Minsk-Arena, Catholic Church, Vietnam, Qatar Emir, Chinese loans, Czech minister, Opposition, NPP, Hleb, Elfinov and Polish Scandals
Minsk-Arena construction should be completed by November 7
|The president helping out with the building of the Minsk Arena last Saturday as a part of Dzen Subotnik, the day where people make social contributions of phisical labor|
The major construction works will be finished in July. The fronts and near-by territory will be ready by that time as well.
Minsk Arena is a unique facility that is yet unmatched in Belarus as well as in Europe. It will include a multi-purpose sports and entertainment arena with the seats for 15,000 people, a skating rink with the seats for 3,000 people, a velodrome and a many-level car-parking.
“In the construction scale, the level of difficulty and architecture, Minsk-Arena will be more advanced than the National Library is,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
The head of state got familiar with the plans to construct another rink in the district of Chizhovka in Minsk. The new arena will cater for a nearly 8,000 audience. The President was reported that if the construction starts in the near future, then the first competitions will take place in early 2011. The head of state believes the construction of this complex will allow the Belarusian capital to receive the World Ice Hockey Championships 2014
Alexander Lukashenko was also informed on the plans to construct a water activities centre in the downtown for holding high-level international competitions and how the Minsk-Arena velodrome opened in December 2008 is used.
Alexander Lukashenko took part in the nation-wide day of voluntary clean-up work. As in the previous years, the head of state washelping at the Minsk-Arena multi-purpose sports and entertainment complex.
Alexander Lukashenko was placing concrete to found the Walk of Sports Fame leading to the major entrance to the territory of the sports facility. Commemorative plaques to outstanding Olympian champions will be unveiled here in the future. The alley will be beatified with fountains and sculptural compositions.
Working together with the President was head of the facility construction headquarters Vladimir Naumov, Director General of the Triple Company Yuri Chizh, athletes and coaches, constructors.
After the work the head of state granted an interview to the mass media.
The president believes it is necessary to keep the tradition of nation-wide voluntary clean-up days. “May be the idea of voluntary clean-up days has become old-fashioned. But it is worth keeping afloat,” the Belarusian leader said. Alexander Lukashenko considers that the people do good organizing voluntary clean-up days.
This year that celebrates the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Belarus from the Nazis, 50% of the funds earned at the nation-wide voluntary clean-up day will be put in the overhaul, renovation, restoration and beatification of memorial complexes, places of military fame, burial places of soldiers and partisans of the Great Patriotic War, the places of mass killing of the civilians. Other 50% will be used to prepare summer recuperation camps, develop the infrastructure of agro-towns.
The president told the reporters about his meeting with Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill in Moscow.
The head of state stressed that the major result of the talks with the Patriarch was the mutual understanding of the necessity to enhance the role of the Orthodox Church in the Belarusian-Russia relations.
“The Russian Orthodox Church should be more active and open in the issues of uniting Belarus and Russia,” the president said. According to him, the Patriarch sees prospects of the Orthodoxy in strengthening the whole Christian world.
The meeting between Alexander Lukashenko and Patriarch Kirill lasted over three and a half hours. The sides touched upon a whole range of issues regarding the Orthodox Church and its relations with other religions. “We discussed issues related to our unity, the unity of Belarus and Russia first and foremost, the issues that are and are not being addressed,” the Belarusian head of state said. He added that the Patriarch knows Belarus very well, he visited many towns and villages, and this is why “it was easy for us to communicate.”
The President of Belarus and the Patriarch agreed to meet in the near future once again.
Commenting on the meeting with President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow on April 10, Alexander Lukashenko emphasized mutual understanding was reached to settle many moot points in the bilateral relations of Belarus and Russia. The President noted that the talks concerned the price for gas, supplies of Belarusian products to the Russian market, participation of Belarusian companies in leasing deliveries, government procurement contracts in Russia, other issues.
Speaking about the February session of the Supreme State Council of the Union State, Alexander Lukashenko noted that the mutual understanding was found then. The head of state informed that State Secretary of the Union State Pavel Borodin while being in Moscow on April 10 “met with Russian ministers and coordinated the implementation of reached agreements at the Supreme State Council”.
Alexander Lukashenko also added that the meeting with the President of Russia was held in a friendly and warm atmosphere. Great attention was turned to the foreign policy, the Union State defense issues related to the forthcoming West 2009 exercise, the military and technical cooperation, the Eastern Partnership programme.
Alexander Lukashenko invited his Russian counterpart to visit Belarus. “I have offered Dmitry Medvedev to visit Minsk, may be, by the Independence Day holiday and, may be, to hold the Supreme State Council session,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
The head of state also touched upon the issue of the equal presence of Belarusian and Russian mass media in the Union State information area. In particular, the presidents required to develop a standard and legal base on functioning of the Belarusian and Russian mass media on the territories of Russia and Belarus respectively.
As for Belarus’ participation in the Eastern Partnership, the president stressed “holding negotiations with the West, Belarus will never be against Russia. It is not advantageous for the country. Why should we abandon Russia? We will keep on developing relations with Russia,” the head of state said.
The president said that the European Union accounts for nearly half of Belarus’ exports, the same amount as the Russian Federation does with Belarus in trade. “Should we ignore this fact? No. We should support and develop good relations with Europe as well,” he stressed.
Belarus suggests that Russia should also take part in the Eastern Partnership programme. The president added that the participation of Belarus in the programme should not provoke any anti-Russian moods. “Russia and Belarus are closely linked. At the same time we cannot reject cooperation with Europe,” the head of state said.
Talking to the journalists, the president spoke about the construction of new sports facilities in Belarus. According to him, the country should continue the construction of such facilities despite the crisis.
