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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Belarus-Turkmenistan relations, Oil dispute, European Parliament, Customs Union, EurAsEC, NBRB, Opposition; News, Sport, Culture and Polish Scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #482

    Belarus-Turkmenistan relations advancing to brand new level

    From: BelTA
    The relations between Belarus and Turkmenistan are advancing to a brand new level, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said as he met with President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov in Minsk on 25 January, BelTA has learnt.

    The Belarusian head of state reminded that in 2009 the sides managed to make headway in some traditional cooperation areas and to lay a foundation for brand new avenues of cooperation. One of the positive examples is a project to construct a potash-mining complex in Turkmenistan. “It is a landmark stage in our relations which, I am sure, will boost the cooperation in the related industries,” the Belarusian leader said.

    Alexander Lukashenko thinks that Belarus and Turkmenistan are well-positioned to build up the bilateral trade, establish new production and cooperation links. The countries already have a positive cooperation experience. Minsk Tractor Works delivered 1,500 Belarus tractors to Turkmenistan. These tractors, as well as trucks and road machinery, enjoy a steady demand in Turkmenistan. A number of new models are being tested upon the request of Turkmen ministries and agencies. The Belarusian head of state underlined that Belarus is ready to offer new schemes of selling sophisticated machine-building products in Turkmenistan.

    Scientific collaboration is an essential part of the bilateral cooperation. Belarusian scholars have studied a number of promising projects. According to the Belarusian leader, the contracts for the delivery of Belarusian machinery might include the provisions on training of Turkmen specialists. The sides will implement a project to train 120 Turkmen students at Belarusian universities who will work at the potash producing complex. The presidents agreed that Belarusian universities will enroll as many Turkmen students as the Turkmen side will request.

    Alexander Lukashenko pointed out to the necessity to boost the humanitarian cooperation. The Turkmen side suggested holding the Days of Turkmen Culture in Minsk and Vitebsk in June 2010.

    The President of Belarus assured his Turkmen counterpart that Belarus is ready to share state-of-the-art technologies and expertise with Turkmenistan for even more successful implementation of the economic development plan of Turkmenistan. He expressed confidence that the agreements reached at the meeting will strengthen the relations and create a favorable environment for the further expansion of cooperation. “I am sincerely happy that I have an opportunity to see once again the determination of the Turkmen leadership to bring our cooperation to a brand new level,” the Belarusian head of state underlined.

    In January-November 2009, the trade between Belarus and Turkmenistan neared $68 million and rose 48% over the same period in 2008. The export grew by 51.5% to $66.5 million.

    Belarus President urges respect for interests of all global energy market participants

    The relations on the global energy market should be built taking into consideration the interests of all its participants, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said as he met with President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov in Minsk on 25 January, BelTA has learnt.

    “Belarus believes that the relations on the global energy market should be developed taking into consideration the interests of all the participants – exporters, importers and transit countries. It is important to respect the long-term interests of partners,” the Belarusian head of state said. “The pursuit of instantaneous profits can undermine the hard work on the development of trust relations,” he added.

    Alexander Lukashenko pointed out to the similarity of approaches of Belarus and Turkmenistan to the solution of topical issues of the international energy cooperation. According to the Belarusian leader, it creates a foundation for close and positive interaction between the two countries and within the framework of international forums.

    Turkmenistan President offers joint projects to Belarus

    President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov has offered the Belarusian side to implement several joint projects. The President of Turkmenistan expressed this idea as he met with President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko on 25 January.

    Alexander Lukashenko praised successful bilateral cooperation in trade and economy. “Even during the most difficult period the two countries have been able to double the mutual trade,” the President of Belarus said. Belarus is currently constructing a mining and processing works in Turkmenistan.

    The Belarusian leader thanked Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov for his visit to Belarus and expressed hope that the President of Turkmenistan would get familiar with every aspect of the country’s all-round development. “My visits to your country have always been very fruitful,” he said.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    European Parliament to discuss Belarus’ representation in EURONEST

    From: BelTA
    The members of the European Parliament (MEPs) at the EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly of the Eastern Partnership Initiative are set to discuss the sending of a fact-finding mission to Belarus, BelTA learnt from the press service of the European Parliament.

    The MEPs are scheduled to decide upon the format of the Belarusian representation to the EURONEST. The European delegates to the EURONEST are expected to offer their recommendations on the structure and status of the Belarusian representation in the EURONEST. The recommendations will be discussed by the Council of the European Parliament, which consists of the heads of Political Groups and the Speaker of the EP. The resolution of the Council will be sent to the parliaments of the members of the Eastern Partnership Initiative as the official line of the European Parliament.

    The EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly is supposed to consist of 60 members of the European Parliament and 60 MPs from the Eastern Partnership member states.

    EC might restore GSP regime for Belarus soon

    Belarus might qualify for the resumption of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) for its exports to the European Union in the near term. The Office of the European Commission in Belarus informed BelTA that the relevant statement was made by Deputy Director General of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Trade Peter Balas as he met with Belarusian authorities, namely Vice-Premier Andrei Kobyakov, Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Yevdochenko and Deputy Economy Minister Andrei Tur.

    At the same time, the EC delegation led by Peter Balas expressed concern over the consequences of the new import regime of Belarus that came into force on 1 January 2010.

    The meeting was aimed to discuss economic and trade relations between the EC and Belarus after the establishment of the Customs Union of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan. The representatives of the European Commission urged Belarus to minimize the negative impact of the establishment of the Customs Union for the exports from the EU, namely the increase in tariffs for a great number of important EU exports. The representatives of the European Commission called on Belarus not to yield to protectionist pressure and refrain from introducing new measures to deliberalize the trade.

    During the negotiations both the parties came to an understanding regarding the negative impact of sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures introduced by Russia against the export of agricultural products from Belarus and the EU. The sides stressed that such measures can be introduced only in compliance with the existing international standards.

    The ongoing visit gave an opportunity to discuss Belarus’ accession to the World Trade Organization. The representatives of the European Commission expressed willingness to consider carefully the recent changes in the economic and trade policy of Belarus, in particular, the consequences of the new regulations resulting from the establishment of the Customs Union. The European side urged Belarus to keep it updated on these issues. Peter Balas expressed hope that the Belarusian authorities will speed up the reforms and the liberalization of the economic and trade policy. This is aimed to facilitate the bilateral trade relations and Belarus’ accession to the WTO.

    Belarus, European Commission hold visa consultations

    A delegation of experts of the European Commission is in Minsk on a visit on 27-28 January. The delegation is led by Jean de Ceuster, head of the international aspects of migration and visa policy department of the Directorate-General for Freedom, Security and Justice of the European Commission.

    The European experts met with the Belarusian officials at the Belarusian Foreign Ministry. The sides shared their opinions on the prospects of an agreement between Belarus and the EU on the simplification of visa procedures and the reduction of visa costs for Belarusians.

