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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Belarus switches to 11-year education, Unemployment at 1%, ILO, Medvedev, Antimissile defences,EurAsEC; Polish scandal, News, Culture and Sport...

  • From the Top...
  • #315

    Belarus’ secondary schools to switch to 11-year education

    From: BelTA
    The president taking part in a meeting on the issues of general secondary education last week
    The final decision was made to switch Belarusian secondary schools to the 11-year education scheme at the government session held by President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko to table the development of general secondary education.

    According to Anatoly Rubinov, First Deputy Head of the Administration of the President of the Republic of Belarus, the switch to the 11-year scheme is well-planned and will not lead to shocks. “The best school practices will be preserved. The changes a decree is supposed to lay down suggest avoiding novelties, which have been deemed inadvisable, but the accumulated experience will not be abandoned to avoid school disruptions,” said Anatoly Rubinov.

    The present-day school is supposed to improve education quality not by overloading students, increasing school education hours and years, but via perfecting the quality of textbooks, the educational process, stressed the official.

    Anatoly Rubinov dispelled fears about the possibility of getting two sets of textbooks next year. In his words, senior school students, who were supposed to be the last graduation class of the 11-year school and the first graduation class of the 12-year school, are of the same age. In 1998 kids went to school when they were 6 (to start in a preparatory form and stay for 12 years of education) and when they were 7 (to begin with the usual first form and stay for 11 years).

    During the session the President underscored, the centralised testing system needs attention. Tests should not be too difficult. Instead they should be linked to the educational level of the general secondary school.

    There are problems with preparing textbooks, as they should be made understandable and intelligible for kids. Anatoly Rubinov also underscored, schools should prepare more than professionals, they should prepare citizens, who are ready to start the adult life and continue getting the necessary knowledge.

    Modern school should preserve its best traditions, President says

    The modern school should preserve its best traditions and get rid of unnecessary things which complicate the process of education, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said at a session focusing on general secondary education issues on June 5.

    A special commission to examine the situation and develop the ways of addressing secondary school problems was set up a month and a half ago, the Head of State reminded. According to the President, the commission revealed a number of serious problems in development of the secondary school system.

    “Various curricular are applied simultaneously: basic, advanced, profound,” Alexander Lukashenko noted. “It is not prestigious nowadays to be just a good school,” he said. “They all want to get a status of a lyceum, gymnasium or introduce various honour classes even in medicine, law or architecture,” the Head of State highlighted.

    He regretted that school workload and period have increased, but the quality of education has not gotten better. According to the President, all this stirs up discontent in the society.

    The decree “On some issues of general secondary education” has been drafted in pursuance of the instruction of the Head of State. In line with the document, the general secondary education spans 11 years. All secondary education establishments, including gymnasia and lyceums will have a five-day week. The sixth day of a week will be a day of physical culture and sport and also optional classes. The academic year will be extended by one week by June 1. The length of autumn, winter and spring holidays will remain the same.

    The excessive complexity and bulkiness of curricula will be eliminated by streamlining school subjects, integrating them and removing minor materials from the curricula. The draft decree suggests that the subjects “Belarusian and world artistic culture” and “Life safety fundamentals” be removed from the 11-year school curricula. The courses “World History” and “History of Belarus” will be untied into one course “History”. The subjects “Music”, “Fine Arts” will be taught in primary school, while “Manual Training” will be reorganized into “Manual Training. Drawing”.

    All secondary schools will use a single model curriculum that provides for teaching subjects at a basic level.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Unemployment in Belarus remains at 1%

    From: BelTA
    The unemployment rate in Belarus remains at 1% of the economically active population (as of June 1, 2007, the rate was 1.1%, June 1, 2006 – 1.6%).

    In summer the rate of unemployment will remain the same, Nikolai Kokhonov, the chief of the main department of the employment policy and population of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, told BelTA. “The jobless rate may increase in September-October as school graduates who fail to get into educational establishments and seasonal workers start applying to the state employment assistance service,” he said.

    The unemployment rate has been falling down in Belarus. According to the statistical data, as of June 1 this year, 44,900 unemployed were registered with the employment assistance service, down 5.9% from June 1 last year. The demand for the workforce has been on the rise. The number of jobs in the job bank of the state employment assistance service increased by 21.2% to 59,400 (in April an increase was 3,100, in May 5,100 jobs).

    The stabilization in the labour market was due to the stable economic performance of the country and effective employment assistance policy, Nikolai Kokhonov said.

    As of June 1 the jobless rate in the Vitebsk, Gomel and Brest oblasts was at the level of 1.3%. The unemployment in the Grodno oblast was 1.2%, in the Mogilev oblast - 1.1%, Minsk oblast -1% and in the city of Minsk - 0.3% of the economically active population.

    No ILO sanctions against Belarus

    From: BelTA
    Belarus has not been included in the special article of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The decision was taken by the ILO session, which takes place in Geneva on May 28-June 13. A Belarusian delegation led by Chairman of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FTUB) Leonid Kozik took part in the session.

    FTUB press secretary Olga Zuyenok told BelTA, “A delegation of workers of Belarus continued working for the sake of reinforcing Belarus’ position in the international trade union movement”. Unlike the FTUB representative, who took part in the session as a representative of a foreign non-governmental organisation, the delegation of workers of Belarus secured support of an overwhelming number of delegations of workers and prevented Belarus’ inclusion into the special article of the session’s concluding document, noted the source.

    The experience of the 97th ILO session underscored once again the FTUB’s capability for protecting interests of Belarusian workers, stressed Olga Zuyenok. The FTUB’s view was upheld by over 300 million members of trade unions from many countries.

    According to the source, FTUB Chairman Leonid Kozik took part in an extended session of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU). In his speech he remarked that the WFTU should play a more significant role in the international trade union movement and put forward an initiative for more active use of the opportunities the organisation’s charter and ILO regulations provide for replacing officers in ILO governing bodies with WFTU representatives.

    Leonid Kozik also met with WFTU Secretary General George Mavrikos and WFTU President Mohamad Assouz. The sides reached an agreement to hold an international conference in Minsk in 2008. The conference will be dedicated to reinforcing potential capabilities of the UN system, including ILO.

    The Belarusian delegation also held several bilateral meetings with delegations of Brazil, Greece, Armenia, China, Cyprus, India and other countries. Experts of the delegation continued working as part of various committees.

    ILO sessions are official annual events, during which delegations of various countries consider most important modern-day issues and the fulfilment of ILO conventions. For several years among other things ILO sessions have been considering the so-called Belarusian issue, which according to Belarus is politicised and was initiated by leaders of trade unions outside the FTUB back in 2001.

  • Union State...

    Russia President to visit Belarus June 22

    From: BelTA
    President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev is expected to visit Belarus on June 22. The agreement was reached during a phone talk between the presidents of Belarus and Russia on June 10. The phone talk had been initiated by the Russian head of state, the press service of the President of Belarus told BelTA.

    “Alexander Lukashenko and Dmitry Medvedev have reached an agreement concerning the visit of the Russian president to Belarus on June 22 — the Day of National Memory of the Great Patriotic War Victims. The tragic date is symbolic for nations of both the countries. It is symbolic that the meeting of the two presidents will take place in Brest, which was the first to meet the Nazi onslaught,” noted the press service.

    In continuation of the contacts, which took place during the informal summit of the CIS heads of state in Saint Petersburg, the Presidents shared opinions about topical issues of the bilateral relations and international relations during the phone talk.

