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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Year of Native Land in Belarus, Lithuania, Broadband access, Cardiopulmonary transplantation, Russia, Ukraine, Gas, Defiance, Sport and Polish Scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #373

    Belarus President: Christmas gives millions of people confidence and trust

    From: BelTA and the Office of the President
    Alexander Lukashenko at the New Year show for children at the Palace of the Republic
    Belarusian Head of State Alexander Lukashenko has congratulated the Christians of Belarus celebrating Christmas on December 25, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    “This wonderful family holiday warmed by love and concord gives millions of people confidence and hope. “Such festive days heighten the permanence of eternal evangelic messages, simple and great at the same time. In the complicated and controversial time we are living in, the humankind needs high ideals of justice, self-sacrifice and compassion which Christianity has been promoting more than two thousand years already,” the message reads.

    Alexander Lukashenko wished the compatriots to preserve the blessed Christmas atmosphere in their homes to help them retain the most valuable treasures: peace of mind, mutual understanding, friendship and loyalty, ability to forgive and to appreciate life.

    Belarus Will Do Everything Possible to Ensure that Belarusian Children Are Healthy and Happy

    Belarus will do everything possible to ensure that Belarusian children are healthy and happy, said President Alexander Lukashenko on 26 December at the New Year's charity event as part of the 'Our Children' project.

    'We, the adults and the entire Belarusian society, will do everything so that you can grow healthy, intelligent, happy and beautiful', said the Head of State addressing the children in the audience in the Palace of the Republic.

    Two thousand, three hundred and seventy children aged between eight to fourteen from across Belarus were invited to the New Year show at the Palace of the Republic. These were orphans, children left without parental care, children raised by custodians and in foster families, children from families of refugees, winners of international, national and regional Olympiads, creative competitions, festivals, sporting events, and school students who had achieved significant results in social activities.

    Already now each of them, through their good actions and studies, is adding their own lines to the chronicle of the country, said the President.

    Next year Belarus will celebrate the 65th anniversary of liberation from the Nazis. Therefore, the Head of State called upon the children to remember the feat of arms performed by the Belarusian people, and said the adults would do their utmost to make sure this tragedy would never happen again.

    Alexander Lukashenko congratulated the children on the coming New Year. ‘New Year is a great holiday because it aims towards the future. It gives us hope for the better, for the materialization of what has been planned. Dream on, have incredible wishes, set ambitious goals! For wishes are precursors of our abilities. Thus, their fulfilment largely depends on us’, said the President.

    Following the fantastic show put on the stage of the Palace of the Republic, all the children were given presents on behalf of the President of Belarus.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus and Lithuania can fulfill many joint tasks, Sergei Martynov says

    From: BelTA
    There are many joint tasks which Belarus and Lithuania can fulfill by joint efforts, Sergei Martynov said as he met with his Lithuanian counterpart Vigaudas Ushatskas on December 29.

    Sergei Martynov praised the level of the relations between Belarus and Lithuania. He noted that the two countries have mutual interest in investments and such strategically important areas as power engineering and logistics.

    The minister emphasized that Belarus and Lithuania have good neighborly relations. “Our countries have long history of relations. We do not start from scratch. We need to continue moving in the right direction,” Sergei Martynov said.

    In turn, the Foreign Minister of Lithuania said that he came over “to create common future of Europe.” According to him, Lithuania is interested in promoting economic and cultural relations with Belarus. Vigaudas Ushatskas also added that he was going to discuss the programme within the framework of the Eastern Partnership Initiative.

    Belarus, Lithuania can implement ambitious projects in power engineering

    Belarus and Lithuania have to step up cooperation in such essential areas as trade and economy and to implement large-scale joint projects in the areas of power engineering, transit, transport logistics, transborder crime prevention, and illegal immigration. This opinion was voiced at the meeting between Head of Presidential Administration Vladimir Makei and Lithuanian Foreign Minister Vigaudas Ushatskas on December 29, BelTA learnt from the Presidential Administration.

    The sides touched upon a wide range of issues regarding the cooperation between Belarus and Lithuania. The overall interaction between the two countries was characterized as positive.

    A special focus was placed on the promising cooperation in the area of atomic power engineering.

    A meaningful dialogue between Belarus and the European Union and the efforts undertaken by the both sides open up additional opportunities for the country to join common European processes, to develop pragmatic cooperation with the EU member states.

    The sides discussed the preparation for important bilateral events scheduled for 2009. A bilateral intergovernmental economic commission will be held in Kaunas in February 2009. In late April, Belarusian businessmen will take part in the economic forum in Vilnius.

    Belarus, Lithuania have good trade cooperation prospects

    Belarus and Lithuania have good prospects for the further development of trade and investment cooperation, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Vigaudas Ushatskas told reporters after he met with his Belarusian counterpart Sergei Martynov on December 29.

    The Lithuanian Foreign Minister was pleased to state that in 2008 the trade between the two countries rose 20% to reach EUR 900 million.

    Belarus Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov underlined that the meeting focused on the necessity to develop the bilateral relations on the basis of good neighborliness and equality. The sides discussed the relations between Belarus and the European Union in general and the bilateral Belarus-Lithuania relations. According to Sergei Martynov, the sides pointed out the necessity to enhance cooperation in the areas of power engineering, transit, logistics and investment and agreed to develop contacts in these areas.

    According to Vigaudas Ushatskas, Lithuania is interested in the constructive relations with Belarus and welcomes Belarus’ efforts to step up cooperation with the European Union. He informed that a bilateral intergovernmental economic commission will be held in Kaunas in February 2009. In late April, Belarusian businessmen will take part in the economic forum in Vilnius. The Lithuanian Foreign Minister invited his Belarusian counterpart to visit Lithuania in 2009.

    Lithuanian Foreign Minister Vigaudas Ushatskas also met with Head of Presidential Administration Vladimir Makei on December 29.

    Belarus aims for equality in Eastern Partnership initiative

    Belarus intends to participate in the Eastern Partnership initiative on the basis of equality, Foreign Minister of Belarus Sergei Martynov told media on December 29 after meeting with his Lithuanian counterpart Vygaudas Usackas.

    “Belarus has a positive view on the participation in the Eastern Partnership initiative. We believe that Belarus should participate in it on the basis of equality,” remarked the minister. He added, the possibility of Belarus’ taking part in the initiative will depend on the final form of the document.

    Speaking about the Belarusian-Lithuanian agreement on transboundary travels, Sergei Martynov remarked, intensive negotiations are in progress and will not complete till the end of the year. A lot of issues have to be dealt with as a new mechanism will be created and a lot of technical issues will have to be settled because of that.

    The negotiations also touched upon the plans to build a nuclear power plant in Belarus. Sergei Martynov underscored, Belarus closely cooperates with the IAEA on the project and all decisions will be agreed with the organisation. The Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs remarked, Lithuania suggests setting up a trilateral working group of Belarus, Lithuania and Ukraine for cooperation in the energy industry. The proposal was welcomed.