    The Belarusian delegation consisted of the Foreign Ministry officials (they were led by Alexander Ostrovsky, Head of the Chief Consular Department of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry), Aleksei Begun, Head of the Citizenship and Migration Department of the Interior Ministry and Yuri Fedorov, Head of the International Cooperation Department of the Belarus State Border Committee

    The delegation of the European Commission is set to hold a meeting at the Citizenship and Migration Department of the Interior Ministry of Belarus. The approaches to the solution of urgent migration problems will be high on the agenda of the meeting. In addition, the European guests are going to visit the passport bureau of the Interior Ministry.

    Moscow to host session of Customs Union Commission on 27 January

    From: BelTA
    A regular session of the Customs Union Commission will be held in Moscow on 27 January. The Belarusian delegation is expected to be led by Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus, member of the Customs Union Commission Andrei Kobyakov, BelTA learnt from the press service of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.

    The parties are to study the single economic area formation, the application of the single non-tariff regulation, the development of draft documents on the single commodity classification of the foreign economic activity of the Customs Union, the introduction of amendments and addenda to some decisions of the EurAsEC Interstate Council and the Customs Union Commission.

    The sides will also study draft agreements on the calculation and allocation of customs duties, as well as other duties, taxes and dues having the equivalent value. The participants of the session will also discuss a draft protocol on the introduction of amendments to the rules of filling in applications for imported goods and indirect taxes, an agreement on the establishment of an institute of tax representatives of the Customs Union member states, the adoption of a network schedule for preparing international draft agreements and regulations adopted by the Customs Union Commission.

    Apart from that, the parties will discuss the formation of a committee for foreign trade regulation, define the form of address to the Customs Union Commission to amend the import duties, fine-tune the commodity classification of the foreign economic activity and single customs tariff, the press service informed.

    Belarus’ MPs to ratify agreements on EurAsEC customs services

    From: BelTA
    The House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus is getting ready to ratify two agreements on cooperation in information sharing among the customs services of the EurAsEC member states at the spring session. These documents will be studied at a session of the permanent commission for international affairs and links with the CIS of the House of Representatives on 27 January, BelTA learnt from a member of this commission, deputy Vitaly Busko.

    The MPs intend to discuss an agreement on unified principles of information sharing and unified approaches to the application of information technologies by the customs services of the EurAsEC member states. “These documents are part of efforts to create the legal framework of the Customs Union,” Vitaly Busko said. He underlined that the agreements had been signed and will be in effect in all the EurAsEC countries (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan), not only on the territory of the Customs Union of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan.

    The agreement on unified principles of information sharing envisages a complex of organizational and technical measures to share information on customs clearance and control. The agreement on unified approaches to the application of information technologies is the continuation of the abovementioned agreement. “They both are designed to speed up the customs control and make it efficient and transparent,” the deputy said.

  • Economics...

    NBRB plans to reduce refinancing rate and to strengthen national currency

    From: BelTA
    The National Bank of the Republic of Belarus (NBRB) is going to reduce the refinancing rate to 12% per annum by 1 July 2010, Chairman of the Board of the National Bank Piotr Prokopovich told a press conference on 27 January.

    According to the monetary policy guidelines for 2010, the refinancing rate is to be reduced to 9-12% and the interest rate on loans to12-15% per annum.

    “We will not drag out this work till the end of 2010. We are going to have the interest rates reduced to the pre-crisis level in H1 already. I believe that by the end of H1 we will manage to do it,” said Piotr Prokopovich.

    Since 1 December 2009, the refinancing rate in Belarus is 13.5% per annum.

    The Belarusian ruble will strengthen against the basket of foreign currencies by the end of 2010, Piotr Prokopovich, predicted.

    “If in 2009 we talked about the devaluation of the Belarusian ruble only, in 2010 we think the Belarusian currency will strengthen against the currency basket,” Piotr Prokopovich said and added that the Belarusian ruble picked up a bit since the beginning of the year.

    In 2010 the Belarusian ruble is projected to stay within +/-10% band, Piotr Prokopovich said. He expressed hope that the economic situation will improve worldwide and in the countries - Belarus’ main trading partners. Belarus is expected to advance onto new sales market. Additional measures will be taken to strengthen the national economy, to raise foreign direct investments. All this will help the country boost export, earn more foreign currency earnings and build up gold and foreign currency reserves, which in turn will ensure the stability of the Belarusian ruble. The gold and foreign currency reserves of Belarus are expected to increase by $0.5-1.8 billion in 2010.

    The National Bank needs additional external funds because of the situation with the oil duties.

    “It complicates our work as it is an additional currency spending. We have to find additional funds,” said Piotr Prokopovich.

    “We do not rule out signing a new agreement with the International Monetary Fund”, Piotr Prokopovich said. He also stressed that it is not a problem of current importance, as Belarus has to complete the current IMF program in Q1 of 2010.

    On the whole Belarus has gained good experience in cooperation with the IMF, Piotr Prokopovich noted. “We have leant to work together and consider various situations,” said the Chairman of the National Bank of Belarus.

    Speaking about a deal on selling Belinvestbank to a strategic investor will be closed in H1 2010, Piotr Prokopovich said.

    “We are holding the negotiations on Belinvestbank. They are at their initial stage. Therefore it is too early to speak about the investor. But we are planning to close the deal in H1 this year,” Piotr Prokopovich said.

    According to him, the deal will be done by analogy with the sale of BPS-Bank to Russia’s Sberbank.

    Belinvestbank is a universal bank which services mainly corporate clients and provides support to investment projects in Belarus. The bank accounts for around 7% of the assets of the banking system, 8% of the corporate lending market. The state owns the majority stake in Belinvestbank through the State Property Committee (85.8%) and the National Bank (6.5%). As of 1 January 2010 its authorized fund made up Br382.1 billion, capital Br657.9 billion.Navany

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Russia, Belarus sign deal ending oil dispute: official

    From: AFP
    Russia and Belarus on Wednesday signed a new deal on Russian oil deliveries to Belarus, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin said, ending a month-long dispute that had raised fears European supplies could be threatened.

    "Today a large number of documents have been signed," Sechin told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at a meeting, in comments published on the government web site.

    Sechin said the documents signed involved changes to previous agreements on the delivery of crude oil to Belarus and the method of setting prices for the sale of Russian oil.

    Sechin said he and his Belarussian counterpart had also signed a joint declaration pledging uninterrupted transit of Russian oil across Belarus to third countries.

    "The Russian and the Belarussian sides guarantee stable conditions of oil transit across the territory of the Russian Federation and Belarus," the countries said in the joint declaration, Itar-Tass reported.

    Sechin said that Russia agreed to compromise on "harsh" conditions because of the special relationship between the neighbouring Slavic countries.

    "The position of the Belarussian side was very harsh for us. We agreed to a number of compromises, bearing in mind the special relationship with a brother republic, with the people of Belarus," Sechin said.

    Sechin called the signed documents "very balanced" and "representing a compromise."

    In televised comments to Sechin, Medvedev said the Russian position was to "give our Belarussian partners the opportunity to work by providing delivery for internal use at a reduced price and on the other side to guarantee transit."

    Belarus reached an agreement that its tariffs for oil in transit would increase by 11 percent, Belarussian Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko said in a Belarus Belta news agency report.