The head of state turned attention to the fact that “the construction of such facilities benefits the domestic economy”. Alexander Lukashenko stressed that “given a difficult world situation we are in we should keep on working in order to save the production. Working hard we will be able to overcome all the difficulties”.
Belarus government highly values Roman Catholic Church mission
“We have developed a good tradition of the President’s meetings with representatives of main confessions and it must not be broken. I am satisfied with the relations, which are emerging between the spiritual and secular authorities. We will do our best to not only preserve, but also make these relations stronger and firmer. It is my task as the head of state,” underscored Alexander Lukashenko.
He reminded that he had met with Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill, who had talked a lot about relations between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, about the Pope and Metropolitan Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz. “I am glad that the Patriarch is intent on uniting the Christianity. The Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church should be closer and deal with emerging issues in a way to avoid breaking Christian ties,” underlined the President.
The head of state pointed out the great personal contribution of Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz to establishing the dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. “You are a man devoted to keeping peace and calm in the country. Your heart is bleeding for Belarusian land,” said Alexander Lukashenko.
“We greatly value the mission of the Roman Catholic Church and you personally. We will support not only contacts with but the Roman Catholic Church itself,” underlined the President.
Alexander Lukashenko remarked he welcomes the intention of the Roman Catholic Church to restore and build temples. In his words, the Roman Catholic Church builds them fast without delaying construction. “I like it as well,” said the President.
Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz upheld the idea of developing the dialogue with the Orthodox Church. “Relations should be developed to the extent of our abilities. The Church should protect and does protect interests of people,” remarked the Archbishop Metropolitan of Minsk and Mogilev.
He pointed out the Roman Catholic Church devotes a lot of efforts to charity. In particular, a refuge for 50 people has been set up in Gomel. It is serviced by sisters of charity of the Mother Theresa Order. There are branches of the charity organisation Caritas under the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Belarus and in all parishes. Charity organisations of the Roman Catholic Church cooperate with social protection agencies.
According to Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the dialogue between confessions develops successfully in Belarus. He pointed out the importance of partnership between Christian confessions. In particular, the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church are jointly intent on assisting the resolution of such urgent problems as drug addiction and AIDS.
The Roman Catholic Church plays an essential role in Belarus’ religious life. It is the second largest confession in the country in the number of believers. Over the last 20 years the number of parishes has quadrupled and now stands at 467. In Belarus there are four eparchies: Minsk-Mogilev archeparchy as well as Pinsk, Grodno, and Vitebsk eparchies.
In April 1999 the Holy See created the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Belarus. Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek presided over the conference till June 2006. Bishop Alexander Kashkevich is the current president.
In February 2009 Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz was elected Deputy Chairman of the Advisory Interconfessional Council under the Commissioner for Religions and Nationalities. The council includes heads of Belarusian religious associations.
Belarus, Vietnam to step up trade and economic cooperation
In Hanoi consultations between the two foreign ministries took place to consider the bilateral relations and cooperation in international organisations. The Belarusian delegation also took part in a roundtable session of business circles “Belarus-Vietnam”.
The Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister held meetings with Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam Hoang Trung Hai, the Chairman of the External Relations Commission of the National Assembly of Vietnam and top officials of the Associations of Vietnam societies of friendship with foreign states and the Vietnam-Belarus friendship society.
Sergei Aleinik took part in the opening of Belarus’ national exhibition organised as part of the 19th international trade exhibition Vietnam Expo 2009.
The national exhibition showcased products made by leading enterprises of the ministries of industry, construction and architecture, agriculture and food, Belarusian petrochemical concern Belneftekhim, Belarusian food industry concern Belgospischeprom, scientific organisations of the State Committee for Science and Technology, the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, and higher educational establishments.
While in Vietnam members of the Belarusian delegation held meetings with representatives of interested ministries and agencies, the Academy of Sciences and Technologies, scientific institutions and universities, leading industrial groups and corporations of Vietnam. After negotiations several major contracts have been signed for the supply of Belarusian machines, including 548 tractors, 210 MAZ assembly sets. Agreements concerning cooperation in science and technology, education were reached. Measures to step up the bilateral trade, economic, scientific and technical cooperation were worked out.
Qatar Emir arrives in Belarus on official visit
During the visit, which will last till April 14, the Emir of Qatar is expected to meet with Belarus’ leadership to discuss matters regarding the enhancement of the Belarusian-Qatari bilateral cooperation and cooperation in the international arena.
The bilateral relations between Belarus and Qatar have been traditionally friendly and have been developing rapidly in the last few years. The countries have similar views on major issues on the international agenda and vigorously cooperate within the UN system.
Belarus-Qatar trade is inconsiderable. Between 1993 and 2004 singular export and import operations involving small volumes were arranged. In 2005-2008 Belarus imported ethylene polymers from Qatar (worth around $804,000 in 2008). In 2008 Belarus’ export totalled $72,000 (metal-cutting machine tools). Due to the limited demand on the Qatari domestic market as well as the established predisposition of consumers towards West-made products prospects of building up the Belarusian export to the country are remote. Meanwhile, Belarus may be interested in Qatar-financed programmes of financial and economic aid to the developing and poorest countries of Asia and Africa.
Diplomatic relations between Belarus and Qatar were established on April 16, 1996. In 1999-2008 Belarusian delegations led by the minister of foreign affairs, the tax minister, the defence minister, the interior minister, the first deputy communication and informatisation minister and other officials visited Qatar.
In June 2007 a delegation of experts of the Qatar Islamic Bank visited Minsk. The Qatari delegation held negotiations with top executives of the Belarusian petrochemical concern Belneftekhim, the Energy Ministry, and Minsk City Hall. Projects worth around $1 billion were presented to the Qatari side.
