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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Belarus with LUKOIL, US sanctions, Foreign investors, Another riot suppressed, International Condemnation, Polish corruption, Gazprom, Blogs and Sport

  • From the Top...
  • #294

    Alexander Lukashenko praises cooperation of Belarus with LUKOIL

    From: BelTA
    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has a positive view of the cooperation between Belarus and the Lukoil Oil Company. This the Head of State said during a meeting with Vagit Alekperov, the President of OAO Lukoil, on 28 March.
    During a meeting with President of LUKOIL oil company Vagit Alekperov on March 28, Belarusian head of state Alexander Lukashenko praised the level of cooperation of Belarus with the company.

    Alexander Lukashenko said that it is pleasing to hear the reports from the government, his assistants that the relations have been developing smoothly and that all the agreements are being executed. “I think that if they were not implemented I would be informed about this. Nevertheless we need to clarify some issues related to the agreements which were valid until now,” the President said.

    The head of state said that LUKOIL is a strong company working in many countries. “In Venezuela we work side by side. We will continue developing cooperation being guided by your company, more so that LUKOIL has also moved into the gas business. Possibly, some prospects will appear in this area. We are ready to work in this area if you direct us where and what to do,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    LUKOIL is one of the world's biggest companies involved in production of crude oil and gas, and refining them into petroleum products and petrochemicals. The company is a leader on the Russian market holding a 19% share of the Russian oil production market and 18% - oil refining market.

    In 2007, the company extracted 96 million tonnes of oil. In 2008, LUKOIL is set to increase the output by 5-7% over 2007.
    Western Siberia is the company’s main oil bearing region. LUKOIL is also taking part in projects in foreign countries. These include geological exploration projects in Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Colombia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Cote d’Ivoire.

    LUKOIL sales network covers 19 countries including Russia, CIS and Europe (Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Hungary, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Serbia, Romania, Macedonia, Cyprus, Turkey) and also the USA.

    Belarus will pay close attention to oil industry, Alexander Lukashenko says

    Belarus will attach close attention to the oil-producing industry, President of the country Alexander Lukashenko said when conferring state awards on the workers of Production Association Belorusneft on March 28.

    “Every tonne of oil produced in Belarus is especially important for the country. Therefore big attention is given today to the exploration work, well drilling, the development of the industrial service,” the head of state stressed.

    The medals were presented to the workers of Belarusian Automobile Works, Rechitsa hardware plant, VIPRA and BELFA companies for the development and implementation of the modern-day technologies in manufacture of new products, resource saving and high labour productivity.

    The President took a special note of the contribution of agricultural workers in ensuring the country’s food security. According to him, last year many companies managed to improve their performance. The head of state presented awards to best representatives of the Minsk oblast which is the country’s leader in agriculture production.

    The President awarded the Orders for the Service to the Motherland Second and Third Class to police officers and military. “We all understand how important for the country’s successful development is the ensuring of its defence capacity and public order, protecting the interests of citizens and the state, counteracting crime,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus’ should respond to US sanctions by diversifying exports, President says

    From: BelTA
    The US sanctions against Belarus should be compensated for by the diversification of Belarusian exports, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said at a meeting focusing on foreign policy issues.

    Recently, more often than before, the Belarusian opposition has been warning of economic problems that Belarus is going to have, that the USA has put severe pressure on us; the Foreign Ministry has been reporting this, too” the head of state said. “If we had been working in other areas, we would not have noticed these US sanctions,” he added.

    “Is it really a problem to sell potassium into other countries, and potassium is the main export item to the USA?” asked the President. “It has turned out that there are no problems with that. We can easily place our orders. The demand for potassium has been growing worldwide, triggering prices for potash fertilizers. It has turned out that we can easily sell this product, and these American sanctions are worthless, they have now understood and recognized it themselves.”

    Alexander Lukashenko stressed that Belarus should have diversified its exports long ago. “We should not depend just on Russia, the EU and the USA,” he added.

    Belarus does not accept pressure from USA and ready to regulate relations on friendly basis

    Belarus does not accept the pressure from the USA and is ready to regulate the relations on a friendly basis, Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov told reporters on March 28.

    “Belarus’ position is clear, open and logical,” he stressed. The key to normalising the Belarusian-American regions is the abolishment of the US sanctions. “If it happens, further steps will be taken in an absolutely different direction,” Sergei Martynov said.

    Commenting on the statements made by US Ambassador to Belarus Karen Stewart, who is in Washington for consultations, in an interview to Russian Ekho Moskvy radio station, Sergei Martynov said that they are not true and do not correspond to the status of an ambassador. “We are surprised at the nonprofessional statements made by the American colleague,” the Foreign Minister of Belarus said.

    In Belarus-US relations economic interests will prevail over political ones, Vadim Popov says

    In the Belarus-US relations the economic interests will prevail over political ones, Chairman of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus Vadim Popov told a press conference on March 28.

    The speaker stressed that “the economy of the USA develops in accordance with the universal world laws rather than with the will of some personalities”. The economic cooperation between Belarus and the USA has been increasing with foreign trade relations has been gaining momentum,” he added.

    “I believe some time will pass and all conflicts will be settled. The economy will prompt more constructive political decisions,” Vadim Popov said.

    Interest of foreign investors in Belarus will be growing, Aleksey Skripko says

    From: BelTA
    The abolishment of the golden share rule is an important signal Belarus has sent to foreign investors among the other significant measures aimed at liberalization of the economy, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to Italy Aleksey Skripko told BelTA.

    “We inform Italian investors about the measures taken in Belarus and we expect that the interest of foreign business to Belarus will be growing,” the ambassador highlighted.

    According to him, the Italian investments in Belarus grow annually. “In 2007 the Italian investments in the Belarusian economy were equal to $22.6 million, or $1.3 million up as against 2006,” Aleksey Skripko noted.

    Among important results of the cooperation of Belarus and Italy in 2007 the ambassador signaled out the expansion of the range of participants of the bilateral credit-investment cooperation due to establishing the contacts between OAO Belagroprombank and other Italian banks. In May the bank opened its office in Milan, a presentation of Belarusian investment projects was organized in the financial capital of Italy. The sides signed EUR 210mn loan agreements. In 2007 OAO Belagroprombank attracted EUR13.8 million to carry out the projects on modernization of Belarusian agro-industrial companies.

    “Owing to the cooperation the Belarusian Embassy has developed with the Italian financial group UniCredit, an office of Italy-owned International Moscow Bank was opened in Belarus in 2007. We believe that the bank will also help promote foreign investments in the Belarusian economy,” the ambassador noted.

    As an example of the successful work of the embassy with the Italian investors Aleksey Skripko cited the setting up a joint venture at the Liozno Forestry jointly with Italian company Italiana Commissionaria Legnami. “The foreign investor allocated $2 million, $10 million is expected to be invested, some 200 working places were set up, the potential export volume is around $9 million,” the ambassador noted.

    Abolishment of golden share rule to increase Belarus’ investment rating, Roland Mahler says

    The abolishment of the golden share rule will increase Belarus’ investment rating, Roland Mahler, the head of Autohaus Mahler GmbH representation office in Belarus, told BelTA. The representation of the German company has operated in Belarus since 1995. It is engaged in selling and servicing Opel cars in this country.

    According to Roland Mahler, recently Belarus has done a lot to stimulate the interest of foreign investors and it gives good results. The abolishment of the golden share rule attests to the openness of the Belarusian economy, the German businessman noted. According to him, Belarus is conducting a consistent work to improve the investment image and it is a regular step. At the same time Roland Mahler noted that there is a need to harmonize the book-keeping documentation with the European one. Another important thing is the bureaucratic foot-dragging should not impede the reached effective solutions.

    The head of the representation of the German company considers that “Belarus has all prerequisites to improve its positions in the international economy: it is a stable development of the society, professional specialists, good geographical location”.

    Belarusians parliamentarians to participate in sessions of CIS IPA, EurAsEC IPA and CSTO PA in St. Petersburg

    From: BelTA
    Belarusian parliamentarians will take part in plenary sessions of the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, the EurAsEC Inter-Parliamentary Assembly and the CSTO Parliamentary Assembly which will be held in St. Petersburg on April 3-4, BelTA learnt in the press service of the House of Representatives of the Belarusian National Assembly.