    Belarusian and Russian border departments to discuss cooperation in Minsk

    On June 10, the Belarusian and Russian border departments will discuss the cooperation development for 2008-2010, BelTA learnt from Alexander Tischenko, the head of the press centre of the Belarusian State Border Committee.

    According to him, a delegation of the Russian border service has arrived in Minsk to participate in a joint session of the Border Committee of the Belarus-Russia Union State. Its members have already had a special session to discus the preparation and signing the final documents.

    Attending the session will be Chairman of the Belarusian State Border Committee Major General Igor Rachkovsky and First Deputy Director – Head of the Border Service of the Russian Federal Security Service General of the Army Vladimir Pronichev.

    The issues related to implementation of the programme of development of the border of the Belarus-Russia Union State in 2007-2011 will be high on session’s agenda.

  • Miltary...

    Russia may suggest placing antimissile defences in Belarus

    From: BelTA
    Russia will not deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus, but may suggest deploying antimissile defences, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia to Belarus Alexander Surikov told a press conference in Minsk on June 9.

    “We will not deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus and there is no sense in talking about it,” said Alexander Surikov when asked about possible countermeasures to the US’ possible deployment of antimissile defences in the Czech Republic and Poland.

    “We may talk about antimissile defences. Everything depends on the level of cooperation: the Union State is one thing, different countries are another,” said Alexander Surikov.

    CIS considering bill on combating illegal arms turnover

    Minsk hosted a session of the CIS group of experts on coordinating a draft agreement on cooperation in combating illegal production and turnover of fire-arms, ammunition, explosives in the Commonwealth Executive Committee on June 10.

    “Almost all terrorist acts use explosives and fire-arms. It is necessary to keep track of the chain of arms transportation from the supplier to the customer,” Sergei Tretyakov, the deputy director of the CIS First Department of the Foreign Ministry of Russia, stated. Sergei Tretyakov was appointed Chairman of the session on coordinating the draft agreement.

    The agreement on cooperation in combating illegal turnover of fire-arms and explosives is envisaged by the interstate programme of joint measures against crime. The CIS countries intend to cooperate in preventing and revealing primes connected with the illegal production and turnover of arms, to analysis the present situation, develop a coordinated strategy and joint combat measures, coordinate and improve interaction between the competent bodies.

    The CIS also plans to gather the information about the transnational criminal groups, their leaders and accomplices in the joint databank. The databank will contain the information about the criminal groups of all the CIS countries.

    “The joint databank containing the information about the criminal groupings, their heads including commercial structures that are suspected of financing terrorism, organized crime, drugs trafficking is our top-priority task. I hope this is the final reading of the draft agreement,” Sergei Tretyakov underlined.

    This session is the second meeting of the experts on coordination of the draft agreement. The document was studied at the first session of the experts. After the final coordination it will be submitted for consideration of the CIS Heads of Government.

    In 2007, more than 46 thousand crimes connected with illegal turnover of arms, ammunition, explosives were revealed in the CIS. Over 8.6 thousand crimes were committed with the use of fire and gas arms, ammunition and explosives.

  • Economics...

    Belarus plans to ratify Customs Union agreements by June 10

    From: BelTA
    The House of Representatives of the National Assembly intends to ratify a set of the Customs Union agreements by June 10, BelTA was told in the press service of the lower house.

    Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Andrei Kobyakov is expected to present the documents in the parliament. The documents include the agreements on the single customs and tariff regulation, on export customs duties with regard to third countries, on single rules of determining the country of origin of goods, single measures of non-tariff regulation with regard to third countries.

    The set of documents also features the agreements on determining the customs value of goods produced in third countries and moved through the Customs Union border, on single customs statistics of foreign trade in goods, on principles of levying indirect taxes.

    The deputies plan to ratify the protocol on amendments to the EurAsEC Treaty of October 10, 2000. The protocol aims to create the institutional basis of the Customs Union. So far only three members states of the EurAsEC - Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan – have been involved in the creation of legal framework. Other members of the EurAsEC will be able to join the Union as they are ready both politically and economically.

    The House of Representatives will also ratify the treaty on single customs territory and the formation of the Customs Union. It determines the common trading regime. In line with the agreements, since the founding of the customs territory the sides have not been applying customs duties, quantitative restrictions and other similar measures in mutual trade.

    Formation of Customs Union goes according to schedule, EurAsEC Secretary General says

    The work dealing with the formation of the Customs Union of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan goes according to schedule, EurAsEC Secretary General Tair Mansurov noted during his meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

    “The action plan approved during the recent session of the EurAsEC Interstate Council is being implemented neatly,” Tair Mansurov noted.

    He reminded that during the session of the heads of government in January this year, the sides signed 29 documents, 12 of which are the legal basis of the EurAsEC. The next goal is to create the single economic area, the secretary general highlighted.

    In turn, Vladimir Putin called the EurAsEC as one of the most promising and efficient union in the post-Soviet area.

    Belarus ratifies agreement on protective measures against third countries

    On June 10, the lower house of the Belarusian parliament ratified an agreement on the application of special protective, anti-dumping and compensatory measures against third countries.

    The agreement was submitted to the House of Representatives in a package of the documents related to the formation of the Customs Union by Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia. The agreement regulates introduction and lifting of special measures against imports of goods originating in third countries. The Commission of the Customs Union is vested with the right to apply the aforementioned measures.

    The Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus, Andrei Yevdochenko, noted, the agreement will protect Belarus from economic sanctions of third countries. “These countries will know that retaliatory measures will be taken not only by Belarus but by the three member states of the Customs Union”, Andrei Yevdochenko noted.

    By and large, the House of Representatives ratified 13 international agreements on June 10. Among them are the agreements on single rules of determining the country of origin, on agreed policy in technical regulation, sanitary measures, on customs export duties with respect to third countries, on determining the customs value of goods moved through the border of the Customs Union.

    Gas for Belarus will be 30% cheaper than for neighbouring countries, Vice-Premier says

    The price for Russian natural gas for Belarus will be 30% cheaper than for Belarus’ neighbouring countries, Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Andrei Kobyakov said when speaking in the House of Representatives of the National Assembly.

    “Russia is likely to retain the right to have gas export duties when it joins WTO. Applying export duties in trade between the Customs Union member states is prohibited. Thus? gas will be 30% cheaper for Belarus than for its neighbours,” the Vice-Premier said.

    The House of Representatives ratified a set of 13 agreements on setting up the Customs Union in the EurAsEC.

    In Q1 2008, Belarus' foreign trade up 59.1%

    From: BelTA
    In January-April 2008, Belarus' foreign trade in goods and services was up 59.1% from the same period of 2007 (the 2008 projections are up 14.5-15.5%), BelTA learnt from the Belarusian Ministry of Statistics and Analysis.

    According to the statistics ministry, in Q1 the export rose by 61.3% (the forecast put it as 16-17%), the import soared by 57.1% (12.5-13.5% as projected).

    In Q1 2008, the deficit of the Belarusian foreign trade in goods and services was equal to $626.3 million. The deficit of foreign trade is projected to near $1400-1420 million in 2008.

    Investment in fixed capital in Belarus rises by 22.5% in January-May 2008

    In January-May 2008, the investment in fixed capital and construction in Belarus increased by 22.5% up to Br10,553 trillion from the same period of 2007, BelTA learnt from the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis.

