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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Belarus expands cooperation, Media control, Money laundering, Economics, Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, Opposition, Polish scandal, News, Sport and Culture

  • From the Top...
  • #317

    Belarus intends to expand cooperation with Novgorod region

    From: BelTA
    Belarus would like to expand cooperation with the Novgorod region, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said when meeting with governor of that Russian region Sergei Mitin on June 17.

    Alexander Lukashenko took note of a quite good trade between Belarus and Novgorod region. Yet, the two sides have the potential to increase it further, the President believes. “We can surpass the trade of $100 million which we have now. Though, it is also not bad. It is commeasurable with the trade Belarus has with some other countries,” the head of state said.

    Belarus has long-standing relations with the Novgorod region. Certain areas of cooperation have been identified. The Belarusian side is satisfied with the proposals of the Russian region to expand bilateral cooperation. For, example, the two sides are interested in setting up timber and peat processing facilities and also in cooperation in other avenues.

    In turn, Sergei Mitin said that this is not his first visit to Belarus and he is pleasantly surprised at the changes. The delegation has already visited several agricultural and manufacturing companies and signed several agreements. They, for example, include an agreement between the Minsk oblast and Novgorod region on supplies of products without middlemen.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus parliament gives first reading to mass media bill

    From: BelTA
    The House of Representatives of the National Assembly gave the first reading to a Mass Media bill on June 17.

    Belarus’ First Deputy Information Minister Lilia Ananich remarked, the document had been brought about by the need to fix outdated regulations of the effective Press Law. As the bill was prepared, the legislation of Russia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Germany, the UK, France, the Netherlands, and Sweden was analysed.

    The bill regulates the establishment and state registration of mass media. The Council of Ministers has been charged with the state registration of mass media, which are distributed across the Internet. All registered mass media should be entered into a state mass media register the Information Ministry keeps.

    The existing procedures used to agree and place mass media with local executive bodies have been cancelled.

    The bill fills gaps in mass media financing regulations. In particular, it is forbidden to receive cash assets from foreign juridical persons, foreign citizens, stateless persons, who do not reside permanently in Belarus, except for when they take part in the authorised fund of the juridical person, which acts as the editorial board of the mass media. It is forbidden to receive cash assets from anonymous sources.

    The bill specifies illegal limitations of mass media freedom. Those are mass information censure, illegal suspension or annulment of mass media publication, enforcement of mass media reporters to distribute or refuse to distribute information.

    The bill specifies accreditation of reporters. Foreign reporters are forbidden to operate in Belarus without accreditation.

    The responsibility of mass media founders has been stepped up. In particular, mass media founders are responsible for meeting obligations they specified when the mass medium was registered and for information the mass medium they established distributes.

    The bill specifies information which distribution is forbidden or restricted. The information includes advertising of illegal drugs use, psychotropic substances, and propaganda of wars, extremism, violence, as well as hidden frames, which affect the subconscious or human health.

    The bill specifies such terms as mass media type, reporter’s office, incorrect information, foreign mass media, and reporter accreditation.

    According to the bill mass media founders are supposed to start distributing mass information within a certain period after their inclusion into the state register: one year for TV and radio mass media and six months for printed mass media.

    After the law comes into force, mass media will have to undergo re-registration. It will be free of charge and no amendments will be introduced into their foundation documents.

    House of Representatives ratifies CIS treaty on counteracting money laundering

    From: BelTA
    On June 17 the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus ratified the CIS treaty on counteracting money laundering and financing of terrorism.

    The document was signed at the CIS summit in Dushanbe in October last year, chairman of the State Security Committee of Belarus Yuri Zhadobin told deputies. The treaty spells out the areas and forms of countering money laundering. The sides undertake to cooperate, unite efforts of governmental bodies, public and other associations for these purposes. The parties to the treaty will harmonise their national legislations, provide legal assistance, arrest illegal income and means meant for financing of terrorism, exchange information and conduct operational and search measures.

    The sides will also adopt legal acts obligating the organisations carrying our operations with money or other assets, to take measures to counter legalisation of illegal income. The sides will adopt the documents instituting the responsibility of these organisations for non-disclosure of the information spelled out in the treaty. A banking or commercial secret cannot serve as an obstacle to getting information necessary to combat money laundering and financing of terrorism.

    According to Yuri Zhadobin, Belarus’ participation in the treaty confirms the readiness of the country to make its contribution to the common efforts of the CIS member states to combat organised crime, corruption, terrorism.

    Turkey ready to support Belarus on international arena, Reha Camuroglu says

    From: BelTA
    Turkey is ready to support Belarus on the international arena, Reha Camuroglu, a deputy of the Grand National Assembly of the Republic of Turkey, an adviser to the chairman of the Justice and Development Party and to the Prime Minister in the matters of religious minorities, chairman of the interparliamentary cooperation group “Turkey-Belarus”, said during a meeting with chairman of the National Assembly of Belarus Gennady Novitsky in Mink on June 17.

    “We support Belarus on the international arena. No doubt we are pleased that Belarus also supports Turkey in many international organisations, for example, the UN Security Council,” he said. According to him, Turkey is happy that the bilateral relations have been growing stronger and that the number of visits of private and official delegations has been increasing. “Belarus and Turkey have historical ties. We are proud that Turkey was the first country to recognize Belarus’ sovereignty in 1991,” Reha Camoroglu added.

    The chairman of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus, Gennady Novitsky, took note of good dynamics in the Belarusian-Turkish relations and similar positions on many issues on the international agenda. All this creates good prerequisites for the cooperation development, believes Gennady Novitsky.

    A Turkish parliamentary delegation is in Belarus on a four-day visit.