    The Eastern Partnership policy is aimed at essentially stepping up the level of political interaction, wide integration into the European Union economy, reinforcing the energy security and increasing financial aid. The European Commission suggests participation in the Eastern Partnership policy to six post-Soviet countries, namely Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. They are offered an agreement on association and foundation of a new European economic zone, which should become the basis for developing a common domestic market.

    Broadband access getting more popular in Belarus

    From: BelTA
    In Belarus the number of Internet users, which access the World Wide Web using an ADSL technology, has doubled in 2008 to approach 200,000, the press service of the national landline communication monopoly Beltelecom told BelTA.

    The increasing demand for high-speed Internet access was a distinguishing trait of 2008, said the source. Falling Internet access prices for providers and better offers for byfly customers have allowed tripling Beltelecom’s subscriber base. At the end of the year the number of customers, who buy broadband from Beltelecom, exceeded 150,000. State-run companies account for 78% of the total number of ADSL providers in Belarus and 44% in Minsk.

    Together with users of cable Internet and other broadband access solutions the total number of Belarusian high-speed Internet users will exceed 250,000 in 2008 even without people, who use the Internet access solutions that mobile companies offer, said the press service.

    As part of its policy aimed at reducing Internet access prices for byfly customers and private Internet providers Beltelecom reduced prices for byfly customers on April 1, September 1, and December 20 and decreased prices for ISPs on April 21 and October 1.

    With the number of customers on the rise, the capacity of the country’s web gateways has to be increased. In 2008 the throughput capacity of Belarus’ Internet gateways reached to 6.3Gb/s (up from 2.5Gb/s in 2007, 1.8Gb/s in 2006, 465Mb/s in 2005).

    Apart from that, in 2008 a national data communications network was launched. Its basic capacity stands at 10Gb/s and can be upgraded. At present it is used for public Internet traffic, Internet Protocol TV, virtual private networks and other services Beltelecom offers.

    Beltelecom was founded on July 3, 1995. The company offers dial-up data communication access, access to the Internet, leases international digital data channels and ensures equal conditions for the operation of Belarusian cellular companies by connecting them to an international station. The company also provides intercity and international roaming services.

    Cardiopulmonary transplantation to be performed in Belarus in 2010

    From: BelTA
    Heart-lung transplantation will be performed in Belarus in 2010, Health Minister of Belarus Vasily Zharko told the First National TV Channel on December 28.

    According to him, over the 11 months 2008, 9 liver transplantations were carried out in Belarus. The number of kidney transplantations reached 70, twice as much as in 2007, the number of bone marrow and stem cells transplant surgeries amounted to about 130. "When the National Research Institute of Transplantology of Organs and Tissues is opened in 2009, we will start to perform new kinds of operative treatment,” Vasily Zharko said.

    The medical professionals of the country are technically ready to perform the cardiac surgery – surgeons are waiting for a donor. The first Belarusian heart transplantation is to be followed by pancreas and kidney transplantation and cardiopulmonary transplantation. Vasily Zharko noted that these kinds of operative treatment will bring the Belarusian transplantology on a brand new level, Belarusian surgeons will perform the whole range of transplant surgeries.

    Belarus, Korea scientists to study therapeutic use of stem cells

    The Institute of Biophysics and Cell Engineering of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus and Hanyang University (Korea) have signed a cooperation agreement, BelTA learnt from acting academic secretary of the Belarusian scientific institution Elena Skorinko.

    In line with the document, the scientists of the two countries are to carry out joint research in the areas of biology, genomics, proteomics, and cellular biology. They are to study the latest methods to receive, cultivate and store stem cells of animal and human origin. A special focus will be placed on the possibility to use stem cells in modern-day medicine.

    Stem cells serve the basis for the formation of tissues of a human body. When a stem cell divides, each new cell has the potential to become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle cell, a red blood cell, or a brain cell. The specialists of the Institute of Biophysics and Cell Engineering of Belarus have discovered efficient ways to receive stem cells and maintain their life. Together with the Korean scientists they plan to study the ways these cells can be used in treatment of various diseases. The results of the study will be published in the research periodicals of the two countries.

    The Institute of Biophysics and Cell Engineering is a leading scientific center of Belarus which carries out research in the areas of biophysics, photobiology, genomics and proteomics. The fundamental investigations include the development of new medical, diagnostic, prophylactic and rehabilitation technologies, instruments and products for medical purposes, medicinal and immunobiological preparations, cellular and molecular-biological technologies.

  • Economics...

    Minimum wage in Belarus to be increased January 1, 2009

    From: BelTA
    The Government of Belarus issued Resolution No 2020 to introduce a new minimum wage, BelTA learnt from the Council of Ministers’ Office.

    In line with the resolution, the monthly minimum wage will amount to Br229,000 ($100), the hourly minimum wage – to Br1,360(60 cents).

    Commenting upon the document, Viktor Sidorovich, the chief of the department for regulation and standardization of labour of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, said that the minimum wage is the lowest amount of money that can legally be paid to a worker. By increasing its amount, the Government protects the income of low-paid categories of workers.

    A reminder, on January 1, 2008 the minimum wage was equal to Br208,800. The new minimum wage is 10% higher, Viktor Sidorovich said. According to him, from January 1, 2009 the monthly minimum wage will be equal to 102.7% of the subsistence wage per capita in the prices of September 2008.

    The restoration of the role of the minimum wage as the government minimum guarantee of the remuneration of labour is a significant achievement of the Belarusian policy in remuneration of labour (the Law “On introducing the minimum wage and the rules governing the increasing of the minimum wage” was passed on July 17, 2002). The minimum wage has been substantially increased for the past several years. For example, in 2000 the minimum wage was just 9% of the substance wage.

    Excise duties to go up in Belarus as from January 1

    Starting January 1, 2009 excise duties will be instituted in Belarus. They will be divided into six-month periods and will be higher than similar excise duties, which were in effect in 2008, for most commodities taking into account the expected increase in consumer prices. The President of Belarus signed relevant decree No 709 “Rates of excises on excisable commodities” on December 29, the press service of the head of state told BelTA.

    The excises will be introduced for alcohol beverages manufactured using custom technologies, folk recipes in cultural and ethnographical centres, national parks and reserves, other locations in Belarus for the sake of reviving the entirety of Belarusian national traditions.

    Taking into account the topicality of promoting cultural and educational tourism and farm tourism in Belarus the new excise duties will be half as large as those applicable to similar alcohol products (commensurable with the 100% ethyl alcohol content).

    At the same time excises on original grape wines will be raised by 20% in H1 2009 and another 30% in H2 2009.