    A delegation of the National Assembly will be led by chairmen of the Council of Republic and the House of Representatives Gennady Novitsky and Vadim Popov.

    The international parliamentary conference “Globalization of migration processes: problems of legislative control” will be held during the sessions. Participants of the conference will discuss the issues concerning the protection of the rights of working migrants, prevention of illegal migration and improving the legislation in this area.

    Union State Parliament wants Constitutional Act adopted as soon as possible

    The leadership of the Parliamentary Assembly (PA) of the Belarus-Russia Union State notes that the deputies are ready to pass the Constitutional Act. The Union State parliamentarians can consider the draft document in the near future, PA deputy chairman, Vice-Speaker of the Federation Council of Russia Alexander Torshin said at a press conference on March 27.

    Oleg Tolkachev, the chairman of the PA commission for economy policy, member of the Federation Council said that “the deputies would like to see the Constitution passed.” “Today this is the main goal in the Union State development. I am sure that the leadership of the two countries will show political will. Nothing hampers us from developing the Union State with relevant authorities, bodies and I think this breakthrough will be made in the near future,” he said.

    Deputies to consider more than 100 issues at spring session

    During the forthcoming spring session the House of Representatives intends to consider more than 100 issues, Chairman of the Lower House of the Belarusian Parliament Vadim Popov told reporters on March 28.

    The 8th session will open on April 2.

    According to Vadim Popov, the bills “cover all the spheres of the life of the country, the legal field inside the state and in the international arena is being set up”. The prepared legal acts also touch upon the national security and borders protection.

    “The address of the Head of State to the Belarusian nation and the National Assembly will become the central event of the spring session,” Vadim Popov highlighted.

    According to him, during the parliamentary session the cooperation with such international structures as the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, the EurAsEC Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, the CSTO Parliamentary Assembly, PACE, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly will be continued. Deputies of the House of Representatives will take part in the work of these structures.

    UN General Assembly to hold Belarus-initiated debates on human trafficking

    From: BelTA
    United Nations General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim informed the UN member states that the Assembly will hold a thematic debate on trafficking in human beings in the UN headquarters in New York on June 3, 2008, BelTA learnt from Belarus’ Permanent Representative Office at the UN.

    The idea of the thematic debate, proposed by Belarus, was supported by 10 UN member states from all the regions of the world, who had earlier addressed the head of the UN General Assembly with an official request to convene the debate. The debate will be dedicated to the global fight against human trafficking, it will focus on the results of the Vienna Forum (February 13-15, 2008), as well as other initiatives and practical international experience on the prevention of trafficking in human beings, punishment of traffickers and protection of trafficking victims.

    The debate will be organized in the form of two discussion forums. One of them will be dedicated to the strengthening of international cooperation on the prevention of human trafficking. The other will touch upon the issues related to the protection of trafficking victims and cross-border cooperation for punishment of human traffickers.

    Natalia Petkevich, Deputy Head of the Administration of the President of the Republic of Belarus, got an invitation of the General Assembly President to participate in the debate as one of the main speakers.

    The debate will gather the UN member states, representatives of the private sector, NGOs, law enforcement agencies, Mass Media and other international organizations in order to find the most efficient way to combat human trafficking. The resolution of the President of the General Assembly will be the final document of the thematic debate.

    CSTO to ponder over drug trafficking counteraction

    A session of the Coordination Council of Heads of Competent Authorities on Drug Trafficking Counteraction of the member-states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) will take place in Astana on March 27, 2008. Attending the session will be Nikolai Bordyuzha, the CSTO General Secretary, BelTA learnt from the press service of the CSTO Secretariat.

    The session will highlight the issue of granting a status of the regional anti-drug project to the annual CSTO comprehensive operation Canal, determine the list of information resources to be included into the single databank on the issues related to the turnover of drugs, psychotropic devices and their precursors and consider drug trafficking counteraction. The coordination council also plans to discuss an opportunity to create the single list of drugs, psychotropic devices and their precursors within the CSTO.

    Commenting on the forthcoming event, Nikolai Bordyuzha took note of the efficient work of the coordination council set up in 2005 by the decision of the CSTO Collective Security Council. “The coordination council has already proved to be the real center of the multilevel system of the CSTO international cooperation, the organization that is able to unite the efforts of the law-enforcement bodies of the member-states, form the coordinated regional anti-drug policy and outline the ways of implementing large-scale interstate projects to repulse the drugs expansion,” Nikolai Bordyuzha noted.

  • From the international press...

    Belarus offers olive branch to U.S., but condemns pressure

    From: Ria Novosti
    The Belarusian foreign minister said on Friday that Minsk is willing to develop friendly relations with the United States if Washington stops pressuring the country.

    Belarus is currently under U.S. economic sanctions over the leadership's clampdown on democratic freedoms, and the ambassadors of the two countries were withdrawn earlier this month.

    Sergei Martynov told reporters in Moscow: "We reject any pressure on Belarus and are prepared to normalize relations on a friendly basis."

    Tensions between the two countries heightened after Washington imposed sanctions last November on Belarus's state-controlled petrochemical company Belneftekhim and froze the assets of its U.S. subsidiary.

    The diplomat said the key to improving relations is the lifting of sanctions, which the ministry has called "economic blackmail, banned by international law."

    "Should this happen, further steps will be viewed in an entirely different light," he said.

    Belarus's authoritarian image was further bolstered on Tuesday, when over 100 opposition protesters were arrested during a march in central Minsk. An opposition leader described riot police viciously beating protesters, including women, and dragging them into police vans.

    Belarusian hardline leader Alexander Lukashenko, dubbed by Washington "Europe's last dictator" for clamping down on dissent and stifling the media, is currently barred, along with other senior officials, from entering the U.S. and the European Union.

    Earlier this month, Washington recalled its ambassador from Belarus following pressure from the country's authorities. The Belarusian ambassador to the U.S. had been summoned home earlier.

    Belarus KGB Searches Journalists' Homes

    From: AP
    Security agents detained at least 16 journalists in Belarus and searched their homes and offices for materials that allegedly libel authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, activists said Thursday.

    A Polish-funded radio broadcaster said 20 of its Belarusian employees had been detained. The Belarusian Journalists' Association counted at least 16 journalists summoned for questioning by the KGB, the country's top security agency, or had their apartments searched.

    The State Department put the number at 30 journalists detained in 12 cities.

    The nationwide raids follow a protest on Tuesday by opposition and other activists in the capital, Minsk, in defiance of a government ban on marking a historical holiday. Dozens were arrested.

    KGB agents raided the offices of Radio Racja and European Radio in Minsk, and private apartments throughout the country, association chief Zhanna Litvina said. The two radio stations receive funding from the European Union. Correspondents affiliated with U.S.-funded Radio Liberty were also detained.

    "This reminds us more of Stalin's time, not Europe in the 21st century," Racja reporter Yulia Kotskaya said.

    Litvina said the searches appeared to have been ordered in retaliation for the coverage of Tuesday's protest, when thousands marked the holiday that the opposition has traditionally called Freedom Day.

    In Poland, Agnieszka Romaszewska, who heads the government-funded Belsat TV company, which broadcasts Belarusian-language programs, said about 20 journalists, mainly with Belsat, were detained and broadcasting equipment was confiscated.

    KGB officials refused to comment on the searches. Deputy Prosecutor General Alexei Stuk said investigators were looking for materials related to animated cartoons that were circulating on the Internet and that were broadcast on Belsat.

    "The investigation is looking into whether journalists are cooperating with the creators of the cartoons that insulted Lukashenko," Stuk said.

    Libeling the president in Belarus is punishable by up to four years in jail.

    Lukashenko has ruled the ex-Soviet republic since 1994.

    The country's Foreign Ministry said the searches were conducted only for journalists deemed to be working illegally in Belarus. Radio Racja, European Radio and Belsat had all been denied government accreditation.

    US condemns Belarus crackdown on media, arrests of journalists

    In a related story, The United States chastised Belarus on Thursday for its mass arrests of independent journalists and demanded the immediate release of those jailed.