    Belarus, Turkey linked by perfect political relations, Sergei Martynov says

    Belarus and Turkey have good political relations, Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov said at a meeting with the Turkish parliamentary delegation.

    “We have no moot points in cooperation. We have big common interests including peace and wellbeing in the two countries. These sectors provide tasks for the Foreign Ministries as well as the Parliaments of the two countries,” he underlined.

    The head of the foreign political department noted that Belarus and Turkey “have important common features: natural hospitability and kindness towards other nations and understanding of world realities”. Sergei Martynov expressed confidence that the present visit would strengthen understanding between Belarus and Turkey and enhance the bilateral interaction.

    The Foreign Minister also underlined that a lot can be reached by means of contacts between the parliaments of the two countries. “I am sure the parliamentarians can play an important role in the development of the economic relations between Belarus and Turkey,” Sergei Martynov said.

  • Economics...

    Resources of Belarusian banks 52% up within one year

    From: BelTA
    As of June 1, 2008 resources of Belarusian banks approached Br50 trillion, 52% up on the same date of last year.

    The National Bank is pursuing a measured interest rate policy, which encourages the attraction of resources into the banking system. Over the last 12 months individuals’ savings in Belarusian banks swelled by Br1.7 trillion, which corresponds to forecasts.

    On June 17 Chairman of the Board of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus (NBRB) Piotr Prokopovich informed President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko about the fulfilment of the Major Monetary Management Guidelines in January-May 2008, the President’s press service told BelTA.

    All the goals, which are listed by the 2008 Major Monetary Management Guidelines and are aimed at fulfilling the national social and economic development programme, have been fulfilled by the national banking system.

    First of all, the national currency has been stabilised. Since early this year the Belarusian ruble has gained against the US dollar almost 1%. At present the official exchange rate stands at Br2,128 for $1. Meanwhile, the Belarusian ruble lost its value in comparison with the Russian ruble by 2.6%, euro — 3.4%. The weakening Belarusian ruble encourages Belarusian exports as Russia and the European Union are the main trade partners of Belarus.

    Bank lending to the real economy is a major avenues of the monetary management policy. As of June 1, 2008 the borrowing approached Br36 trillion, over 50% up on the same day of 2007. The crediting of all state programmes as well as the real economy on the whole is successful.

    The payment system is operating steadily.

    Yet the head of state gave an instruction to do one’s best to ensure the achievement of the annual monetary management goals. Special attention was paid to borrowing for the real economy, including investment borrowing. Alexander Lukashenko also commissioned the National Bank with promptly addressing issues relating to the strengthening of the national currency. Piotr Prokopovich said, by the end of the year the official exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble against the US dollar will stand close to Br2,100 for $1.

    In 2009 GDP growth projected at 10-12%, in 2010 at 10-11%

    From: BelTA
    In line with Resolution No 818 of the Council of Ministers, in 2009 the GDP is projected to increase by 10-12% over 2008, in 2010 by 10-11% over 2009.

    The document is aimed at promoting the steady economic growth of Belarus, meeting innovation and investment targets.

    In accordance with the document, in 2009 industrial output is prognosticated to increase by 10.5%-12.5%, in 2010 by 10-11%, capital investments by 23-25% in 2009 and 2010. Foreign trade in goods and services will ramp up by 16.2-17.7% in 2009 and 16-17% in 2010. Exports are expected to go up by 17-18.5% and 17-18% respectively. the growth of imports of goods and services is prognosticated within 15.5-17% and 15-16%.

    The agricultural output is projected to up by 8.5-9.5% in 2009 and in 2010, production of consumer goods by 12-13% (2009) and 11-12% (2010), including foods by 12.2-13.2% and 11.5-12.5%, nonfoods by 11.7-12.7% and 10.5-11.5%.

    Real wages are expected to increase by 16-17% and 13-15% in 2009 and 2010 respectively. The growth of real earnings of people is projected at 14-15% and 11-13%. Chargeable services will up by 13-14% and 12-13% respectively. Profitability of sold products is to reach 15% in 2009 and 2010.

    Governmental bodies are expected to analyze the efficiency of innovation and investment programmes in part of setting up high-tech manufactures, implementation of new and high technology, enhancing the competitiveness of indigenous products including import-substituting goods. It is necessary to increase labour productivity and wages, create new jobs, reduce energy and material intensity, increase profitability of production, inflow of investment including from abroad.

    The governmental bodies are to submit reports on efficiency of innovation and investment programmes to the State Committee for Science and Technology and Economy Ministry by July 5, 2008.

    The Economy Ministry and the State Committee for Science and Technology are to systematize and analyze the information. The materials regarding the implementation of innovation and investment programmes should be introduced before the Council of Ministers until July 15, 2008.

    The governmental bodies are to present the information regarding the implementation of innovation and investment programmes to the State Committee for Science and Technology and the Economy Ministry until July 15 as well. In turn, the Economy Ministry will present the analytical information about the course of implementation of these programmes to the Government.

    Heads of the governmental bodies are responsible for the implementation of the indices and parameters fixed in the resolution and for the implementation of innovation and investment programmes.

  • From the International Press...

    Belarus eyes total media control

    From: Russia Today, Reuters
    Belarus’ lower house has passed a bill which journalists fear will lead to the destruction of independent media in the country. The Journalists Association was quick to criticise the bill, which aims to centralise media power.

    The Belarus Journalists’ Association lawyer, Yuri Toparashev, has said that if adopted the law will ‘significantly harden independent media work, and they’ll be put on the verge of extinction’.

    Two points of the draft law are seen the most controversial. First, it obliges all Internet media to register. Meantime, it says, the media partly controlled or funded by non citizens or by some foreign companies will be denied registration. Besides, Internet media will be regarded MSM.