Apart from that, in April 2007 the Belarusian Tax Minister contacted the Qatari investment company Qatari Diar, which had expressed interest in evaluating investment opportunities of the Belarusian economy (tourism, infrastructure projects, construction of hotels, leisure and entertainment facilities).
Belarusian cement plants to start utilizing Chinese loans in second half of 2009
In March Belarus signed a $142.46mn loan agreement with China Exim Bank on a consumer loan to finance purchasing of the equipment for Krasnoselskstroimaterialy.
In October last year the Government of Belarus and Exim Bank agreed on a $390mn consumer and soft loan for Krichevtsementnoshifer and the Belarusian Cement Works.
The loans for the upgrade of the Belarusian cement plans are pending approval of the State Council of China. They should be considered in one package. The approval is expected in May-June. Once the documents are approved, the contracts signed between the cement plants and Chinese CITIC Group come into force and the credit lines will be opened. A CITIC office in Belarus is slated for opening in second half too.
The work on developing necessary infrastructure, roads, communication networks is being completed now. The companies’ investments, loans of Belarusian banks, financial resources of the innovation fund of the Ministry of Architecture and Construction are being used at this stage.
With a viewing to saturating the domestic market and boosting the export potential of Belarus, the production of cement is projected to be increased up 10 million tonnes a year by 2011. Three technological lines producing 1.8 million tonnes of cement a year will be launched at Krichevtsementnoshifer, Krasnoselskstroimaterialy and Belarusian Cement Works (Kostiukovichi, Mogilev oblast). The total cost of the construction is estimated at $1.134 billion.
In May Belarus’ import duty on raw sugar to be linked to price of $280.66 pt
In May 2009, Belarus’ import customs duty on raw sugar will be linked to the price of $280.66 per tonne of raw sugar, BelTA learnt from the Economy Ministry.
The average monthly price is calculated as the average price on the New York Mercantile Exchange in the previous three months – January, February, March 2009, which was $280.66 per tonne.
The Economy Ministry will submit this information to the State Customs Committee by April 15. The Customs Committee will use this information to levy import customs duties on raw sugar starting from May 1, 2009.
Belarus’ GDP up 2.6% in January, 1.2% in January-February
According to the revised data of the National Statistics Committee, Belarus’ GDP was up 2.6% in January, and 1.2% in January-February over the same period last year, BelTA learnt from the statistics committee.
The committee has also issued revised data on the industrial output. In January the industrial production was down to 97.1%, and in January-February to 95.3% as against the same period of 2008.
Kalinkovichi Meat Packing Plant resumes exports to Russia
Kalinkovichi Meat Packing Plant has resumed its exports to Russia, BelTA learnt from Darya Kozlovskaya, Press Secretary of the Agriculture and Food Ministry of Belarus.
In her words, as from April 13 the Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance of Russia put the Kalinkovichi company on the list of Belarusian manufacturers authorised to export animal products to Russia.
The decision-making took into account measures taken by the company to fix the defects, which specialists of the Russian food watchdog pointed out during an inspection in May 2007. The fact that the Central Veterinary Agency of Belarus promised to ensure permanent veterinary control over the company was also taken into consideration. Now Kalinkovichi Meat Packing Plant is fully compliant with veterinary and sanitary requirements of Russia.
Czech foreign minister to visit Belarus on Thursday
Schwarzenberg is to be the first Czech foreign minister to visit Belarus, the ministry said.
Eastern Partnership is to reinforce cooperation with six former Soviet Union countries including Belarus. EU foreign ministers dealt with the programme at the Hluboka chateau in south Bohemia in late March.
Schwarzenberg said previously that EU foreign ministers also discussed the participation of Belarus in the programme at the meeting.
It is not yet clear whether Belarussian President Alexandr Lukashenko, whom some have called the last European dictator, will be invited to the Prague summit where the programme is to be officially launched on May 7.
Apart from Belarus, Eastern Partnership concerns Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
Brussels has repeatedly criticised Belarus for the violation of human rights. However, the situation recently somewhat improved in the country. As a result, the EU agreed to extend the suspension of travelling sanctions on the leaders of Lukashenko's regime.
Czech diplomacy has been supporting the Belarussian democratic opposition in the long term.
Belarus rolls out the red carpet for Emir
From: Gulf Times
At the talks, which were held at the Belarus presidential palace here, the two sides reviewed bilateral relations and discussed a set of regional and international issues.
Following the talks, HH the Emir and the Belarus president witnessed the signing of an agreement between the governments of Qatar and Belarus to set up a joint committee.
The agreement was signed for Qatar by HE the Minister of Business and Trade Sheikh Fahd bin Jassim bin Mohamed al-Abdulrahman al-Thani, while Foreign Minister Sergey Martynov signed on behalf of Belarus.
Prior to the official talks the Emir and the Belarus president held a meeting in the presence of the members of the official delegation.
The talks were attended on the Qatari side by HE the Minister of Economy and Finance Yousef Hussein Kamal, HE the chief of the Emiri Diwan Sheikh Abdulrahman bin Saud al-Thani, HE the Minister of State for Energy and Industry Affairs Dr Mohamed bin Saleh al-Saddah, HE the Minister of Business and Trade Sheikh Fahd bin Jassim bin Mohamed al-Abdulrahman al-Thani, HE the Minister of State for International Co-operation Dr Khalid bin Mohamed al-Attiyah, and HE the Director of HH the Emir’s Office Sheikha Hind bint Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.
Dr. Ibrahim al-Ibrahim, the Economic Adviser at the Emiri Diwan who is also the secretary general of the Development Planning General Secretariat, Ambassador Ibrahim Abdulrahman al-Mighiseib, the Assistant Director of the European and American Affairs Department at the Foreign Ministry, Qatar’s ambassador to Belarus and Mansour Ibrahim al-Mahmoud, the office director of the executive officer (chairman) of Qatar Investment Authority also attended the talks.
