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Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, April 18, 2010

Kyrgyz revolt, Poland and the aircrash, CSTO, The middle east, Uranium, Opposion, Vatican sex scandal; News, Sport, Culture and Polish scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #504

    Belarus President instructs SCC to assess support for private farm holdings

    From: BelTA
    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko heard out a report from Chairman of the State Control Committee (SCC) Zenon Lomat on 16 April, the press service of the Belarusian head of state told BelTA.

    Zenon Lomat informed the President about measures being taken to improve the auditing agency’s operation, measures meant to ensure the national economy security, to forestall and detect systematic violations of laws and negative economic tendencies.

    At present the SCC keeps auditing bodies in line with auditing regulations as they schedule audits and controls the keeping of audit registration books. In addition, the SCC compiles, maintains and controls the fulfillment of audit coordination plans, which are available on the website of the agency.

    In the near future the SCC plans to look into illegal trade schemes inside the country, assess the role and influence of major wholesale companies on the state of the consumer market, assess the effectiveness of timber export, analyze the fulfillment of the geological exploration program, usage of melioration funds, the observation of social standards, the implementation of major investment projects, influence of municipal enterprises and enterprises without departmental affiliation on the foreign trade deficit and the role of local authorities in it.

    Zenon Lomat said the SCC focuses on control over the fulfillment of social and economic development goals this year and throughout the five-year term as a whole.

    As private farm holdings account for about 30% of the total agricultural output, close attention is paid to their development.

    An SCC audit has revealed that the program meant to develop and support private farm holdings in 2006-2010 has virtually failed.

    Private farm holdings suffer from lack of resources, ready fodder, and no systematic approach to making private farm holdings part of the public crop rotation. Farmers constantly run into problems with selling their products, buying seeds and planting materials. Rural residents complain about lack of horses and hence lack of power to farm their lands.

    Due to the lack of action by officials of the Agriculture and Food Ministry and oblast administrations, their area under crops and the livestock population have shrunk. In 2005-2008 the area under cereal crops shrank by a quarter, area under potatoes – by 16.5%, cattle population – by almost 50%. With a view to concealing the lamentable facts, every year around 30% of the total grain and potato output is attributed to private farm holdings.

    The President requested the State Control Committee to step up auditing, examine the situation in detail nationwide.

    According to Zenon Lomat, major problems with preparations for the spring sowing campaign have been unearthed.

    Local authorities fail to take measures to provide drivers for agricultural machines (during the audit the Grodno Oblast lacked 805 machine operators). Many agricultural companies have violated the established farming technologies.

    The head of state was also informed about automobile maintenance services and spare parts trade. While the business is developing fast, mass violations have been detected with over 400 commercial entities. Illegal car service stations have been found, cash registers are not used, unlicensed companies have been detected, and over 50% of automobile maintenance services provided by juridical persons are provided off the books.

    The State Control Committee has also found faults with the operation of the State Forensic Service as well as Grodno Azot. In particular, out of 11 investment projects the company implemented in 2007-2009 three projects failed to provide an economic effect while five were put on hold, with expenses estimated at Br342.6 billion.

    The head of state was informed about results of the audit at the Belarusian timber industry concern Bellesbumprom and its enterprises that failed to hit virtually all development targets in 2008-2009.

    In 2009 the number of loss-making Bellesbumprom enterprises almost doubled. The overstocking exceeds the average monthly output by almost four times at some enterprises. Due to high prices 102 tenders for the delivery of furniture and paper were lost. The implementation of innovation projects is ineffective, some enterprises have failed to install the equipment they had imported.

    Zenon Lomat requested the head of state’s permission for several auditing actions. In particular, the State Control Committee intends to audit the spending of Union State budget funds that have been allocated for implementing joint Union State programs by the Defense Ministry, the State Border Guard Committee, and the State Defense Industries Committee.

    Other matters were also touched upon as Zenon Lomat presented his report to the head of state.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    CSTO’s ability to protect members’ interests doubted

    From: BelTA
    Former Chairman of the International Affairs and National Security Commission of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus, political analyst Nikolai Cherginets doubts the ability of the Collective Security Treaty Organization to protect interests of its member-states and to fulfill its obligations to ensure security of each state. Nikolai Cherginets made the relevant statement as he commented on the political situation in Kyrgyzstan.

    “I was in favor of creating the CSTO as an organization for tight cooperation with all countries and an instrument to enhance relations between them. Even the CSTO Parliamentary Assembly was created following my initiative. But now we have a question: what did we create the CSTO for if there are murderous developments and a coup in [Kyrgyzstan]? The CSTO keeps back, including many leaders of the member-states,” he said.

    Nikolai Cherginets believes that Kyrgyzstan events directly threaten the collective security. “The CSTO should have said its word if necessary, should have provided assistance in resolving the problem, should have made things clear. Unfortunately it didn’t happen,” he said.

    As part of its direct obligations the CSTO might have acted as a mediator between the opposition and Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, might have prevented the dramatic scenario, remarked the source.

    Belarus’ MP urges Kyrgyz opposition to engage in negotiations with Bakiyev

    From: BelTA
    The political situation in Kyrgyzstan should be resolved at a negotiating table between the opposition and legitimate president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, Mikhail Rusyi, the chairman of the permanent commission for Chernobyl problems, ecology and nature management of the House of Representatives of Belarus, told reporters.