    Second, the law gives minor administrators and attorneys the right to trigger persecution of any media, and ultimately force it to close.

    Besides, the law offers a list of information banned for circulation. It mainly considers propaganda of drugs and violence.

    Parliament, where opponents of President Alexander Lukashenko hold no seats, backed the bill on first reading after speakers said the text posed no threat to freedom of speech.

    "There are no repressive provisions in this law which could significantly worsen the situation with the media," Yuri Kulakovsky, head of a parliamentary commission, said in presenting the bill to the chamber. "The current law governing the press dates from 1995 and is very out of date."

    Independent journalists in the country of 10 million said they feared the new legislation could be used to clamp down on opposition websites.

    "This law creates a legal basis to regulate in future the activities of Internet sites, one of the main sources of independent information in Belarus," said Andrei Bastunets of the Belarussian Association of Journalists.

    The new law does not specifically require Internet sites to be registered, but allows their regulation to be overseen by government decisions.

    "This law does not regulate the activities of Internet media. For now, there is no requirement for them to register and that means nothing will change in the way they operate," said Natalya Petkevich, presidential chief of staff.

    "The law sets down only that at some point Internet media may be registered and that the govenment is to prepare conditions for registration."

    If the bill is adopted, all mass media in Belarus will have to get re-registered within a year.

    Study Brands Minsk Worst City In Europe

    From: RFE/RL
    Belarus seems to have a knack for breaking dubious records.

    U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice once famously called Belarus "the last dictatorship in Europe," an epithet that has stuck to the authoritarian regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

    Now, the country's capital has been branded the European city with the worst living standards.

    A study released last week by Mercer, a global human-resources consultancy, says expatriates in Minsk are worse-off than anywhere else in Europe. The city ranked last in Mercer's annual living-standards tally, trailing 182 other European cities.

    Slagin Parakatil, a senior researcher at Mercer, says Minsk fared poorly in most of the 39 criteria examined for the report.

    "One of the criteria in which it didn't get very good scores is consumer goods -- the availability of fruit, meat, and fish; there's also the infrastructure -- we're looking at reasonable, expatriate-standard housing facilities," Parakatil says. "If an expatriate needs to have emergency surgery, the score is relatively low for services provided by both private and public hospitals."

    The city also got bad marks for its recreational facilities, economic and political environment, airport facilities, and transport connections.

    Unlike most other Eastern European cities, which have moved up the list since Mercer's previous study, Minsk remains last with consistently low scores.

    'Nowhere To Go'

    Do Minsk residents share this unflattering view of their city?

    Some, such as Valmen Aladau, an architect and professor at the Belarusian National Technical University, have denounced the Mercer study as slander.

    "Minsk is one of the most interesting cities in Europe, everyone who's been here has said so publicly," Aladau says. "This is pure political vileness that is probably targeted against our government and ends up hurting the whole population. We don't have enough hotels. But in terms of being interesting, there should be more such cities in Europe."

    But a poll carried out by RFE/RL's Belarus Service in the streets of Minsk shows that many residents do agree with Mercer, particularly with regard to their city's recreational facilities.

    "In all European cities, if you're not in a hurry to go home in the evening, there are clubs and cafes where you can spend some time," says one woman. "Here, the only places open at night are the casinos and train station."

    "There aren't enough places to drink coffee from a nice cup, not a plastic one," says another woman.

    "For children, for instance, there's the Ice Palace, but it would be nice to have something other than just the Ice Palace," a third woman says. "There's almost nowhere to take kids during the summer holidays."

    Syarhey Khareuski, a Belarusian cultural analyst, agrees that city authorities have done little to preserve and embellish Minsk's historical city center.

    "Take a walk in the center of Minsk, what is there to see? Two churches, and that's all. Museums that were once planned were never built. Instead of museums and exhibition halls, you have ordinary pubs. The efforts of the current authorities have concentrated on selling every square meter of space in the city center, lining their pockets, and allowing as many vehicles as possible to pass through the city center."

    Political dialogue between Belarus, EU tops agenda of diplomatic consultations in Paris

    From: Naveny
    Prospects for the development of political dialogue between Belarus and the European Union were discussed at a round of consultations held by representatives of the Belarusian and French foreign ministries in Paris on June 12.

    The Belarusian delegation to the consultations was led by Deputy Minister Valery Varanetski and the French one was led by Jacques Faure, director of the Continental Europe Department, according to the Belarusian foreign ministry’s press office.

    The delegations also exchanged views on Belarus’ and France’s foreign policy priorities and discussed the development of the legal framework for bilateral relations and economic cooperation prospects.
    Andrey Hiro, chief of the Belarusian foreign ministry’s Consular Department, held an additional round of consultations with French foreign ministry officials to discuss ways to ease Schengen visa formalities for Belarusian citizens, the press office said.

  • From the Opposition...

    Opposition coalition slams new Media Law as «repressive»

    From: Naveny
    The Political Council of United Pro-democratic Forces has slammed as “repressive” a new version of the country’s Media Law approved by the House of Representatives on June 17,

    The legislation considerably complicates mass media outlets’ opportunities for operation, as well as toughens the procedure of their accreditation with governmental agencies,” says a statement issued by the Council.

    According to the leadership of the opposition coalition, the new law “significantly deteriorates the position of media outlets compared with laws currently in force that have come under repeated criticism from the international community.”

    The opposition politicians accuse the government of rushing the bill through the legislature in an attempt to “exercise pressure on independent media outlets ahead of the elections for the House of Representatives.” “The intention to place Internet media outlets under control is preparation for yet another purge of the information space by the 2011 presidential elections,” the statement reads.

    The leadership of United Pro-democratic Forces condemns the bill as aimed at “stifling freedom of expression” and suggests creating a working group to revise the legislation.