On the Belarus side First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko, the board chairman of the Belarus Bank Petr Prokopovich, Foreign Minister Sergey Martynov, Minister of Sports and Tourism Aleksandr Grigorov, the Minister of Culture Vladimir Matveychuk, Minister of Industry Anatoliy Rusetskiy, Minister of Information Vladimir Rusakevich, chairman of the military industry authority Nikolay Azmatov, the aide (Assistant) to Belarus President Valentine Rybacov, the Belarus president’s aide (assistant) to national security Viktor Lukashenko and director of the African and Asian Affairs Department at the Foreign Ministry Konstantin Rezhosky attended the talks.
Earlier a red-carpet reception was accorded to the Emir upon his arrival at the presidential palace where the president of Belarus and a number of Belarus ministers and senior officials welcomed him.
Later yesterday the Emir attended the dinner banquet hosted by the president at the presidential palace.-
Four Belarusians Get Lenient Sentences In ‘Vigilante’ Case
The defendants -- three men and a woman -- were each charged with premeditated murder, which calls for a minimum sentence of between eight and 25 years in jail.
Two men -- who admitted killing fellow Pukhavichy villager Makalay Makarevich, 43, on December 31 -- were sentenced to five and three years in prison. The others were found guilty of aiding the crime and sentenced to two years of restricted freedom.
Homel regional prosecutor Andrej Bondar had requested sentences ranging from eight-and-a-half to 14 years.
The victim, who had previous convictions for arson, was blamed for starting a recent fire in the village.
The defendants were released from jail on February 6 after President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said the accused should be able to "stay with their families." He also advised Supreme Court Chairman Valyantsin Sukala to have sympathy for the suspects. "[The victim] was a villain who terrorized people, the entire village," Lukashenka said.
October square, April 16, 6.00 p.m. – action in support of political prisoners
From: Charter '97
“On April 16 6.00 p.m., we are going to go to October square to demonstrate the Belarusian people and the world community there are political prisoners in Belarus and we demand their release,” Artur Finkevich, leader of the “Young Belarus” movement, told in an interview to Radio Racyja.
Representatives of different political organizations will take part in the action. The protesters are going to call on the authorities to release political prisoners Mikalai Autukhovich, Yury Lyavonau, Uladzimir Asipenka and Artsyom Dubski and stop persecution of political opponents.
“Another demand of the action is not only release of political prisoners, but stopping of politically motivated repressions, because in spite of the so called liberalization and the fact Alyaksandr Lukashenka may be invited for the EU summit, political repressions in the country go on, pressure upon the youth and political activists hasn’t stopped but tightened,” said Yauhen Afnahel, one of the leaders of the campaign “Jeans for Freedom”, activist of the civil campaign “European Belarus”.
Mikola Ulasevich: The decision to build a nuclear power station in Astravets is military-political
The civil initiative Astravets nuclear power station is a crime was established about six months ago, when it became known that the ecologically clean Astravets district was chosen for construction of the nuclear power plant. However, the local authorities ignore the demands for holding a wide public discussion on this issue. Moreover, the founders of the campaign are haunted.
‘We have to work in the conditions of provocations. Recently there have been searches at our apartments,’ said the activist. Mr. Ulasevich also calls on all those who are concerned with the country’s future to join the anti-nuclear campaign.
Information Ministry rules that ‘Astravetski Vesnik’ must be destroyed
In a related story, ‘The copies of Astravetski Vesnik must be destroyed’, ruled the deputy minister of information Ihar Laptsionak.
On 4 March the police (who received information from KGB officers) confiscated from the activist of the United Civil Party Ivan Kruk two copies of the newspaper Astravetski Vesnik. It was the first issue of this new edition in A3 format and with the circulation of 299 copies. The newspaper included articles against construction of the nuclear power station. Later, on 6 and 12 March the police examined Ivan Kruk’s apartment in Astravets, looking for illegally produced and stored printed editions and printed equipment.
The Ministry of Information found no corpus decliti in Kruk’s actions. ‘One can be drawn to administrative responsibility for distribution of printed editions without imprint. However, the police didn’t establish that I.Kruk distributed Astravetski Vesnik,’ stated Ihar Laptsionak. ‘Besides, only two copies of one issue of the newspaper were confiscated. On the basis of this evidence it is impossible to conclude that the confiscated edition is a periodical.’
Nevertheless, the Ministry of Information ruled that the confiscated copies of the newspaper were to be destroyed, as they ‘are of no considerable value and were produced with violations of demands of the international standards concerning the imprint’.
Ivan Kruk is of the opinion that this ruling of the Ministry of Information is unlawful and is going to lodge complaints against it to the Office of Prosecutor General and the Constitutional Court. He also intends to ask the ministry explain its decision.
As East and West Pull on Moldova, Loyalties and Divisions Run Deep
For two years running, the city’s 30-year-old, Romanian-educated mayor, Dorin Chirtoaca, has erected a Christmas tree in time for Dec. 25, when the holiday is celebrated in Romania and Western Europe.
And both times, the 67-year-old, Soviet-educated president, Vladimir Voronin, has ordered it removed, because Moldova officially celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7, in keeping with the Russian Orthodox calendar. The dispute has taken on a loopy, Keystone Kops character, with reports of fir trees detained by the police in the forest or “abducted during the night by unknown persons.”
As the world learned last week, though, the divisions within this society are dangerous and deep. In a way, Moldova is grappling with the same challenge as Georgia and Ukraine — trying to join the West after decades of Russian influence. But Moldova’s narrative is complicated by its history of domination: over the last two centuries, the territory once known as Bessarabia was ruled by the Russian czar for 106 years, then by the Romanian king for 22 years and then by the Soviet Union for 51 years.