    “I hope the common sense will prevail and different political forces of Kyrgyzstan will find a solution at a negotiating table. Bakiyev was legitimate president and did not resign. Therefore it would be good if the Kyrgyz opposition consulted the legitimate leader as to what to do next,” Mikhail Rusyi believes.

    Mikhail Rusyi stressed that the authority of the constitution was undermined by the illegal change of power during the recent events in Bishkek. This plants disturbance and creates a negative image of Kyrgyzstan including in terms of economic development, investor confidence and development of international projects.

    “It is hard to believe that in the 21st century the laws can be broken so easily. They are trying to tell us that this is the will of the civil society. But let’s remember that all representatives of the civil society should play by the rules established by the Constitution,” Mikhail Rusyi said. He also expressed bewilderment that such ‘pillars of democracy’ as the United States and the EU and also Russia have made no statements condemning the actions of the Kyrgyz opposition. “Complete and utter silence as if nothing has happened. This is the reason for concern,” Mikhail Rusyi said.

    According to him, it is wrong to put all the blame for death of people during the unrest in Bishkek on Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Of course, this is bad and sad that people have died. “But what would you do if you were the authorities. You cannot allow chaos and looting,” Mikhail Rusyi added.

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko made a sincere and honest statement on the situation in Kyrgyzstan, Mikhail Rysyi said. “He could have kept silent as others did. But this is the area of our interests, this is our friendly country. And we should call things by their proper names,” Mikhail Rusyi said.

    Israel hopes for Belarus’ support in Middle East conflict resolution

    From: BelTA
    Israel hopes for Belarus’ support in a resolution of a conflict in Middle East, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Israel to the Republic of Belarus Eduard Shapira told a press conference on 16 April.

    “I believe Belarus, as a member of the world community, will play its positive role in supporting Israel’s readiness to settle the Middle East conflict,” the diplomat said.

    “We understand that Belarus has its priorities in Middle East, its own foreign political position. Belarus, which is committed to the ideals of peace and stability and has good relations with the countries of our region, has its stance and weight on the issue,” the Ambassador believes.

    As for the prospects of peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israel conflict, Eduard Shapira stated that the issue would not work itself out unless Israeli neighbors understand that there is no other way out as to build up constructive relations with the State of Israel. “Two our neighbors – Egypt and Jordan – signed peace treaties with us. And, as the course of events show, they has benefited from the move,” the diplomat said. The Ambassador is confident that it is Israel that can and should play a leading role in the Middle East economic development.

    While commenting on Israel’s participation in the nuclear summit in Washington, Eduard Shapira stated: “We do not explain out stance on the nuclear non-proliferation issue and do not disclose our military potential in the area until Israel is threatened with a total destruction”. The Ambassador added that his state is the only country on the globe that hears such threats against it. “The position of the Israeli government is quite wise under such conditions,” he said.

    The diplomat also added that Israel is ready to detail an opportunity of jointing the Non-Proliferation Treaty as soon as the situation stabilizes in Middle East.

  • Economics...

    No need for another IMF loan to Belarus

    From: BelTA
    There is no apparent need for Belarus to get another IMF stand-by arrangement, Belarusian Finance Minister Andrei Kharkovets told media on 17 April.

    The previous stand-by arrangement of the International Monetary Fund was completed successfully and made its positive contribute. Since then a lot has changed, with financial gaps reduced. “The economic situation is much more stable today. The budget execution is within the expected parameters. The economy is consistently growing,” said the Finance Minister. This is why he believes there is no apparent need for another stand-by arrangement for Belarus. He added that any similar program is generally a positive thing from the point of view of structural reforms and economy operation.

    Asked whether Belarus is satisfied with a 4.7% share in the Customs Union’s import customs duties, Andrei Kharkovets said the figure does not worsen the situation for the country. Besides, there is a possibility the figure will be reviewed in the future.

    Belarus’ Economy Ministry projects 6% GDP growth in H1

    Belarus’ GDP is expected to increase by 6% in H1 2010, head of the chief macroeconomic analysis and forecast department of the Economy Ministry Alexander Yaroshenko told reporters on 17 April, BelTA has learnt.

    According to him, the Economy Ministry expects the growth trends that emerged in early 2010 to gain momentum. The Ministry also took into consideration the overall revival of the global economy and the economies of Belarus’ major partners, including Russia.

    Alexander Yaroshenko believes that the global economic recovery will result in the revival of Belarus’ traditional markets.

    The representative of the Economy Ministry called the stimulation of the domestic demand another factor of the economic growth. In his view, this should be achieved via the increase in the household income and commodity production. The reduction of interest rates will also be greatly instrumental in pursuing this goal. The inflation rate that started to slow down recently is expected to stay on the level of 8%, which means that the interest rates might be reduced.

    “These are the major factors that, in our view, should ensure the further economic growth and a 6% increase in the GDP in H1 2010,” Alexander Yaroshenko underlined.

    The representative of the Economy Ministry did not go into details about the economic prospects in 2011 and in the mid-term perspective, he only noted that the projections are not finalized yet and might be changed. Apart from that, there is some uncertainty in the relations with Russia.