    The production of ciders made of Belarusian natural fruits and berries, including wild ones, is a promising avenue in the development of the Belarusian wine making. This year will see the introduction of the standard for fruit and berry ciders. In view of that the decree’s article “Natural fruit and berry wines”, which specifies zero roubles per litre of the end product as the excise rate, has been expanded with “Fruit and berry ciders”.

    The size of excises for low-alcohol beverages with the ethyl alcohol volume ratio under 7% has been adjusted to the level effective in the Russian Federation (34% up per year on the average for this commodity group). The measure may positively decrease the consumption of these beverages, primarily by young Belarusians.

    In order to encourage the production of new types of Belarus-made improved-quality cigarettes, to improve their competitive ability and reduce the import of tobacco goods, their excises have been differentiated by dividing filter-tipped cigarettes depending on their retail price into three groups, namely under Br1,400, Br1,400-2,500, and over Br2,500 per pack.

    The press service said, the decree is supposed to ensure the next year’s planned revenues from excises for the national and local budgets and the fulfilment of the state policy concerning the production, import and sale of alcohol and tobacco products.

  • From the International Press...

    Next year’s gas price for Belarus will be lower than what contract provided for, Gazprom spokesman says

    From: Navany and Kyiv Post
    The gas price for Belarus next year will be lower than what was originally provided for in a five-year contract signed by the country and Gazprom in December 2006, the gas giant’s spokesman, Sergei Kupriyanov, said in a Russian radio interview on December 27.

    Under the contract, the price for Belarus was raised to $100 per 1000 cubic meters for 2007 compared with $46.68 in the previous two and a half years. The price is to gradually increase to the European market level by 2011. It was to be 67 percent of the level, excluding delivery costs, in 2008, 80 percent in 2009, 90 percent in 2010, and 100 percent in 2011.

    “There is an agreement that the contract is effective, the [price] formula is effective but there will be certain adjustments,” Mr. Kupriyanov said. “We can say what they will be only when we sign appropriate papers. But the price for Belarus will be a bit lower than what the original contract provided for. We understand that it is important not only to set a price but also to receive money. That’s why we agree to a certain compromise here.”

    "The price for Belarus will be slightly lower than it should be in line with the original contract, but it is important not only to set the price but also to get the money," Kupriyanov said.

    At the beginning of 2009, the gas price for Belarus will be higher than the current price of $127.9 for 1000 cubic meters but will be reduced as the year progresses, according to Mr. Kupriyanov.

    “There will be a first-quarter price, which will decrease afterward. I’m not ready now to comment on the figures, whether it will [go down] 2.5- or threefold, it will be calculated according to the formula. But the price will be falling during the year indeed,” the Gazprom spokesman said.

    Russian consumers will buy natural gas at some $65 for 1000 cubic meters, while the price for European customers will vary between $260 and $300 in the first quarter, Mr. Kupriyanov said.

    Alyaksandr Lukashenka said last week that the gas price for Belarus would be cut 2.5- or threefold during 2009.

    Russia may put nukes in Belarus: Report

    From: Calgary Herald
    Russian soldiers sitting on the launcher of a Tochka-M, a short range missile, which has a range of about 70 kilometres, prior its launch at the military training ground outside Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. Russia will place short-range missile systems in Belarus, on the EU's eastern border, to counter planned U.S., according to reports.
    Russia may place nuclear-capable Topol missiles in neighbouring Belarus as a response to a controversial U.S. missile shield in eastern Europe, a Russian defence ministry source was quoted as saying Tuesday.

    "If the United States continues to bring elements of its strategic forces closer to Russia’s borders, including missile-defence sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, which are aimed at the reduction of our nuclear deterrent, mobile Topol complexes could be placed in Belarus," the source told Interfax news agency.

    A defence ministry spokesman contacted by AFP declined to comment on the report.

    Returning nuclear weapons to Belarus would be a major turnaround for Moscow, which removed its last nuclear missiles from the ex-Soviet republic in 1996, several years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    The report came one day after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow and reached a deal on the deliveries of Russian gas to Belarus.

    Russia has reacted angrily to US plans to place elements of a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, threatening counter-measures including the deployment of Iskander short-range missiles in its western Kaliningrad region.

    A top Russian official reiterated the threat on Tuesday, stressing that the Iskanders would not be deployed in Kaliningrad - which borders the European Union - if the United States backed down on its missile shield.

    "If there will be no third position area of missile defence, there will be no Iskanders in Kaliningrad," Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said in an interview published in the Izvestia daily.

    "We are in no way preparing to get caught up in an arms race," he added.

    The term "third position area" refers to U.S. plans for an anti-missile radar facility in the Czech Republic and interceptors in Poland. The first two parts of the missile shield are in the US states of California and Alaska.

    The United States says its missile shield is not a threat to Russia and is instead meant to protect against "rogue states" like Iran.

    EU expects Belarus` steps toward open society, says

    From: Navany
    The European Union is expecting Belarus to take steps toward the creation of open society," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas told reporters in Minsk on Monday, BelaPAN said.

    "We hope that such steps will be taken," the minister said.

    Mr. Usackas met with reporters following talks with his Belarusian counterpart, Syarhey Martynaw, and the head of the Presidential Administration, Uladzimir Makey.

    "During the meetings with Minister Martynaw and Mr. Makey, we discussed the future of our relations in united Europe," he said. "We are interested in and welcome steps toward stepping up relations between Belarus and the European Union. We are also interested in a constructive dialogue between Belarus and Lithuania."

    The minister said that his country welcomes steps that the Belarusian authorities is making to participate in the EU`s Eastern Partnership project. "Democratization is one of the conditions of the Eastern Partnership. We are following Belarus` steps," he said, mentioning the Belarusian authorities` recent decision to grant registration to former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich`s organization called the Movement for Freedom and the renewal of access for the newspaper Narodnaya Volya and Nasha Niva to the state distribution networks.

    Mr. Martynaw noted that Minsk holds a "positive position" on participation in the Eastern Partnership project. "When the project was being devised, its major authors consulted Belarus," he said. "It`s necessary to wait until the project is fully adopted. Our final assessment and the possibility of participation will depend on the form in which the project is adopted."
    "We hope that such steps will be taken," the minister said.

    Mr. Usackas met with reporters following talks with his Belarusian counterpart, Syarhey Martynaw, and the head of the Presidential Administration, Uladzimir Makey.

    "During the meetings with Minister Martynaw and Mr. Makey, we discussed the future of our relations in united Europe," he said. "We are interested in and welcome steps toward stepping up relations between Belarus and the European Union. We are also interested in a constructive dialogue between Belarus and Lithuania."

    The minister said that his country welcomes steps that the Belarusian authorities is making to participate in the EU`s Eastern Partnership project. "Democratization is one of the conditions of the Eastern Partnership. We are following Belarus` steps," he said, mentioning the Belarusian authorities` recent decision to grant registration to former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich`s organization called the Movement for Freedom and the renewal of access for the newspaper Narodnaya Volya and Nasha Niva to the state distribution networks.