    In addition, Belarus will this year receive 6.3 million tons of oil duty-free for internal use, rather than a proposed 5.0 million tons, Semashko told journalists, Interfax reported.

    Semashko called the terms of the agreements "quite close to those that were in force in 2009," adding that Belarus's "budget losses will not be as high as was envisaged very recently."

    Sechin is expected to travel to Belarus next week to discuss development of the two countries' energy ties, Interfax reported, citing Belarussian television reports.

    Russia and Belarus have been at loggerheads since December in a dispute over customs duties that raised fears of cuts in oil supplies to the European Union. Belarus is almost completely dependent on Russian oil imports.

    Belarus -- which earns income from refining and reselling Russian crude oil -- opposed a Russian customs duty on oil that went into effect on New Year's Day.

    Similar disagreements between Russia and neighbours Belarus and Ukraine -- both former Soviet republics -- regularly threaten Europe's energy supplies.

    In January 2007, a dispute between Moscow and Minsk led to the brief closure of a pipeline through Belarus which carries around a third of Russia's total oil exports to Europe.

    New Customs Body Considered for 3-Nation Union

    From: Moscow Times
    A customs union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan is looking to create a single body that would replace the three countries' customs services, but a dispute is brewing over the distribution of customs duties, First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said Wednesday.

    The new body will either "swallow" the three countries' customs services or control them as a watchdog, Shuvalov told Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as the Customs Union Commission held its first meeting after an agreement on the customs union came into force Jan. 1.

    "Earlier consultations resulted in the need to discuss the creation of additional supranational bodies — a customs body that will act on the territory of the customs union," Shuvalov said, according to a transcript published on the government's web site.

    But talks are continuing about how to distribute customs duties collected on the three countries' territory, Shuvalov said.

    According to the current formula, Russia will get not less than 90 percent of the import duties collected at the territory of the customs union, Kazakhstan will get 6 percent to 7 percent, while Belarus' share will amount to 3 percent to 4 percent.

    The formula will be used as a test version starting from April and may be changed in the second half of this year if needed, Shuvalov said.

    Shuvalov also said the Customs Union Commission was considering the establishment of a supranational treasury "that operates within the customs union."

    An organization representing Russian importers assailed the plan to create a new customs body as an unnecessary additional layer of bureaucracy.

    "I don't see a special need for a supranational body. Since there's a single customs tariff and a customs code, there's no need for additional regulation," said Boris Fantayev, executive director of the Russian Union of Producers and Importers.

    He said each country's own customs service should be allowed to continue regulating shipments.

    It would be easier and cheaper to leave the three countries' customs services intact and to create a supranational body that would regulate and organize their work, said Marina Lyakisheva, a customs law adviser at DLA Piper.

    President Dmitry Medvedev and his counterparts Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus and Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan agreed in November to the creation of a unified customs tariff, which started Jan. 1, and a unified customs code, which will go into effect July 1.

    Also Wednesday, Shuvalov complained to Putin that the United States had not taken any steps to solve the problem of Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization.

    Medvedev has repeatedly said creation of the customs union would not affect Russia's WTO membership bid, while WTO member states have said Russia might face problems.

    Heavy frosts to pose a threat for grains in Belarus

    From: Agrimarket
    Heavy frosts in Belarus will possibly pose a threat for grain sowings at the north-west region of the country, declared the department of agrometeorological forecasts of the republican Hydrometeorological center.

    According to information of specialists of the department, the sufficient snow cover formed at the majority of Belarusian territory. At the same time, the north-west region of the country has some areas with the height of snow cover lower the level of 10 cm. The region also registered the lowest air temperatures, which forms the threat for winter grains, rapeseed and clover.

    As of January 20, the majority of territory of Belarus has the snow-cover height at field at the level of nearly 10-20 cm, the south-western and eastern regions – 25-30 cm.

    Belarus tightens screws on embattled internet users

    From: Earth Times
    Belarus' authoritarian government has imposed even tighter controls over internet traffic, leaving the former Soviet republic's embattled web users with few means of communication not monitored by the state. Earlier this month, President Aleksander Lukashenko authorized the national the Intelligence Analysis Centre (OAC), an agency directly subordinate to his office, to break into practically any internet traffic moving to, from or within Belarus. Lukashenko cited a need to combat crime.

    This step dramatically widens the already harsh government controls over communications in the country.

    "These (measures) are aimed at the development of of electronic mail as incriminating evidence", said Andrei Bastunets, a lawyer employed by the Belarusian Association of Journalists. "They expand the centre's power substantially."

    Lukashenko's crackdown on free internet use, coming almost simultaneously with the US-China spat over Beijing-imposed barriers to Chinese user access to the world-wide web, has so far passed almost without comment from the international community.

    One exception has been Reporters Without Borders, which issued a statement of protest, saying the decree once effective would make Belarus "fall to the level of North Korea and China ... as an 'enemy of the internet.'"

    Before the January 14 order, Bastunets said, Belarus' secret police - the KGB - had been the main monitor of internet activity, intercepting such communication with the aim of collecting foreign intelligence and hunting down foreign spies.

    In 2006 and 2009, opposition communications by e-mail, Skype, and SMS played a key role in organizing of anti-government protests.

    Protesters managed to gather by the tens of thousands in the capital Minsk, despite government efforts to prevent information about the planned demonstrations reaching the public. Those efforts included the shutting down of opposition websites and temporary jailing of opposition leaders.

    The OAC's authority under the January law is dramatically wider than the KGB's and is aimed squarely at the Belarusian opposition, Bastunets said, allowing the agency to intercept and decrypt, without a court order, any e-mail, SMS or telephone conversation in the country - and then prosecute any user found in violation of national media law.

    The new code likewise made the Lukashenko-subordinated OAC the main government censor for any still and video image going to or from Belarus via the Internet, and responsible for blocking any website deemed "unsuitable" for Belarusian Internet users, he said.

    Officials at the OAC declined to respond to a request by the German Press Agency

  • From the Opposition...

    Constitutional Court “legitimates” wiretapping without authorization

    From: Charter '97
    Statements by Pyotr Miklashevich, the Chairman of the Constitutional Court, at the yesterday’s press conference came as a shock.

    At a press conference on January 26 Chairman of the Constitutional Court Pyotr Miklashevich told whether Customs Union agreements are in line with the Constitution; how death penalty can be abolished; and why the court does not check the legality of Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s decrees, Euroradio reports.

    Pyotr Miklashevich told journalists during the press conference about the “court's work in 2009” and admitted that the Constitutional Court checked if the documents of the Customs Union were in line with Belarus' legal standards. But the check was formal, he said.

    What concerns examining the essence of those agreements, they are normally checked only when the president doubts if certain items in agreements stay in line with the Constitution. It seems that Alyaksandr Lukashenka didn’t have doubts this time.

    “We have not received any appeals regarding signing the law on ratification of international agreements on the Customs Union establishment,” Miklashevich said.

    Journalist asked about export duties on Russian oil delivered to Belarus.