    A reminder, in Q1 2010, Belarus’ GDP was up 4% over the same period in 2009. In line with the socio-economic forecast, GDP is projected to increase by 11-13% in 2010. It is up 0.5 percentage points over January-February 2010.

    Foreign investment in Belarus 2.4% up in Q1 2010

    In Q1 2010 the share of foreign funds in Belarus’ aggregate investment raised to 6.7% from 4.3% in January-March last year, head of the main department for macroeconomic analysis and forecasting of the Economy Ministry Alexander Yaroshenko told media on 17 April.

    In January-March 2010 foreign capital investment made up Br556 billion, 1.4 times up from the first quarter of 2009. “This is the goal we have set forth for the implementation this year,” he stressed.

    In Q1 2010 the growth of capital investment totaled 97.6% as against the same period last year. According to Alexander Yaroshenko, the index reduced due to a difficult financial situation at the companies. The major investment funds today are the companies’ own resources. In Q1 2010 their share also reduced from 41% to 37.6% in comparison with the first quarter of 2009. Thus, the companies’ financial standing has its direct impact on the investment activity in the country.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Former Kyrgyz president leaves Kazakhstan for Belarus

    From: Xinua
    Former Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who announced resignation on Thursday, left the southern Kazakh city of Taraza Saturday morning for Minsk, capital of Belarus, the Interfax news agency reported.

    The departure came only two days after Bakiyev arrived in Kazakhstan under the mediation of Russia, Kazakhstan and the United States.

    Bakiyev confirmed in a televised address on Friday that he was in Kazakhstan.

    "I would like to express my sincere gratitude to you for your help and care about me," Bakiyev said to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev in the address.

    Bakiyev fled to southern Kyrgyzstan last week after thousands of protesters supportive of the opposition clashed with security forces throughout the country, driving out local governments and seizing government headquarters in Bishkek.

    The opposition has formed an interim government led by former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbayeva.

    In another development, Miroslav Jenca, the UN secretary-general's special representative for Central Asia and head of the UN Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA), is scheduled to visit Kyrgyzstan on Sunday to continue UN efforts to help the new interim government achieve peace and development in the Central Asian country

    "The secretary-general has asked Mr. Jenca to continue UN efforts to assist the authorities in Bishkek in ensuring conditions for the peaceful, prosperous, and democratic development of the country," the UN Spokesperson's Office said in New York on Friday in an e-mail message to the press.

    Belarus leader blames Kaczynski for air crash

    From: Reuters
    Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko has said he believes Polish President Lech Kaczynski gave the final order to land his plane which crashed on Saturday in Russia, killing all on board, Interfax news agency reported.

    Kaczynski, a combative nationalist known for his distrust of both the European Union and Russia, had been travelling to mark the 70th anniversary of the massacre of more than 20,000 Polish officers by Soviet secret police in the Katyn forest in western Russia when his plane went down on Saturday in thick fog.

    Russian air traffic controllers in Smolensk urged the pilot to divert to another airport because of poor visibility, but say he ignored the advice and made four attempts to land before hitting tree-tops and crashing.

    "It is clear who's responsible for this. Guilty or not guilty, you are the number one person and you are responsible for it," Lukashenko was quoted as saying on Wednesday by Interfax.

    "If the number one aircraft with the president on board is in flight and there is some kind of irregularity, the captain reports the situation directly to the president," said Lukashenko, who has stormy relations with Warsaw after a crackdown on ethnic Poles in Belarus.

    "The president asks whether the plane can be landed in this situation. But it's nevertheless the president who has the final say, it's he who decides whether the plane is to land or not, but the pilots don't have to obey."

    Russian officials are decoding the two cockpit voice recorders recovered from the flight and expect to complete a preliminary review of the data by the end of the week.

    Some Polish media have speculated that Kaczynski, in his determination not to miss the Katyn anniversary event, may have ordered the pilot to land but prosecutors looking into the crash have said there is no evidence so far to support that view.

    The speculation is based in large part on an incident in 2008, when Kaczynski flew to Georgia to show his solidarity with the country during its brief war with Russia.

    He grew irate when his pilot refused to land in the capital Tbilisi because of safety concerns, later accusing him of cowardice for diverting to Azerbaijan and pushing for him to be fired.

    Belarus only has 90 kilograms of uranium, expert says

    From: Navany
    Belarus only has some 90 kilograms of uranium, which is not highly enriched uranium, said the former chairman of the upper parliamentary house, Alyaksandr Vaytovich, while commenting on Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s allegation made on Wednesday, as quoted by BelaPAN.

    As Mr. Lukashenka said, Belarus still possesses enriched uranium, including “hundreds of kilograms” of weapons-grade and lower enriched uranium. “I’ve been told for many years: ‘Move this uranium out of the country. To America if you like. We’ll pay you. Or to Russia.’ I say: ‘Why are you dictating to us? This is our commodity. We keep it under the control of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency]. We aren’t going to make dirty bombs or sell it to anyone. We use this uranium for research purposes….We once gave up nuclear weapons and what benefit do we have from that?’”

    According to Mr. Lukashenka, he proposed that this issue be resolved at the negotiating table. “We won’t allow anyone to dictate to us,” he said. “Let’s sit down at the negotiating table and decide what to do with this large amount of enriched uranium.”