    "We condemn today's crackdown on independent media in Belarus, during which some 30 independent journalists in 12 cities were detained without legitimate cause," U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

    In a statement, McCormack said the media crackdown and the violent breakup of demonstrations Tuesday in Minsk, the Belarus capital, was evidence of the brutality of Belarus' government. "The regime of Alexander Lukashenko has again shown itself as a brutal, authoritarian dictatorship that blatantly ignores human rights and fundamental freedoms," McCormack said.

    The United States is halving the work force at its embassy in Minsk at the urging of Lukashenko's government. Its ambassador, Karen Stewart, already has returned to Washington.

    Belarus Faces Increasing International Condemnation

    From: VOA
    Belarus opposition protesters detained at a banned rally flashing the "V" signs for victory from a police bus in Minsk, 25 Mar 2008
    Belarus is drawing strong international condemnation, following this week's crackdown against independent media and peaceful demonstrators in the former Soviet republic. VOA Correspondent Peter Fedynsky is following events from Moscow.

    The presidency of the European Union, currently held by Slovenia, in a statement Friday called on Belarusian authorities to stop further arrests of local journalists with ties to foreign media, and to stop persecuting representatives of the country's civil society.

    Belarusian security agents on Thursday arrested at least 30 independent journalists in 12 cities on suspicion of insulting the country's president, Aleksandr Lukashenko.

    On Tuesday, at least 70 protesters were detained during a rally marking 90 years since the founding of the independent Belarusian National Republic. Opposition groups have used the occasion to protest against the authoritarian Lukashenko government.

    Belarusian neighbors Poland and Lithuania, as well as the United States are among the countries expressing concern about the situation in Belarus.

    Andre Bastunyets, deputy head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, told VOA that a declining economy is beginning to politicize the people of Belarus, who have often been described as apolitical.

    Bastunyets says harsh moves against activists or the media are aimed at breaking a mirror that journalists hold up to the government, as if that would improve its appearance. He says authorities also are trying to minimize domestic and international awareness of the situation in Belarus.

    A KGB worker (center) with a monitor
    Bastunyets says most of the arrested journalists have been released, but their equipment and material have been confiscated. He says they will face questioning by the Belarusian security service, still known by its Soviet-era name - the KGB - which, he says, could use the confiscated material to further intimidate journalists.

    The Belarusian Foreign Ministry did not respond to several VOA requests for a comment, saying no authorized representative was available. A statement on the ministry's Web site says the arrested journalists were Belarusian citizens, who had long worked for foreign pay, but without proper accreditation, and, therefore, could not be considered foreign journalists.

    The statement adds a bit of unexpected local color, citing "wise Belarusian ancestors" who said, "Not everyone in a cassock is a monk."

    Andre Bastunyets says he does not expect foreign condemnation to elicit a quick reaction from Belarusian authorities.

    However, the journalist says he is convinced that, if the international community did not pay any attention to Belarus, the situation there would be much worse.

    The United States refers to Belarusian President Lukashenko as Europe's last dictator, and accuses the country of violating free speech, human rights and election rules.

    The United States this week cut its embassy staff in Minsk by half, amid deteriorating bilateral relations. Tensions increased last year after the United States imposed sanctions on the state-run oil processing firm, Belneftekhim. The Belarusian KGB now claims to have uncovered a network of U.S. spies in the country.

    European Parliament president urges Belarusian government to release people arrested during police crackdown on demonstration in Minsk

    From: Naveny
    Hans-Gert Poettering
    The president of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Poettering, has urged the Belarusian government to immediately release the people arrested during a police crackdown on a demonstration staged in Minsk on March 25 on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the Belarusian National Republic.

    "The use of violence by the Belarusian authorities against peaceful demonstrators and the harassment of independent journalists are in contradiction to the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression and is not compatible with democratic fundamental rights,” Mr. Poettering says in a statement issued on March 27.

    "I strongly condemn the politically motivated detentions and the intervention against Belarusian citizens who are peacefully demonstrating their commitment to the values of freedom, democracy and human rights,” Mr. Poettering says. “The European Parliament expresses its solidarity with all those who defend freedom and democracy.”

    Mr. Poettering expresses particular concern about the arrest of prominent artist Alyaksey Marachkin, whose exhibition he “had the honor to open during the Belarus Week celebrations in the European Parliament during the March Plenary Session in Strasbourg.”

    The 67-year-old painter was sentenced to five days in jail on Tuesday on an obscene language charge.

    Mr. Poettering also condemns the crackdown that the “KGB is reported to have started today on independent journalists from Belsat [television channel], Radio Racyja and the European Radio for Belarus.”

    Belarus Charges American

    From: Moscow Times
    Emanuel Zeltser, a U.S. lawyer and expert on money laundering in the former Soviet Union, has been charged with possession of false documents by Belarus' KGB.

    The KGB confirmed that Zeltser was in custody following his detention March 12 as he arrived for meetings with clients.

    It gave no further details about the circumstances of his arrest or the purported use of the documents but said Zeltser faced up to three years in prison if convicted.

    The 54-year-old, Russian-born lawyer heads the nongovernmental organization American Russian Law Institute in New York and is a known expert on organized crime and money laundering. His clients have included Pavel Borodin, a former Kremlin aide whom a Swiss court accused of money laundering, and Badri Patarkatsishvili, the late billionaire who was a bitter opponent of Georgia's current administration.

    The KGB made no mention of his secretary, Russian national Vladlena Funk, who was also detained March 12 at Minsk's airport.

    Jonathan Moore, the top U.S. diplomat in Belarus, was quoted by the BelaPAN news agency as saying U.S. officials had had no contact with Zeltser since his detention.

    Kommersant on Thursday cited Joseph Kay, a distant relative of Patarkatsishvili and another Zeltser client, as saying that Zeltser flew to Minsk at the suggestion of self-exiled Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky.

    Berezovsky proposed that Zeltser urgently visit Belarus to prevent Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko from a possible sale of Patarkatsishvili's oil business in the country, Kay said.

    Zeltser met Berezovsky on March 11 to show him Patarkatsishvili's will, which granted Kay the power of attorney, valid after Patarkatsishvili's death, to collect Patarkatsishvili's assets and distribute them among his relatives. Patarkatsishvili's widow, Inna Gudavadze, has accused Kay of forging her husband's last will. Zeltser arrived in Minsk on Berezovsky's personal jet, accompanied by Anatoly Motkin, an Israeli national and the manager of Patarkatsishvili's presidential election campaign, as well as Funk, Kay said.

    x-head of Belarus oil company jailed for 5 years

    From: Reuters
    Alexander Borovsky
    The former head of Belarus state oil processing firm Belneftekhim was sentenced to five years in jail on Thursday for abuse of office.

    Alexander Borovsky took over Belneftekhim in 2005 and was arrested last May over irregularities in supply contracts. One of Belarus's most prominent companies, Belnefekhim brings in about a third of its foreign currency earnings.

    "The court sentenced Borovsky to five years in prison," a spokesman for the Supreme Court in ex-Soviet Belarus said. "He will serve his term in a standard prison."

    Belarus's refineries sustained considerable losses in the first half of 2007 after the country quarrelled with Russia over energy supplies and prices.

    Russia slapped duties on its oil exports to its western neighbour, cut supplies and demanded duties be imposed on Belarussian fuel exports.

    Belneftekhim has become the focus of a diplomatic and human rights row between Belarus and the United States, with Washington last year barring its citizens from all operations with the company.

    Belarus Will Pay More for Gas Next Year

    From: Kommersant
    Belarus will pay over $200 per 1000 cu. m. of natural gas in 2009, Vasily Khrol, Deputy State Secretary of the Union of Russia and Belarus announced yesterday. Gazprom has confirmed that information. The Russian monopoly demanded that much in 2006, but Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko managed to hold the price down to $100 by selling Gazprom half of Beltransgaz for $2.5 billion.

    State Secretary of the Union State Pavel Borodin said that Belarus may avoid the high price this time by forming a confederation with Russia. The Russian Federation Council thinks Belarus could receive a price break in exchange for the placement of nuclear arms on its territory.

    Belarus pays 67 percent of the price Poland pays for natural gas (minus transit fees and export duties) this year under the formula worked out by Gazprom and Beltransgaz in January of last year. In 2009, Minsk is to pay 80 percent of Warsaw's price. Gazprom sources say that, in spite of continual efforts by the Belarusians to negotiate a price freeze, that country will pay more for its gas next year. Poland is paying $310-320 per 1000 cu. m. of gas this year.