    The politicians demand that the authorities give opposition newspapers access to Belarusian printing plants and state press distribution networks, as well as put an end to pressure on independent reporters.

    Only opponent of new Media Law in lower chamber to remain unknown

    Naveny also reports that it is impossible to name the only lawmaker who voted against a new version of Belarus’ Media Law because the legislation was passed by secret ballot, the press office of the House of Representatives told BelaPAN.

    Ninety-three members of the lower chamber voted to pass the bill on first reading on June 17.

    When reached by BelaPAN, Yury Kulakowski, chairman of the House’s standing Committee on Human Rights, Ethnic Relations and the Media, failed to name the person. “It’s hard for me to suggest [who did it] as this could be done by a person who had said in public that he or she would vote for the bill,” he noted.

    Uladzimir Zdanovich, chairman of the education committee, suggested that the lawmaker may have simply pressed the wrong button or a technical glitch could be involved.

    New cases of labor discrimination

    From: Viasna
    Leanid Autukukhou, opposition activist from the town of Haradok, was not rehabilitated at job by court. He sued against his dismissal because of the expiry of the working contract, but he was not supported by the judge, the prosecutor or the official trade union.

    During the trial, which ended on 13 June, Leanid Autukhou, chairman of Haradok district branch of the BPF Party, tried to prove that he had been dismissed with violations of the labor legislation.

    On 4 April 2008 he was fired from the position of operator of cleaning structures. However, he was informed about the dismissal in less than a months’ advance, which is prohibited by the law. Besides, as it was found, he worked a part of his shift after he was fired, which means that his working contract was to be extended automatically.

    However, at the trial the deputy chair of the local organization of the official federation of trade unions of housing economy enterprises Iryna Siamionava stated that the legal norms, to which Autukhou was referring, were not obligatory for the employer. The prosecutor Natallia Liatas also stated she did not see any violations and the court did not grant Autukhou’s petition.

    Alexander Halavach, activist of the youth wing of the United Civil Party, ‘Young Democrats’, have been fired from the Medical college in Minsk, where he was working as the head of the theatrical coterie.

    Mr. Halavach studies at the Belarusian University of Culture (the faculty of traditional Belarusian culture and contemporary art). When he was employed, there was an informal agreement that he would be absent during his exam sessions. Later, there were no problems with that. However, several days ago Mr. Halavach was summonsed by the provost on educational work, who coldly asked him, why he was absent at the working place during the several days of his session. By the way, during his absence he did not receive a single call to his mobile phone from the Medical College. Nevertheless, the college administration decided to fire him, without explaining the real reasons. Before this Alexander Halavach worked as pedagogue-organizer at secondary school #207, but was fired there with the explanation that his ideology did not correspond to the state one.

    Savetski district court of Homel rejected the suit against the local education department, filed by Sviatlana Paliakova, member of the United Civil Party, teacher of gymnasium #46.

    On 12 May the employing agency officially warned the teacher that her working contract expired on 21 June. He was proposed to choose between the employment on the position of educator (where she would earn less) or firing from school. As the proposed position is by far less qualified and the wage is also less, the teacher thinks that the gymnasium administration applied hidden discrimination against her. By the way, not only Sviatlana Paliakova is a member of the United Civil Party, but her husband also heads Homel oblast UCP branch.

    “MPs” adopted Draft Law on Media in first reading

    From: Charter '97
    The Draft Law on Media allows for registration of Internet resources, moreover, Belarusian Internet will be regulated not by laws, but by regulations of the Council of Ministers. At present, there are practically no independent printed editions in Belarus. Radio and TV are controlled by the authorities. The Internet has been the only source of alternative information. The law passed by vote of 93-1 in the “parliament”.

    “The order of state registration of mass media, spreading via the global computer network Internet, as well as the order of spreading of these media falls into competence of the Council of Ministers, according to the draft law,” first deputy minister of information of Belarus Liliya Ananich said today in the “parliament”.

    The draft law have been prepared in closed regime for 5 years at the suggestion of the Presidential Administration. He was introduced to the Belarusian “parliament” on 10 June and the next day the date of its reviewing was appointed - 17 June.

    The Belarusian Association of Journalists received the draft law text shortly before the reading. Having analysed the draft law on media on Friday, the BAJ lawyers came to a conclusion that if the law is adopted as it is drafted now, the independent press will get irreparable blow, which will make it difficult for them to survive and lead to eliminating of independent media in the country.

    The fact that adoption of the draft law can lead to blocking of all Internet-media that are not registered in Belarus triggers great concern. Moreover, activity of Internet-resources will be regulated not by laws but by acts of the Council of Ministers.

    According to the draft law on media, a list of violations, which are subject to warnings for editors, is blurred and unlimited, and activity of printed edition can be suspended after only one notice. Moreover, not only the Ministry of Information but also any judge, prosecutor and official can deliver warnings.

    Nevertheless, the “MPs” didn’t criticise the draft law during the discussion. “The law is important, necessary and well-timed,” “member of the parliament” Valer Lektarau noted. He also said “every deputy received letters from the Belarusian Association of Journalists containing claims to the draft law.”

    In this connection “MP” Anatol Krasutski noted that “a number of the claims are not true and stay in contradictions with the text of the law.”

    Belarusian high-rank officials have recently spoken for tightening of the law on media. In particular, Liliya Ananich, deputy minister of information, said Belarus had faced a problem of “stream of misinformation from foreign websites, but there are practices used in China, which blocked the access to the sites on its territory.”

    Aleh Pralyaskouski, director of the Information Analytical Center at the Presidential Administration, insists on necessary “increasing of responsibility for information on the Internet” and offers to place responsibility for spreading information via the Internet on a website’s administrator and an owner of Internet resource and a provider.