    “We have about 90 kilograms of uranium and it is low-enriched uranium and cannot be used for making bombs,” said Dr. Vaytovich, who headed the Molecular and Nuclear Physics Institute of the National Academy of Sciences between 1992 and 1997.

    “Belarus’ only uranium storage facility is located at the Sosny nuclear research center near Minsk,” Dr. Vaytovich said in an interview with the Belarus Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “The storage of this nuclear fuel is monitored by the IAEA. It was brought in for testing a compact mobile reactor dubbed Pamir, which was developed in Belarus. In the early 1990s, the Pamir program was shit down.”

    “All statements by Lukashenka about uranium reveal his gross ignorance in this area,” said Stanislaw Shushkevich, Belarus’ formal head of state between 1991 and 1994 who had headed the nuclear physics department of Belarusian State University for 17 years. “Lukashenka confuses the terms ‘radioactive uranium,’ ‘highly enriched uranium,’ and ‘weapons-grade uranium.’ These are different things.”

    “I can say with full responsibility that we don’t and will not have any appreciable amount of weapons-grade uranium,” Dr. Shushkevich stressed. “We have ‘dirty’ uranium, which is highly radioactive. After the reactor [at the Sosny center] was deactivated, this radioactive substance was extracted and put in special conditions in order not to trigger a nuclear reaction. This is far from being what an atomic bomb is made of. A whole industry should be in place to process this uranium. This requires expensive technologies, which we don’t have.”

    Mr. Lukashenka began to talk about uranium because he felt hurt by being not invited to the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, Dr. Shushkevich noted in an interview with the Charter’97 news site. “Lukashenka remembered that Belarus had been one of the ‘nuclear vaults’ of the Soviet Union and got depressed,” he said. “He expected he would be welcome everywhere. But that was not the case. He proved unwanted."

    Belarus, Ukraine restrict airspace because of ash

    From: Reuters
    Belarus restricted its airspace on Saturday and airports in Ukraine including the capital Kiev closed to flights because of the huge volcanic ash cloud drifting over Europe.

    Belarus closed its airspace overnight to flights at altitudes between 6,000 and 11,000 metres, but some routes east and south were open, the head of the aviation security department, Vladimir Nagulevich, told Reuters.

    Ukraine's Aerosvit airline said the main Kiev airport would remain closed until at least 1800 GMT and possibly into Sunday.

    Ukraine's Lvov, Odessa, Donetsk, Simferopol and Dnepropetrovsk airports were also closed to flights for an unspecified period.

    Europe's air travel chaos deepened on Saturday as the huge cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland spread further across the continent, halting nearly three in four flights and stranding passengers worldwide.

    Authorities in Belarus said they were offering to waive visa requirements for European Union citizens stranded in Russia and willing to return to the EU by road or rail through Belarus.

  • From the Opposition...

    Is ousted Bakiyev flying to Minsk?

    From: Charter '97
    Russian mews agency give different opinions. Bakiyev earlier said Lukashenka had offered him an asylum in Belarus.

    Former president of Kyrgyzstan Kurmanbek Bakiyev flew from Taraz (center of Zhambul region in Kazakhstan) on Saturday morning, news agency Interfax-Kazakhstan learnt from an informed source.

    “According to our information, Bakiyev has already flown from Taraz to Minsk. He is expected in the capital of Belarus in an hour,” a source said.

    As it was reported earlier, Bakiyev arrived from Kyrgyzstan to Kazakh Taraz, where he resigned from his presidential post. Kazinform, a state information agency in Kazakhstan, published on its website a copy of Bakiyev’s hand-written statement of resignation from a post of Kyrgyz president on Friday morning.

    “In these tragic days for the people of Kyrgyzstan as I understand the full scale of my responsibility for the future of the Kyrgyz people, preserving the territorial integrity, in accordance with article 50 of the Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic, I resign,” the statement of April 16 signed by Bakiyev says.

    According to RIA Novosti, Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s administration doesn’t have any information about Bakiyev’s trip from Kazakhstan to Minsk. The news agency learnt this from a source in the Belarusian president’s administration.

    “We do not have any information, we don’t know anything,” a source said.

    RIA Novosti’s source from Astana said Bakiyev hadn’t left Kazakhstan for Minsk.

    Riot started in Kyrgyzstan on April 6 and spread over the whole country by next day. As many as 82 people were killed and more than 1500 injured in clashes between the opposition and law-enforcement agencies. Presideint Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who came to power after the “tulip” revolution in 2005, left Bishkek, the opposition formed a temporary government. The new authorities think the ousted leader of the country must be tried for several issues, including shooting demonstrators in Bishkek on April 7.

    Prosecutor demands to sentence Autukhovich to 20 years of prison

    From: Viasna
    He said that even though charges against Vaukavysk entrepreneurs were not proved in the Supreme Court and were rebutted by witnesses.

    Prosecutor Eldar Safarau offers to sentence Mikalai Autukhovich to 20 years of imprisonment, Uladzimir Asipenka and Alyaksandr Laryn -- to 11 years. Mikhail Kazlou - to 3 years, "Radio Svaboda" informs.