    “This is not a subject of analysis by the Constitutional Court. I do have my personal point of view, but I can't voice it publicly. I can go public only when it becomes a subject of analysis by the Constitutional Court,” the chairman said.

    He added that the contract on oil supplies to Belarus signed in 2007 is still in force. However, the Russians claim the contrary.

    Answering a question of a Euroradio correspondent, the Constitutional Court Chairman said that the recently approved amendments to the law on operative and investigative activities does not confront with the Constitution. It means that law-enforcement agencies are allowed to carry out investigative activity and tap phones without prosecutor's sanction.

    “We do not see direct contradictions with the norms of the Constitution. We considered the law in the course of preliminary constitutional control. Taking into account article 23 of the Constitution, which allows some restrictions for the sake of national security, law and order, and health protection, this restriction meets the aims to strengthen crime prevention,” Miklashevich said.

    Pyotr Miklashevich also thinks that it is legal for law-enforcement agencies to arrest people without prosecutor's sanction. Personal permission by the heads of the Interior Ministry, KGB or Financial Investigation Department would be sufficient.

    As for the abolition of the death penalty, the chairman of the Constitutional Court said there were two ways to solve the issue.

    “There are two possible ways of introducing moratorium on death penalty. And I don't envisage any Constitutional or legal hurdles here. As for the abolition, this is the second stage of the final decision, and there are certain Constitutional and legal aspects in this regard,” he noted.

    He didn’t say what the aspects were. He just noted that some provisions in the Constitution can be changed by the president or lawmakers, while some provisions can be amended through a referendum only. So, he gave to understand a referendum is needed.

    According to Pyotr Miklashevich, the Constitutional Court checked 104 laws adopted by the members of the illegitimate “house of representatives” in 2009. All of them were found to comply with the Constitution. Journalists asked if the Constitutional Court had ever checked Lukashenka’s decrees. The answer was that persons authorized had never applied to court on such issues. We remind that Lukashenka himself, members of both parliamentary houses, the government, Supreme and Economic Courts have the right to turn to the Constitutional Court.

    Valiantsin Stefanovich: ‘Ministry of Education should adequately react to its official’s actions’

    From: Viasna
    On 15 January Mrs. Taisa Danilevich, head of the Education Department of Minsk Regional Executive Committee, urged 6 teachers – Natallia Ilyinich (Talka, BPF), Mikola Liashchun (Lahoisk, BPF), Ales Yazvinski (Niasvizh, CCP-BPF), Uladzimir Pareika (Niasvizh district, BSDP), Siarhei Klimionak (Vileika, UCPB) and Nadzeya Ahafonava (Liuban, UCPB) – to stop their membership in various political parties of Belarus. The official thinks the teachers cannot work at schools.

    Two teachers out of six have lodged complaints with local prosecutor’s offices, RFE/RL reports. Similar complaints have been lodged by heads of the BPF’s and the UCPB’s regional offices. The Ministry of Educations provides no comments on the incident.

    Valiantsin Stefanovich, lawyer of the Human Rights Center Viasna, believes that the harassment is an outrage against human rights and the Constitution of Belarus:

    ‘The Fundamental Law guarantees that everyone can be member of a political party or an NGO, and have his or her own political beliefs. Therefore, the fact can be called a politically-motivated labour discrimination against citizens. Such discrimination is forbidden by the Constitution and Article 14 of the Belarusian Labour Code. None of the known legal act prevents teachers from being members of political parties. The only exception is military men, prosecutors and judges.’

    Article 3 of the Law on Political Parties says that membership in a political party cannot result in any restriction of rights or freedoms, namely the right to labour.

    Belarusian human rights activists believe that the teachers should immediately lodge complaints with local prosecutor’s offices against the official’s illegal actions, since she violated the Constitutional rights of Belarusian citizens.

    ‘It seems to us that the harassment is tied to the upcoming local council elections. It is a very sad practice and we do hope that it is not the official position of the Ministry of Education, but a private initiative by the official,’ says Mr. Stefanovich.

    Human rights activists hope that the Ministry of Education will draw certain conclusions and adequately react to its official’s illegal actions to protect the legitimate interests of Belarusian citizens.

  • Russia...

    Yanukovich wants Russia to double Ukraine gas transit

    From: Reuters
    Kiev should persuade Moscow to nearly double Russian gas transit to Europe via Ukraine, Ukrainian presidential frontrunner Viktor Yanukovich said on Wednesday while ruling out the sale of transit pipelines.

    Yanukovich also said he wanted Ukraine to help build the Nord and South Stream pipelines, planned by Russia to transit gas avoiding states like Ukraine and Belarus after a pricing dispute with neighbours led to gas cut-offs to EU's customers.

    Opposition leader Yanukovich, 59, led Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko by 10 percentage points in a first round vote on Jan. 17 and the two rivals face each other in a Feb. 7 runoff for president.

    "We will propose Europe and Russia the creation of a consortium, which would allow Ukraine to raise the volumes of gas transit to about 200 billion cubic metres," he said.

    Ukraine usually transits 110-120 bcm of Russian gas a year or a quarter of Europe's gas use but volumes fell to 96 bcm last year as customers reduced purchases amid the economic crisis and switched to cheaper fuels such as liquefied gas.

    Moscow had said it could increase supplies via Ukraine if it was allowed to co-own and manage gas pipelines, but Ukraine adopted a law forbidding their privatisation.

    Since then Moscow decided to increase supplies bypassing Ukraine and pricing disputes with Kiev only spurred two key projects, Nord Stream and South Stream, which will deliver gas under the Baltic and Black Sea to Europe's north and south.

    "We are not talking about selling the (transit) system, which is forbidden by Ukrainian law," Yanukovich said.

    "We will introduce proposals about Ukraine's participation in the building of Nord and South Stream," Yanukovich told a small group of foreign journalists. He gave no details.

    Yanukovich, who is backed by wealthy businessmen in the industrial east of the country, was Moscow's favourite candidate in the previous presidential elections five years ago, which he lost.

    Last year, Russian sympathies switched to Tymoshenko, 49, after she signed a new gas deal with Russia's Prime Minister and most influential politician Vladimir Putin at the start of 2009 to resume supplies to Europe and avoid new crises.

    Yanukovich also said on Wednesday he would not cooperate with Tymoshenko if he won election next month

    Russia: Arms deal with US possible within weeks

    From: Washington Post
    Russian and U.S. negotiators could hammer out a new nuclear arms reduction deal within weeks, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.

    The statement from ministry spokesman Igor Lyakin-Frolov followed weeks of uncertainty and sent a strong signal that the long-running talks were nearing an end.

    "We hope it will take just a few weeks for our negotiators to reach agreement," Lyakin-Frolov said in a telephone interview.

    Russia and the U.S. have been negotiating a successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START I, that expired on Dec. 5. They had hoped to reach a deal before the end of the year, but differences persisted and officials had been evasive about a timeline.

    Lyakin-Frolov said the consultations held during last week's visit to Moscow by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, and retired Gen. Jim Jones, President Barack Obama's national security adviser, were successful.