    Mr. Martynaw noted that Minsk holds a "positive position" on participation in the Eastern Partnership project. "When the project was being devised, its major authors consulted Belarus," he said. "It`s necessary to wait until the project is fully adopted. Our final assessment and the possibility of participation will depend on the form in which the project is adopted."

  • From the Opposition...

    2008: year of crisis and hopes

    From: Charter '97
    This year has put many things in their places. Everyone has demonstrated what they are worth of, their abilities. Well-known Belarusians evaluate the results of this year in a different way, but still they agree that we are standing on the threshold of great changes.

    Andrei Sannikov, one of the leaders of “European Belarus” campaign:

    One prefers to remember only good things in the end of the year, and there were enough of that in the expiring year. I think that the main result of the year was reinforcement of our independence, and in this connection I would like to recall primarily that the departing year was the year of the BNR’s 90th anniversary. It is a significant date in the history of the Belarusian state, which couldn’t be ignored even by on-staff propagandists of the regime; and for Belarusians inside the country and all over the world it has become a impulse for greater appreciation of the value of independence.

    Undoubtedly, one should note that in the expiring year all imprisoned on political grounds were released. I hope that next year we will achieve complete freedom for them.

    In 2008 the Belarusian nation responded to the “pseudo-elections” game of the regime honourably, and simply refused to take part in it, though both the authorities and some European politicians emphatically offered to take part in the electoral farce. I think that over this year people have come to understand more clearly the absurdity of the Belarusian regime, and next year I expect positive changes in Belarus. I would like to wish everyone all the best wishes, health, happiness and fulfilment of European desires.

    Leanid Zaika, famous economist:

    Year 2008 was splendid, but ... the last. For example, like 1940 or 1941. Why? Easy life has ended. Difficulties have begun since November: exports to Russia fell by 14 per cent, it affected foreign markets. We are losing 15-20 per cent of our foreign markets. The stage is lack of money.

    Government asks money from any possible source – though they should have addressed Bill Gates or Abramovich , but they are asking the Russian premier. We used to have economy of demand, a theoretical model, now we have economy of applicant. A new model! For an unknown reason, we are always asking for 2 billions – it is a psychological mystery. To be honest, we dared to ask Moscow for 4 billions.

    The main thing is that everyone has become interested in economy at the end of the year. It is often spoken about reforms. I am scared, too. Turn your attention, no one is able to say ‘liberalisation’ correctly. Local directors say it too fast, I even feel pity for them. They pronounce it as ‘libization’, with very strange phonetic distortion.

    2009 is going to be a very interesting year, where people of my profession, economists, will be brought to the forefront. I propose to call it Year of Great Economist.

    Yauhen Afnahel, youth leader:

    There were many events in the outgoing year that influenced the situation in Belarus.

    I was disappointed with some opposition leaders, who decided to play according to the rules of the authorities. It concerns running in the so called parliamentary elections and the current events. Attempts of some opposition politicians to save the regime are strange and incomprehensible.

    Actions of European politicians, urging to recognize the Belarusian regime and cooperate with it, can’t make a good impression. It is the first time in history when Europe has had a chance to become a dictatorship-free continent. It just needs to stop supporting and financing the Belarusian regime. We can do the rest. We can do it because we know we are able to make strong steps. The outgoing year has shown this.

    Year 2008 is a year of beginning of the civil campaign “European Belarus”, begging of systematic work to promote the European idea and gather signatures for Belarus’ joining the European Union. The European idea is popular among the Belarusians and it is the only alternative to irresponsible policy of the authorities.

    An important achievement is that for the first time after many years none of opposition activists celebrates New Year at home, not in prison. Release of political prisoners is a result of street actions on Solidarity Days every 16th day of month and international pressure over the regime. But one shouldn’t forget 11 people, convicted for participation in a protest rally of entrepreneurs. Stopping of repressions against oppositionist is one of the main tasks for the next year.

    Irina Khalip, journalist:

    “The main thing for me in the departing year was that Alyaksandr Kazulin and other political prisoners were released, and I am very happy that they would be able to spend the New Year night at home, among those they love. At the same time, it was surprising to me that many were hurrying to draw a line under that, as if the story with political prisoners was over. It seems that everybody has forgotten too quickly what Alyaksandr Kazulin had experienced the things I wouldn’t wish even Lukashenka’s true dogs and their master to meet with: Kazulin was deprived not only of freedom, but of the dearest person. And Iryna was deprived the right to spend the last days with her husband. But now, after all circles of hell, Kazulin is at large, Kim and Parsyukevich too, but is that all?.. Thanks to everyone, everyone is free?..

    I hope that the Belarusian society has imprinted in their memory everything that the political prisoners had passed through, and won’t forget to add their sufferings to the bill. And it is not the personal bill of Kazulin and Kim: it is our common bill, and we must demand full payment.

    Besides, I am very pleased that Emir Kusturica with his No Smoking Orchestra has finally visited Minsk: earlier in all their European tours they avoided Minsk, as if our country is not preset at the map of Europe at all. Three years ago I went to Vilnius with the purpose to attend the concert of Kusturica and his orchestra. And now we had a chance to spend two hours in the company of really free people, who are playing free music. I am convinced that those who were not simply listening to this music, but saw No Smoking Orchestra’s performance, won’t be able to live in slavery calmly any more. Freedom is like a virus, it is easy to catch it in the society of free people. And Kusturica and orchestra’s concert was two hours of absolute freedom. It is not a trifle for today’s Belarus.

    Valyantsin Stefanovich, a well-known human rights activist:

    From the point of view of human rights activists it was a highly controversial year. I would say, a hard one, though we all witnessed release of all political prisoners of Belarus. And this year is different from others as for today there are no people in prisons, who are kept there on political grounds. It has certainly become an achievement of our civil society, including political parties, public associations, human rights watchdogs, who pushed for release of prisoners of conscience.

    On the other hand, we cannot claim that the situation has changed drastically, and irreversible unstoppable democratization process started in the country. The regime is rather solid-cast, the society is under control, and basic civil rights are minimized. The field of freedom remains still very insignificant.

    In advance of the New Year eve I would like to express careful optimism. We all together should still go to a lot of trouble to make 2009 the crucial year of in our history, so that the field of freedom expanded all over the country.

    Mikalai Khalezin, head of Free Theatre:

    What about Belarus Free Theatre, it was the best year in its history. We had a triumphal tour in the US and England, we won Freedom to Create Prize and Europe Theatre Prize, the so called Oscar for theatres. On the other hand, we were constantly meeting the actions of the authorities that can’t be understood: dismissals of actors, expulsion from universities, deportation of our foreign actresses from Belarus.