    On April 16 during the trial in the Supreme Court where Mikalai Autukhovich and other persons charged with preparation of a terrorist attack are standing trial, the last witness was giving evidence, and comments of Mikalai Autukhovich about evidence concerning weapons, attempt on life and other eposides were made.

    Autukhovich's motion about repeated questioning of a witness Kazimir Yelesik was granted. That man, according to Alyaksandr Laryn, found a small-bore rifle in the forest and passed it to Laryn. During the first interrogation the witness was showed only pictures of a sawn-off shotgun, but the court for some reason failed to offer the weapon itself. And yesterday this exibit was offered to him. The witness stated for certain that the shortgun had nothing in common with the rusted rifle he had given to Laryn. Thus, after the repeated interrogation of the witness it turned out that there are no exibits in this case.

    After the interrogation of the witness Mikalai Autukhovich made a statement.

    "I had experience and I know well what a detonating cord is. When they said that this cord was passed round the lead unit of a grenade launcher, but it didn't explode. It's impossible. In Afghanistan we used detonating cords when we needed to obtaine some part of shotup military machines. Why should we blast the grenade launcher, if it is the key evidence? I believe that it was destroyed on purpose, as in reality it was a model, a moulage for military students," Autukhovich said about the charges that he had a grenade aluncher and other weapons.

    Mikalai Autukhovich repeated that "the terrorist case" had been ordered by higher authorities and this order is directly connected with the first case in which he had been punished for alleged non-payment of taxes:

    "They have done so not to solve the crime, but because they executed an order of someone from higher echelons of power, if they were not afraid to intimidate witnesses, falsify evidence. They have one aim, to isolate Autukhovich, so that I would not be able to prove my innocence in the first criminal case, as they would have to give back equipment, ; immovable property, big money, restore the firm. They have really done mischief and it is impossible for them to back up," the businessman is convinced.

    Besides, Autukhovich tld a lot about methods of investigators, which are used in prisons and remand prisons. These methods were compared with the things happened in the 1930ies during Stalinist repressions.

    Pavel Sapelka, a lawyer, commented on the words of his client in the recess:

    "Autukhovich has recieved a possibilty to tell how the so-called "Autukhovich's case" started, how it was investigated. Earlier he tried to do that as well, but the court stopped him often for some reason. This statement sould not be commented, but published in mass media entirely, for everyone to make conclusions," the lawyer said.

    We remind that all the witnesses invoved in the case of Autukhovich, say a strong pressure of investigation is experienced by them, and state that the Vaukavysk businessamn is innocent, and withhold their previous evidence.

    For instance, witness Liudmila Paremskaya, a former bookkeeper of Autukhovich's firm "Nika-Trans" said she underwent psychological pressure during investigation.

    "Everything I told about weapons during investiagtion is contrary to reality. I was in such a state that I could say and write anything at all, in order to be released," Liudmila Paremskaya said about her testimony about grende laucher found in Hrodna.

    Vorsha-based entrepreneur Ihar Puzikau told to the court that he had been threatened, he had been promised early release, interrogated as a suspect, and it was effective: he gave necessary testimony. The award for him was not only freedom, but money for the ticket from Hrodna to Vorsha and a bottle of vodka from the hands of the investigator.

    Alyaksandr Kozel, a witness who was taken to the court room from prison, stated that his testimony was in fact obtained by physical violence.

  • Russia...

    A Safe, Loving Home

    From: New York Times
    The story of Artyom Savelyev, the boy who was sent back to Russia by his American adoptive mother, is heart-wrenching. It is also threatening the dreams of thousands of other children and prospective families.

    Artyom, who turned 8 on Friday, arrived in Moscow by plane this month, alone and with a note asking Russian authorities to take him back. His mother, Torry Ann Hansen, a nurse from Tennessee, wanted to return the boy to his orphanage, saying he had severe psychological problems. The family says that orphanage workers misled them about Artyom’s condition.

    We do not know all the details. But returning a child like he was a damaged pair of pants is profoundly wrong.

    The Russian Foreign Ministry said last week that the government had halted adoptions to the United States until stronger safeguards are in place in both countries. It is unclear whether the hold applies to all United States adoptions and how long it might last.

    Since 1991, 50,000 Russian children have found homes here, the vast majority with happy endings. Right now, as many as 3,500 Russian children are in the adoption pipeline; the cases of 250 American families are near completion. They should not be penalized while authorities fix what are clearly worrisome problems.

    This week, an American delegation will go to Russia to discuss ways to ensure that Artyom’s ordeal is not repeated. American adoption agencies do home studies on prospective parents. Russia also requires American agencies to do post-adoption assessments, but compliance is spotty. Moscow is expected to ask Washington to be the enforcer, a role it is not eager to take on. There should be more post-adoption oversight. And Washington should add a requirement that agencies provide access to follow-up counseling for parents.

    The Russians need to fix their system. Many orphanages are overcrowded, with too few staff members and resources. Adoptive parents complain that they are not told key facts about their children. The Americans want to be sure adoption agencies and prospective parents have sufficient data — in advance — about a child’s health. The Kremlin can also prove its concern by providing more financial support and regulation of orphanages and anyone involved in the adoption process.