    A political solution may found to suit both sides. Borodin noted that a confederation, for which he held up the European Union as an example, would allow common border and customs procedures and pricing policy. Belarus is experiencing increasing economic pressure from the West, and Lukashenko has made it clear that he is willing to be cooperative in economic issues in exchange for political support. During a visit to Minsk last week, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov expressed Gazprom's desire to be freed from a fee imposed by the Belarusian Ministry of Fuel and Energy's innovative fund.

    Russian senators note that a confederation of the two states would allow the placement of Russian nuclear arms in Belarus in response to U.S. plans to install missile defense facilities in Poland. Minsk has not commented on that possibility. In the middle of the 1990s, Belarus declared itself a nuclear-free zone.

    LUKOIL Implements a Project in Belarus

    In a related story, Russia’s oil giant LUKOIL has voiced readiness to set up lubricant production facilities at Naftan plant of Belarus. LUKOIL President Vagit Alekperov made the respective statement in Minsk on Friday after meeting with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.

    “We have discussed today the chance of committing the venture that produces additive compounds to implement the project of lubricant production,” Alekperov said.

    Belarus president backed up the project, Alekperov went on, specifying that a working group will be set up to prepare a feasibility study. Alekperov also promised that LUKOIL would fund creation of additional fuel stations.

    “We are the biggest player on the fuel market of Belarus. Over 4.5 million tons of oil will be supplied to republic’s refineries this year. We are amid the five biggest taxpayers of Belarus,” Alekperov said.

    According to LUKOIL president, the company annually buys Belarus machinery for $30 million to $40 million. “Nowadays, this machinery of Minsk Automobile Works is well adapted to create special machinery for oil wells,” Alekperov said.

  • Cultural scene...

    Замежныя драматургі прадставілі ў Менску “Эўрэпіку”

    From: Minsk Blog
    Мікалай Халезін
    “Эўрэпіка” – так завецца сумесны праект беларускага “Свабоднага тэатру” і мэрыі швэдзкага гораду Люнд. “Эўрэпіка” – гэта новы эўрапейскі эпас, які складаюць драматургі з 12 краінаў Эўропы, Амэрыкі і Азіі.

    24 сакавіка ў адным з прыватных дамоў Менску шасьцёра з драматургаў чыталі свае п’есы. У выніку мусіць паўстаць адна супольная п’еса і адзін супольны спэктакль.

    “У кожнай краіны свой выклік часу, але гэтыя выклікі робяцца агульнымі для ўсіх, у тым ліку і Беларусі давядзецца вырашаць праблемы, якіх няма, пакуль у краіне дыктатура”, – тлумачыць кіраўнік Свабоднага тэатру Мікалай Халезін. Падрабязнасьці – у інтэрвію для Радыё Свабода.

    Халезін: “Адзіны тэатар будзе рабіцца разам са швэдзкім Лундам, які прэтэндуе на званьне культурнай сталіцы Эўропы 2014 году. Прэм’ера спэктаклю адбудзецца ў кастрычніку ў Люндзе”.

    Карэспандэнт: “Якія краіны бяруць удзел у праекце?”

    Халезін: “Беларусь, Швэцыя, Латвія, Расея, ЗША, Украіна, Гішпанія, Вялікая Брытанія, Македонія, Турцыя, Румынія… Сёньня, 24 сакавіка, тут у Менску амэрыканскі, брытанскі, швэдзкі, румынскі, турэцкі і беларускі драматургі. Заўтра, 25 сакавіка, пад’яжджае ўдзельніца праекту з Гішпаніі. Пасьля Дня Волі ўсе разьяжджаюцца”.

    Карэспандэнт: “Якія ў названых краінах галоўныя праблемы, галоўныя выклікі?”

    Халезін: “У Беларусі – эстэтычны канфлікт паміж двума культурнымі суб’ектамі, тое, што спараджае дыктатуру. У Румыніі – комплекс праблемаў, зьвязаных з уваходам у аб’яднаную Эўропу плюс канфармізм. Калі казаць пра Брытанію, то гэта астраўная мэнтальнасьць, якая блякуе кантакты зь сьветам. У Швэцыі – канфлікт з эмігрантамі…”

    Карэспандэнт: “Ёсьць такі стэрэатып, што беларусы жывуць у ізаляванай краіне, і многія праблемы Эўропы нам не да галавы: ані эміграцыя, ані ўступленьне ў Эўразьвяз…”

    Халезін: “Гэта абсалютна нашыя праблемы. Але каб зь імі сутыкнуцца, нам трэба вырашыць праблему, якая стаіць першай – свабода. Калі мы вырашым гэтую праблему, адразу ж сутыкнемся з тымі праблемамі, што стаяць перад аб’яднанай Эўропай. Менавіта таму мы і робім гэты праект у Беларусі. Каб беларусы змаглі разабрацца, што будзе далей і чаго нам чакаць. І якія ставіць бар’еры на шляху гэтых велічэзных праблемаў”.

    International plain-air “Motherland Image in Fine Arts” to start May 15

    The international painting plain-air “Motherland Image in Fine Arts” marking the 80th birthday of People’s Artist of Russia Valentina Sidorova will start on May 15 and last till June 15, 2008. The relevant decision was taken at a session of the Mogilev oblast executive committee on March 27.

    According to Anatoly Sinkovets, the head of the cultural department of the oblast executive committee, the Repin Academic Dacha of the Tver oblast, the Russian Federation, will host the first 15 days of the plain-air. The rest will be held in the picturesque places of the Gorki region of the Mogilev oblast.

    The plain-air will be funded from the oblast budget and the Union of Artists of the Russian Federation. The oblast executive committee will put Br90 million into the event, the Union of Artists of Russia – RUR 17.4 million, the head of the cultural department added.

  • Around the region...

    Politkovskaya's killer identified, being sought -top prosecutors

    From: Ria Novosti
    The killer of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya has been identified and placed on the country's 'most wanted' list, the Russian Prosecutor General's Office said on Friday.

    The journalist, who gained international recognition for her criticism of the Kremlin and reports of atrocities against civilians in the troubled Caucasus republic of Chechnya, was gunned down in the entryway of her Moscow apartment building in October 2006.

    "The person who killed Politkovskaya has been identified, and investigators are taking steps to trace and arrest the suspect," Vyacheslav Smirnov from the Prosecutor General's Office said.

    The prosecutor said nine people had so far been charged in connection with the case, including former FSB Colonel Pavel Ryaguzov, who is alleged to have passed the journalist's address onto accomplices. Custody of Ryaguzov was extended by a military court until August 21 on Friday.

    However, the editor of Novaya Gazeta newspaper, where Politkovskaya worked, said later on Friday that the information related to the killer was "nothing new", and had been released by prosecutors in order to extend custody of Ryaguzov.

    "As a matter of fact, there is nothing new in this because on October 6 last year this announcement was officially made to Novaya Gazeta by the head of the investigating group," said Dmitry Muratov.

    "This information has emerged once more due to the fact that it was necessary to extend custody of one of those people [Pavel Ryaguzov] detained on suspicion of involvement in the murder of Politkovskaya. As grounds for doing so it was announced that in connection with the establishment of the killer's identity, and the search, it was necessary to keep him in custody," he added.

    In December 2007, a Moscow court remanded in custody until April 7 three other suspects in the case, including a former police official in Chechnya. All the suspects have denied the charges against them.

    According to data from the international organization Reporters Without Borders, 21 journalists were murdered in Russia between 2000 and 2007.

    Hundreds of anti-Semitic pamphlets distributed in Novosibirsk, Russia, warning residents of supposed Jewish practice of kidnapping children to use their blood for Passover matza

    From: Free Republic
    Hundred of anti-Semitic announcements warning Russian parents to beware of the supposed Jewish practice of using children's blood to prepare Passover matza were put up around the city of Novosibirsk, Russia in southwest Siberia on Wednesday.

    "Beware Russian parents. Keep watch over your children before the coming of April 2008, the Jewish holiday of Passover. These disgusting people still engage in ritual practice to their gods. They kidnap small children and remove some of their blood and use it to prepare their holy food (matza). They throw the bodies (of the children) out in garbage dumps," the announcements read.