  • Around the region...

    Georgia says four Russian peacekeepers arrested in conflict zone

    From: Ria Novosti
    Georgia's Interior Ministry said on Tuesday that four Russian peacekeepers have been arrested for trying to smuggle guided missiles into the breakaway province of Abkhazia.

    Abkhazia is the focus of an ongoing feud between Russia and Georgia, which accused the Kremlin of planning to annex the area through "armed aggression" when Russia deployed an additional 1,000 peacekeepers in the area in April.

    Shota Utiashvili, chief analyst at the ministry, told RIA Novosti that the peacekeepers were arrested "transporting 35 crates of munitions. The crates contained guided missiles."

    He said they were arrested "over a discrepancy between the documentation on the cargo, and the actual cargo."

    Mamuka Kurashvili, the commander of the Georgian peacekeeping battalion in the Georgia-South Ossetia conflict area, told reporters that no ammunition cargo had been authorized by Georgia, and that the munitions cargo was being accompanied by airborne troopers.

    RIA Novosti has not yet received confirmation of the arrests from the Russian peacekeepers stationed in the area.

    Russia refuses to recognize new Kosovo constitution

    From: Jurist
    Russia will not recognize the new Kosovar constitution [text] because it is illegal, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation announced [press release, in Russian] Monday. The Assembly of Kosovo [official website] adopted the constitution in April, and the EU later certified it [JURIST reports] as guaranteeing the individual and community rights of all its citizens. The constitution went into effect Sunday [JURIST report]. Officials at the Russian Foreign Ministry said that the constitution violates international law [UN Resolution 1244 text] because it states Kosovo's intention to separate from the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) [official website], which Russian authorities say is supposed to be present in Kosovo's administration. Ignoring this law rather than changing it with the support of the UN and the countries involved will lead to "negative consequences for the region's security and international stability," foreign ministry officials wrote. Reuters has more.

    Kosovo [JURIST news archive] is overwhelmingly populated by ethnic Albanians with only a small minority of Serbs remaining, mostly in the north [JURIST report]. Serb troops withdrew from the region following NATO's 1999 bombing campaign. The Kosovo region was then controlled by an interim UN administration, and the country unilaterally declared independence [declaration text; JURIST report] in February 2008. The US and most European states have recognized the new state of Kosovo, but Serbia and Russia, Serbia's closest ally, have refused to recognize the country. Kosovo Serbs claim they will set up their own assembly within Kosovo by June 28 to protect their rights.

    NATO head pledges to forge consensus on Ukraine

    From: Reuters
    NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said on Tuesday he would try to persuade all NATO members to back the idea of extending to Ukraine a Membership Action Plan (MAP), a step to joining the military alliance.

    Scheffer was winding up a two-day visit to the ex-Soviet state where many people are unenthusiastic about NATO after decades of propaganda portraying it as a warmonger. Scheffer said his visit amounted to an "outreach program" to "debunk" myths about the alliance.

    A NATO summit in Bucharest in April declined to grant MAP to Ukraine and ex-Soviet Georgia, but agreed to review the issue at a meeting of foreign ministers in December.

    With chants from a small anti-NATO protest resounding outside the building, Scheffer gave no predictions on Ukraine's chances of receiving MAP in six months' time.

    "That is difficult for me to speculate. As you know, in Bucharest there was not yet a consensus on the Membership Action Plan," he told a news conference.

    "I will try to do the best I can to forge, to create that consensus...I will see to it that I do my best -- I speak for myself as Secretary General -- to forge that consensus.

    "Guarantees I cannot give, unfortunately."

    The lack of consensus on extending MAP to the two ex-Soviet states was linked to fierce opposition from Russia, which has said it could take "military steps" in response, and a lack of public backing inside Ukraine. Opinion polls show support for joining NATO tops out at about 30 percent.

    Scheffer gave fresh assurances to skeptical Ukrainians that membership did not imply hosting military bases or sending soldiers to fight in far-away lands. Rather, Ukraine's ailing defense industry would benefit rather than lose competitiveness.

    Both Scheffer and pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko said after talks on Monday that joining NATO was a decision to be taken by Ukraine alone.

    Yushchenko has made NATO and EU membership the cornerstone of his foreign policy since being propelled to power by "Orange Revolution" protests in 2004. He has pledged that the final decision on membership would be put to a referendum.

    Russia says to replace Ukraine-made missile parts

    From: Reuters
    Russia is to replace Ukrainian-made engines in its cruise missiles with local ones, an arms producer said on Monday.

    Moscow's statement was the second signal in as many days of Russia's fierce opposition to its neighbour's entry into NATO, and came as NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was visiting Ukraine.

    On Saturday, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said Ukraine would lose industry ties with Russia and suffer reduced trade cooperation if it joined NATO.

    On Monday, Yevgeny Kablov, director general of the All-Russian Aviation Materials Research Institute, said Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had ordered officials to revise some ties with Ukraine.

    "Vladimir Vladimirovich has set a task of replacing engines in cruise missiles to end dependence on Ukraine," he told visiting government officials and journalists.

    He gave no further details. Kablov's institute is involved in designing alloys for aviation and space engines.

    Ukraine, which built the formidable SS-18 nuclear missile -- codenamed "Satan" by NATO -- in Soviet days, now supplies engines for Russian X-35, X-55 and X-59 cruise missiles produced at its aviation and helicopter engine maker Motor-Sich.

    Motor-Sich is a major foreign economic partner for Russia's aviation materials institute. Earlier this year it said it planned to open a cruise missile engine venture in Russia.

    NATO has given Ukraine an undertaking that it can eventually join the alliance, but has given no firm timetable.