    Over the five months this year, the amount of building and assembly jobs was equal to more than Br4,588 trillion which in comparable prices is up 18.9% from January-May 2007.

    In the period under review, 1.62 million square meters of housing was commissioned in Belarus, or 9.4% up over the same period last year. This includes 755.8 thousand square meters of housing built in rural areas and small towns (up 9.9% from 2007).

    Belarus’ GDP 10.4% up in January-May

    In January-May 2008, Belarus’ GDP increased by 10.4% from the same period 2007, BelTA learnt in the Ministry for Statistics and Analysis of Belarus.

    In the period under review, the industrial production increased by 13.3% (according to the decree the annual target stands at 8-9%), consumer goods output — 14.2% (9-10%). The production of foods went up by 14.9% (the forecast is pegged at 8-9%), non-foods — 13.7% (10-11%).

    NBRB prepares financial stability report

    The National Bank of the Republic of Belarus (NBRB) has prepared the financial stability report for the first time, Pavel Kallaur, the First Deputy Chairman of the Board of the National Bank, told journalists on June 10.

    According to him, this document “is designed to reveal the state of the financial sector of the Belarusian economy taking into account the inherent risks of our financial system.”

    The report employs internationally accepted assessment methods, provides expert opinion and analyzes external shocks, Pavel Kallaur underlines. “We have to work out the appropriate response to the external shocks in the view of their influence on the inflation situation in the country, balance of payments”, he explained.

  • From the International Press...

    Belarus hoping to get $2-billion stabilization loan from Russia this year, deputy minister says

    From: Naveny
    The Belarusian government is hoping to get a $2-billion stabilization loan from Russia this year, First Deputy Finance Minister Andrey Kharkavets told reporters in Minsk on Tuesday, BelaPAN said.

    The deputy minister said that talks between Belarus and Russia on the loan currently focused on the evaluation of Belarus` capability to repay the loan. "Routine work is carried out by the Russian side to assess out macroeconomic capabilities," Mr. Kharkavets said.

    "We have not yet ever had more `comfortable and long-term money," he said. "This is very good resources for the country. I think that this is efficient money. It is needed to settle above all payments in foreign trade."

    The news about the talks was broken by the Russian ambassador to Belarus, Aleksandr Surikov, at a news conference on June 9.

    The ambassador said that the Belarusian government had filed an official request for the loan, noting that the economic situation in Belarus might “slightly” deteriorate because of an increase in the price of natural gas for the nation.

    Talks with Russia about a $2-billion loan continue, Deputy Prime Minister Andrey Kabyakow told reporters in late April.

    Belarus received a $1.5-billion stabilization loan from the Russian government at the end of 2007.

    The loan was given in one tranche for 15 years at an interest rate of libor plus 0.75 percent and with five years’ deferment of repayment, according to the Belarusian finance ministry.

    Minsk had asked Russia for a $1.5-billion stabilization loan since February 2007, citing the need to plug holes in the budget caused by a sharp rise in energy prices.

    Navistar Engine to supply off-road diesel engines to Belarus manufacturers

    From: Automotive Business
    The Navistar Engine Group has expanded commitment to supplying off-road diesel engines to Belarussian manufacturers of diesel-powered agricultural, construction and industrial equipment.

    The company has unveiled its full line of off-road diesels across the 37-254kW range at the Belagro international agricultural exhibition.

    In addition to its current International-brand engine models that meet European Stage-2 emissions standards, Navistar showcased its new Stage-3 emissions-compliant MaxxForce diesels that in the future will help Belarus equipment manufacturers strategically expand their businesses in European export markets.

    David LaPalomento, sales and marketing vice president of the Navistar Engine Group, said: "Working with the Belarus government and industry, we have enjoyed 15 years of success in this country. Today, we move from a niche player with two highly respected products to a broad-line diesel engine supplier to off-road equipment makers throughout the region."

    Belarusian, Russian presidents to meet in Brest on June 22

    From: Itar Tass
    Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will visit Belarus. "A meeting between presidents Alexander Lukashenko and Dmitry Medvedev will take place in Brest," the press service of the Belarusian head of state told Itar-Tass.

    "The visit of the Russian president will be taking place on the day of remembering the victims of the Great Patriotic War. This tragic date is a landmark for the peoples of both countries.

    "Symbolically, the meeting between the two presidents will take place in Brest, which faced the first strike of the invading Nazis," the press service noted.

    A telephone conversation between the presidents of the two countries took place on Tuesday. "As a follow-up of the contacts during the informal CIS summit in St. Petersburg, the presidents exchanged their opinions regarding the pressing issue of bilateral relations and international agenda," it said.

    The Kremlin press service confirmed on Tuesday that Medvedev and Lukashenko had talked by telephone, at Medvedev's initiative and as a follow-up of the contacts in St. Petersburg.

    Alexander Lukashenko to Take His ODIHR Test

    From: Kommersant
    The Belarusian government is ready to do everything to provide maximum comfort to the ODIHR observers during the parliamentary elections this autumn.
    Yesterday the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) delegation arrived in Minsk. They’ll stay in the city for a couple of days and discuss the terms of its participation in the observers’ mission during the parliamentary elections planned for this autumn. The government of Belarus has repeatedly claimed that they wish the forthcoming voting would be rendered legitimate, and it even hasn’t ruled out the possibility of opposition’s getting a few mandates. The invitation of the ODIHR mission can become the major evidence showing that the government is serious about that. At the same time Belarus’ opposition leaders are ready to play up to the authorities in their bid to make the elections seem competitive.
    ODIHR is here

    ODIHR technical group, headed by Britain’s Gerald Mitchell, arrived in Minsk on Monday evening. The official part of the visit started yesterday: the European experts were received in the Belarusian Foreign Office and the republican Central Electoral Committee. The aim of the delegation is giving its assessment of the work of the mission’s observers during the parliamentary elections planned for September 28, and determining whether the ODIHR will send its observers to Belarus (if yes, in what form).

    ODIHR observers are truly famous for their long-term missions. They arrive in a country a few months ahead of the voting day to watch all the stages of electoral campaign. Last year this principle caused a raw between the ODIHR and the Russian government: the observers refused to come to the Duma elections referring to the fact that Moscow deliberately procrastinated with the official invitation of the mission.

    Minsk’s current behaviour means that the government here is not going to follow the Russian scenario of the neutralization of the ODIHR. At least Head of the Belarusian Electoral Committee Lidya Yermoshina assured Kommersant yesterday that ODIHR observers are always welcomed in Belarus. “The head of state has said more than once that observers from all organizations where Belarus has membership must be invited to our country. And in these terms the present assessment mission of the ODIHR is an ordinary procedure that precedes the arrival of this organization’s observers,” Ms Yermoshina told Kommersant.

    Nevertheless, little has been done apart from that rhetoric. Officials with the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, whose invitation is a necessary condition of international monitoring missions’ presence in the country, told Kommersant that the future of the ODIHR observers will be decided on “in its time.” The officials refused to give any further commentary.

    For all that, Belarus’ government still has the time to determine its position and say whether it wants to see international observers in its elections (these observers have never rendered any electoral campaign in the country democratic). The thing is, even the date of the voting hasn’t been determined yet. According to Ms Yermoshina, the Electoral Committee has sent the draft of the corresponding presidential decree to the Administration of the head of state, and now they are waiting for a reply.