After nearly two decades of independence, Moldova’s citizens are still at odds over the basic question of who they are. That division boiled over last week, when a huge anti-Communist demonstration turned violent. Its participants, in their teens and 20s, say they are desperate to escape a Soviet time warp and enter Europe. But many of their elders feel more affinity with Russia, and see the protests as a plot by their western neighbor Romania to snatch away Moldova’s sovereignty.
But Claus Neukirch, deputy head of the Moldova mission for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said he did not believe that the demonstrators sought unification with Romania.
“It is rather a movement eager for recognition that the two countries have the same roots and the same language — and that Moldova is part of Europe and not part of Russia,” he said. “Bessarabia has been on this fault line through all of history.”
What Moldovans think about Romania and Russia depends entirely on whom you ask, even among the 76 percent of the population that, according to the 2004 census, identify themselves as ethnically Moldovan.
Vyacheslav Turcan, a burly 39-year-old taxi driver, gets misty recalling his service in the Soviet Army, which he said taught him “culture, decency, respect — how to carry myself.” For him, the Soviet era was a time of predictable plenty, when Romania was the poor neighbor, reliant on Moldova for shipments of potatoes.
Now, Moldova is the poorest country in Europe, with remittances from workers abroad making up 36.5 percent of its gross domestic product, according to the World Bank. Mr. Turcan has joined the army of foreign workers, driving a cab in Russia. He has faith in Russia as an ally in a time of crisis; Europe seems untested and unreliable. Ask him about Romania, and he darkens.
“They’re Gypsies,” he said. “They occupied Moldova before, and they want to occupy us again.”
Vasile Botnaru, a journalist, has a different perspective. He was 13 when he stumbled across Romanian books in his father’s attic and realized, to his astonishment, that the language was so close to Moldovan that he could read it without a dictionary. Everything he had learned in Soviet schools — that Moldovans were ethnically and linguistically distinct from Romanians — was wrong, he said.
“Willingly or not, this history that they had hidden began to come out onto the surface, like oil on water,” said Mr. Botnaru, 52, who now works as a reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “I understood that we had a shared history.”
As the Soviet Union entered its final years, a movement to reconcile the two countries burst into the mainstream. Moldova’s Parliament switched to the Roman alphabet, and Romanian replaced Russian as the state language. Clocks changed from Moscow to Bucharest time, and the government introduced a new flag virtually identical to Romania’s.
Unification with Romania became a high-profile political cause. Its splashy figurehead, Iurie Rosca, spoke beside huge maps of a “greater Romania” that included most of Moldova.
But the notion was anathema to Russian-speaking Moldovans, the Soviet-era elites who made up about a quarter of the population. And in 2001, after a decade of unruly capitalism had left the country bankrupt, there was a swing back to the old order. Voters elected the Communist government of Mr. Voronin, who promised to restore the Soviet-era safety net and join a union with Russia and Belarus.
“Moldova must hold out in Europe as Cuba is holding out on the American continent,” he told a rally celebrating Lenin’s birthday shortly after his election, Interfax reported. “We will hold out to the end as Cuba is holding out among imperialist predators.”
Since then, the reunification movement has faded to the margins of political life. Arcadie Barbarosie, executive director of the Institute for Public Policy, an independent research organization, said only 15 percent of Moldovans would support unification with Romania if a referendum were held now. Political elites, meanwhile, have lost interest for pragmatic reasons.
“Not everyone wants to be second in Bucharest if they can be first in Chisinau,” said Konstantin F. Zatulin, director of the Moscow-based Institute of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
But the question has never been entirely set aside, either. As recently as 2006, President Traian Basescu of Romania said, “The Romanian-Moldavian unification will take place within the European Union and in no other way.” The issue was churned up again by last week’s protests, when Romanian flags were raised at two government buildings. Mr. Voronin has said he can prove that Romanian agents planned and organized the protests.
“I would not call it nationalism, because nationalism is when people fight in the interest of their own nation,” Mark E. Tkachuk, one of Mr. Voronin’s key aides, said in an interview. “This I would call ‘unionism,’ when people are fighting for the liquidation of their own nation, and absorption by another country.”
Opposition leaders reject that explanation. Iulian Fruntasu, a deputy chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party, said the accusation of Romanian influence diverted attention from growing complaints about the ruling Communists. Deep down, he said, Russia knows it is losing its hold on young Moldovans. Faced with this crisis, he said, Moscow-backed leaders “would claim we want to join with the moon.”
“What they were able to do in Soviet times — it’s not possible any more,” Mr. Fruntasu said. “They have the Russian-language media, but this is another generation that has access to the Internet and books. No one now believes that there is a Moldovan language and a Romanian language. People travel a lot. I don’t think Russia in the long term has any chance to keep Moldova in its orbit.”
In the meantime, Moldovans will part ways every Sunday morning, with some headed to a Romanian Orthodox Church and some to the Russian Orthodox Church. At newsstands, Russian newspapers refer to last week’s events as a “putsch,” and Romanian newspapers cast them as a revolution. Mr. Botnaru says he has friends on both sides of the divide, and they keep asking him to choose.
“It’s like stupid parents who get divorced and say to their children, ‘Who do you love more, Papa or Mama?’ ” Mr. Botnaru said. “There are children who cannot love either Papa or Mama. And there are a lot of people in that situation.”
The Eastern Partnership
From: EU Observer
Arminfo: The EU has recently approved the Eastern Partnership program. What is the value of this initiative for the countries included in it?