    Russians are understandably sensitive about sending their children abroad. The Kremlin should find ways to encourage more Russian families to adopt. Denying orphaned children a chance for a loving home outside Russia would be a tragedy.

    HP's Russia Scandal: A Little Bribery Never Hurt Anybody

    While the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Justice sniff around at Hewlett-Packard's (HPQ) dealings in Russia -- a few German HP executives are accused of paying Russian officials $11 million in bribes to win a $47 million contract -- at least one economist argues that all of the hullabaloo surrounding bribery is a little silly.

    Jeffrey Miron, a senior lecturer at Harvard's Department of Economics and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, says that the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is a "feel-good" policy that does nothing to prevent or eliminate corruption overseas. Instead, he argues, it handicaps U.S. companies that are just trying to make a buck.

    "I do not see a good argument for this law. It puts U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage, and it probably hurts the residents of countries where bribery is standard practice. Bribery allows U.S. companies to circumvent regulation that protects incumbents, so bribery is likely to generate increased competition, greater investment, and higher wages," Miron writes on his blog.

    Miron argues that governments which are serious about stamping out corruption would first eliminate the regulations and laws that make bribery so appealing in the first place.

    "Why does bribery occur?" asks Miron. "Usually a policy has prevented somebody from doing something they want to do. A lot of countries require permits to start certain businesses, and when you have licensing restrictions that prevent people from supplying services, of course they're going to be tempted to pay bribes. Usually these policies are barriers to entry that don't have a particularly good justification in terms of making things work better. They're just protecting incumbents."

    As for whether the U.S. would be encouraging the practice by playing along, Miron doesn't think that it would make any difference whether or not U.S. companies were legally prohibited from paying bribes outside the U.S.

    "When U.S. companies do business in other countries, we let foreign governments enforce the laws against corruption. And if U.S. companies aren't [paying bribes] other companies from other countries are going to do it."

    Alexandra Wrage, president of Trace International, a nonprofit that works toward reducing corruption internationally, doesn't quite agree.

    "Corruption is theft. It has a devastating impact on the countries that can afford it least and it kills people," Wrage wrote to DailyFinance by email. "Compromised contracts mean buildings collapse; bribed petty officials let expired pharmaceuticals on the market; criminals bribe their way past security check points or bribe to obtain false paperwork. The citizens of the most corrupt countries suffer the most."

    Poland holds huge memorial for air crash victims

    More than 100,000 Poles massed in Warsaw's historic main square Saturday for an emotional memorial service to honor president Lech Kaczynski and 95 others who died in an air crash in Russia.

    The somber ceremony came as a volcanic ash cloud from Iceland further disrupted air travel in Europe and threatened to keep world leaders, including US President Barack Obama, from Kaczynski's state funeral in Krakow on Sunday.

    Sirens wailed at 8:56 am (0656 GMT) -- the exact time one week ago when the presidential jet crashed in western Russia -- and again when the service started at noon, bringing cars and pedestrians to a halt.

    "Things like this never happen, they are impossible. It is the greatest tragedy in the history of Poland since World War II," Prime Minister Donald Tusk told mourners after a lone bugler sounded a funeral air.

    A huge altar in Pilsudski Square with a giant white cross displayed black and white photographs of all 96 who perished, as an actor solemnly read the name of each victim, starting with Kaczynski and his wife Maria.

    The air disaster scythed through the nation's political and military elite as they headed to a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the wartime massacre by Soviet forces of 22,000 Polish officers.

    Mourners waved red and white Polish flags decked with black ribbons. They applauded Kaczynski's identical twin brother, former premier Jaroslaw, and the couple's daughter Marta as they arrived.

    Pope Benedict XVI expressed his solidarity with grieving Poles, in a message read out by his envoy near the start of the service, which lasted just over three and a half hours.

    The square is the traditional site for national services such as the mass of late pope John Paul II when he visited his deeply Catholic homeland in 1979 and also when Benedict came to Poland in 2006.

    After the memorial the coffins of the presidential couple, who have been lying in state in the presidential palace since Tuesday, were taken to nearby St. John's Cathedral for a funeral mass.

    Onlookers clapped as the coffins moved slowly past on gun carriages, while a military band played the funeral march by Franco-Polish composer Frederic Chopin. The mass was to be followed by an overnight vigil.

    "We needed to be here in this tragic time," said Jan Szylborski, who came from a small town on buses organized by Solidarity, the trade union that helped bring down communism in Poland in 1989 and in which Kaczynski was an activist.

    Former president and father of the Solidarity movement Lech Walesa and another ex-president, Alexander Kwasniewski, also attended the service in Pilsudski square.

    Warsaw police estimated the crowd at more than 100,000 people.

    The dead also included the country's military chief, the heads of all three armed forces, the governor of the central bank and the boss of its Olympic committee, as well as iconic opponents of Poland's communist-era regime.

    Elected in 2005, the conservative nationalist Kaczynski was a divisive figure at home and abroad, but the crash has brought unity to Poland's fractious political scene, as well as rapprochement with historic foe Russia.

    Acting president Bronislaw Komorowski said Poland was "grateful to the citizens of Russia who have spontaneously conveyed their compassion to Poland and the Polish people."