    Turning to the opposition

    Observers point out that the Belarusian government hasn’t been that hard on the opposition these days. For example, a project of creating a powerful pro-presidential party basing on the “Belaya Rus” movement has been frozen. The movement was expected to be tested during the current parliamentary elections, and by 2011 it would have turned into a full-fledged party in power. But the constituent session of this organization, where all Belarusian officials were obliged to have membership in, has been suspended without any reasons being given.

    The construction of that party system was terminated after President Lukashenko said in April that membership in the “Belaya Rus” can’t be imposed on a person. “If we find out that some mad bosses make their subordinates join it, they won’t stay in office any longer,” the President threatened adding, “I have nothing to do with this organization. Because of the principles I have. I was member of the Communist Party, and didn’t quit it. So I won’t join the “”Belaya Rus.””

    When speaking with Kommersant, Head of Minsk’s Sociological Laboratory Novak Andrey Vardomatsky explained the behavior of the authorities by the fact that now they don’t need any party “locomotive” because there is the vertical of power “that executes all decisions.” “There are attempts to make believe they are liberal. The government released five political prisoners out of six, declared their intention to draw international investments and said they are going to conduct dialogue with the West. It all lacked four years ago (2004 parliamentary elections were held in Belarus – Kommersant). I call it reload,” Mr Vardomatsky stated.

    Mr Lukashenko’s May interview to Reuters should be reputed the key sign of the government’s good intentions. Surprisingly, the Belarusian President showed much care for the opposition promising that the current parliamentary elections in his country “will be nothing worse than those in the EU.” “I demand that all be bodies hold the elections so that you couldn’t reproach us and say that the voting doesn’t comply with the European standards. If there are a few opposition MPs in the Parliament, they won’t spoil it. They will never have the majority. But I would emphasize that I am afraid that they won’t manage to get into the Parliament,” Mr Lukashenko stated then.

    However, Lukashenko’s critics are convinced that the Belarusian leader is utterly pragmatic. “Lukashenko has been seeking for the parliament to be acknowledged legitimate by the West. He wishes Belarus’ MPs would restore their special status with the PACE delegation – something they were denied 1996 as Lukashenko appointed MPs without holding elections at all,” Svetlana Kalinkina, editor-in-chief of Belarus’ opposition paper “People’s Will,” told Kommersant.


    Whatever the reason, the illusion of a political thaw has inspired the Belarusian opposition, which was determined to deprive the government of the opportunity to pretend they have competitive elections. A month ago the leaders of opposition parties would declare their intention to boycott the electoral campaign, which sort of embarrassed their opponents. Secretary of the Central Electoral Committee Nikolay Lozovik even had to persuade the opposition to change their mind. “Overriding the voting, political parties give up their main end – coming to power. If the opposition manages to unite, it’ll be beneficial for it,” Mr Lozovik appealed to them.

    The opposition followed the Electoral Committee and at the end of May its leaders convened in Warsaw, where they buried the idea of a boycott. Opposition activists of 11 parties, including those officially banned, negotiated the setting up of the United Democratic Forces (UDF), adopted a list of 110 candidates (which corresponds with the number of seats in the parliament), and agreed upon the slogan of their campaign: “Government for the people, not people for the government!”

    “Taking everything into account, we decided to participate in the electoral campaign,” one of the leaders of the UDF, Chairperson of Belarus’ civil party Anatoly Lebedko explained to Kommersant yesterday. “It’s important for us to convey our ideas to the people when we’re given five minutes of TV air once in five years. It’s important that people recognize democratic forces after these elections. The larger the base today, the more chances we’ll have in 2011 (that year presidential elections will be held - Kommersant)”.

    Though making this kind of concession, the opposition is trying to save face. They urge that their representatives be included in local electoral committees to control the counting of ballots. Unless it’s done, the adversaries of Mr Lukashenko threaten to resume the idea of a boycott. “If the authorities don’t include our people in the committees, it’ll serve as a signal for us to recall our candidates. The intrigue is now in that whether the 110 MPs will be elected by the people or appointed by the government,” Mr Lebedko stressed. “So, we’ll either appeal to the people to vote, or they’ll take to the streets”.

  • From the Opposition...

    KGB interrogates victims of RNE-threats

    From: Viasna
    Yan Taupyha, member of the council of the Christian Democratic Party of the Belarusian Popular Front, and party member Yan Dziarzhautsau, were called to the region KGB office. Six month ago they received threatening letters from the Vitsebsk office of the underground pro-Russian neo-Nazi organization Russian National Unity (RNE).

    On 20 May the KGB instituted a criminal case on the facts of threatening letters from the RNE. Not the people, who received similar letters in 2006-2007, are called for interrogation, RFE/RL reports.

    Uladzimer Bazan, chief editor of the non-state bulletin Kuryier z Vitsebska, Alena Zaleskaya former head of the city United Civil Party office, and human rights activist Leanid Svetsik have already given testimony on the case. The latter was called for interrogation after 9-hour search, during which KGB officers seized office equipment, printed materials and even blank paper.

    Leanid Svetsik consulted the people, who had received letters from the RNE, helped to make claims to the prosecutor’s office for the certain agencies to find the authors of the threatening letters. However, the criminal case on ‘incitement of ethnic and religious hatred’ was instituted only now, two years after Vitsebsk public activist Alena Zaleskaya had received a letter from the RNE.

    The interrogated people do not say the details about KGB questions on the case because they have pledged to secrecy.

    “MPs” hasten to adopt new Law on Media before elections

    From: Charter '97
    A draft law on media is included in the agenda of the current session of the “house of representatives.” The document was worked out in secrecy and is aimed at hardening control over mass media, including Internet-media.

    The draft law on media is included in the agenda of the current session of the “house of representatives.” This decision was taken on 10 June on the session of the council of the lower “chamber” of the Belarusian “parliament,” BelaPAN reports.

    The document was introduced to the “parliament” on 10 June and was sent to the juridical department, where it will be evaluated by experts. Yury Kulakouski, head of the Commission for Human Rights, National relations and Media, refused to say the details of the draft law.

    At present, the Law on Press and Other Media is active in Belarus since 1995. In 2003 a draft law on media was sent for revision after the Presidential Administration had considered it. The authorities assured the draft would meet international standards.

    Representatives of the journalists community criticised the government for the work over the law on media was closed. The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) managed to have a look at the draft law text. As the result it was revealed to the public that the document aims at harshening of media activity, including Internet-media.

    Certain high-rank officials have recently given more and more statements on hardening the Belarusian Lawson media.

    Aleh Pralyaskouski, director of the Information Analytical Center at the Presidential Administration, insists on necessary “increasing of responsibility for information on the Internet.” The official said it in an interview to “Belaruskaya Dumka” magazine in May.

    According to him, the state regulation of the Internet should contain a complex of legislative and organisational measures. “Responsibility for spreading of wrongful information on the Internet should be strengthened on legislative level. If information appears on a site, an administrator, an owner of the resource and a provider must be responsible for it,” Aleh Pralyaskouski emphasised.

    First deputy minister of information Liliya Ananich said the same things earlier and proposed to impose registration of Internet media. In her view, Belarus has 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,” Ananich thinks.

    Miklosh Harashti, OSCE spokesman on mass media freedom harshly criticised the draft law on media in March 2007. In particular, he criticised an article on necessary re-registration of a media resource if foundation data or the name of the edition are changed as well as if the state agencies make two decisions on determination of the edition within a year.