NP: The Eastern Partnership could help these countries reform, and through such reforms they could strengthen their independence and statehood. The Eastern neighbourhood is very crisis-prone as recent wars, territorial conflicts, political tensions and gas-supply disruptions have proved. The Eastern partnership will try to help EU’s neighbours overcome some of these crises.
Arminfo: Some experts think that the Eastern Partnership is closing down a fast-track to integration into the EU for the Eastern neighbours. Do you agree.
NP: There is no “fast track” to European integration. This is not an easy process. It took some 20 years for countries like Hungary or the Czech Republic to integrate fully with the European Union. They started this process in 1991, then in the 90s they created free trade zones and customs unions with the EU, then they joined the EU in 2004, the Schengen area in 2007 and will join the Euro zone in in a few years from now. As you can see this is a very long process that has many steps. How fast countries are progressing depends primarily on the internal reforms, not EU promises. So the Eastern partnership cannot even in theory delay the European integration process. It can only accelerate it – because it helps these countries reform and integrate slowly and gradually with the EU. The Eastern Partnership helps the Eastern neighbours advance a few steps closer to the perspective of integration with the EU.
Arminfo: Many think that the Eastern Partnership is anti-Russian policy and affects Russia’s interests and its sphere of influence. The Moldovan president declared that “This initiative reminds of a Commonwealth of Independent States 2, and looks like a policy aimed at encircling Russia”. What do you think about it?
NP: The Eastern partnership is not anti-Russian simply because it does not differ that much from the European Neighbourhood Policy that is in place since 2003. The Eastern Partnership only tries to re-brand and accelerate something that was happening anyway under the neighbourhood policy. So the Russian complaints are just a rhetorical exercise, and are not grounded in an attempt to understand the Eastern Partnership. The EU wants a stable, democratic and prosperous neighbours – I don’t see anything anti-Russian in these objectives.
President Voronin’s complaints against the Eastern Partnership were not based on the fears that it is an anti-Russian initiative. The debate in Moldova is quite sceptical of the Eastern Partnership, but not because it would allegedly be anti-Russian, but primarily because Moldova thinks that accepting this initiative will slow down its progress of European integration by putting it together with the South Caucasus. I do not think these Moldova fears are justified, but I also don’t think in this particular case Moldova acts as a Russian Trojan horse that tries to undermine the Eastern Partnership. Moldova has its own, domestic reasons to be sceptical. Actually, there both the Communist government, and most pro-European political parties are equally sceptical of the Eastern Partnership. And some of the opposition parties already criticised the government for being too positive on the Eastern partnership.
Arminfo: How ill the global financial crisis affect the implementation of the Eastern Partnership?
There will be some difficulties. Free trade and visa facilitation with the neighbours could be delayed. Many EU member states and neighbours are increasingly protectionist. A near-collapsing Ukraine has recently raised import tariffs by an average of 13%, which puts under huge strain EU-Ukraine talks on a Deep Free Trade Area. When EU member states themselves are entering dire straits, it will also be increasingly difficult to commit more EU funding for the neighbours.
But the EU neighbourhood policy and the Eastern Partnership are not likely to collapse. The economic crisis might also change the neighbourhood in ways that can actually strengthen EU’s influence. For the last years, EU assistance to its neighbours was considered peanuts. And more often than not EU’s neighbours did not need the support of institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. They had huge economic growth - often into 10% - huge inflows of remittances and a cash-rich Russia was providing them with investments and assistance when necessary. This is not the case anymore.
As the neighbours are heading for rough times, EU funding suddenly becomes more important in the neighbourhood than it was in times of economic growth. EU funding to the neighbourhood remains stable, and even marginally increases with the Eastern Partnership. Suddenly, EU’s voting rights in the IMF also become significant. The EU supported IMF bailouts for Ukraine and Belarus. Thus the EU can channel its influence through other institutions as well. Bad times will increase the scope for EU conditionality in the neighbourhood. In other words, in times of crisis the EU might be able to buy more influence for the same money.
Arminfo: Given that Armenia and Azerbaijan are included in the Eastern partnership, do you expect the initiative to influence conflict settlement patterns in Nagorno-Karabakh?
If we compare the degree of EU involvement in Nagorno-Karabakh and the Transnistrian conflict with Moldova – we would see that the EU is much more involved in Moldova. This is partly, not only, but to a large extent because Moldova wanted the EU to play a role. Neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan have really tried to ask the EU to seriously contribute to conflict resolution in Nagorno-Karabakh. So the Eastern Partnership will not change that, unless Armenia and Azerbaijan will be willing to see a greater role for the EU.
Europe's Black Market on the Rise
The "shadow economy" – which includes untaxed trade in goods and services, such as cash-in-hand construction work or car repairs, but excludes serious crime such as illegal drugs and prostitution – is predicted to expand by 0.3 to 0.9 percent this year in 14 rich EU states, which are also members of the OECD.
The highest growth in the sector – of 0.8 to 0.9 percent – is to come in Ireland, the UK and Spain. Belgium, Austria and Germany meanwhile are at the lower end of the scale.
Growth in the former Communist EU states, not covered by the forecast, an analysis by economist Friedrich Schneider of the Johannes Kepler University in Linz, is likely to be "the same if not bigger."
The turnaround comes after 15 years of decline in black market activity and occurs at a time when the legitimate EU economy is expected to contract by two percent.
The research gathers together motivating factors such as rising taxation, unemployment and mistrust in the state as well as direct indices such as demand for cash from banks and trends in the use of electricity.
"In Belgium, if you go out on the weekend, you see more construction work being done than during the week," Mr Schneider told EUobserver, explaining that the vast majority of shadow work is carried out by people who also hold licit jobs.
The economics of serious crime is different however. Rising taxes are unlikely to have an impact on sales of illegal drugs. Theft and burglary may go up during a recession. At the same time, income from prostitution is likely to go down, as businessmen have less money to spend.