    What about the general situation in the Belarusian culture, new names in Belarusian musical and literary circles inspire and give a hope that other arts will progress, too.

    Speaking about the situation in the country, in my view, development of youth movements can be noticed. Unfortunately, party leaders do not follow the example of the youth. Most of political prisoners this year were young people. We can be proud of them, they allow us be optimistic about the future of our country. Hopes for changes can be connected with these people.

    I wish the Belarusians to think more next year, because only reflexion can help to take right informed decisions. We will face a difficult period and we must meet any situation head-on. I don’t mean crisis. We should be thankful to the crisis as it puts everything at right places forming a logical chain of events. We return to civilization and can say for sure that epoch of copperfields in economy has ended.

    Viktar Harbachou, one of the leaders of entrepreneurs:

    Year 2008 was a year of struggle for entrepreneurs. It began with protest rallies on January 10 and 21 and ended with protest rallies on December 10 and 15. In means that there was no progress for entrepreneurs this year, the state didn’t give due attention to improvement of legislation. On the contrary, laws became stricter.

    Decree #703, recently signed by Lukashenka, can’t be considered to be a victory or an achievement. It is a result of the crisis, first of all. The authorities feel that the crisis, protest rallies and huge unemployment rate can bring negative results. And again, decree 703 didn’t soften, but even tightened some sanctions for a certain part of entrepreneurs.

    Year 2008 was a year of consolidation and a year of struggle of entrepreneurs for their rights. In spite of ambitions of some entrepreneurs, our structures are uniting. Everyone understands that we can win by joint efforts. I think, year 2009 will be the same, because January, February and March will make the Belarusians to realize what the consequences of laws and Lukashenka’s decrees are. Main struggle is ahead. If one thinks we will end with it, he is mistaken.

    Zmitser Bandarenka, Charter’97 coordinator:

    To my mind, the year 2008 in Belarus has become a year when new leaders appeared on the political stage. Today Zmitser Dashkevich, Artur Finkevich, Yauhen Afnagel, Zmitser Barodka and Andrei Kim are acting in full force now. Today they are not just young men; they are leaders which opinion is respected by many Belarusians, and which actions define the position of the democratic forces.

    To my mind, the year 2008 was the year of lost opportunities for the “old opposition”. Participation of the heads of the Political Council of the Democratic Forces in the games of other people has caused the situation when their opinion is no longer taken into account both inside the country and abroad. Mistakes in the strategy have caused weakening of their position. But it is encouraging that a generation of new, decisive, daring, and at the same time highbrow leaders, is growing.

    At various international sites this year has become a year of two Belarusian brands, very similar, but very noticeable. 2008 is the year of Belarusian “Free Theatre” and BATE football club. These two Belarusian teams have one thing in common: they are headed by vivid personalities that aim to create teams of vivid personalities too.

    Success of the Free Theatre and BATE, to my mind, show that the time of dictatorship is coming to an end, as only vivid personalities can be leaders internationally, meet challenges and crises and win, but not bureaucrats, who are ready to fulfill any orders no matter how absurd they are.

  • Around the region...

    Russia, Ukraine Scramble for Gas Deal as Cutoff Looms

    From: Bloomburg
    Russia and Ukraine failed today to reach an agreement on gas debts, leaving two days to avoid a cutoff that threatens to disrupt fuel supplies to Europe and cause a fresh Russian rift with the West.

    Ukraine “doesn’t want to pay” the debt it owes OAO Gazprom, Russia’s natural-gas exporter, for supplies, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told reporters in Moscow today. He spoke on the phone for almost an hour with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko while a delegation from Ukrainian energy company NAK Naftogaz Ukrainy met Gazprom officials in Moscow.

    The Russian state company supplies a quarter of Europe’s gas, four-fifths of which passes through Ukraine’s pipeline system. Russia, whose August war with Georgia strained ties with the U.S. and Europe, faces pressure from its largest gas consumers, including Germany, to avoid a repeat of a 2006 fuel war with Ukraine that affected European consumers.

    “Russia will only hurt itself by pressuring Ukraine; it will bring the country even closer to the West” and allow it to appear “as a victim,” Alexander Rahr of the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, said in a phone interview.

    Conflict with Ukraine over gas deliveries has been one of the most contentious issues between the two former Soviet partners. Russia also is challenging Ukraine’s aspirations to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and blames the Ukrainian leadership for supplying weapons to the Georgian army, which fought Russia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

    Gazprom Claims

    Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov said he hoped a deal will be reached by New Year, Interfax reported today. Gazprom says Ukraine owes it $2.1 billion and will not sign a new delivery contract until the money is paid. Spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said over the weekend there is about a 50 percent chance that Gazprom will end supplies of gas to Ukraine at midnight on Jan. 1, the deadline for an agreement.

    Gazprom also said today that if it charges Ukraine full market prices like European countries, the cost of gas next year could rise to $418 per 1,000 cubic meters, from $179.5 now.

    Gazprom curtailed deliveries to Ukraine in January 2006 after a price dispute that the former Soviet nation said was punishment for its pro-Western policies. That led to natural-gas shortfall throughout Europe and called into question Russia’s reliability as an energy supplier.

    Export Commitments

    The Russian company today said it would fulfill its export obligations to Europe and created a special Web site to inform consumers of the latest developments in the dispute.

    “Gazprom is committed to communicating as clearly as possible throughout the negotiations with Naftogaz Ukrainy,” Gazprom said in an e-mailed statement.

    Ukraine owes $806 million for November gas and $862 million for December, plus about $450 million in fines.

    The only way out of the crisis is for Ukraine to pay off the debts and sign a long-term gas supply agreement with Russia, said Volodymyr Omelchenko, an analyst at Kiev-based Razumkov Center for Economy and Political Studies.

    “This will allow Ukraine to avoid political influence on energy prices in the future,” he said.

    Ukraine, though, like other emerging markets, has been shaken by a lack of credit, a weakening currency and plunging demand for its products due to the global financial crisis. Last month, Ukraine received approval for a two-year, $16.4 billion International Monetary Fund loan to help support its banking system and widening current-account deficit.

    Ukrainian Growth

    The Ukrainian economy is in danger of its worst decline since the mid-1990s aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse. Its gross domestic product, which has expanded at an average annual rate of 7 percent since 2000, may shrink 5 percent next year, Oleksandr Shlapak, deputy chief of staff to the country’s president, said last month.

    Belarus, an ally of Russia that is considering stationing Russian weapons to counter a planned U.S. missile shield, secured an undisclosed lower gas price for 2009, after paying $129 per 1,000 cubic meters this year. Ukraine has unsuccessfully pressed Russia to cut the price it pays for gas.

    Unlike the 2006 gas dispute, a response to the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine that brought Western-backed opposition leaders to power, “this is mainly commercial, it’s about money,” said Rahr in Berlin. Gazprom itself “desperately needs” funds to invest in Siberian gas fields amid the global financing crunch, he said.