    "Esther", a resident of Novosibirsk, told Ynet: "I saw the announcement, however I won't be afraid of going to synagogue during Passover. In my house, we will have matzot.

    "Anti-Semitism exists in the city and it never disappears. You can walk around in the streets and see derogatory sayings scrawled on the walls of houses; 'Jews go home' and such. The announcement simply disgusted me.

    "These anti-Semites merely want to divert the attention of the city's residents away from the problems that exist in the area and blame the Jews for everything. I personally am not afraid because my children are in Israel."

    Approximately 13,000 Jews live in the Novosibirsk area, with most living in the city itself.

    Since the beginning of this year, Russia has experienced dozens of anti-Semitic acts – including violent attacks on Jews, derogatory graffiti and the vandalism of Jewish cemeteries.

    Anti-Semitism on rise Recently, the US government published its yearly report that stated that anti-Semitism, which promotes hatred towards Jews under the guise of criticism against the State of Israel, has increased in the last 10 years.

    The report claimed that the Belarus government openly disseminates anti-Semitic material. It also said that government-controlled media outlets in Saudi Arabia and Egypt broadcast anti-Semitic programs.

    Additional acts of anti-Semitism were recorded in Poland, Russia, Ukraine, France, Germany, the UK, Argentina, Australia, Canada and South Africa.

    Anti-NATO protesters rally in Ukraine's Crimea days before US President Bush visit

    From: IHT
    Thousands of anti-NATO activists rallied Saturday in the Crimean city of Simferopol, protesting Ukraine's possible membership in the alliance and the upcoming visit of U.S. President George W. Bush.

    Supporters of a pro-Russian party protested against Ukraine's request for a NATO Membership Action Plan, a key step toward joining the alliance, according to television footage shown on Channel 5.

    The demonstrators held banners reading "NATO is war against Slavic people" and "Forever with Russia," and burned a U.S. flag, the Unian news agency reported.

    They also demanded the withdrawal of Ukrainian peacekeepers from Kosovo, where a Ukrainian officer was killed and dozens more were injured in clashes in mid-March.

    Opinion polls indicate many Ukrainians are distrustful of NATO — their former Cold War foe — and others fear membership would harm relations with Russia while bringing little significant benefit.

    Ukraine has been divided over the issue of possible NATO membership. Most Ukrainians, particularly in the largely Russian-speaking east and south, remain deeply skeptical of the alliance.

    The Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, home to many ethnic Russians, hosts Russia's Black Sea Fleet.

    Ukraine president puts gas debt at 2 bln dlrs, above PM's figure

    From: AFP
    Viktor Yushchenko
    President Viktor Yushchenko said Friday Ukraine's gas debt to Russia was two billion dollars (1.27 billion euros), apparently contradicting his prime minister who put it at 900 million dollars.

    According to the Interfax news agency, Yushchenko said the outstanding debt -- which has been a constant source of contention with Moscow -- was more than two billion dollars so far this year.

    "A debt of more than two billion dollars is a burden not only financially, but also for the reputation of our country," he was quoted as saying.

    Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who has taken a hard line on the issue, said earlier that the debt amounted to only 900 million dollars.

    "The debt is much lower, at about 900 million dollars," Tymoshenko said, adding that it had built up because of a lack of agreed gas delivery contracts.

    "The government has collected the money and is waiting only for these contracts to be signed" to pay off the debt, she added.

    Russia's giant gas monopoly Gazprom and Ukraine's Naftogaz signed a deal earlier this month on setting the longstanding and acrimonious dispute.

    At one stage, Gazprom threatened to cut gas supplies to Ukraine by half, sparking concerns in Western Europe which gets most of its Russian gas via pipelines running across Ukraine.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Police detain Polonia Warsaw coach in connection with match-fixing allegations

    From: Canadien Press
    Dariusz Wdowczyk
    Anti-corruption police detained Polonia Warsaw coach Dariusz Wdowczyk on Friday in connection with match-fixing allegations.

    The 45-year-old Wdowczyk was held a day after four people - including a referee, an assistant coach of Wisla Krakow, and an assistant coach and an official from Kolporter Korona Kielce - were detained by officers, Poland Anti-Corruption Office spokesman Tomasz Fratczak said.

    Fratczak said Wdowczyk will likely face corruption charges tied to rigged matches.

    Wdowczyk, who played in 53 matches for Poland's national team as a central defender, coached Korona Kielce from 2002-04. He then led Legia Warsaw to a first-division title before moving across town to second-division club Polonia Warsaw.

    Prosecutors have been investigating match-rigging allegations in Poland's domestic leagues since 2005, and have claimed that over 400 domestic matches were fixed.

    Peter V. questioned in Slovakia?

    From: The News
    The Polish Ministry of Justice denies that Peter V. allegedly testified in a corruption and money laundering case in a Poloish consulate in Bratislava.

    The ministry confirmed that Peter V., arrested on Monday on charges of helping in money laundering and fraud, scheduled a meeting in the Polish consulate in Slovakia, but finally refused to testify about the so-called "secret accounts of politicians".

    He only agreed to testify in the case concerning his pardoning by the former President Aleksander Kwasniewski.

    So far, Justice Minister Zbigniew Cwiakalski has vehemently claimied that Peter V. was not interrogated in Slovakia.

    Peter V., referred to in the media as "Cashier of the Left", is accused of running Swiss accounts of Polish left-wing politicians where they accumulated bribes obtained in Poland.

    Dochnal to confront Peter V. in court

    In a related story, Polish lobbyist Marek Dochnal is to confront Peter V., one of the murkiest figures of Polish business and politics, in a notorious court case concerning money laundering.

    Dochnal is accused of money laundering to the tune of 70 million zlotys, fraud, as well as using forged documents, while Peter V., the so-called "cashier of the Left", is facing charges of helping in money laundering and fraud in the same case.

    In his testimony so far, Marek Dochnal spoke about Swiss accounts of top politicians from the left side of the Polish political scene, where they accumulated money from, he claims, bribes obtained in Poland. Peter V., working for a Swiss bank, Couts, was running these accounts, it is alleged.

    Peter V., then Piotr Filipkowski vel Filipczynski, first appeared in court in the 1970s when he robbed and brutally killed a 75-year-old woman at the age of 17. In 1979 he was temporarily released and obtained a passport in unclear circumstances in 1983. According to press reports, he began cooperating with the communist social services, which enabled him to go to Switzerland, where he started a job as a banker.

    In 1998 the Polish judiciary launched the extradition procedure. Peter V. was detained in Switzerland and sent to Poland to serve the rest of his sentence, but was pardoned by the then President Aleksander Kwasniewski and went back to Switzerland in 1999.

    Gorbachev and Thatcher before Polish court?

    From: The News
    General Wojciech Jaruzelski, responsible for imposing martial law in Poland in 1981, wants ex world leaders to be witnesses at his trial in a Polish court.

    General Jaruzelski has filed a motion with a court to have the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, former British PM Margaret Thatcher, former US Secretary of State Alexander Haig and former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt as witnesses at his own trial, Gazeta Wyborcza daily reveals.

    In 1996, the Polish Sejm - the lower house of parliament - refused to have the Communist General tried by the State Tribunal, explaining that imposing martial law was an act of necessity on part of Jaruzelski. But in April 2007, the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) deemed the preparations for martial law communist crime and presented charges to Wojciech Jaruzelski.

    IPN believes, however, that the current list of 21 witnesses, mainly high rank officers from early 1980s. is sufficient.

    General Wojciech Jaruzelski is one of eight ex-Communist government members standing trial in Warsaw. The list includes Stanislaw Kania, 1st Secretary of the Polish United Workers Party (PZPR), Czeslaw Kiszczak, Interior Minister and General Florian Siwicki, deputy Minister of the Defence Ministry.

  • From the blogs...

    Pawns on the March; When the Lukashenka regime cracks down on an opposition rally, youthful activists respond with cheerful insouciance.

    From: TOL
    Cartoonist’s impression of Andrei Kim in prison.
    Spring is supposed to be the harbinger of warm weather, when people return to Minsk’s parks with their chess sets in hand. When a number of political prisoners were released in early 2008, many hoped that a thaw had come to the diplomatic chess game between the United States, European Union and Belarus.