    Russians about Russian language in Ukraine

    From: ForUm
    On June 16, the Information and Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation made commentary regarding the administrative influence on Russian language in Ukraine on the official web-site of MFA.

    Taking part in the international forum of Russianists in Lugansk, a major event in the humanitarian life of Ukraine, were authoritative philologists and linguists from different countries of the world who are far from being indifferent to the present and future of the Russian language in Ukraine. Many speakers at this representative forum stated with bitterness that Russian in Ukraine is being subjected to all manner of persecution. Thus, the country has over the last 16 years issued more than 70 legal and regulatory acts aimed at its limitation in sociopolitical life.

    In particular, it was pointed out that schools are being forcibly converted from Russian to Ukrainian as a medium of instruction, which official statistics bear out: of the 20,600 previously existing secondary schools only 1,345 still conduct instruction in Russian. In Kyiv, for example, only six out of the 3,550 schools remain where Russian speech can still be heard. Much-warranted concern was also expressed over Russian-speaking postsecondary teachers being dismissed everywhere and the ban imposed on the use of aids in the Russian language. Reasonable grievances were voiced that teachers of Russian language and literature receive lower pay than their colleagues – teachers of Ukrainian and foreign languages and so on.

    Unfortunately, the above facts are only a fraction of what is actually happening with the “erosion” of Russian in Ukraine, which is an object of rigid and massive administrative pressure. In this regard, one can point to the measures for ousting Russian from television and radio broadcasts, the Ukrainianization of film distribution, conversion of the higher education system to Ukrainian, introduction of obligatory tests for school leavers in Ukrainian, reduction of the import of Russian books, use of Ukrainian only in passenger transport services, the order that dissertations be defended in the state (Ukrainian) language only, the calls to curb the informational “expansion” of foreign media (read Russian-language media and so on). As a result the authorities “have got what they wanted”: population literacy has sharply fallen, people knowing neither Ukrainian nor Russian resort to the so called surzhik, a mix of Ukrainian and Russian. All these awkward actions to de-Russify the cultural/humanitarian space have already placed Ukraine 67th in the world for population literacy.

    The stubborn unwillingness of the supporters of speeded Ukrainianization to solve the problem of Russian on the basis of existing legislative and appropriate international acts leads to an alienation of a considerable part of the population from authority and creates a tense atmosphere in society, for nearly 50 percent of the population in Ukraine considers that the Russian language should be given special status. But Kyiv, it seems, does not hear the voice of the people. Prosecutor’s offices even appeal against the decisions of regional councils of southeastern regions to grant to Russian the status of regional language in accordance with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, ratified by Ukraine. As was stressed at the forum, power structures have adopted the Charter for its “external use” only.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Sex is like heaven on earth: Polish monk

    From: Catholic News
    Having an orgasm is like going to heaven, according to a Polish Capuchin monk, who has set up a website to assist couples in improving their lovemaking.

    Metro reports Fr Ksawery Knotz's lover's guide on gives graphic lovemaking tips and has been dubbed the 'Catholic Kama Sutra'.

    It compares having an orgasm to going to heaven and recommends that men 'take care that women experience pleasure' during sex, adding that this requires 'extra efforts on the part of the husband'.

    According to the Thai Indian, Fr Ksawery Knotz's service has been flooded with requests ever since he started offering tips on how to achieve super orgasms.

    Contrary to common belief, the Church does not ban the pleasures of the flesh, the Sun quoted Father Ksawery, from Poland, as saying.

    Corruption scandal rocks Polish Health Ministry

    From: WBJ
    A top Health Ministry official has resigned in the wake of bribery allegations

    The Secretary of State in the Ministry of Health, Krzysztof Grzegorek, handed in his resignation last week and was suspended from the Civic Platform (PO) party following allegations of involvement in tender-fixing made by television station TVN last week.

    According to TVN, Grzegorek took a zl.20,000 bribe for fixing a tender with medicine distributor Johnson & Johnson while working as head of an obstetrics and gynecology unit in a hospital in the town of Skarzysko-Kamienna in central Poland. The incident allegedly took place sometime between 2005 and the 2007 elections.

    Grzegorek denounced TVN's accusations and has refused to give up his parliamentary immunity. "If the prosecutor comes up with concrete charges … he will give up his immunity," PO parliamentary club head Zbigniew Chlebowski told the press last week.

    Grzegorek's case is a part of a much wider investigation involving 100 hospitals, which started in 2006 following the arrest of the head of a gynecology unit in a Radom hospital. The investigation is being conducted by the Central Anti-corruption Bureau, the Internal Security Agency and Central Bureau of Investigation, together with several prosecutors' offices in Poland.

    Last week, not long after TVN made its accusations against Grzegorek, Rzeczpospolita reported that two Polish Peasants' Party (PSL) MPs were also under investigation. As many as 200 people may soon be accused of corruption, according to the daily.

    Rzeczpospolita also reported that the state prosecutor, Marek Staszak, might have known about the evidence against Grzegorek long before the scandal broke.

    Before Grzegorek's resignation, Minister of Health Ewa Kopacz declared that she "knew Grzegorek as a good doctor … a great manager and an honest man."

    Grzegorek was expected to be replaced in the ministry by either Jacek Domejko, the head of a hospital in Swidnica, or PO MP Krystyna Skowronska.

    Referee Webb Receives Death Threats from Polish Fans After Penalty Decision

    Referee Howard Webb has received death threats on the internet after awarding Austria an injury-time penalty against Poland in last night's Euro 2008 Group B match. But Uefa have publicly backed the official's decision.

    The controversial late penalty award, when Mariusz Lewandowski grabbed a handful of Sebastian Prodl's shirt and held on until they both tumbled to the deck, saw Poland lose a 1-0 lead seconds from the end against co-hosts Austria. The result means the Poles must now beat leaders Croatia in their final group game, and hope that Austria can get something out of their game against Germany. Otherwise they will be leaving their first European Championships early.