    Arbitrary requirements for registration and re-registration can threaten critically media at any moment, the OSCE representative noted. “This threat becomes especially serious in time of important public event, in particular, national elections,” M. Harashti said.

  • Around the region...

    Russia and Ukraine clash over 350-year-old battle

    From: Reuters
    A 350-year-old cavalry battle has become the latest irritant between Russia and its neighbour Ukraine after Russia's foreign ministry on Tuesday accused Kiev of using the clash to foment anti-Russian feeling.

    The ministry said the 1659 battle of Konotop, in which a Russian invasion was repelled, was being distorted to fit the political agenda of Ukraine's leaders, who have angered Moscow by seeking NATO membership.

    In the battle, a Russian force was defeated when it tried to stop a Ukrainian leader from entering into an entente with Poland and Lithuania -- with whom Russia had waged wars.

    One English-language reference book, "Ukraine: A History", says the "Tsar's troops suffered one of their worst defeats ever," in the Konotop battle.

    Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has ordered officials to mark the Battle of Konotop's 350th anniversary in 2009 with a series of events starting this year.

    "We feel perplexity and regret at the persistence ... with which certain forces in Ukraine are today trying to find ... events and people notable only for the fact that they were in some way directed against Moscow," a ministry statement said.

    "Playing with history, especially with nationalistic overtones, never leads to anywhere good."

    "In these conditions one must count on the wisdom of the Ukrainian people, who will not let themselves be drawn into an artificial, invented confrontation with Russia."


    Russia, which effectively ruled Ukraine from the mid-17th century with varying degrees of autonomy to the end of Soviet rule in 1991, has traditionally viewed the country as part of its sphere of influence.

    Since pro-Western leaders were catapulted into power in Kiev in a 2004 "Orange Revolution," they have repeatedly clashed with Russia.

    Moscow has said Ukraine's entry to NATO would threaten its security and the two states are in dispute over the future of Russia's Black Sea fleet, based in Sevastopol in Ukraine's Crimea peninsula under a lease deal.

    The rows have often spilled over into differing interpretations of the past, a sensitive subject for two peoples whose histories have been closely intertwined for centuries.

    Some in Moscow have suggested the legal status of Crimea could be in doubt. Previously part of Russia, it was assigned to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954 by then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

    Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov was declared persona non grata in Ukraine this year after he said at another historical celebration, the 225th anniversary of the Black Sea fleet, that Russia should take back Sevastopol.

    Kiev and Moscow have also clashed over whether an artificially-induced famine which killed more than five million in the 1930s amounts to "genocide" and the role played by anti-communist Ukrainian fighters in World War Two.

    Police in Russia question TNK-BP chief about taxes

    From: IHT
    TNK-BP Chief Executive Robert Dudley, right, speaks to reporters after leaving a local interior ministry office in Moscow on Tuesday. A TNK-BP spokeswoman said Dudley was being questioned over a back-tax probe into TNK as a witness.
    The police in Russia questioned the chief executive of TNK-BP for more than five hours Tuesday, adding to pressure on the company that some analysts believe is headed for Russian state control.

    The questioning was the latest in a series of difficulties for TNK-BP, a troubled oil company jointly owned by a quartet of Russian billionaires and by BP of Britain.

    Robert Dudley, the chief executive, said that the police officers' questions concerned a routine matter. He did not address the difference of opinion between Russian and British shareholders that had been aired in public over the past few days.

    "It was a very routine meeting. There were no problems," Dudley told reporters outside an Interior Ministry office. "It was a review of TNK. We did not discuss counterparts."

    Dudley added that the questioning was "by the law, very professional."

    Marina Dracheva, a spokeswoman for TNK-BP, said that the inquiry had concerned a back-tax investigation into TNK, a former subsidiary of TNK-BP that no longer exists but for which TNK-BP retains legal responsibility.

    Dudley had been asked to witness a conversation regarding the tax payments of TNK in 2001-2003, Dracheva said by telephone. She added that Dudley had never worked for TNK.

    TNK-BP was created in 2003 as the result of the consolidation of several Russian oil companies, including TNK. BP, the British oil giant, has a 50 percent stake in that consortium.

    The ownership structure and business strategy at the company has been the subject of a dispute between BP and the Russian co-owners in recent weeks. The chief executive of BP, Tony Hayward, went to Moscow last week to try to resolve those differences, which were disclosed for the first time last month.

    The questioning of Dudley in the tax investigation is just one of several hurdles that TNK-BP has faced in recent months, including the arrest of an employee on an industrial espionage charge, a raid on the company's offices in central Moscow and a court injunction to prevent the company from using BP specialists.

    Analysts say that the continued pressure on TNK-BP indicates that a large stake in the company is intended for a state firm, possibly Gazprom.

    Alexander Medvedev, deputy chief executive of Gazprom, said Tuesday that his company would only consider investing in TNK-BP after that company's shareholders have settled their dispute.

    12 miners missing after Ukraine explosion

    From: Edition.CNN
    Miners and rescue workers walk near the Karl Marx coal mine's offices, damaged by an explosion.
    Emergency workers were racing Tuesday to find 12 miners missing after an explosion in a Ukrainian mine, which killed at least one person and injured 29 others.

    Ukrainian officials have expressed fears about flooding in the mine. A rescue committee is operating around the clock to find the miners, government officials told Russia's Interfax news agency, and psychologists are available to the miners' families.

    First Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Turchynov said Sunday that human voices could be heard coming from 700 meters (2,300 feet) below ground.

    The explosion was the most powerful in the history of the Ukrainian coal industry, said Igor Kroll, a spokesman for Ukraine's Ministry of Emergency Situations. Officials have said they know it was a methane blast, but they don't know what caused it.

    The blast happened early on Sunday at the Karl Marx mine in Yenakiyeve, in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, which lies about 640 kilometers (400 miles) southeast of the capital, Kiev.

    The 12 missing miners are among 42 who were in the mine at the time of the blast. One was killed, 24 were rescued, and five were above ground but were injured, Kroll said.

    In all, 29 miners have been taken to hospital, he said.

    The 24 who were rescued had tried to get as close to the surface as possible before they were rescued, Kroll said.

    The explosion was the latest in a series of industrial accidents for Ukraine's mining industry. The government said it had opened a criminal investigation because the mine was operating despite a recent ban.

    Turchynov said a state industrial safety watchdog on Friday examined the mine -- where another explosion killed seven in 1999 -- and ordered it to be shut down.

    "If there is information that the mine kept operating and producing coal despite the ban, it will be a matter for the office of the prosecutor general to take up," Turchynov told a briefing. "Undoubtedly there will be a very strict punishment."

    Ukraine has some of the world's most dangerous mines with more than 4,800 miners in Ukraine killed since 1991. Officials say that for every 1 million tons of coal brought to the surface in Ukraine, three miners lose their lives.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Poland's Walesa to bring action against current President Lech Kaczynski for slander

    From: Eurasian Secret Services
    The former Polish President Lech Walesa is intending to bring an action against the current President Lech Kaczynski, responding to his accusations in collaboration with the communist secret services, radio Ekho Moskvy reports.

    The Eastern European Review marks that the war of words between Walesa and Kaczynski continues as Walesa responds to the President's accusation by saying that Kaczynski should be removed from the Government. Kaczynski said that he does not have to read the book written by two historians from the Institute of National Remembrance to know that Walesa was an agent.