The size of the shadow economy varies from region to region. In northern Europe and Scandinavia it represents between 10 and 18 percent of official GDP. In Mediterranean countries such as Portugal and Italy, the sector makes up 20 to 25 percent.
Many former Communist EU countries have shadow sectors in the Mediterranean range. But in Estonia, Latvia, Romania and Bulgaria the estimate clocks in at 36 to 39 percent.
The figures for EU neighbours can be much higher. In Belarus and Moldova, around half of economic activity bypasses the state. In Ukraine, about 57 percent. In Georgia, 68 percent.
The existence of a shadow economy up to the 25 percent mark can improve ordinary people's quality of life, the Austrian academic believes.
"The shadow economy tends to increase people's well-being. Extra goods are produced, extra income is generated. You don't work in the shadow economy for the sake of your savings account, but because you want to buy a new TV or whatever," Mr Schneider said.
A thriving black market can also be useful in other ways. In 2006, the Greek government included the size of its hefty shadow economy in the calculation of its official GDP to try to avoid EU fiscal disciplinary measures.
The EU's stability and growth pact limits the size of government borrowing to three percent of GDP.
The European Commission rejected the Greek manoeuvre. But the commission itself in recent years has contacted experts such as Mr Schneider to see if shadow economy estimates could be used to inflate the official wealth of member states.
"The commission has also had this idea because it would enlarge the base from which they calculate contributions to the EU budget. So they are not so hostile," the Austrian economist said.
"But there is no consensus on how to estimate the size."
Spring brings birch sap delight to east Europe
Like many people in Latvia and other northern and eastern European countries, Ritins was sampling some birch tree sap, tapped from a tall silver birch tree in his own back garden.
The sap, which pours out like water from the trees during a few weeks in the early spring, is said to be one of the healthiest and purest drinks, full of minerals that the tree has sucked up from the ground.
"It cleans our system, it is like a detoxicant, it is absolutely pure, you can't get anything purer," said Ritins, who is the best known chef in the Baltic state of Latvia.
"The Latvians don't have a monopoly on this. I know the Finns do it, the Lithuanians do it, the Estonians do it and the north American Indians did it," he added. The drink is also found in Belarus, Poland, Ukraine and Russia.
Other natural foods such as berries and mushrooms are also widely gathered in this part of the world.
In North America, maple syrup is popular. In Alaska, birch syrup, made from birch sap, is also produced.
Ritins has taken the use of birch sap to a new level in his five-star restaurant in downtown Riga, the Latvian capital, but it is a drink which many people appreciate.
Health magazines and newspapers in Latvia often report at this year about the health benefits of the drink and some nutritionists say it can help against all sorts of ailments, including kidney and liver problems and gastritis.
To get the sap, people drill holes in the side of the tree, stick a pipe into the trunk and catch the liquid in a plastic keg, bottle, bucket or glass jar.
Ritins uses an old metal drill to dig into the bark and quickly bores a hole.
Almost immediately, the birch sap starts to pour out freely, running over his hand and down the side of the trunk.
He places a pipe made of birch wood into the hole and stands back to let the liquid pour into a glass jar. It looks and tastes like pure water, but has a slight woody, nutty taste.
The birch sap season lasts from late March, early April for about three or four weeks, until the trees start to bud.
The drink can be found sold at markets or people simply take it home to drink if they drill into a tree in a forest.
Ritins is so fond of birch sap he uses it instead of water in various recipes, including poaching fish and making soups. He also gives it as an aperitif to restaurant guests.
"It is fantastic to see Americans or Germans or Australians, they have never experienced this before, it is astonishing for them," he said.
Polish police arrest 48 in child pornography raids
From: BD News
During the Monday raids at private homes, corporate offices and Internet cafes police also confiscated 92 computers, 43 hard drives and several thousand CDs and DVDs with suspected child pornography, which included pictures of children and animals.
Police said the arrested men included priests, pensioners, students and businessmen.
"There are also teachers, who should be expected to treat kids with care, but according to our evidence they were trying to take advantage of them," said a police spokesman in the southern city of Katowice, where some of the arrests took place.
The raids were coordinated with Interpol, which provided information to locate the suspects.
If convicted, they face prison sentences of up to eight years.
Former MP to pay half a million fine
From: The News
Misztal suggested the punishment himself to escape a more severe verdict by the court in Krakow.
The former Self Defence MP was accused of tax fraud to the amount of over 1,5 million zlotys (350,000 euro) to the detriment of the State Treasury.
He denied the accusations but agreed to be punished because, “sometimes the cost of proving innocence is too high”, he said.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office in Krakow wanted to charge Misztal two years ago, but he had left for the US. The office issued an arrest warrant for him but he failed to show up and returned to Poland only in April 2008 after he had received a writ of immunity.
Misztal was the richest MP in the previous parliament, famous for his extravagance. After a few months in parliament, he left Self-Defence party.
Dyngus Day fraud reported
According to LaPorte police, a woman was alerted Monday night by her bank that her account was just fraudulently tapped into.
The bank caught the transaction at Bottle Shop at Ind. 2 and Andrew Avenue for two cases of beer and bottle of hard liquor.
Police said a surveillance tape from the store shows the stolen card was used by a man the woman recognized as a former co-worker.
The woman told police she also had seen the man at one of the local bars participating in the Dyngus Day festivities.
Dyngus Day is a Polish holiday originally intended to celebrate with food and drink the end of lent, a time of fasting.
No arrest was made but the case is still being investigated, police said.
Note: Do you doubt it was a Polak?