    Ukraine may be able to avoid a shutoff of Russian natural gas by settling its debt to Gazprom through deductions from future transit fees that Ukraine charges Russia for transporting gas to Europe, Kupriyanov said.

    Efforts to reach a compromise are complicated by an ongoing power struggle between Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, two Orange Revolution leaders.

    “It isn’t clear who is in charge and who is the right counterpart for Russia to talk to,” said Masha Lipman, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center research group in Moscow. “Ukraine is in political turmoil and in the midst of a serious economic crisis.”

    PM announces gov't plans for 2009 and onwards

    From: Ros Business
    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has outlined the government's top priorities for 2009 and until 2012. Speaking at this year's final government meeting today, he pointed out that the cabinet's action plan would include roughly 60 top-priority projects, most importantly in such spheres as healthcare, education, and other social sectors of the economy. According to Putin, the aim is to create a truly competitive environment in such sectors and implement measures to promote a healthy lifestyle, while special emphasis will also be placed on the establishment of research institutes, pre-school education, and enhancing the qualifications of teachers.

    In 2009, the government will focus on completing the technical standards and regulations for the construction sector and on forming a fully-fledged customs union and economic integration between Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, among other things.

    Ukraine will pay its $2 billion Russian gas bill

    From: CSM
    PIPELINE: A worker at a gas compressor station in Boyarka, Ukraine, checked a pressure gauge Dec. 17. Europe depends on Russia for some 40 percent of its natural gas consumption, most of which flows through Ukraine pipelines.
    In what is becoming an unpleasant New Year tradition, Russia again threatened to cut off Ukraine's gas supplies if the struggling post-Soviet state failed to pay off at least $2 billion in arrears by Dec. 31.

    By Tuesday evening, Ukraine appeared to have averted a cutoff by borrowing money from the country's two biggest state banks. A spokesman from Russia's state gas monopoly, Gazprom, said that no money has been received yet.

    Even if the immediate crisis is resolved, the underlying tensions between Russia and Ukraine remain – and could result in another standoff later.

    Ukraine is floundering amid financial paralysis and is racked by political conflict between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Europeans are watching developments closely, worried that any extended cutoff of the main energy artery between Russia and the West could leave them facing serious disruptions this winter.

    Europe depends on Russia for some 40 percent of its natural-gas consumption, and most of that arrives via a Soviet-era pipeline through Ukraine.

    Gazprom, itself requesting a government bailout, insists that the Ukraine dispute is purely commercial, and has appealed to Europeans for "understanding." Some Ukrainians, however, claim there is a political subtext to Russia's demands and warn that the Kremlin's real target is their government's aspirations to join NATO and draw Ukraine closer to the European Union.

    "The Kremlin is showing that we can be rewarded for good geopolitical choices, and punished for bad ones," says Alexei Kolomiyets, president of the independent Institute of Euro-Atlantic Integration in Ukraine's capital, Kiev. "Energy supplies are the main instrument of pressure upon us, and we are left with very few options. It's quite possible that there can be interruptions in the gas supply to Europe in coming weeks."

    Mr. Kolomiyets points to Belarus, a Russian ally granted a significant price cut this week on its already subsidized rates for Russian gas, as an example of how some are rewarded for making the "right" choices. "We hear that the Belarussian Parliament will recognize the [Russian-sponsored] republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia," in return for being given a favorable gas deal, he says. "This is an obvious object lesson for others."

    But Russian experts allege it's Ukraine that's complicating the issue, by pursuing anti-Moscow policies while enjoying subsidized Russian gas. "Russia doesn't want to influence Ukrainian politics," Kremlin-connected analyst Gleb Pavlovsky told the independent Interfax news agency Monday. "The Russian position is simple: Get the money, step back, and leave Ukraine to its own devices."

    Prices for Russian gas spiked this year to some $500 per thousand cubic meters, although Ukraine, which depends on Russia for 75 percent of its gas, has until now paid less than half the European price. Russia's point of view is that Ukraine needs to clear its arrears and begin paying market rates. The Kremlin says Ukraine, which received an emergency $16.5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund this fall, ought to be able to cover its debt to Moscow.

    "The problem is aggravated this year by several factors," says Konstantin Zatullin, deputy chair of the State Duma's commission on the Commonwealth of Independent States. "First, Ukraine really lacks the means to pay. Second, the Ukrainian political system is on the verge of collapse. And the Ukrainians seem to be in no mood to hold constructive talks on ways to resolve the problem."

    In the short term, Russia has few alternatives. If Gazprom attempts to halt Ukraine's gas supplies, it faces the likelihood that Ukraine's state energy firm Naftogaz will start siphoning gas from the pipeline as soon as its stored [and unpaid-for] reserves of Russian gas run out, which could happen as early as mid-January. When this occurred in previous years, the shortfall was passed on to downstream European customers. Another option being discussed in Moscow is a total halt in gas supplies through the line, which would punish Ukraine but face Europe with crippling shortages.

    "Gazprom has attempted to explain things to the Europeans, and to seek their understanding, but these efforts haven't been very successful so far," says Valery Nesterov, an energy expert with Troika Dialog, a Moscow investment bank. "Europe is egoistic. They're interested in receiving stable deliveries of gas, and if they don't they'll blame the supplier. This is Russia's dilemma."

    In the longer perspective, Russia is sponsoring two new pipelines to Europe that will bypass potential problem countries such as Ukraine, Poland, and the ex-Soviet Baltic states. Nord Stream, an undersea Baltic route promoted by both Russia and Germany, is due to open in 2011. South Stream, under the Black Sea, will eventually deliver Russian gas directly to southern Europe.

    Moscow may also hope that a new OPEC-style natural gas cartel, launched at a forum of gas-exporting countries in Moscow last week, will be able to decouple the price of gas from that of crude oil, which has plunged by two-thirds in recent months.

    Since most gas supplies are delivered via expensive dedicated infrastructure and under long-term contracts, it's uncertain how effective the group, which includes Iran, Qatar, Libya, and Venezuela, might be in any short-term efforts to control the market.

    But Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made Russia's intentions clear.

    "The expenses necessary for developing fields are rising sharply," he told the forum. "This means that despite the current problems in finances, the era of cheap energy resources, of cheap gas, is of course coming to an end."

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Chicago archdiocese settles Polish Priest sex-abuse case

    From: Chicago Breaking News
    Crusifix? Why would I carry a crusifix? You can't sweep anything under the rug with that...
    The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago has reached a $1.375 million settlement in the sexual abuse case of a priest who allegedly molested a teenage boy from the late 1980s to the early 1990s, church officials said today.

    The priest, Rev. Czeslaw "Chester" Przybylo, is accused of repeatedly abusing a 13-year-old Polish immigrant from 1987 to 1992 while serving at Five Holy Martyrs Church in Chicago's Brighton Park neighborhood.