    According to Kaczynski, "It is obvious that in the 1980's Walesa was undoubtedly the nation's leader, which is not to say that writing the truth about him should now be filtered. A democratic society has the right to be served uncensored information, even if the truth is hard to bear." However, the Polish courts ruled that Walesa was not an agent.

    Supporting the Polish Court ruling, Focus Historia magazine published, as sensational proof of Walesa’s innocence regarding co-operation with the communists, a 1974 Communist Security Services report on Walesa that said, in part, "Talks were held repeatedly with Walesa in connection to his irresponsible behaviour and utterances. However, they have yielded no results thus far."
    Since the days when Kaczynski and Walesa worked together, the relationship between them has not been good. Walesa has described the Kaczynski brothers as nothing more than troublemakers who would act without regard to the long-term consequences of their actions, The Eastern European Review notes.

    In a letter to Kaczynski Walesa retorts to Polish President's accusations

    Former President Lech Walesa demands an apology from President Lech Kaczynski, who publicly said that Walesa was an agent of the secret police during communist times.

    "The world has acknowledged my achievements and you are humiliating yourself and the Polish people," Polish Radio cites Lech Walesa’s letter to President Kaczynski. The letter is Walesa's reply to a statement made by Kaczynski during a televised interview on June 4, when he said that he was sure that Walesa was the secret 1970s communist collaborator "Bolek". Kaczynski admitted that Walesa was leading the nation in the 1980s, but this does not mean that one cannot say the truth about him.
    Lech Walesa was outraged by his successor's words.

    He wrote in the letter that the President violated his personal rights yet again. He reminded that Kaczynski had already lost cases in court for calling Walesa an agent. The former President demands an apology within seven days in the same television programme, otherwise he will go to court.

    In the interview, Lech Kaczynski said that being a live legend should not protect anyone. According to him, Walesa's life is not free from mistakes, and the nation has a right to know the truth.

    Walesa featured as "Bolek" in 1992 on the so-called Macierewicz's List of secret collaborators with the Communist regime in Poland. In 2002 it was ruled that the former president was not, in fact, a secret agent for the communists. A forthcoming book, penned by Slawomir Cenckiewicz and Piotr Gontarczyk, two historians from the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), is said to contain details of formerly unknown documents concerning Walesa's alleged contacts with the Communist secret services in the 1970s.
    Lech Walesa was the co-founder of the Solidarity trade union, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 and served as President of Poland from 1990 to 1995. He is one of the few Poles known all around the world.

    Baby born 15 times over drink-drive limit

    From: National Nine
    A Polish mother who was intoxicated during labour gave birth to a baby girl who was almost 15 times over the adult drink-driving limit, police said.

    Doctors at a hospital in Otwock, on the outskirts of Warsaw, called in the police after the clearly-drunk expectant mother checked in to give birth on Monday.

    "A blood test showed that the 38-year-old woman had a level of 1.2g of alcohol at the time of birth," said police spokeswoman Dorota Tietz.

    A level of 1.2g of alcohol per 1000g of blood is the equivalent of a bottle of wine or two litres of beer for an adult drinker, but its impact is compounded in a newborn's tiny body.

    As a result, the infant was found to have a level of 2.9g, police said.

    In comparison, blood-alcohol limit for drivers in Poland is 0.2g.

    The mother could face up to five years in prison on charges of having endangered the life and health of her child, Tietz said.

    "The baby's life is not in immediate danger, but doctors fear the impact on her development," she added.

    Poland in an Uproar after Coercive Abortion Pressure Put on 14-Year-Old by Planned Parenthood

    From: Lifesite news
    Polish media is awash with the case of a 14-year old girl who is being pressured into abortion by the country's most prominent abortion activist, Wanda Nowicka of the Polish branch of Planned Parenthood.

    The girl, who appears in the media under the nickname "Agata", found out she was pregnant by her boyfriend three months ago. However, rather than supporting her, her family directed her to Planned Parenthood to arrange for legal permission for an abortion.

    Currently Polish law does not penalize abortion when the pregnancy is a result of crime. In such cases abortion is permitted till the twelfth week of pregnancy. Agata's case was qualified for non-punishable abortion since it involved sexual relations under the age of 15. She is now 10 or 11 weeks pregnant.

    While permission was being secured by Planned Parenthood, the girl complained to a teacher that she did not want to abort her child. Hospitals in her home town refused to kill her unborn child, saying that the girl seemed to be pressured into the abortion by her mother and abortion activists. A priest friend and some pro-life activists offered support to the girl and all the help necessary to carry the baby to term.

    Nevertheless, Agata was brought to a Warsaw hospital that agreed to abort her baby. There she spoke to a child psychologist who advised doctors to give the girl some more time to think. Despite that, Agata was told to prepare for the procedure the following day.

    At that time, the girl gave conflicting testimony. In face to face conversations with friends, she would admit to being pressured into abortion. At other times she said she wanted an abortion.

    In the meantime pro-life groups and prayer groups mobilized to save the girl and her baby from tragedy. The hospital received emails from pro-life advocates urging that the girl not be forced to abort. In addition, one pro-life activist filed an official complaint with the police accusing pro-abortion activist Wanda Nowicka of pressuring the teenager into abortion. Police began an investigation and the media picked up the story.

    A court in the girl's hometown issued an order to place her in the custody of a priest at a juvenile center, where she would not be harassed by abortion advocates.

    Mariusz Dzierzawski of Warsaw-based pro-life Pro Foundation said that the case demonstrated how the sexual revolution takes its toll on the young, causing a chain of tragedy in their lives. "Sex educators encourage kids to get involved in 'safe sex'. When kids get pregnant as a result, they are offered 'safe abortion'. This is how they destroy the life of the unborn child and of children who become parents too early," Dzierzawski said.

    Pro-life activist Jacek Sapa commented: "It's time to break the social taboo and start talking about coerced abortion. Most abortions are forced on women by irresponsible partners, parents or abortion activists. If we are witnessing coercion into abortion, we must act. Sometimes a simple gesture of support and understanding is enough to save a mother and child from the tragedy of abortion."

    Agata is now safe and offers of support are flowing in from all over Poland. However abortion advocates have not given up their efforts to convince the girl to change her mind and have the abortion. Reportedly, they are arranging for an abortion for the girl outside Poland.

    The pro-abortion Polish major daily "Gazeta Wyborcza", advocated for Planned Parenthood with its coverage claiming that the girl had been raped and wanted an abortion, but was harassed by pro-lifers, who "gave her hell". The misinformation was picked up by far left politicians from a minor post-communist party who attempted to garner support to legalize abortion.

    Pro-life women's rights activist Inga Kaluzynska said the case also highlights the harm of clauses in Polish abortion law which remove the penalties for abortion in cases of rape. "Why are we assuming that abortion is a solution for a pregnant woman in a crisis situation? Abortion is always against women," she said. "A victim of rape deserves our help, support and care, not another trauma. Besides, it is the criminal who should pay for the rape, not the innocent baby and its mother. To allow killing the baby conceived in rape is an act of utmost discrimination based on the person's parentage," Kaluzynska concluded.

    Polish pro-lifers, especially the priest involved in the case, have come under attack, having received hate mail and death threats.

    The case is being seen as the latest example of an scheme often used by pro-abortion activists to have pro-life countries legalize abortion. The scheme involves seeking out the youngest pregnant girl, preferably a rape victim and using her as a poster child to legalize abortion. Similar campaigns have been organized by pro-abortion groups in Nicaragua and Colombia.