    In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Tuesday that Moscow and Washington "had a productive interlude" since the negotiators took a break before Christmas. He said the talks will resume in Geneva on Monday.

    The talks have stalled over Russia's opposition to retaining the ban on the encryption of the telemetry monitoring data on missile tests. START banned such encryption so each side could monitor missile tests from a distance to make sure the other side complies with the treaty.

    Russia has balked at keeping that provision, saying the exchange of data would be unfair since it is testing new weapons to replace the Soviet-era ones while the U.S. isn't developing any new missiles.

    Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned the U.S. last month that it must share information about its missile defense plans if it wants Russia to provide data on its new weapons, but the U.S. has insisted missile defense should be separate from the current negotiations.

    China, Russia push BRIC IPOs to $6.7 bln in Jan

    From: Reuters
    New share listings in Russia and China accounted for 76 percent of global IPOs so far in 2010, with January flotation volumes of $6.7 billion, the highest on record for the month, Thomson Reuters data showed.

    Russia and China shared the 26 initial public offerings (IPOs) launched in the BRIC group (Brazil, Russia, India and China) of the four largest emerging economies this month, with a notable dearth of activity in Brazil and India. This compares with just one listing from among these four economies last January, when Brazil, Russia, India and China accounted for just 5.6 percent of IPO global activity.

    "BRIC IPO volumes for the beginning of 2010 are at their largest level, in terms of both value and number of issues, for any January on record," Thomson Reuters said, adding it had been a record IPO month in terms of value for Asia as well.

    The previous January record was in 2007 when 23 issues raised $3.9 billion, while there were 22 listings and $3.5 billion in January 2008.

    All but one of January's 26 deals were in China but Russia's single deal was also the biggest offering, with Russian aluminium company Rusal (0486.HK) raising $2.2 billion. [ID:nTOE60Q02O]

    The materials sector accounted for 35 percent of activity, followed by energy and power.

    Last year, BRIC IPOs raised a total $63 billion, accounting for over 90 percent of emerging market offerings. The world's largest IPO of 2009 was that of the Brazilian subsidiary of Banco Santander (SAN.MC), according to data from Thomson Reuters.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Polish criminal spotted by Polish policewoman…in Bristol

    From: The News
    As she strolled the streets of Bristol, west England, a Polish police woman on a three months training course in the UK, spotted a suspected Polish robber and took action so he was arrested.

    The officer, who has been serving in police in the eastern city of Lublin for eleven years, went to Great Britain for a three-month training. While she was on patrol in Bristol, the woman recognized Krzysztof R., who was on the run from Polish police. She had seen the criminals’ photos on most wanted list.

    Krzysztof R., who had several warrants of arrest issued on his name, is accused of robbery and assault.

    When the officer recognized the criminal she informed Polish, which issued the European Warrant of Arrest for Krzysztof R. and British police, who detained the criminal on 23 December 2009. The man was completely surprised to see policemen arresting him, equally to his family which visited him for Christmas.

    Holocaust was a Jewish invention, says top Polish bishop

    From: The News
    Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, one of Poland’s most prominent religious figures, is reported to have told an Italian Catholic news web site that the Holocaust was a "Jewish invention". The bishop says his remarks were “taken out of context” however.

    "The Holocaust, as such, is a Jewish invention [invenzione ebraica]. We could just as well establish a day of remembrance to the numerous victims of communism, when Catholics and Christians were persecuted," he told the Pontifex.Roma web site on Sunday.

    In remarks that will outrage Jews the world over, Bishop Pieronek said that in his opinion the memory of the Holocaust is often used as a “propaganda weapon” by Israel.

    The Krakow-based bishop said: “Undoubtedly, the majority of those who died in the concentration camps were Jews, but also on the list were Poles, Gypsies, Italians and Catholics. So do not steal this tragedy in the name of propaganda.”

    “But they, the Jews, have a good press, because the powerful have the financial resources - extremely powerful with the unconditional support of the United States. And this promotes a kind of arrogance, which I consider to be unbearable,” Bishop Pieronek continued.

    The bishop expressed his opinion that the Palestinians are victims of injustice at the hands of the Israelis.

    “Seeing the photographs of the [Gaza] wall we can conclude that a colossal injustice has been committed against the Palestinians, who are treated like animals and their rights are being violated.”

    “Let them establish [the international lobby] a Memorial Day for them also.”

    Out of context

    Bishop Pieronek, however, says the interview printed on the Italian web site bares little resemblance to the one that he gave the journalist.

    “I have not seen the printed text of the interview, which I have given but have not authorized. But if I were to believe in what I hear from the media then it looks as though the final form of the interview was the idea of the journalist that I had spoken to, as the text is full of vague statements."

    The controversy comes Just two days before Holocaust remembrance Day on January 27 and prime minister of Israel Benyamin Netanyahu’s visit to Poland for the 65 anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

    Who's lying in Krzysztof Olewnik's grave?

    From: NPE
    Sister breaks down in tears as traumatic case takes another turn
    One of the most tragic and controversial criminal cases in post-communist Poland has been turned upside down after allegations surfaced that the body presumed to be that of a murder victim may in fact be someone else’s.

    Gdansk prosecutors have agreed to a request from the family of Krzysztof Olewnik for an exhumation to see whether the body lying in a cemetery near Plock is that of the 27-year-old businessman.

    Olewnik was kidnapped in 2001, held for ransom, tortured and murdered despite his family paying a ransom of EUR 300,000. Following a witness statement a body, presumed to that of victim’s, was recovered from woodland near Olsztyn in 2006.

    But now it turns out that the authorities in charge of the corpse may not have carried out all the procedures necessary to confirm identification, and the fact that prosecutors have agreed to the exhumation is regarded as confirmation that there are serious doubts over the identity.

    “We need to be sure that we are lighting candles on our son’s grave,” said Wlodzimierz Olewnik, Krzysztof’s father. “We are trying to avoid thinking about what if it turns out not to be him. At the moment we are in shock, and do not know what to do with ourselves. We asked for an exhumation of the body as soon as we heard about the doubts.”

    Along with heaping more anguish on the Olewnik family, legal experts have pointed that the decision to exhume casts doubts doubt over the guilt of a number of individuals now serving gaol sentences for Olewnik’s abduction and murder.

    “This will be an earthquake for the Polish justice system,” said Professor Piotr Kruszynski from Warsaw University. “I was amazed and surprised by the news of plans to exhume Krzysztof Olewnik because it could mean that a person was unjustly and unfairly sentenced to life in prison.”

    Experts have said that the chances of the body being that of Olewnik’s are 50 per cent, and that there is even a 5 per cent chance that he is still alive.

    The Olewnik family has always maintained that their son’s killers had protection from high-placed political figures, and the case is now the subject of a parliamentary enquiry.

    Polish mayor nicked for torture and murder

    From: NPE
    Police have arrested and charged a former mayor of Zabrze with torture and murder.

    The ex-town chief, known only as Jerzy G. owing to reporting restrictions, was picked up following an investigation after a man’s body was found in some local woods in August 2008.