    Przybylo currently works as pastor at Shrine of Christ the King in west suburban Winfield.
    The shrine calls itself "Catholic," but it is an independent congregation and not part of the Roman Catholic Church.

    At a news conference Thursday, the victim's attorneys and abuse activists called on church officials to identify Przybylo on the archdiocese Web site and place him on their list of "Priests with Substantiated Allegations of Sexual Misconduct with Minors."

    Archdiocese director of communications Colleen Dolan said Przybylo is not listed on the Web site because he is not a priest of the Chicago archdiocese. He was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Tarno in Poland in 1976.

    "He was never a priest of the Chicago archdiocese," Dolan said. "He worked here, but he was not one of our priests. This man is the responsibility of his diocese, similar to priests of religious orders."

    According to the lawsuit filed in 2006, the plaintiff said Przybylo molested him in the parish rectory, the Chicago Health Club and the River City apartment complex. When the boy began to resist, he said Przybylo threatened to have him arrested and have his mother deported.

    When he tried to tell now-deceased Bishop Alfred Abramowicz about the abuse, the bishop scolded him and told him to go to confession.

    Przybylo responded by suing the victim, the victims' attorneys, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), and a research group called

    Barbara Blaine, president of SNAP, urged Cardinal Francis George to enact a new policy that forbids accused priests from suing their accusers.

    "We must set up a climate that encourages, not discourages, the reporting of child sex abuse allegations," Blaine said.

    The continuing story of corruption in the Polish FA


    Henryk Klocek
    A member of PZPN, the Polish FA, has had seven counts of corruption brought against him.

    Henryk Klocek is pleading not guilty to five cases of accepting bribes, and two cases of their actual transactions.

    In a court hearing that lasted seven hours, the prosecution brought the cases forward following reports of match fixing in the 2003-2004 season, with an estimated 50,000 zloty (15,000 euro) being transferred for rigging matches in both the first and second divisions.

    Mr. Klocek is on bail for 70,000 zloty, and the prosecution has failed to state whether he the allegedly corrupt PZPN official had previous contacts with 'The Hairdresser', head of the football mafia in Poland.

    Kiszczak says evidence against collaborators not reliable

    From: Polskie Radio
    Much of evidence against those accused of collaboration with Poland’s secret services (SB) comes, not from information given by the accused themselves, but from bugs placed in their homes and workplaces, admits General Kiszczak.

    General Czeslaw Kiszczak - currently on trial for his part in initiating martial law in Poland in 1981 - has admitted to ordering the secret police to record eavesdropped information as if it was coming, voluntarily from the accused. This invalidates much of the evidence against many who have been accused of collaboration.

    Kiszczak, reports Gazeta Wyborcza – who was head of the communist secret services between 1981 – 83 - made his apologies to all who have been unjustly accused of collaboration.

    One of those suspected is Malgorzata Niezabitowska, who served as a spokesperson in the first post-communist government of Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, from 1989 to 1990. She was said to have collaborated with the SB under the codename of 'Nowak'. After she was exonerated in 2006 by the vetting court, who said that information about her came from surveillance equipment installed in her house and not from herself voluntarily, the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) lodged an appeal against Niezabitowska’s acquittal.

    Kiszczak’s statement sheds new light on the activity of the SB which was, after 1968, the organ responsible for the implementation of political repression and surveillance of opposition leaders.

    Critics of the vetting process in Poland, where hundreds of people have been accused of collaboration with the communists, have argued that the source of the evidence – communist secret service records – is not reliable. Those found guilty of collaboration can be banned from public service in Poland.

  • Sport...

    Alexander Lukashenko: sports popularisation remains important state policy avenue

    From: BelTA
    Track cyclist Natallia Tsylinskaya of Belarus in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games women's sprint qualifying at the Laoshan Velodrome in Beijing on August 17, 2008
    Popularisation and development of sports and physical training in Belarus are important avenues of the state policy, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said during the opening of the velodrome at the cultural and sports complex Minsk Arena on December 30.

    The head of state underscored, the architectural and interior designs as well as functional capabilities of the Minsk velodrome are unparalleled in the ex-USSR.

    The design took into account the best international practices used to build and operate similar sports facilities. Alexander Lukashenko heartily thanked all those who participated in building the velodrome. He remarked the construction was intensive. People worked in three shifts, which allowed reducing the construction time.

    The velodrome is certified for compliance with requirements of the Internatioanl Cycling Union (UCI). The judge equipment, which will be supplied, installed and tuned by a well-known Swiss company, is compliant with the requirements. The equipment will allow official registration of competition results, including world records.

    The President was made familiar with plans for future development of the adjacent territory. Alexander Lukashenko saw the velodrome, visited a choreographic hall, a power-lifting training room, recreation rooms for sportsmen. After the opening ceremony the head of state presented 20 bicycles to young sportsmen.

    Multi-purpose complex “Minsk-Arena” to be opened in October 2009

    The multi-purpose entertainment and sports complex “Minsk-Arena” will be opened in October 2009, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko attending an official ceremony to inaugurate a velodrome at the multi-purpose entertainment and sports complex “Minsk-Arena”, BelTA has learnt.

    The velodrome for up 2,000 seats is the first facility to be commissioned at the multi-purpose entertainment and sports complex “Minsk Arena”. According to the President, when the construction is over, the Belarusians will have “a real centre for active leisure and promotion of the healthy lifestyle.” The complex will comprise an ice arena and a speed skating rink with a total of 20,000 seats.

    The opening of the velodrome has allowed to hold the cycling championship in Belarus and not abroad as it used to be. On December 30, the velodrome will host the finals of Belarus’ Open Cycling Track Championship. Taking part in the competition will be sportsmen from Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Lithuania and the Czech Republic.

    Alexander Lukashenko expressed his confidence that the opening of the velodrome will help promote cycling and give a powerful impetus to its development in Belarus. Over the recent years, the state has done a lot to build up the sports infrastructure, both in the centre and in the countryside. The training of athletes and competitions are carried out on a brand new level. Our teams win medals more often at international competitions, the President said.

    Minsk Native Stefanovich scores four times to lead Quebec to 10-1 trouncing of Baie-Comeau

    From: Canadien Press
    Mikhail Stefanovich might be one of the Toronto Maple Leafs' leading scorers one day.

    For now, he'll have to settle for leading the Quebec Remparts to the longest current winning streak in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Stefanovich had a natural hat trick and finished with four goals, and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault added three as the Remparts earned their sixth victory in a row Tuesday with a 10-1 drubbing of the Baie-Comeau Drakkar.

    Stefanovich, Toronto's fourth-round pick (98th overall) in the June draft, gave the Remparts (29-8-0-2) a 2-0 lead with an unassisted goal at 19:02 of the first period.