    But relations are instead getting chillier, with Minsk and Washington recalling their ambassadors. The Americans are disappointed that a major figure in the opposition, former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Kazulin, remains behind bars. And Belarus’ young democrats, pawns in a larger game, are being captured right and left.

    To intimidate youth, the foot soldiers of the opposition, the regime continues to use overt repression, such as arrests and expulsions from university. But the authorities have also changed the rules of the game by employing a new move. In addition to the courts, the government of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is using the army to thin the ranks of young democrats.

    Despite old and new threats, youth are again at the forefront of the peaceful protests this spring, the “hottest” season for opposition demonstrations, which were kicked off on 25 March, Belarus’ Independence Day. While young activists continue to risk their freedom, education and livelihood, there is a growing feeling that it is the regime itself that is facing checkmate. Who are some of these small pieces that might become major players in a future Belarusian endgame?


    Andrei Kim, 21, was arrested in January during a peaceful demonstration of small-business people in Minsk. Now in prison, he could spend six years locked up for allegedly committing “violent actions against a police officer.” Kim is part of a new generation of activists who joined the democratic movement in March 2006. Expelled from Belarusian State University for participating in protests that spring, he chose to stay in Belarus and start his own organization, known today as Initiative. The group’s reputation is built on creative happenings, like placing the banned white-red-white historical flag on the tallest buildings around the capital. But Initiative’s best known action is asking ordinary people on the streets to sign postcards that are then sent as a sign of solidarity to political prisoners. The group was able to collect and mail more than 1,500 postcards to prisoners last Christmas Eve.

    “The most rewarding part is to see people’s reactions when we talk to them on the streets,” Kim told me in an interview last fall. “I was shocked to discover that most didn’t know that we have political prisoners in our country.”

    He couldn’t have known then that in just a few months thousands of his friends and supporters, including some of those he’d met on the streets, would be sending letters of support to his own prison cell.

    Despite being humiliated in prison, where his crucifix was torn from his neck, his stylish long hair cut, and his head shaved, Kim remains optimistic about his uncertain future. An online support site has recently been created. In addition to information about the jailed youth leader, photos and videos from rallies demanding the release of political prisoners in Belarus, it also offers a series of cartoons with Kim as the main character.

    Kim’s spirits remain high as he awaits the April Fools’ Day court hearings on two charges against him. He is planning to organize a party for his buddies on one of the rooftops of Minsk after he is released.
  • Note: Article continues...

    International human rights organizations condemn the arrests and brutal attacks by riot police of peaceful demonstrators in Minsk

    From: Viasna
    To: President Mr. Alyaksandr Lukashenka
    220016, ul. Karla Marxa 38, Minsk
    Fax: +375 172 26 06 10 / +375 172 22 38 72

    The General Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Belarus

    Mr Miklashevich P.P.
    220050 Internacionalnaja 22, Minsk
    Tel. +375 17 2264360; 2264358

    The Ministry for Internal Affairs

    Mr Naimov, V.V

    220050 ul. Gorodskoi Val. 4, Minsk 27 March 2008

    The Human Rights House Foundation, the Rafto Foundation, Norwegian PEN, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and The Norwegian Union of Journalist condemn the arrests and brutal attacks by riot police of peaceful demonstrators in Minsk. Andrej Liankevich, photojournalist of Nasha Niva was brutally beaten and arrested by riot police on 25 March. We especially condemn the arrests of journalists covering the event, and the ongoing harassment of independent media and individual journalists.

    On 25 March thousands of Belarusians came to take part in a peaceful demonstration in Minsk dedicated to the 90th anniversary of Belarusian Democratic Republic. The riot police used brutal force against the peaceful participants. More than 100 were detained. Among them were correspondents from Lithuania and citizens from Poland and Ukraine.

    The photojournalist Andrej Liankevich?s case was submitted to the judge Alena Lapceva of the Zavadskoj district, Minsk. The trial started March 26, but case was returned to the Police Office (Savecki RUUS) by the judge “for completion the case with documents stating accusations” on March 27. Another journalist of Nasha Niva Sjamen Pechanko was arrested and sentenced to 15 days arrest by the Court of Maskouski City District, Minsk. They were both charged with violating the order of organizing and holding mass events (Art. 23.24 Code of the administrative offences).

    The journalists were detained despite the fact that they were covering the rally. We regret that Belarusian state authorities do not recognize the role and the rights of journalists, who report from ongoing events in Belarus. We condemn the practice of the Belarusian judiciary, which do not acquit journalists, when it obvious that there is no legal basis for the cases.

    After the demonstration on 25 March, 75 administrative cases were brought to court against the participants. According to the police reports, they were charged with violating the order of organizing and holding mass events, by participating in a demonstration, not authorized by Minsk authorities. As a result of the trials, 26 people were sentenced to short jail terms of 5-15 days, over 50 people were fined. 20 people were traumatized with different types of injuries caused by police violence. Activists Andrei Babitski, Zmister Dashkevich, Artur Finkevich and Mikita Shutsiankou were all severely beaten. Even an under age girl, Alena Makarevich,was severaly beaten in the Partyzanski police department.

    We are very concerned to learn that today, 27 March, KGB started a countrywide search in the offices and apartments of independent mass media and their journalists. The searches are taking place in the apartments of the journalists Eduard Mielnikau, Anatol Hatochyts (Homiek), Alena Stsiapanava, (Vitsiebsk), Tamara Shchapiotkina (Biaroza), Hienadz Sudnik (Mahileu) as well as in the editorial office of Radio Racyja in Minsk.

    The KGB representatives are presenting search warrants, signed by legal investigators from Minsk City Public Prosecutor's Office. According to the Belarusian Association of Media, it is stated in the orders that the searches are carried out with regards to breaches of article 367 of Belarus' Criminal Code ("Libel in Relation to the President of Belarus"). This action shows that the Belarusian state does not accept the existence of independent media and civil society and we consider this a grave violation of article 19 of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We fully support the efforts of the Belarusian Association of Journalists protecting journalists and defending the freedom of expression.

    Belarus: Freedom Day Protest

    On Tuesday, March 25, police broke up an opposition rally in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, beating protesters with truncheons and detaining dozens of people. According to media reports, thousands of protesters showed up for the annual Freedom Day rally, banned by the government, and attempted to gather at one of Minsk's central squares, which had been blocked off by the police. On Wednesday, the detained protesters - as well as several journalists - were sentenced to jail terms ranging from three to 15 days.

    LJ users dranik80, ialeks, coipish posted very vivid photo reports from the March 25 rally - here, here, and here.

    LJ user mmpbel, 30, posted a lengthy and detailed account (RUS) of his experiences at the rally and, later, inside a police bus:

    [...] When we approached Victory Square, I finally saw the people who, just like me, intended to mark [Freedom Day]. [...] [They] stood on all sides of the intersection. Along the sidewalk, there were traffic cops. There were mainly young people there, 20-year-olds and younger. I saw several middle-aged people, and a few families. There were [white-red-white flags], and they were distributing white-red-white ribbons (I wasn't offered one). There were almost no flowers. I saw only one woman with a white-red-white bouquet. The mood was festive. I saw a small group of young people who walked out onto the road, one guy was waving a flag, encouraging people to follow him, but not many did and traffic cops managed to clear up the road very quickly. Soon, there was a solid cordon of traffic police along the road, and, a minute later, another one made up of riot cops. [...]

    People started moving towards Victory Square, the march began. Those in the front row of the formation were carrying a banner (but I didn't see what was written on it). I could hear the usual slogans. (Too bad we're not singing songs. I'm not the [slogan-chanting] type, but I would've joined in a song.) [...]

    Very close to the bridge, the formation halted. Must have been because of the police standing in their way. We stood for a few minutes. I saw [opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko] walk forward, to do something about it. After a while, those at the head of the formation began to turn around. At the same time or a bit earlier, a police bus drove towards the bridge. Then things began to move fast. I saw cops in helmets run. Young people with the banner began to reposition themselves quickly, in order to be at the head of the formation again. Someone was hurriedly hiding away a fishing rod with the flag. A guy who carried the banner turned around and called out a female name, but then someone screamed "Andrei!" and I saw a girl being grabbed and dragged to the bus. Quickly, people began to disperse. I've been in a stampede before, but it was the first time that cops were chasing me. Hesitantly, I also began to move faster, still not really believing this was actually happening. As I understood it, they were mainly seizing young people with flags. [...]