  • Sport...

    Cuba beat Belarus, clinch quarter-final place

    From: Beijing2008
    Cuba sprung a mild surprise at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women on Tuesday by upsetting Belarus – last year's bronze medal winners at the EuroBasket Women.

    Alberto Zabala's Cubans, who struggled for long stretches against Chinese Taipei on Monday, clinched a place in the quarter-finals with the 68-58 victory and may have avoided hosts and Group C favourites Spain in the process.

    If the Spanish beat Brazil on Wednesday, they will finish top of that pool and take on Belarus should Anatoli Buyalski's team hold off Chinese Taipei.

    Cuba would then take on Brazil.

    "We are more familiar with Brazil's style of play, more than Spain because they are from the Americas," said Zabala, whose team defeated the Brazilians last year to reach the gold medal game at the FIBA Americas Championship in Chile before falling to the United States.

    The most senior member of the squad, Yakelyn Plutin, had 23 points and seven rebounds for Cuba.

    The Cubans led by as many as seven points in the first half and went to the break on top, 31-28.

    Defensive pressure had been the key as they forced Belarus into turning the ball over 16 times.

    When they returned to the floor in the third quarter, Zabala's team increased the pressure defence, forcing Belarus into 13 more turnovers.

    Yelena Leuchanka, one of the most dominating players in this year's EuroLeague Women with TTT Riga and later at UMMC Ekaterinburg, turned the ball over seven times.

    There is no panic for Belarus, however.

    They had to beat Italy in their final quarter-final qualifying round last year to advance to the final eight.

    "They (Cuba) were a very balanced team," said star guard Natallia Marchanka, who made last year's all-tournament team at the EuroBasket Women.

    "We let them get back at us. Also, we had too many turnovers.

    "We're going to concentrate and come out hard and play hard against Chinese Taipei.

    "I'll tell my teammates to keep their heads up and to be confident."

  • Travel...

    Medieval Mir and Nesvizh

    From: MN Weekly
    Often presented as a monster of a nation with a dictator on the throne, in reality Belarus is a calm and peaceful country. It has an open border with Russia, and is more European in its character than any Russian region. That means a long Catholic heritage, and several masterpieces of medieval architecture just waiting to be visited. Both the castles of Mir and Nesvizh are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, and are situated about 120 kilometers away from Minsk, and about 30 kilometers from one another.

    Nesvizh in medieval times was a part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which then merged with the Kingdom of Poland. From the 15th century until 1939, Nesvizh was the family home of the Radzivills, one of the most influential clans in eastern Europe for centuries.

    From 1587-1593 a huge Italian Baroque Corpus Christi Church was built in the village, and became one of the earliest Jesuit church in the world and the Radzivills' family shrine. At the same time a Bernardine convent was founded in the village and the original tower now still dominates its southern outskirts. The central square of the village features the 16th century town hall with a traditional tower and a couple of old merchants and artisans' houses.

    By today's standards Nesvizh is a small village, and it takes about half a day to explore its ins and outs on foot. You take the central street (Sovetskaya Ulitsa) where you get off the bus or taxi and in a couple of minutes you arrive at the Slutskaya Brama, the white gate to the settlement which since medieval times has stood in the center - though now the surrounding walls no longer exist. The Bernardine convent is visible at a distance to the right, while Corpus Christi Church's dome soars above the rooftops to the left. Notice the old fortification tower near the Church, which is the second building after Brama that is leftover from the old wall.

    Pass the Church and cross a pond along a long dam to finally reach the Radzivill's castle. The castle is now undergoing major renovations, which are planned to finish by 2010 and you may not get inside - however, with a bit of luck (and perhaps a few bucks) anything is possible. The castle is striking for its refined towers and stucco walls, which bring a refined air to what is at the same time a formidable military fortification. Surrounded by a moat atop a steep hill, and adjoined by a pond and English-style park, the total package is extremely picturesque.

    Mir village and castle used to belong mostly to the Radzivills (although in the second half of the 19th century it was passed to the Svyatopol-Mirskii family). Again, the Radzivills encouraged the settlement's development. The central square of Mir features a 16th century Orthodox Troitskaya Church. Pass an old marketplace and a row of cozy looking medieval houses to reach Krasno­armeiskaya Ulitsa with the red-brick 16th century Catholic Church of St. Nikolas the Miracle Worker, and then cross a small stream of Miryanka to reach the 16th century Mir castle.

    The castle's renovation works seem to have ended, and the whole building is in perfect condition. The castle and the village are currently promoted as a great cultural landmark of Belarus, that is why unlike Nesvizh, Mir is very good in terms of tourist comfort. Even a quite decent hotel is available at a very modest price, along with a few restaurants and a bunch of souvenir stands for the village's guests.

    The castle itself is still unspoiled by droves of tourists (unless a big school bus arrives), and gives a perfect opportunity to climb the long and narrow spiral stairs up and down the towers and basements to visit and take pictures in a torture room and the like. At the top of the tower is a guest book, where you may share your thoughts and impressions or just look through and wonder at all the people that have visited before you. Also explore the surrounding area to find Svatopolk-Mirskii's chapel, and just to enjoy a pleasant park and the different views of the castle.

    Mir village itself is interesting and very European in its atmosphere. Every­thing is perfectly clean, brightly painted and in top condition, which cannot help but be pleasing to the eye.

    Travel tips

    For all non-Russian citizens, Belarus generally requires a visa to enter the country. However, the Union State is very helpful here. Certainly if coming by plane you will need to show your visa to passport control, but it is better to take a night train (about 8 hours in the way) to Minsk where no passport control on the border is performed. Moreover, Moscow seems to be the only city of the ex-Soviet Union where you need to carry your passport with you all the time. In Minsk and in other parts of Belarus no policemen will ever ask you to show your passport in the street.

    The official languages of the state are Russian and Belarusian. The former is spoken and understood everywhere while the latter is used mainly in official documents and signs, is mostly understood, rarely spoken and generally similar to Russian.

    The official currency is the Belarusian ruble which is about 90 to 1 Russian ruble and easily exchanged everywhere for Russian rubles.

    Unlike in Russia, roads in Belarus fit within European standards and the public transport system works rather well and is relatively cheap.

    It is recommended to take a bus from Minsk to Nesvizh and then a taxi (which is also not that expensive) to Mir (as no direct public transport is available) and then back from Mir to Minsk by bus.

  • Endnote...

    Commentary: Is The Belarusian Opposition Losing The Battle For Young Minds?

    From: RFE/RL
    Looking at the current Belarusian opposition, it is difficult to find a leading figure who did not possess notable political, social, or cultural standing in Belarus prior to July 1994, when President Alyaksandr Lukashenka came to power.

    * Stanislau Shushkevich, whose signature adorns the dissolution act of the Soviet Union, was the chairman of the Belarusian Supreme Soviet in which Lukashenka started his political career.

    * Lyavon Barshcheuski, from the Belarusian Popular Front, was a people's deputy in 1991-95, along with his then-comrades-in-arms Zyanon Paznyak and Yuras Belenki.

    * Anatol Lyabedzka, from the United Civic Party, was a people's deputy in the same legislature.

    * Social democrat Alyaksandr Kazulin was a deputy education minister in Prime Minister Vyachaslau Kebich's cabinet.

