today it is going through 10 different countries (Belarus, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, Sweden, Ukraine).

    Russia: Motives & Misperceptions

    From: Vilhelm Konnander
    As relations between Russia and the West deteriorate, a growing tendency to misperceive Russian motives is discerned. Russia is not a monolithic power, but analysts increasingly tend to give prominence to factors that themselves cannot wholly explain Moscow's actions. A recent example is the Russian-Estonian crisis.

    The current crisis between Moscow and Tallinn has its specific origins, and should come as no surprise to most observers. The basic preconditions for crisis were set already in the early 1990s, and both parties are since stuck in a mutually detrimental relationship. The difference this time though is that there currently are no countervailing forces in Moscow to keep the conflict in check, as has previously been the case. This is matched by poor judgement on the Estonian side. Also, the conclusion by western analysts that Russia is using its energy weapon against Estonia by imposing an export blockade seems flawed and an example of mental bandwagoning among people prone to single factor explanations.

    Public opinion in Russia about the Baltic states was forged from the disappointment of their determination to abandon the ailing Soviet empire. The Balts were considered part of the liberal and reform oriented forces in soviet society, why Russians felt betrayed by the Balts as Moscow perceivably strived towards the same political goals as the Balts were identified with. The realisation that the Baltics now were abroad took a long time for most Russians to come to terms with. That Russians had become subjects of a non-Slavic state in which they had to seek citizenship to enjoy the full rights of society was incomprehensible. That states like Kazakhstan might treat Russians badly was only to be expected, as they did not share the liberal heritage Russians associated with the Balts. A measure of double standards was thus introduced in comparing the situation of Russians in former soviet republics. As for the Baltics, Russians felt scorned in their identity as imperial civilisation carriers. An inferiority complex was thus the nucleus of the dispute over the situation of Russian "minorities" in the Baltic states.

    As things have evolved in Russian-Estonian relations over the last month, the image conjured up by Russian media is that of Russians being wronged and bereft of their rights and heritage. The difference this time is that there are no countervailing forces in Moscow to keep too overt nationalist sentiments in check. Still, most analysts limit themselves to describe the conflict in either bilateral or Estonian terms, whereas Russian domestic factors are left out. This limits reporting to developments of the same Russian-Estonian themes covered over the last 15 years, and old articles might be taken out of the drawer to be rewritten or updated, simply filling in the new facts. In essence, however, they lack the proper contextualisation to explain why the conflict has taken a new turn for the worse. Action is not enough - as the removal of the Bronze Soldier and its consequences. Context must be added to analysis in order for us to understand the full extent of the problem.

    Next year, Russia faces presidential elections. By all appearances it seems to be a runoff between Sergei Ivanov and Dmitri Medvedev. The power struggle in the Kremlin is however already underway, and who eventually will get the upper hand sways back and forth between the two main contenders. Half a year ago, Medvedev was in the lead, but now Ivanov has made a comeback and seems to be in the best position to become master of the Kremlin in 2008. In this context, Ivanov has used the Estonian crisis to gather his forces in front of a common foe. Opinions on Estonia are by now so deeply set that they may be used as a vehicle to gather the Russian masses. Previously, Russian leaders have known where to draw the line in using the "Baltic question" but now president Putin cannot put the foot down as too great interests are at stake, in who will rule Russian politics in coming years, to risk anything just to preserve a working relationship with Tallinn. As for relations with the European Union and Nato, Putin walks a thin line in risking a multilateralisation of the Estonian issue.

    However, Medvedev is also not left out in gaining the dividends of the Estonian crisis. Last week, Sergei Ivanov, during a meeting with governors in Murmansk, declared that the Russian oil and coal previously exported by transit through Estonia will now instead go through the port of St. Petersburg. Russia annually ships around 25 million tonnes of fuel oil, gas oil and petrol through Estonian ports. Imposing a Russian energy blockade on Estonia is regarded by many analysts as a way for Moscow to use its energy weapon. Such a conclusion, however, seems flawed as Estonia is relatively spared of any major consequences for its energy supply. Instead, it may prove a way for major Russian oil exporters - mainly Rosneft - to curve export competition by other Russian oil companies.

    Transferring exports to St. Petersburg will indirectly give Rosneft greater control over who will be able to export Russian oil. St. Petersburg port is already today gravely undersized - not to mention corrupt - and much effort has been made in recent years to construct new harbours in the Gulf of Finland - Primorsk for oil and Ust Luga for bulk. Opting for Petersburg therefore means that companies that previously have exported by way of Estonia now are at the mercy of Rosneft to meet their deliveries to western customers. In essence, the energy blockade against Estonia gives Medvedev's interests a way to hit at remaining independent competitors within the oil industry. Consequently, Ivanov reaps the political and Medvedev the economic rewards of the Estonian crisis.