    [...] I felt it was all over and decided to try reaching the monument to [Belarusian poet Yanka Kupala monument, [to lay flowers]. [...] I moved towards the bridge again. There was a police bus standing nearby, and from its window, a detained girl was making a Victory sign with her fingers. Young people stood next to the bus - possibly, friends of those who were detained.

    [...] A few ordinary [not riot] cops stood at the park entrance. I asked one of them: "Is the park closed?" He said, "Yes." [...] As I walked down Yanka Kupala Street, I saw that the park's side entrance wasn't guarded by anyone and that the park itself was empty. A man and two women walked by: he was begging them to stop being scared and enter the park. [...] I came to the monument and put the flowers down. My flowers were the only ones on the snow, but underneath the snow there were many more white-red-white flowers. An elderly man [...] walked by. There was no one but us in the park. I stood a few seconds by the monument, trying to imagine "what He [Yanka Kupala] was thinking of the things that were taking place."

    I decided to leave the park through the exit guarded by the police. [...] I had nothing on me that could make them suspicious. There was a bus I'd already seen there. [...] A cop came up to me [and told me to get out.] [...] Another cop came up to me and said: "What are you doing here?" I [exclaimed, in Belarusian]: "Why are you talking to me like that?" (normally, I speak Russian, alas). (I do look very young, but hate it when rude strangers address me [informally], especially the uniformed ones.) And here it began. The cop grabbed me by the jacket and dragged me to the bus, screaming something. [...] The road was slippery, I almost bumped into the bus. [...] They pushed me inside, hit me in the stomach, there were screams, and orders to show them what was inside my backpack. It was all being done just to scare me, without any system to it. The bus was small and narrow, there were about a dozen cops in it. Perhaps this explains why the blow to my stomach was weak. [...] A cop called me to the back of the bus, searched me there, but didn't look into my backpack. Told me to sit at the back seat. Then they forgot about me.

    The cops were constantly chatting, joking, and appeared bored. Talked on the phones with their wives, explained to them that they were at an "event." [...] They were cursing constantly. [...] They were discussing the cars they'd bought.

    After a while, there was some screaming, the door opened, and they pushed in a tall, skinny guy of about 30 years of age. There was intimidation again, [they ordered him to drop to the floor.] [...] They took him to the back of the bus and searched him. Found an asthma inhaler [...]. Ordered him to sit next to me. Two women were brought on the bus after him (it looked like they didn't push them in). One of them was the guy's mother, the other was her friend. They looked very refined [...]. The mother asked to let her son go, spoke of his and her own poor health (she had heart problems), was asking who was in charge. No one listened to her, the one in charge didn't respond. Someone said that they'd violated the law on mass events, entered the park that was closed for repairs, had [anti-government] flags with them, were calling to the violent overthrow of the [regime]. The mother was begging the cops, tried to argue with them, was asking to be allowed to step out for some fresh air, to call the relatives. They refused to let her do any of it. [...] We were ordered to switch off our phones.


    Things were quieting down and the cops were getting bored.

    A cop who looked like he was in charge came in and ordered the women and the guy to leave [...]. [...] They were not allowed to take their white-red-white umbrella with them.

    I was left alone again. I felt like a Red Army soldier imprisoned by the fascists. Hatred and the feeling of complete helplessness. If they took me to the forest to shoot then, I wouldn't be very surprised. There was no sign of any legal rights whatsoever.


    The bus began to move [...]. [Then it stopped.] [...] [I was told to get up and go.] I got up and went. [...] The cop in charge, standing by the door, called to me [...]. I came up to him. He hit me on the ear near he back of my head. I heard laughter coming from the bus. I turned away, the door closed, and the bus drove away. [...] I switched on my phone and called my wife. It was around 8:30 PM by then.

    It did occur to me to file a complaint with the prosecutor's office, but I didn't consider the idea for too long.
    LJ user annie-minsk, 21, described (RUS) what it feels like to be at a rally in Belarus:

    You do not feel fear when you find yourself in the midst of everything - the police, people, flags.

    No, you harden even more. Tears, fear and shaking hands are long forgotten, replaced with [...] a wicked smile and cold calmness of a convicted person. [...] You're no longer shy and stop [using the polite form of address]. [...] Your blood fills with adrenalin. Everyone is equal here, everyone [is your buddy] - welcome to hell!

    When you look at the photos on the web the following morning, you feel it all again. As if you're back there. Back into this dirty, wet, nervous mess made up of people, cameras, fat riot cops with brass knuckles and unruffled traffic cops. And the groaning of the black-clad bastards [riot cops] - "Reh-eh, reh-eh" (this is how they scream when they are pushing people, in order to move in sync) - it doesn't horrify you anymore, not as much as it did then, the first time, in the cold March of 2006 [a GV translation from that time is here]. Then it seemed wild. Monstrous, inhuman. We hoped for the better, believed it was just a threat. They'd scare us and let go. And everyone would go home, and there'd be kitchen talk, and someone would write about it in LJ.


    I've heard one and the same question so many times: "What are you trying to accomplish with your rallies?" My reply is, come, have a look, find it out. And don't bother me, because we won't understand each other anyway.

  • Sport...

    Belarus 2 - 2 Turkey
    Turkey nearly found themselves stunned in Minsk by a Belarus side that twice held the lead

    Fatim Terim's Turkey side almost had more than they bargained for against Bernd Stange's Belarus, who arguably deserved a little bit more for their ambition.

    After a sedate start in poor conditions, Serdar Ozkan and Hakan Balta combined well to threaten 25 minutes in, and it looked as if Turkey were on top.

    But the hosts fought back, with Kutuzov rising above Hakan Balta before nodding past Tolga to give his side a lead.

    Three minutes later Tuncay equalised with a low drive from the end of the box, but it was Belarus that ended the half more comfortably.

    Indeed, they took the lead through Aleksandr Hleb's brother Vyacheslav Hleb, who cut in from the left and shot nicely across goal.

    However, Turkey had another goal in them as Tumer fired home unmarked after being set up by Tuncay.

    Belarus 2 - 2 Turkey
    1-0 Kutzov 35'
    1-1 Tuncay 38'
    2-1 Vyacheslav Hleb 63'
    2-2 Tumer 71'

    Belarus: Zhevnov (46 Khomutovsky), Korytko, Filipeka, Rirenklin, Plaskonny, Bulyga, Aleksandr Hleb, Putsila (88 Shytau), Romaschenko, Kutuzov (Vyacheslav Hleb), Kashevski (24 Plasrorny).

    Turkey: Tolga, Hakan Balta, Ceyhun, Servet, Hamit (22 Sabri), Tuncay (78 G?khan G?n?l), Aurelio (46 Mevl?t), Mehmet Topal, Serdar ?zkan (61 Arda) (66 T?mer), Nihat, G?khan ?nal (46 Sel?uk)

  • Endnote...

    Europe's new Iron Curtain

    From: Chigago Tribune
    A few stray dogs and a bedraggled band of women with gold-capped teeth compete for the thin shaft of afternoon sunlight that warms a corner of the decrepit railway station waiting room.

    The women, from the former Soviet republic of Belarus, are smugglers. There is no secret about that. They are busy putting on layer after layer of new clothing, suiting up for their daily battle with the border police.

    These days there is a lot of talk about a borderless Europe, but in this corner of the continent, on the eastern crust of Poland along the banks of the River Bug, there is no mistaking the omnipresence of the border. In many ways, this border has become Europe's new Iron Curtain. The divide is no longer ideological; the wall is between rich and poor, between Europe's haves and have-nots.

    The modern concept of national borders as clear, demarcated lines is a European invention that has been exported around the globe, providing a ready source of conflict and bloodshed. Even in today's relatively peaceful and settled Europe, borders remain flash points. Think of Kosovo, where Europe's newest hostile border has been drawn.

    Europe's borders have changed radically in the past generation. More than 8,000 miles of new national borders have been created on the continent since 1989, mostly in Europe's eastern half. But the whole notion of borders also has undergone a profound physical and psychological transformation.