    * Social democrat Mikola Statkevich was the founder of the Belarusian Association of Servicemen.

    * Alyaksandr Milinkevich, who served as a provincial university professor and deputy head of the city administration in Hrodna, is perhaps the only leading oppositionist who kept a low profile in the pre-Lukashenka era.

    Fourteen years later, after a series of disappointing political failures, virtually the same people can be found in the top ranks of the Belarusian opposition. But while these politicians could once mobilize 50,000 people in Minsk for a street protest against the ruling regime, today 2,000 people at an opposition rally is deemed a huge success.

    Without a doubt, an objective generation gap between the veteran leaders of the opposition and younger Belarusians is responsible to a significant degree for the dramatically weakened public appeal of opposition parties in Belarus. But it can also be argued that the lack of an adequate political strategy on the part of the opposition and the regime's ability to respond to some essential needs and expectations of the younger generation are no less important in marginalizing the opposition movement or even reducing it to a replica of the Soviet-era dissent.

    Belief In Showdown

    During a recent online news conference with RFE/RL, Mikola Statkevich spoke for many Belarusian opposition leaders when he asserted that change in today's Belarus is possible only through a political showdown during presidential elections.

    "Decisive action by some 1,500 demonstrators under circumstances in which the authorities keep everything under tight control is impossible," Statkevich said. "But there is one night in five years when the authorities' control, so to say, wavers. This is the night of political miracles. This is the night of presidential elections."

    Past tactical moves of the Belarusian opposition -- as well as those of its Western sponsors -- followed this strategic guideline. Targeted financial, organizational, and propaganda resources were spent by the Belarusian opposition on three major campaigns of the Lukashenka-era: the presidential ballots in 2001 and 2006 and the constitutional referendum in 2004, when Lukashenka lifted the two-term limit on the presidency. The parliamentary-election campaigns in Belarus in 2000 and 2004 were of significantly less importance to the opposition and its sponsors. Indeed, nobody seems even to remember that Belarus also held local elections in 1999, 2003, and 2007.

    It is unsurprising that during the above-mentioned presidential campaigns the role of younger opposition activists was confined to collecting signatures, distributing campaign materials, and, primarily, participating in street protests. Their older colleagues made decisions about the allocation of campaign resources and represented the Belarusian opposition abroad. There was hardly any space for young oppositionists to develop or test their own political ambitions.

    Parliamentary and local elections presented much better opportunities for young activists, who could run for seats as people's deputies and local councilors, to demonstrate their political initiative and gain political experience.

    Meanwhile their older colleagues, believing that participation in parliamentary elections -- let alone local ones -- was a waste of time and energy, busied themselves with symbolic electoral activities in major cities.

    Combined with a questionable political strategy that favored political change from the top over a grassroots approach, the generational gap within the Belarusian opposition grew wider and wider.

    Carrots And Sticks

    When speaking about the repressive nature of Lukashenka's regime, one must understand that its control apparatus is aimed almost exclusively at containing potentially effective antigovernment activities during major political campaigns, as well as at those citizens who try to infect the wider social strata with the "opposition virus." Otherwise, Belarus is relatively free with respect to cultural and intellectual life. Or more accurately, state control over "apolitical" cultural and intellectual activities in the nonstate sector is lax. In other words, life in today's Belarus is a far cry from the stale and depressing atmosphere of the Brezhnev-era Soviet Union.

    Previously banned Belarusian rockers are being offered clemency in exchange for a refusal to perform at opposition events (RFE/RL)There is a curious analogy that can be drawn between the political climate of today's Belarus and that of Poland in the early 1980s, after the introduction of martial law and the ban on Solidarity. The Polish communist authorities significantly relaxed cultural and social policies in the country while they kept a watchful eye on Solidarity members and followers. The main objective of that two-pronged policy was presumably to prevent Polish youths from engaging in politics and to protect them from the influence of the political opposition. Suddenly, native rock music and drug experimentation flourished in Poland; and in the 1980s it became much easier to get a foreign-travel passport and to travel abroad. Common wisdom maintained at that time that the Polish communists deliberately steered young people to indulge in vodka, sex, drugs and rock music -- or to emigrate -- instead of participating in politics or public life.

    The current Belarusian regime appears to be replicating this approach. Young Belarusians seeking to organize an election-monitoring network are tried under articles of the Criminal Code relating to terrorism, while those joining the state-sponsored Belarusian National Youth Union are promoted during their university studies and in their post-university careers. And major Belarusian rock musicians, who were previously banned from appearing on radio and television, are unexpectedly invited to the presidential offices and offered clemency in exchange for their refusal to perform at opposition events.

    How successful is this selective carrot-and-stick policy? Some sociological data indirectly suggests that it may have been quite successful. According to a survey conducted by the Vilnius-registered Independent Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Studies (NISEPI) in March, 64 percent of Belarusians believe that improving the economic situation of their country is more important than keeping the country independent, while 24 percent think otherwise. Among those aged 18-29, the ratio of respondents opting for a better economic situation rather than the country's independence is 71 percent to 22 percent. NISEPI, which holds comprehensive surveys of public opinion in Belarus twice each year, concludes that the data attest to a growing "mercantilism" and "pragmatism" of Belarusian society at the expense of "patriotism."

    The Belarusian opposition continually asserts that Lukashenka's policies will lead to the economic -- and, consequently, political -- annexation of Belarus by Russia, but the NISEPI results suggest that the overwhelming majority of Belarusians are not worried about this possibility. What is more, the youngest generations -- more socially mobile and better educated than the others -- seem to be even less concerned about the country's independence than their older compatriots. Why?

    An immediate answer is that Lukashenka has actually succeeded in bringing up young pragmatists who care more about their stomachs than national pride. On second thought, one is also prompted to suppose that the younger generations of Belarusians may not believe, as the opposition asserts, that the loss of independence under Lukashenka is a real threat to their country or to them personally. They are primarily worried about an economic downturn, which is a common concern today in many societies, democratic and autocratic alike. In either case, the NISEPI results are bad news for the opposition and its prospects of mobilizing support among young people.

    New Language Needed

    Why might Lukashenka be perceived among young Belarusians as a benefactor rather than a tormentor?

    First and foremost, because he has something essential and desirable to offer to the younger generations in exchange for the measure of political conformism he expects from them. The regime's major "gifts" to youths are free education, freedom of movement (including foreign travel), and increasingly attractive prospects for pursuing professional careers within the country, in an economy that slowly but inevitably is undergoing "authoritarian" modernization.

    When two-thirds of Belarusians believe the current political situation is safe and stable, the Belarusian opposition needs to reappraise its political objectives -- or at least its language -- if it wants to survive as a significant political group, let alone attain some leverage within the power system.

    The main prerequisite for such a reappraisal should be the opposition's acknowledgment that Lukashenka, despite his erratic and uncivilized political behavior and language, may also be building something significant that will outlast his political rule. In fact, this significant something may be the foundation for the political and economic institutions of an independent nation -- one that no longer needs to be reassured that today's Republic of Belarus is at least as good as yesterday's Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic.

    If such a reappraisal takes place, it will be easier for opposition parties in Belarus to reconcile with the fact that winning seats on local councils and the national legislature is no less important that campaigning for the presidency. The Belarusian opposition may eventually shed its political frustration and make use of the talents and energy of the increasingly pragmatic younger generations, who want a better life for themselves now, rather than for their children and grandchildren in a hazy future.