    And English referee Howard Webb has become an overnight hate figure among Poles.

    It is reported that football blog Soccerlens, for example, had to delete and close comments from a profile it ran on Webb, because, said the site: "The comments were full of hate and vitriol, aiming sexual abuse and death threats towards the English referee and claiming that Webb had taken bribes to give that penalty."

    There are also several distinctly unpleasant anti-Webb videos on You Tube now.

    However, the alternative view of Webb's action is that he took a brave and correct decision at an intense momemt of a high pressure match, and deserves appreciation for the long-overdue clamping down on one of the game's most pernicious and irritating traits: the pulling of opponents by the shirt at dead-ball situations.

    Many referees would not have blown for the offence, but Webb did so.

    And Uefa have backed him.

    While Poland coach Leo Beenhakker was furious about the decision afterwards, Uefa's William Gaillard said: "We don't think it is controversial that a player is pulled down by the shirt and a penalty is given."

    Gaillard, director of communications for the European governing body, added: "It [Webb's decision] was certainly within the laws of the game."

    But Beenhakker, not surprisingly, insists the decision was incorrect, and complains that it has effectively knocked Poland out of Euro 2008.

    "I've never had a problem in 43 years of being in football but this is something I cannot understand," he said. "It's impossible to accept but I am working on it. We don't have it in our own hands any more and the conclusion is we are out of the tournament."

    Yet while Beenhakker also accused Webb of trying to prove he was a "big boy", Austria were unhappy with the English officials too because as Poland's goal appeared to be offside.

    Uefa's disciplinary body may now take action against Beenhakker for his comments, while the referees' committee will decide if Webb and assistants Darren Cann and Michael Mullarkey will take charge of another game at the tournament.

    It would be bizarre if Webb were to be effectively punished for applying the laws of the game.

    Gaillard said: "The referees' committee analyses all the games and makes the appointments according to its own analyses and we don't interfere with the way they are managing officials in this tournament.

    "For sure there is a better chance to referee the final matches as his national team is not there but that is a statistical chance.

    "I wouldn't speculate about the decisions of our referees' committee."

  • Sport...

    Barca Chief In London For Hleb

    The Blaugrana are favourites to land the Belarus midfielder and Pep Guardiola is believed to be a big fan of him.

    Hleb made it clear at the end of the season that he would be leaving North London in search of a better deal elsewhere and it seems as if the Camp Nou side will offer him just what he wants.

    The Catalonian giants are ready to offer €15m to lure the player away from the Emirates and into the Camp Nou and they will ty and lean on Arsenal and use Hleb’s own desire to leave as an excuse to make the Gunner’s part company with him more easily.

    It is likely that Arsenal will play hardball over Hleb and they will do all they can to try and squeeze more money out of the Blaugrana.

    It is looking increasingly likely that Hleb will wear the Blaugrana jersey next term given his penchant to leave North London.

    Govortsova Advances

    Olga Govortsova of Belarus upset No.7 seed Nicole Vaidisova 6-2 6-4 in their first round match. The 19-year-old from Belarus took one hour and four minutes to defeat the world No.18, getting 75 per cent of her first serves in and winning 69 per cent of points off the first serve.

    Vaidisova was disappointed with her performance following her quarter final appearance at the DFS Classic in Birmingham. “I had a pretty good week last week so I expected a little more from myself today,” said the 20-year-old from the Czech Republic. “It wasn’t my day today. Everything felt flat. My serve wasn’t working and that is a major part of my game, and she used her opportunities more.”

  • Cultural scene...

    1st Minsk Modern Art Biennale showcases 142 masterpieces

    From: BelTA
    The 1st Minsk International Biennale of Modern Art Colorfest displayed 142 works of the artists from different countries: Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Lithuania, Estonia, Italy, Germany, England and others.

    Every country could present no more than 20 paintings of five artists, Fiodor Yastreb, the chief curator of the biennale, stated at an opening ceremony in the National Library. The project organized by the National Library of Belarus and the International Guild of Painters reflected the modern art in full. Such an exhibition held in Belarus for the first time would promote development of creative and friendly relations between the artists of Belarus and other countries.

    The international jury headed by People’s Artist of Belarus Gavriil Vaschenko gave the Grand-Prix of the contest held within the project to well-known Italian artist Rafael de Rosa. Many painters became prize-holders of the contest including Belarusian artists Fiodor Yastreb, Ruslan Vashkevich and Dmitry Surinovich.

    The works of the 1st Minsk International Biennale of Modern Art Colorfest have been placed in the four galleries of the library. The exhibition will last till August 1.

    Italy’s documentary to open Magnificat competitive film programme in Glubokoye

    A documentary “Mongolia’s Border” by Italian filmmakers will open a competitive film programme of the 4th International Catholic Festival of Christian Movies and TV Programmes Magnificat 2008 in Glubokoye on June 17. The opening of the festival will take place on June 18 in the village of Udelo, Glubokoye region, the chief of the ideology department of the Glubokoye regional executive committee, Mikhail Cherepkovsky, told BelTA.

    The festival is aimed at fostering human values which are preached by various Christian religions. This year the competitive film programme features 34 movies from 14 countries: Belarus (6), Russia (6), Italy (4), Poland (3) and Ukraine (2). Lithuania, the USA, France, Canada, Croatia, Switzerland will show one movie each. The first-time participants are Georgia and Lebanon. The Belarusian animation film “Bethlehem Star Shining” will be demonstrated in the non-competitive film programme.