    “Last Thursday and Friday charges were brought against three people,” said Marta Zawada-Dybek from district prosecutor's office in Katowice. “Two were detained while the third was already in detention.

    “The body of the victim was bound and covered with leaves,” she added. “There were visible signs of torture. Analysis showed that he had died from wounds inflicted to the neck.”

    The victim, who was also missing an ear, was Lech Frydrychowski, a 34-year-old lawyer from Zabrze.

    According to prosecutors, the murderers had planned to bury Frydrychowski’s battered corpse but, after being unsettled by a noise, left the body covered by just a few branches.

    Investigators assert that 62-year-old Jerzy G., who was the Silesian town’s mayor from 2002 to 2005, had, along with two accomplices, killed Frydrychowski after the man had demanded the repayment of a PLN-246,000 loan he had given the local politician.

    In a twisting story it turned out that the mayor, at one point, had accused Frydrychowski of trying to blackmail him but during the following investigation it was revealed that Jerzy G. had provided false testimony.

    The grisly murder and the arrest of the former mayor have shocked the small town.

    Many in Zabrze have struggled to associate Jerzy G, who is a member of the Polish Academy of Science, and a university lecturer, with the brutal murder of Frydrychowski.

    “He was a trustworthy, understanding and warm man, devoted to his family and two daughters,” one of Jerzy G’s former colleagues told a newspaper.

    Jan Chojnacki, an ex-colleague from the Democratic Left Alliance, the party the Jerzy G. once belonged to, also praised the man’s good character.

    “He was not a member of our party, but he knew foreign languages, was a doctor, and had a good reputation,” he said.

    But it turns out that along with the legal problems stemming from the alleged lies he told about Frydrychowski the former mayor also had problems with the tax authorities.

  • Sport...

    Belarus hammer throwers open 3-day doping appeal aiming to win back Beijing Olympic medals

    From: The Canadian Press
    Two Belarusian hammer throwers have begun giving evidence at an appeal to win back the Olympic medals that were stripped from them for doping.

    Vadim Devyatovskiy and Ivan Tsikhan are attending a three-day hearing that began Monday at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. A verdict is expected within several weeks.

    Devyatovskiy and Tsikhan won silver and bronze medals in Beijing and then tested positive for elevated testosterone levels. The International Olympic Committee took their medals and disqualified them in December 2008.

    Devyatovskiy served a previous doping suspension and faces a lifetime ban if he loses the appeal.

    Serena Advances Past Azarenka

    Serena Williams dug herself out of a hole while big sister Venus put herself in one during an eventful Australian Open women's quarter-finals on Wednesday.

    Defending champion Serena was teetering on the brink of an early departure when she trailed Belarus's Victoria Azarenka 4-6, 0-4.

    The world number one was struggling to match the power and aggression of the 20-year-old from Minsk, who also had Serena on the ropes in the fourth round in 2009 before retiring with illness.

    But Serena showed all her renowned fighting qualities as she came out swinging, winning 12 of the next 16 games to somehow overhaul Azarenka 4-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2.

    She next plays Chinese 16th seed Li Na, who performed a similar escape act against Venus in the first match on Rod Laver Arena.

    The imposing Venus blitzed her way through the first set and led 5-3 in the second before imploding under an avalanche of unforced errors, virtually handing the match to the gritty Li 2-6, 7-6 (7/4), 7-5.

    Serena said she surprised even herself with her fightback.

    "I didn't expect to win when I was down 0-4 -- I was like 'well at least I am still in the doubles'," she said.

    "But I never really count myself out."

    With her left knee and right thigh heavily bandaged, Williams was run all around the court by Azarenka.

    At 0-4 in the second set, and having not won a point on the Azarenka serve in the set until then, Williams cut a dejected figure and seemed only moments from elimination.

    However, she started to swing freely and all the sudden her game returned to its dominant best.

    "I knew if I could just do a little better and make a little less errors -- I made a lot -- I knew I could be better," Serena said.

    Azarenka was still playing well, but had no answer to the power surge, with Williams hitting 57 winners to her 22.

  • Cultural Scene...

    Argentine hosting Napoleon Orda’s exhibition

    From: BelTA
    An exhibition of the reproductions of the paintings of Belarus-renowned artist of the 19th century Napoleon Orda was opened in the town of Resistencia (the Province of Chaco, Argentine) on 25 January, BelTA learnt from the Embassy of Belarus in the Republic of Argentine.

    The exhibition hall has displayed 25 masterpieces showing Belarus’ ancient architecture. Among the exhibits are also Belarus’ national arts and crafts.

    Mayor of Resistencia Aida Ayala emphasized the uniqueness of Napoleon Orda’s works and articles made by Belarusian craftsmen.

    The exposition has been organized under the auspices of Belarus in Argentine as well as ethnic Belarusians who live in the Province of Chaco.

    The exhibition was held in the Argentinean provinces of Buenos-Aires and Misiones in November and December 2009.

    The exhibition will be also featured in other towns of the province of Chaco in February.

    Chaco is an Argentine province located in the north of the country, near the border with Paraguay. Its capital is Resistencia on the Parana River.

    New staging of Lermontov’s Masquerade to premiere in Minsk

    A new staging of Mikhail Lermontov’s play Masquerade will be premiered at the Minsk Literary House on 12 February. The play will be performed by the company of the Belarusian National Children’s Theatre, BelTA learnt from script editor of the theatre Ales Sukhodolov.

    “Today there are nearly five different productions of the drama. This mysterious and ever-living masterpiece gives grounds for numerous interpretations. Thus, young producer Veronica Andreitsova has seen her own vision of the classical work,” Ales Sukhodolov said. In a new staging Arbenin becomes our contemporary, a successful businessman, gambling houses turn into casinos, balls and masquerades – into club parties. Only human nature remains the same throughout the centuries.

  • Endnote...

    Disillusionment In Ukraine - The Sad End Of The Orange Revolution

    From: Free Internet Press
    Ukraine is about to hold its first presidential elections since the popular uprising in 2004 that overturned a fraudulent vote. But what has become of the Orange Revolution, now that its leaders have fallen from grace and the population is craving a strong leader?

    It seems hard to believe that a normal person who claims to "hardly ever go to bed before 4 a.m. these days" could look so good. Her cheeks are glowing, her skin is smooth, her trademark braids are carefully arranged on top of her head and her step is as energetic as ever.

    But what exactly is normal about this woman, the prime minister of Europe's largest country by area? On this morning, Yulia Tymoshenko looks fresh and awake, wearing a light-brown wool dress and looking the part of the concerned leader of her nation. All that's missing are the sheaves of grain Tymoshenko is holding to her chest on the campaign posters displayed outside, along Kiev's streets.

    The venue was probably chosen carefully to ensure just the right backdrop for the candidate. The washed-out white marble and bronze chandeliers in this retirement home for government officials exude the faded charm of the Soviet era. Tymoshenko - popularly known by her first name, Yulia - is a study in political contrasts, even before she opens her mouth to give a campaign speech.