    The primary impetus for this transformation was the collapse of communism and the dismantling of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall. But almost as important has been the ascendance of the European Union and its commitment to the free movement of people across the borders of its 27 member states.

    According to Yale historian Timothy Snyder, the price of creating this remarkable zone of free movement has been the creation of a hard external border that seals off the EU from its poorer neighbors. "This wasn't the intent of Schengen, but it has been one of the major side effects," he said.

    Schengen refers to a series of agreements implemented in 1995 that did away with internal border controls across much of Western Europe. The so-called Schengen Zone was expanded in December to include Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Malta.

    Along the EU's eastern frontier, some people have started to refer to the external border as the Schengen Wall —or, less felicitously, the New Iron Curtain.

    EU officials cringe at the Iron Curtain reference. They like to talk about "smart" borders secured by thermal cameras, satellite monitors, biometric data banks and other high-tech whistles and bells.

    A Cold War feel

    But here in Terespol, the border between Poland and Belarus still has a Cold War chill to it. The border on the Polish side may be smart, but on the Belarus side it consists of old-fashioned electrified fences, watchtowers and unsmiling guards.

    This was and still is Josef Stalin's border. At the start of World War II, the Soviet dictator grabbed a large chunk of eastern Poland, annexed it to Belarus and never gave it back. After the war, 2.35 million Poles living in this territory were resettled in northern and western Poland; about a million Poles remained.

    After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the communities along this border began to reknit. Cross-border trade started to flourish, nourishing the economy on both sides. Poland, with its eager embrace of Western Europe, was always going to be the richer of the two, but it was Belarus' extreme bad luck to fall into the political grasp of Alexander Lukashenko, a thuggish boss of the Soviet old school.

    Under Lukashenko, Europe's last dictator, the economy is stuck in reverse.

    "It's not hard to find a job at home, but it will only pay $100 a month. Even in Belarus, that's not enough to live on," said Ludmilla, one of the women in the Terespol railway station.

    So she and the other women eke out a living as traders, filling suitcases and plastic trash bags with cheap clothing and other merchandise bought in Polish wholesale markets and smuggling it back into Belarus for resale.

    But their modest enterprise has been thwarted by Viktor Lukashenko, the president's son and heir apparent who also happens to be governor of the Breskaja district on Poland's border. The younger Lukashenko decreed that only three items of new clothing could be imported per trip.

    'For us, it's the end'

    "Our president, whom we cannot get rid of, and his son, who will replace him for another 60 years, want everyone in Belarus to be poor," complained Ludmilla, who declined to give her last name out of fear of government harassment.

    To get around the restriction, the women in the railway station squeeze into as many layers of clothing as they can—perhaps tucking a small item or two between the layers—before getting on the train and taking their chances. Some of the women make two or three round trips each day.

    Soon they will be facing a much more daunting obstacle.

    When Poland joined the Schengen Zone in December, it agreed to impose much stricter border controls on its Belarusian neighbors. For the time being, Ludmilla and the others are entering Poland on multiple-entry visas obtained before December. When those visas expire, they will have to apply for Schengen visas.

    These are much more expensive—about $100 for a single entry—and require extensive supporting documentation, including tax and bank records, proof of employment and letters of invitation from business partners in Poland.

    "For us, it's the end," Ludmilla said.

    Even for those who are relatively well-off, the Schengen rules pose a formidable barrier. Ania, a 24-year-old accountant, is an ethnic Pole from Belarus who left home to attend college in Poland. After graduating, she found a job as an accountant in Siedlce, a small city in eastern Poland about 60 miles from the border.

    "My family and I, we felt ourselves to be Polish and members of the Polish nation even though we lived in Belarus. We always kept Polish traditions in our home," said Ania, who also asked that her last name be withheld to avoid problems in Belarus.

    "It's easier to find a job [in Poland], easier to find an apartment," she said. "We always looked to Poland as a place where you could live a better life. And if a helping hand ever came to Belarus, it was usually coming from Poland.

    "But now we feel cut off from Poland and from the rest of Europe."

    Ania has a 10-year student visa that should enable her to go back and forth without trouble, but it will be difficult for her family to visit her in Poland.

    When she travels to Belarus, Ania generally takes the train, and when it stops at Terespol, she often helps the women at the station transport their goods across the border. Not anymore.

    "They are checking everyone so carefully now, I'd be afraid," she said.

    Geopolitical concerns

    Europe's new external border is a personal inconvenience for Ania and an overwhelming economic hardship for Ludmilla, but it also raises concerns on a higher, geopolitical level.

    The original Iron Curtain arbitrarily cut Europe in half. The new divide falls fairly neatly along civilizational lines that separate the mostly Roman Catholic and Protestant West from the Orthodox East.

    That raises questions about the larger meaning of Europe and the European Union. Though the EU wants nations like Belarus and Ukraine to look west toward Brussels, its policies may instead be directing them east toward Moscow, capital of a resurgent and increasingly autocratic Russia.

    "The whole concept behind the EU was the unification of Europe, a Europe whole and free, as they say," said Robin Shepherd, an analyst at Chatham House, a London think tank. "It's great if you are inside the EU, but the European countries with the deepest problems — Belarus — or the countries trying to fight their way out of these problems—Ukraine—now find a very high barrier is keeping them on the outside."

    'Neighbors, not enemies'
    Following the Polish border south through deep forests of birch and pine, Belarus gives way to Ukraine. The frontier on the Ukrainian side is marked by a double barrier of electrified fences.

    But the power has been off for years, and in stretches the fence is in obvious disrepair. Border security was tightened a few months ago when Ukraine began using professional border guards. Before that, army conscripts patrolled.

    On the Polish side, Col. Waldemar Skarbek and his men are in charge of securing a 150-mile stretch of Europe's eastern frontier. There's no fence, but Skarbek said the new technology provided by the EU is more than adequate.

    Earlier this year, thermal cameras on the Polish side of the border detected a group of illegal immigrants attempting to cross from the Ukrainian side. Skarbek and his men watched with some amusement as the group industriously—but quite unnecessarily — tunneled under the Ukrainian fence. As soon as they popped up on the Polish side, Skarbek's men arrested them.

    It used to be that Ukrainians didn't need a visa to travel to Poland. Now they do, and Skarbek seemed less than enthused about his new mandate to enforce that requirement.

    "These are our neighbors, not our enemies," he said

    Jadwiga Zenowicz, head of Polish customs for the same stretch of border, feels the same way.

    "My mother, who is 80, was born in Luck, which used to be in Poland but is now in Ukraine," she said. "In this part of Europe, you have two nations that want to live on the same territory and want to get along with each other."

    Being outside the EU and the Schengen Zone puts Ukraine in a very disadvantaged position, Zenowicz said. "I understand why it has to be, but that doesn't mean we are happy about it."

    Price of EU admission
    This understanding, according to Yale's Snyder, was the price of admission to the EU for Poland and the other former East Bloc countries that now form the eastern rampart of Fortress Europe.

    Poland and the others had to "earn trust in the eyes of their EU counterparts," he said. "To convince the EU that they belong, they had ... to show that they understand that other states such as Belarus and Ukraine do not."

    When Poland became a member of the Schengen Zone in December, the immediate impact was a colossal traffic jam. Trucks were backed up for more than a dozen miles in Poland and Ukraine. Delays of up to four days were reported.

    One reason for the backup was confusion about the new rules. Another was a job action by Polish customs officials unhappy with their low wages. Ukrainians, angry about the new visa rules, also contributed to the mess by blocking traffic on their side.

    "Do we feel cut off? Absolutely, and it's very painful and unnecessary," said Bohdan Huk, a Ukrainian writer and Polish citizen who lives in Przemysl, a mixed city on the Polish side of the border.

    "Before 1989, nobody would believe the changes we have seen in the East," Huk said. "But now, with Poland's integration into the EU, we are beginning to understand that not all of what has happened is completely good. The West has closed itself. I think it's rather obvious that this will have a negative impact on the democratization process in the East."

    Snyder agreed: "You want Ukrainian, Belarusian and also Russian elites to have some sense that they belong to Europe," he said. "But if you can't get into a country, you feel like a second-class citizen sitting in the back of the bus."