    So, should all explanations based on the actual situation in Estonia and relations with Russia be discarded? Of course not. However, it is equally important to analyse the conflict on its own merits as it is to contextualise it, striking a balance on the domestic-foreign frontier. An obvious example is the risk that the conflict may spread also to Latvia. Most observers would say that situations differ too much for something similar to happen in Riga, but still Latvian authorities are apprehensive. From both a political and economic perspective, Ivanov and Medvedev may gain from sparking a crisis also with Latvia for the very same reasons why they have let the crisis with Estonia get so much out of hand. There simply is too much to gain and too little to lose domestically at the moment, that a Russian-Latvian crisis should not be ruled out just because situations in Estonia and Latvia are not similar enough. Giving the crisis a Russian domestic political contextualisation shows this.

    Still, is the Kremlin willing to risk its relations with the West - EU, Nato and the US - over such an insignificant issue as the Baltic question? Actually, such an assumption should not be ruled out. Already, Moscow is at loggerheads with Washington, and the US understands that it now has to be tough on Russia in order to have a working relationship. The European Union, however, takes a much weaker stand when it comes to Russia, and when it does confront Moscow it is on negotiation issues such as the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) and the European Energy Charter. Until now, Russia has never had anything to lose in real terms in relations with the EU, and the Union consistently avoids putting its foot down in relations with Moscow. That Poland and other member states, in this context, may hamper EU-Russia negotiations is officially treated with resignation in Bruxelles, while most unofficially sigh with relief. Thus, Russia rationally calculates that the EU will never truly make a stand in their relations, why Moscow really risks nothing by a confrontational policy.

    Developments in Russia are met with growing concern in Europe, and there is an understanding that sooner or later the European Union will have to confront the issue, as many of its members are already experiencing the realities of a more assertive Russia on the world stage. Doing so, however, sets out from, on the one hand, foreign relations and, on the other hand, Russia's domestic political situation. The latter is mainly directed at the crisis for democracy and human rights and far too seldom at the factors that Russian rulers themselves would deem of political importance. Foreign and domestic factors are increasingly treated as monolithic and attempts at joint analysis are often superficial or aim at the wrong factors.

    The result is that it is becoming all the more of a mystery in the West why Russia acts as it does. The West is once again allowing Russia to become "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma" for the evident reason that Europeans are too subsumed by their own values, norms, perceptions, and prejudice to follow the simple logics of current Russian politics and society. Then it is much easier to produce an image of a state that once more might pose a threat to Europe - an alien entity accepted by its mere existence but doomed to remain foreign to Europe. Here, the Russian-Estonian crisis serves as a striking example of how the West fails to account for important factors in its perceptions of Russia. As European public opinion turns increasingly against Russia, the risk of misperceptions may become an even greater danger than a revived Russian threat in the eyes of Europe. Russian motives are not always what they seem.

  • Sport...

    Germany beats Belarus

    From: EuroHockey
    Wolf's third period goals makes the day for Germany.

    As both Germany and Belarus was already eliminated from the tournament today's game was only for honour and for avoiding last place in the group. The game took many turns as the score shifted throughout the game. Belarus took the lead already after 1:07 when Dmitri Meleshko scored, five minutes later Michael Hackert tied the game and goals by Barta and Dietrich gave Germany 3-1 lead that was reduced to 3-2 when Aleksandr Kulakov scored late in the first.

    Germany took the lead 4-2 on a five on three power play in the second period but just as in the game versus Slovakia yesterday Belarus came back from being two goals down and when the second period was over the score was 4-4.

    In the third period the hero of the day for Germany, Michael Wolf scored two goals, the second one was scored only 1:09 after Belarus 5-5 goal and became the game winning goal. Philipp Gogulla assisted on both Wolf's goal and had a total of three assists in the game. In Belarus Dmitri Meleshko and Konstantiv Koltsov both had one goal and two assists.

    The German 6-5 victory means Germany finish fifth in the group and Belarus sixth.

    Tsilinskaya wins special presidential award

    From: BelTA
    A President’s special prize “Belarusian Sports Olympus-2007” at the rate of 320 base amounts will be given to Natalia Tsilinskaya, a sportswoman-instructor of the national cycle racing team of Belarus.
    Natalia Tsilinskaya will be given the prize in recognition of her high sports results during international competitions, her contribution to popularizing physical culture and sport and establishing sports traditions promoting harmonious development of a personality, BelTA was told in the presidential press service. Alexander Lukashenko signed a corresponding decree on May 7.

  • Endnote...

    March of the Great Patriotic War veterans

    From: The office of the president
    On May 9, following the tradition, the President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, took part in the festive veterans march on the occasion of the Victory Day and in the ceremony of laying wreaths of flowers at the Victory monument in Minsk.

    Among nearly 6,000 marchers there were also top-level officials, representatives of government bodies, NGOs, diplomatic corps members, clergymen, military servicemen, soldiers-internationalists, young people, and foreign guests.

    The Head of State laid a wreath of flowers at the Victory Monument in Victory Square. The wreaths were also laid by members of the government, parliament, ministries and departments, diplomatic missions, veterans of the Great Patriotic War and clergymen.

    The President and all those present observed a minute’s silence in paying tribute to those who had sacrificed their lives in the fight against the Nazi invaders.

    Congratulating veterans and all the fellow countrymen on the Victory Day, Alexander Lukashenko emphasized that the grandeur and historical importance of the Victory Day do not wane as the years pass.