    "I am one of you," she calls out to the 300 students sitting in the conference room. "I will make sure that you get discounted tickets for the bus and subway! And when I am president, you will be allowed to choose the minister of youth and sports."

    Tymoshenko is a gifted speaker, promising a glowing future to the poor and underprivileged, and everything short of saving the planet to everyone else. "We Ukrainians," she says in her clear, youthful voice, "will not just solve our own problems, but will also offer the entire world a model for overcoming the crisis - that is our mission." She neglects to mention how, exactly, her country will serve as an economic role model.

    Icon of Revolution

    Ukraine will elect its new president on Jan. 17, for the first time since the Orange Revolution. For a long time, it had seemed as if the presidency were already reserved for Tymoshenko, the icon of the country's magnificent popular revolt of December 2004.

    The images the world witnessed coming from Kiev five years ago are hard to forget. The smoke from burning firewood hanging over Khreshchatyk Street, the city's main boulevard, where tens of thousands protested for weeks against fraud in the November election. The parades of honking cars in the city's narrow, twisted downtown streets. The hoarse voices of supporters calling out the names "Yushchenko" and "Yulia" on Independence Square as the opposition leaders, wearing orange scarves, finally claimed victory over the pro-Moscow incumbents after a third round of voting.

    The images were reminiscent of Prague in 1968, Gdansk in 1980 and Leipzig in 1989. Russia, which had never overcome the loss of Ukraine, a country of 46 million people, was in shock. Europe, on the other hand, was filled with optimism.

    Deeply Divided

    Five years later, Ukraine is almost a forgotten country. The victors of that 2004 election, once feted on Independence Square, are now deeply divided, and the country's political institutions are paralyzed. The government has lacked a majority in the parliament for a year, the posts of finance and defense minister are vacant, and even the Foreign Ministry was leaderless for several months. The country itself is broke, only managing to stay afloat with loans from the West.

    And the color orange? It isn't even being used in the current election campaign. The Tymoshenko campaign's white tents decorated with a red heart can be seen on the streets. There are blue tents where volunteers are collecting signatures for former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the man who almost became president as a result of the rigged 2004 election. Finally, current President Viktor Yushchenko is campaigning with brightly colored billboards advertising the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, which Ukraine is co-hosting along with Poland.

    Nothing illustrates the stalemate in Ukrainian politics as effectively as the struggle among these three figures. For years, they have formed a seemingly eternal triangle of power, which Ukrainian writer Yuri Andrukhovych calls the "anti-Pantheon of the modern era."

    'I Hate Politics'

    First, there is the 55-year-old Yushchenko, who rose to the country's top position as a result of the revolution. The current president is the son of a village teacher and enjoys collecting antiques. Yushchenko, who once said: "I hate politics," managed to restore Ukrainians' sense of national identity but turned out to be a weak leader. Ignoring the real concerns of his people, he has declared the election to be a referendum on Ukraine's pro-Western course. This time around, he is unlikely to capture more than 5 percent of votes, with polls indicating that 70 percent of Ukrainians long for a "strong leader with a strong hand."

    Then there is the 49-year-old Tymoshenko, a former businesswoman who is now a full-blooded politician with a reputation for ruthlessness. Yushchenko has even accused Tymoshenko of trying to seize the presidency through a putsch in order to install herself as an authoritarian leader. A year ago, she was already confident of winning the presidency. But then the financial crisis began, rattling the people's confidence in her ability to govern. The economy shrank by about 14 percent, while the average monthly income declined to the equivalent of €160 ($233).

    For months, the prime minister has been preoccupied with trying to acquire capital from abroad so that the country can pay its Russian gas bills. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) halted a $16 billion loan because Tymoshenko ordered an increase in pensions and the minimum wage, despite a massive budget deficit. Then came the swine flu epidemic, putting a stop to her elaborate campaign tour.

    Rising Through the Ranks

    Finally, there is the 59-year-old Yanukovych, the son of a metalworker from the Donbas region of southeastern Ukraine, who was sentenced to prison for robbery and assault when he was a teenager. He later became a race car driver and, after rising through the political ranks, was eventually appointed to the post of prime minister under semi-authoritarian former President Leonid Kuchma.

    Today, he argues for the return of "law and order" and claims that the price of democracy in the wake of the Orange Revolution was too high. His Party of Regions has attracted almost the entire communist electorate and large segments of the Russophile population. It is also a hotbed of protests against market reforms and the country's pro-Western orientation.

    Yanukovych, a man completely lacking in charisma, simply had to wait until the orange revolutionaries destroyed each other. According to the polls, he is leading with 30 percent, 10 percentage points ahead of Tymoshenko.

    Ironically, the man behind the election fraud of 2004 could become the country's next democratically elected president. Was the Orange Revolution merely a bluff, and is Ukraine lost to Europe once again?

    All or Nothing

    Savik Shuster greets his audience of millions on his nightly talk show. His show "Shuster Live," broadcast on TRK-Ukraine from a studio housed in a renovated factory building, is the country's most popular program, partly because of its no-holds-barred format. His critics call it a "striptease of politics."

    Shuster's assistant, a long-legged platinum blonde wearing a black blouse with shoulder pads made to look like soccer balls, announces that, once again, it's all or nothing for Ukraine. "The 2012 UEFA European Football Championship is our last chance to show that we are a European country," she says.

    Then Shuster introduces his guests, the Ukrainian sports minister and two football officials versus three critics of the government. The topic is Ukraine's biggest problem: corruption. Shuster claims that a company owned by the minister's former deputy was awarded major stadium construction contracts.

    The sports minister, a very young disciple of Yushchenko, rejects the charges while injecting a dose of nationalism. "UEFA tried to force us to award the stadium construction contracts to German and other foreign companies," he says, "but I wanted to make sure that Ukrainian taxpayers' money went to Ukrainian companies." The audience applauds.

    A debate ensues that, in its openness and candidness, would not be possible in most of the 15 successor states of the Soviet Union today, including Russia. Shuster, who once lived in Moscow, says that he went to Ukraine because the Russian capital is still a place where "propagandists and not journalists are in demand."

    Open Debate

    The show highlights one of the positive sides of the Orange Revolution. Since 2005, the country has had both open political debate and freedom of the press. However, says Shuster, this freedom has also enabled the country's oligarchs to gain control over broadcasters and newspapers. For example, the eastern Ukrainian steel and coal magnate Rinat Akhmetov owns TRK, while Kuchma's billionaire son-in-law, Viktor Pinchuk, owns four television channels. One interesting new development is that each of these media tycoons has now divided his political sympathies among various camps.

    The next evening's show reveals something about Ukrainian culture. Shuster has invited five of the 18 presidential candidates and a number of political scientists to discuss the scandal of the week. President Yushchenko reprimanded the interior minister and the head of the intelligence agency on live TV, saying: "Do you know why we can't defeat corruption? Because you yourselves are corrupt."

    Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, one of the leaders of the Orange Revolution, is sitting in the studio. Although it is not revealed whether the president's accusations of corruption have any substance, it is true that Lutsenko, who is in charge of more than 350,000 police officers and civil servants, was barred from boarding a flight at a German airport last year for drunkenness and vulgar behavior.