    The Minsk, Belarus native added to the lead 51 seconds into the third period, and completed his first hat trick of the season at 2:06. His fourth of the game, and 18th of the year, concluded the scoring with 1:50 left in the third period.

    Stefanovich, who won the Mike Bossy Award last season as the QMJHL's best professional prospect, has 10 goals during the Remparts' winning streak.

  • Cultural scene...

    Review: 'Defiance';
    A great story fights its way through thickets of Hollywood banter and sentimentality.

    From: LA Times
    A Russian partisan commander looks dismissively at the Bielski brothers, eyeing tough Zus (Liev Schreiber) and tougher Tuvia (Daniel Craig) and proclaiming, "Jews don't fight."

    "These Jews do," comes the prompt reply, and "Defiance," the new film by Edward Zwick, is determined to prove that point.

    Though one of the standard clich?s of the Holocaust is that Europe's Jews were exterminated without offering any resistance, historians have gradually uncovered evidence to the contrary, with the Bielskis being the prime case in point. ¶ Along with sibling Asael (Jamie Bell), the brothers not only formed a partisan unit that took on the Germans in the heavily wooded areas of what is now Belarus, they created a community in those woods that managed to keep 1,200 Jews alive until the war ended. ¶ Zwick, who wrote the screenplay with Clayton Frohman based on a book by Nechama Tec, has been trying to dramatize that story for at least a dozen years. As it appears on screen today, "Defiance" has some genuine strengths but also some weaker elements, and these opposing traits battle it out kind of the way the contentious Bielskis fought not only the Germans but each other.

    The strongest part of "Defiance," frankly, might be those fraternal conflicts. Craig and Schreiber are two excellent actors, and both of them connect strongly with their roles as well as their fierce rivalry.

    We meet all three brothers almost at the same moment in 1941, when they discover that the invading Germans have killed their parents and likely put a price on their own heads as well.

    Passionately played by Schreiber in one of his strongest film roles, Zus is the wild hothead of the family, filled with a burning desire for "blood for blood" revenge as well as smoldering class resentments against the higher class Jews who looked down on the Bielskis until they needed their help.

    His brother Tuvia, well-played by Craig, though capable of cold fury when it's called for, is much more of a stoic and closer to a natural commander than Zus. He also feels more of a responsibility than his furious sibling does to protect the helpless Jews who've escaped to the woods from urban ghettos.

    Over the course of several projects, particularly the recent "Blood Diamond," Zwick has become quite proficient at crisply done action sequences, and the frequent fire fights and killings in "Defiance" have a powerful effect.

    Whenever "Defiance" departs from the harsher realities of its story, however, when it leaves behind the particularity of its story and deals with the generic, it risks trafficking in the kind of earnestness and sentimentality it is better off without.

    On the one hand, it is appropriate and likely true to life to give each of the Bielskis a beautiful "forest wife," the term used for the common law arrangements the war encouraged, and having fine actresses like Alexa Davalos, Mia Wasikowska and Iben Hjejle certainly helps.

    On the other hand, the film has too much on-the-nose dialogue and wisecracking-through-tough-times sentiments, particularly in the dialogue between the religious Shimon Haretz (Allan Corduner) and the intellectual Isaac Malbin (Mark Feuerstein). It all feels like stuff we've heard before, and hearing it in the middle of a Belarus forest doesn't improve it enough.

    But when "Defiance" returns to situations that could have come from no other film, it strengthens its hand. Being true to itself, just as the Bielskis were, is what this film does best.

  • Endnote...

    2009 declared as Year of Native Land in Belarus

    From: BelTA
    The next year will be the Year of Native Land in Belarus. President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko signed the relevant decree on December 29, the press service of the head of state told BelTA.

    The Year of Native Land will contribute to preserving and increasing the national spiritual and cultural legacy, historical legacy and natural riches of the country, original traditions of the Belarusian nation, and inspiring the youth with love for the Fatherland.

    The goals the Year of Native Land tries to achieve flawlessly correlate with the celebration of the 65th anniversary of Belarus’ liberation from the Nazi invaders. They testify to the continuity of patriotic traditions of the generation of victors, the readiness of present Belarusians to preserve the native land, multiplying its natural riches, spiritual and cultural treasures.

    The head of state has commissioned the Council of Ministers with adopting a national plan of measures for holding the Year of Native Land and ensuring the coordination of efforts of state agencies and other organisations with a view to implementing the project. Other national state administration bodies, oblast executive committees and Minsk City Hall will have to work out and implement branch-wise and regional plans, said the source.

    Vladimir Andreichenko: BSSR was based on social equality principle relevant to this day

    The Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic was based on the principle of social equality which remains the key principle of building a sovereign and stable statehood, said Chairman of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly Vladimir Andreichenko at the solemn session dedicated to the 90th anniversary of the BSSR, BelTA has learnt.

    “The event that took place in Smolensk on January 1 – the declaration of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Belarus (SSRB) by the Provisional Government of the Workers and Peasants' Soviet Government was momentous. It realized to a great extent the desire of the Belarusians to have their own state,” the Speaker said.

    According to Vladimir Andreichenko, the first attempt to proclaim the independence of Belarus on March 25, 1918 (the day when the Belarusian National Republic was announced) failed because the real power in Belarus belonged to the German invaders. The SSRB manifesto granted the power to the councils of deputies of workers and peasants and therefore enjoyed a broad popular support.

    “Though the real sovereignty of the BSSR was limited, the country had many attributes of an independent state and became one of the UN founding Member States and actively participated in the activities of this organization,” the Speaker reminded.

    “During the Soviet period illiteracy was eliminated, a powerful industry was set up, the Belarusian culture was given a significant boost,” he added.

    Belarus President: BSSR achievements became foundation for sovereign Belarus

    The impressive achievements in the industrial and agricultural areas, the renovation of towns and villages, the development of science and culture, the commitment to peaceful policy of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic have laid the firm foundation for maintaining the real sovereignty of the Belarusian state, says the message of President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko dedicated to the 90th anniversary of the BSSR establishment. The message was read by Head of Presidential Administration Vladimir Makei at a solemn gathering timed to the anniversary in the Minsk concert hall on December 30.

    It was during that time when the foundation was laid for the present-day Belarus, the felicitation message says.

    The declaration of the BSSR helped unite the nation, develop its unique culture. Belarus was one of the founding Member States of the United Nations which attests to the recognition of the BSSR contribution to the great victory over fascism by the international community, the President said.

    “Celebrating this glorious day and paying glowing tribute to the historic memory of the people, we will always be grateful to those who defended and raised our Homeland from ruins. Their military and labour feats inspire us to build a strong and prosperous Belarus,” the Head of State underlined.

    Alexander Lukashenko wished all the Belarusians health, optimism, well-being and new achievements for the benefit of their Homeland.