    The attendance of Obama, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and other foreign leaders at the funeral on Sunday remained in doubt after Poland said its airspace would remain closed until further notice due to the cloud of ash from an Icelandic volcano which erupted Wednesday.

    Spain announced its prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero could not attend but some European leaders began Saturday a long drive to Krakow.

    A military aircraft will take the bodies to the southern city of Krakow early Sunday for the funeral in the cathedral of the hilltop Wawel castle, where Poland's past kings and national heroes are buried.

    Up to one million people are expected to turn out in Krakow.

    Russian and Polish investigators are continuing to probe the cause of the crash, with Russian officials saying they suspect pilot error as the Tupolev Tu-154 plane tried to land in fog near Smolensk in western Russia.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Late Pope 'covered up' sexual abuse scandal

    From: Press TV
    The plight of the Vatican continues to draw worldwide attention as revelations surface that the late pope John Paul II had allegedly blocked an investigation into the allegations of sexual misconduct by Catholic priests.

    The late Polish pontiff, who is close to being beatified and named as a saint of the Catholic Church, was eventually dragged into the child abuse scandal surrounding the Vatican on Sunday when serious allegations were made against him for allegedly blocking an inquiry into a pedophile cardinal, promoting senior church figures despite accusations that they had molested boys and covering up innumerable cases of abuse during his 26-year papacy.

    Cardinal Christoph Schonborn made the comments after a special service titled “Admitting our guilt” in Vienna's St. Stephen's cathedral, in which he flatly condemned the “sinful structures” within the church and the patterns of “silencing” victims and "looking away."

    According to Schonborn, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who went on to become Pope Benedict XVI, had tried to investigate the allegations of sexual abuse by clergies as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. His efforts, Schonborn claimed, had nevertheless been blocked by “the Vatican”, an apparent reference to John Paul.

    “I have known Pope Benedict personally during 37 years of amiable acquaintance and I can say with certainty that ... he made entirely clear efforts not to cover things up but to tackle and investigate them. This was not always met with approval in the Vatican,” Schonborn told The Sunday Times.

    This comes as John Paul also faced criticism last week from his home country of Poland for protecting Archbishop Juliusz Paetz, who was accused of abusing trainee priests.

    Funeral plans cause protests

    From: NPE
    Protesters hit the streets on Wednesday to show their anger over the decision to bury Lech Kaczynski and his wife at the Wawel cathedral in Krakow.

    In total, around 200 people gathered in the capital, waving banners and placards stating “Warsaw for presidents, Krakow for kings”.

    The cathedral crypt, located in the grounds of the sacred Wawel castle, is the burial site for Poland’s historic figures, including heroes and royalty.

    The news that the Kaczynskis are to be buried in a tomb directly next to Jozef Pilsudski has caused further outrage, with many demonstrators claiming that they have no right to be laid next to one of the country’s most loved and cherished icons.

    “The air disaster last Saturday was one of the greatest tragedies our nation has experienced. Our president died a hero and deserves to rest amongst heroes,” says Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz.

    It is not known if government officials were involved in the decision or not, but it appears that the Archbishop of Krakow was asked directly by Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

    While the protests passed without violence, tempers flared, leading to some Krakow demonstrators to begin arguing in ul. Franciskanska, in front of the Cardinals’ residence.

    Andrzej Wajda, director of the film of the same name has also been vocal in his anger over the sensitive topic.
    In an open letter publisher in Gazeta Wyborcza, he stated, “President Lech Kaczynski was an ordinary and good man, but there is no reason for him to lie in the Wawel among the kings of Poland and Marshal Jozef Pilsudski.”

    He added that the arrangements were “hastily made in a time of high emotion” and that the decision was “misplaced”.

    The protest was fuelled by popular social-network site, Facebook, which had a special group dedicated to the cause. By Wednesday evening, the group had attracted over 35,000 fans.

    “We’re all mourning the tragic death of the presidential couple, but we mustn’t go overboard. The Wawel is a special historical place, where the monarchs of Poland and other great Poles lie. Let it remain so,” stated the organisers of the page.

    “I think it’s a total exaggeration and an attempt by the right wing to raise the Polish republic’s worst president to the status of a national icon for political capital,” said 28 year-old Szymon, who happened to be walking past the protest.

    The crowds mourning outside the Presidential Palace turned ugly

    From: NPE
    The crowds mourning outside the Presidential Palace on Krakowskie Przedmiescie almost turned ugly on Tuesday when a young man turned up with a megaphone and began announcing that the deaths at Smolensk were part of a massive conspiracy.

    It was just before noon on the pavement nearby the Le Meridien Bristol hotel when the young man began haranguing the people in the queue waiting to file past the coffins of the President and First Lady. Eyewitness Filip Klimaszewski, a photographer for Gazeta Wyborcza described the incident, “Suddenly I saw this man shouting through a megaphone, calling, ‘People, it’s time to tell the truth! This is an awful crime! A conspiracy by Tusk, Obama and Putin. They wouldn’t allow the president to fly to Katyn earlier.”

    The crowd, though, turned on the man and a scuffle almost began, with bystanders shouting the man down, saying, “This is not the time or the place!” The young man was rescued by an elderly gentleman who stepped in and persuaded the protester to kneel down and say the Lord’s prayer with him. After saying the prayer, the young man stood up and walked away.