    The festival is held under the patronage of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Belarus, with the participation of the Vitebsk diocese of the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus with the blessing of Archbishop Minsk-Mogilev Metropolitan Tadeusz Kondrusievicz and with assistance of the Glubokoye regional executive committee.

  • Endnote...

    Putin's Giant Chess Game: 'Petrostate'

    From: NY Sun
    Over the weekend, at a meeting in Osaka, finance ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized nations warned that high commodities prices are a threat to the world economy. With the price of oil passing $130 a barrel, the American Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, singled out oil-rich countries for not investing enough in production.

    As news outlets pointed out, most of the G-8 countries have little control over production. One, however, does, and it has leveraged that control, and its enormous reserves, to regain status as a world power.

    Russia's re-emergence as a "Petrostate" is the subject of Marshall Goldman's new book of the same name (Oxford University Press, 244 pages, $27.95). An emeritus professor of economics at Wellesley College and senior scholar at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University, Mr. Goldman has spent decades delving into Russian and Soviet economics, and his latest in a dozen books offers critical insight into the country's energy sector.

    After the tsarist reconquest of what is now Azerbaijan and the Caucuses in the mid-19th century, Russia began a cycle that has repeated itself in various forms to the present day. Foreign concerns, beginning with the Swedish Nobel family and Rockefeller's Standard Oil, were allowed in to exploit the petroleum reserves and lend their advanced technology, but after the Bolsheviks took over, the foreigners were forced out.

    In "Petrostate," Mr. Goldman takes a detailed look at oil production in the Soviet era, and especially the political leverage that ownership of some of the world's largest petroleum and gas reserves offered: the use of oil to gain influence in countries such as Cuba and Pakistan, and the opportunity presented by the 1973 oil embargo, when Western Europe sought to reduce its dependence on uncertain imports from the Middle East. The West throughout the Cold War had held back its advanced drilling technology from the Soviet Union, which oversaw colossal waste through its emphasis on quantity over quality, but by the early 1980s, a natural gas pipeline linking the U.S.S.R. with Western Europe was in the offing, over the objections of President Reagan. It was completed in 1985.

    The breakup of the Soviet Union and the division of its spoils provides Mr. Goldman with his meatiest material. While the Ministry of the Gas Industry was preserved whole as a hybrid state corporate entity — in 1989, it became Gazprom, with the gas minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, installed as its CEO — the Ministry of Petroleum privatized its oil fields.

    The chaos that ensued, Mr. Goldman writes, was foreseeable. As many Russians traded away the vouchers they received from President Yeltsin's government for a bottle of vodka instead of using them to purchase stock in the country's new companies, a small group of men was preparing the ground for takeovers on a huge scale.

    Through the tainted Loans for Shares program, for example, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his Bank Menatep were able, by way of a rigged auction, to gain control of the huge oil fields of Yukos for a mere $309 million, Mr. Goldman writes. The company, one of many controlled by the country's new "oligarch" class, soon had a market share of $15 billion.

    With production and the price of oil dropping as the 1990s progressed, Russia again turned to foreign partners, allowing British Petroleum to buy part of the Russian oil concern TNK, and permitting the signing of production sharing agreements with Royal Dutch Shell and Total, among others, to drill in the inhospitable fields off the island of Sakhalin.

    But after Russia hit rock bottom with the August 1998 default and crash, commodities prices began to rise again, as did demand for oil and gas in India and China. A year later, and five months after the economy began its turnaround, Mr. Goldman writes, an unknown from St. Petersburg named Vladimir Putin was appointed prime minister.

    As president, and now again as prime minister, Mr. Putin has presided over economic growth approaching 8% a year. He laid out his economic strategy in a dissertation in 1997: Instead of allowing Russia's oligarch-controlled corporations to focus exclusively on making a profit, they should be used to advance the country's national interests. Russia should welcome direct foreign investment, but Russia alone should retain operating control.

    Sibneft and Yukos, which was flirting with the idea of selling itself to ExxonMobil and Chevron, were reined in, and the oligarchs who controlled them were jailed or fled abroad. Production sharing agreements in Sakhalin, which Mr. Putin had referred to as "a colonial agreement," were adjusted in Russia's favor. Companies known as "national champions," such as Gazprom and Rosneft, now check in advance with Mr. Putin before selling assets to a foreign company.

    In a welcome contrast to aggrieved Western press reports about Mr. Putin's economic strategy and the subsequent fall of oligarchs such as Mr. Khodorkovsky, Mr. Goldman takes an agnostic view on these developments. "In all fairness," he writes, "the way the Russian government reacts when foreign investors attempt to buy their energy resources is not that atypical of how other countries react in a similar situation. If anything, most members of OPEC, for example, are even more protective."

    He does have a stern warning for Western Europe, however. The region has become dangerously dependent on Russia for natural gas, he writes. With its spreading network of pipelines, Gazprom now has the power to let Europe freeze if it so chooses.

    Although the deputy chairman of the state-controlled gas giant, Alexander Medvedev, proclaims that "what is good for Gazprom is good for the world," Mr. Goldman points out that over the years, the Soviet Union and now Russia have not hesitated to reduce or halt the flow of gas. Squabbles with Ukraine, Belarus, and Georgia over the last few years have made hollow Gazprom's pledges that it is a reliable energy partner. While the Europeans and Americans have sought to break Gazprom's pipeline monopoly by promoting the construction of a bypass gas pipeline under the Caspian through Azerbaijan and Georgia to Turkey, they are getting a late start to what Mr. Goldman calls Mr. Putin's "giant chess game." Russia's power today, he writes, now exceeds the military might it had during the Cold War. With no mutually assured destruction, there is no mutually assured restraint, giving Russia more economic clout than Europe or even the kingdom with the world's largest proven oil reserves, Saudi Arabia.

    The chess game continues.