    "How can you be a role model for our public servants? You should resign," says one of the guests, a member of parliament for Yanukovych's party.

    "And you?" Lutsenko retorts sharply. "I happen to know that you beat your wife at home." The accusation later leads to a scuffle in the studio between the two men.

    Shuster complains that the problem with the new freedom of the press is that the media have lost all relevance. "The people can now speak up, but the politicians aren't listening."

    Living in a Feudal Oligarchy

    "We Ukrainians don't love ourselves, and we don't respect ourselves," says Mikhail Brodsky; who is running for president once again. "We traditionally eat bacon in the morning, but we don't know that it's unhealthy, and we don't even live to the age of 70. And many of us still don't even want to work hard."

    Brodsky, a bald 50-year-old, is Ukraine's mattress king, one of the country's minor magnates who, together with his son, owns 200 retail stores nationwide and an Internet site. He once owned a bank, which got him into difficulties, as well as the Kievskiye Vedomosti, a well-known newspaper. But he was forced out of the newspaper business by people who were more powerful than him.

    Brodksy is sitting in the Kalina pastry shop, across the street from the Arsenal, a former weapons factory in Kiev, which he also owns. He says he is worried about the fusion of business and politics, a development that stands in the way of real reform.

    "We have put the totalitarian regime behind us, as well as the post-totalitarian regime, and now we live in a feudal oligarchy," says Brodsky. He wants to see all those brought to justice who have amassed vast fortunes in recent years but are unable to account for the source of their wealth. Four hundred of the 450 members of the Ukrainian parliament are said to be millionaires.

    Little Security

    "I think we should put the thieves to the acid test," says the mattress king. Unfortunately, he adds, the worst crooks of the post-Soviet era have fled abroad. One of them is the former head of the oil and gas company Naftogaz. According to Brodsky, an international warrant was issued for the man's arrest, but he now has a Russian passport and lives in Moscow. It isn't surprising that the economy isn't improving, he says, when there is so little security for investors.

    In fact, foreign direct investment grew fivefold after the Orange Revolution, but now more than $30 billion of that foreign capital has been pulled out of the country again. Ukrainian exports to the United States declined by 90 percent last year.

    Brodsky is a living example of how quickly political loyalties change within the Ukrainian elite. He once supported Yushchenko and Tymoshenko, but he has since turned away from the two politicians, particularly the prime minister, because she "has brought the old Kuchma cronies into her team, sells off slots on her register of voters and bribes judges on the constitutional court."

    Brodsky has formed his own party, called the Free Democrats, which has about 1,000 members, a modest number that is reflected in his showing in the polls. According to the latest figures, 0.87 percent of Ukrainians would vote for him as president. This doesn't trouble him, however. In the 2004 election, he was referred to as a "count candidate," a term used to describe those who sell their votes to one of the two leading candidates in the important runoff election.

    He did it for Yushchenko in 2004. Does he have a deal with Yanukovych this time, or perhaps even with Tymoshenko? Brodsky smiles - and says nothing.

    The Last Territory

    Ivano-Frankivsk, formerly Stanyslaviv, is a city in the region once known as Galicia. It was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for almost 150 years. Then it was a Polish city with a large Jewish population. Although it was eventually named after the Ukrainian writer Ivan Franko, Stanyslaviv's churches and old houses still convey an air of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Nowhere are Ukraine's ties to Europe stronger than here, in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. Stanyslaviv is also the home of Yuri Andrukhovych, one of Ukraine's most renowned writers.

    It is a cold Saturday morning in the city. A red-nosed Andrukhovych, 49, arrives wearing a red scarf and a red knit cap. He looks a little worse for the wear. The evening before, he read from his book "The Last Territory" to a packed audience at the philharmonic in the nearby city of Lviv.

    Andrukhovych uses the term "last territory" to refer to his native country on the eastern edge of the continent, a region that Europeans have almost forgotten, now that Poland, Hungary and Slovakia have all joined the European Union. Oddly enough, the geographic center of Europe is only 100 kilometers from Stanyslaviv.

    But Stanyslaviv and Ukraine are a no-man's land today, wedged between the border to the Schengen zone and Russia. Andrukhovych, who knows Berlin and Vienna almost as well as he does Stanyslaviv, tries in his writing to prevent Ukraine from being forgotten again.

    It isn't a task that has become any easier over the years. Ukraine, at least in its current form, "won't do Europe any good," he says. "We've missed our opportunity, for now."

    Political Miracles

    Andrukhovych is among those who struggled in support of the Orange Revolution in 2004. Today he sees Yushchenko as nothing but a notorious opportunist. When asked about Yanukovych, he says that he didn't expect anything of him then and still expects nothing of him today. But his greatest disappointment is Tymoshenko. "She's an actress," he says, "but a bad one. How can such a bad actress be so successful? She is the biggest populist, constantly promising people that she wants to give something back."

    Andrukhovych is the first to admit that he saw the country's 1991 independence and Yushchenko's 2004 election victory as "political miracles." But, he adds, one should not forget that the election five years ago was basically a neck-and-neck race, and that Yushchenko barely managed to garner more than 50 percent of the vote in the important runoff election. It was only half a revolution, he says, and predicts that now the scales will tip to the other half. "We are back in the mid-1990s, and we will have a new Kuchma. It's no surprise that the West doesn't trust us."

    Andrukhovych, who has an engaging and cheerful manner, doesn't sound bitter. Perhaps all of this will be useful, he says. "If Yanukovych wins, maybe people will realize the importance of freedom."

    Ivano-Frankivsk has benefited from the Orange Revolution. The city's downtown has been carefully renovated, and its historic buildings, including the Jesuit college, the cathedral, the synagogue and the town hall, as well as many of the Art Nouveau villas, are in good shape. There has been much new construction throughout the city since 2004. And when it comes to quality of life, the city, which has a population of over 200,000, is doing very well by Ukrainian standards. But the construction cranes have been idle in Stanyslaviv since Ukraine got hit by the economic downturn, which affected the country worse than almost any other in Europe.

    Own Identity

    Nevertheless, Andrukhovych remains optimistic. Some of the consequences of the Orange Revolution are irreversible, he says. For example, the border, at least to the West, is now open. The birth rate is rising again and, most importantly, Ukraine has acquired its own identity. The gray post-Soviet era, the shaved heads, the tracksuits - all of that, with the exception of Russian pop music, is on its way out, says Andrukhovych. "The country has rediscovered its individuality."

    For Andrukhovych, perhaps the most eye-opening experience was something he recently witnessed in Donetsk, a mining city in the far eastern part of the country, as foreign to a western Ukrainian as Shanghai or Cairo. Donetsk is Yanukovych country and is dominated by ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians.

    Andrukhovych was in the city with the rock group Dead Rooster, which was premiering its new album "Made in Ukraine," with songs based on his poems. The poet even sang one of the songs himself. The club was full of young people, Russian-speaking Andrukhovych fans who even knew the poems of a western Ukrainian by heart. "Ukraine is alive," says Andrukhovych.