Hleb: Belarus are getting better
|"It would mean everything. It’s a dream shared by the team and the entire nation." -Aleksandr Hleb on what qualification for South Africa 2010 would mean to him|
After five years in Germany, the man christened The Sorcerer's Apprentice by local sports media switched to the top of the English Premier League with Arsenal in 2005. He moved on again last summer to Barcelona, his current club. In his home country, where he was named Belarus Player of the Year no fewer than six times between 2002 and 2008, the 27-year-old Hleb is an absolute superstar.
FIFA.com spoke exclusively to the Belarus captain about 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying, his future, and the role of football in his home country.
FIFA.com: You’ve played for VfB Stuttgart, Arsenal and Barcelona, all of them leading European clubs. Where have you enjoyed it the most?
Aleksandr Hleb: I’ve basically never thought about anything like that. But considering your question now, I’ve been well settled at all three and have plenty of good things to say about them all. Obviously, I got to play more often for Stuttgart and Arsenal, and I really, really enjoyed myself at both clubs. Barcelona is a fantastic city though. It’s where I want to play and take the next step.
Certain sections of the media think you may be poised for a return to Germany. Could Bayern Munich be an option?
It’s always nice when a big club expresses an interest. But I play for Barcelona, and I’m happy where I am. I’d be genuinely delighted to earn a regular place in this team. I came here to play, and I’ll do my level best to get into the starting line-up.
In 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying, Belarus are fourth in their group behind England, Croatia and Ukraine. Can Belarus realistically claim a place in South Africa?
I'd say it's 50-50. It’s up to us now. We have to fight for every single point, and our only option is to move forwards. We also need some luck, because I can’t imagine football without luck.
What would a first FIFA World Cup appearance mean to you and your team?
It would mean everything. It’s a dream shared by the team and the entire nation. I can hardly imagine what would happen in Belarus if we managed to qualify for the 2010 finals. We have to do it, we have to turn this dream into reality.
Why are Belarus yet to qualify for a major tournament? What do you lack as a team?
That’s a hard one to answer. We have so many talented players. I’ve watched the game in Belarus take massive steps forward in recent years. Our U-21s will contest the European championship in Sweden this June, and I’d just like to wish the team good luck for that. These lads are our future. I’m convinced they’ll come away with some good results. Maybe, in a couple of years, this team will realise a nation’s dream and qualify for the World Cup finals.
What does representing your country mean to you?
Representing your country, pulling on the national shirt, running out onto the field, and hearing your national anthem is a great honour for every player, from every country, on every continent of this planet. It’s what little lads who are just starting out dream of all the time. I’m simply overjoyed to be part of the Belarus national set-up.
You’ve often played alongside your younger brother Vyacheslav for the national team. How do you feel about that?
We get on well both on and off the field. We have a good relationship and we’re very close friends. We work together well on the field of play too, and that’s a positive influence on our play. I think he fully deserves his place in the national team. He has a reputation as a tricky character, but that doesn’t mean he can’t play for his country. The coach makes the decisions, and you have to respect that. I’m hoping to play alongside my brother for a long time yet.
What’s the role of the game in Belarus?
Football is extremely important in Belarus, and it’s becoming more and more popular. However, we’ve still not appeared at a major tournament. We really do owe it to our fans now. I’m convinced it’ll happen, sooner or later.
Do you have an idol? Who would you swap shirts with?
When I was younger, I was in awe of Zinedine Zidane and Diego Maradona. I basically never swap shirts with other players.
In Germany, they used to call you The Sorcerer's Apprentice. What do you make of that?
I’ve heard that, but I’ve never really understood what it was supposed to mean. Reporters always give nicknames to players. It’s part of the game, and part of their job.
You were Belarus Player of the Year in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. Are you your country’s best footballer of all time?
We’ve produced any number of great players who’d deserve that title. I can’t offer an opinion about myself. That’s something for the experts. It’s obviously a great honour for me, and I hope I continue to fulfil the expectations of everyone who puts their faith in me.
Who’s the best midfielder in the world?
Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta.
One last question: What are your goals for 2009?
To win as many trophies as possible with Barcelona, and qualify for the World Cup in 2010.
Petr Elfimov says NO to Jozefowicz
Belarusians Feel the Pain of Rouble Devaluation
From: Angus Reid
In addition, 42.4 per cent of respondents say their trust in Belarusian authorities has decreased since the devaluation was implemented.
Belarus seceded from the Soviet Union in 1991. In 1994, independent candidate Aleksandr Lukashenko won the presidential election, boosted by his popularity after acting as chairman of an anti-corruption parliamentary committee. Lukashenko remains the country’s president to this day.
In March 2006, Lukashenko won the presidential election with 82.6 per cent of the vote. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the ballot "did not meet the required international standards for free and fair elections" and was "severely flawed due to arbitrary use of state power and restrictions to basic rights."
In late 2008, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a $2.5 billion U.S. loan for Belarus. As part of the conditions to receive the funds, the Belarusian government was expected to devalue the national currency by 20 per cent. The devaluation came into force in January 2009.
On Dec. 31, the IMF issued a statement saying that Belarus deserved "the support of the international community," and adding: "The Fund-supported programme will help Belarus achieve an orderly adjustment to the external shocks that it is facing and offer protection against its most pressing vulnerabilities."
Has the devaluation of the Belarusian rouble affected your financial position?
It has affected it considerably
It has affected it to a little degree
It has not affected it
Has your trust in the authorities changed after the devaluation of Jan. 2, 2009?
I have begun to trust the authorities more
My trust has not changed
I have begun to trust the authorities less
Source: Independent Institute for Social, Economic and Political Studies (IISEPS)
Methodology: Face-to-face interviews with 1,513 Belarusian adults, conducted from Mar. 5 to Mar. 15, 2009. No margin of error was provided.