    The Last President

    Large crowds have been gathering outside Belweder to pay their respects to Ryszard Kaczorowski, Poland’s last president in exile. The coffin, which went on display at 4pm on Thursday in Belweder Chapel, was greeted by crowds in front of the palace when it arrived, ninety minutes earlier, then a queue rapidly formed on Al. Ujazdowska to file past the body of the last man to act as President of Poland’s Second Republic, a post maintained in exile in London for almost fifty years, throughout the cold war period.

  • Sport...

    Canada in win column after 11-3 win over Belarus at under-18 hockey tournament

    From: CP
    Canada recorded its first win of the IIHF World U18 Championship on Thursday, hammering host Belarus 11-3.

    The result came after Canada opened the annual hockey tournament with a disappointing 3-1 loss to Switzerland on Tuesday. With a game against the Americans looming on Friday, the Canadians didn't have much time to savour the victory.

    "They were excited today then were relieved to get a win under our belt," said head coach Guy Carbonneau. "We had some good performances from key players, players that we'll definitely need to beat the U.S. tomorrow."

    John McFarland scored a hat trick and Ryan O'Connor had a pair of goals. Quinton Howden, Brett Connolly, Michael Bournival, Greg McKegg, Ryan Spooner and Jordan Weal all chipped in with singles. McKeeg added three assists in the preliminary round victory.

    Calvin Pickard and Kent Simpson combined for 23 saves in the Canadian net.

    Artem Levsha, Nikita Kardashev and Dmitri Zhevlochenko scored for Belarus.

    After a slow start in the Switzerland game, Canada came flying out of the gate against Belarus to take a 3-0 lead just over five minutes into the first period.

    "For us, it was important to get a good start, which we did," said Carbonneau. "We came out really quick."

    Canada improved to 1-1-0-0 in Pool A while Belarus dropped to 0-2-0-0. In Pool B play in Minsk, Finland beat Slovakia 5-2 to move into a first-place tie with Russia at 2-0-0-0.

    Sweden tops Pool A at 2-0-0-0 while Canada, the U.S. and Switzerland are all tied.

    After practising Wednesday, the Canadians took in the U.S.-Swiss game to get an idea of what they'll see Friday.

    "I think everybody understands the magnitude of the game tomorrow," said Carbonneau. "I think our players are going to be ready."

    The Canadians won the tournament in 2003 and 2008 and took the silver medal in 2005. They were fourth last year.

  • Cultural Scene...

    Novogrudok to mark 600th anniversary of Battle of Grunwald 26-27 June

    From: BelTA
    Novogrudok will celebrate a feast of ancient culture to mark the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Grunwald on 26-27 June, head of the culture department of the Novogrudok regional executive committee Alexander Karachan told a press conference.

    “We have a rich experience in organizing historical festivals. The arrangements for the festival are underway: there has been set up an organizing committee, scientists are getting ready for a roundtable on the medieval history of the Belarusian and neighboring lands,” Alexander Karachan said.

    Production director Vyacheslav Panin will direct the major festivities. There are plans to preserve the idea of the Middle Ages. The festival will be divided into several parts: the military and historical re-enactment club and sections dedicated to the medieval life, music and dances. Stunt clubs of Russia, Lithuania and the Czech Republic will perform at the Zamkova Gora. The premiere of Anna Korotkina’s Grunwald production will take place in St Francisco Javier Church.

    The programme of the festival will include a parade, a solemn opening ceremony and a gala concert. The guests will be able to see knight’s tournaments in the Novogrudok Castle, visit an exhibition of arts and crafts, taste dishes of the medieval Belarusian cuisine.

    According to Deputy Culture Minister of Belarus Tadeusz Struzhetsky, a part of the events will be held with the participation of the Ukrainian side. Minister of Culture and National Heritage of Poland Bogdan Zdrojewski has been officially invited to attend the festivities in Novogrudok. Lithuanian representatives are expected to arrive as well.

    “The celebrations of the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Grunwald will be also held in other towns. We hope that on 15 July our delegation will be invited to the Grunwald field. The Academy of Sciences will host a scientific conference in Minsk, the National Museum of History of Belarus will dedicate a special exhibition to the event,” Tadeusz Struzhetsky said.

    The feast of ancient culture is organized by the Culture Ministry of Belarus jointly with the Grodno oblast executive committee and the Novogrudok regional executive committee.

  • Endnote...

    Truth rises from Poland’s tragedy

    The Russian army band was practising in a forest clearing. Shafts of sunlight streamed through the stands of tall red spruce, playing on patches of unmelted snow and glinting on the brass of cornets and trombones. It was Wednesday morning: later that day the Russian and Polish prime ministers were to join a memorial service marking the cold-blooded execution of 25,000 Polish allied officers, killed in a series of massacres that had started on that very spot 70 years ago.

    The musicians were not familiar with the Polish national anthem, Dabrowski’s mazurka, and their conductor repeatedly led them through the spritely opening bars. As they concentrated on finding the right rhythm and tempo, their faces betrayed no sign of the extraordinary symbolism of their task. They would not have known the accompanying words: “Poland has not perished yet, so long as we still live.”

    The personal jet of Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, had landed at the military airport near Smolensk an hour or two earlier. He skipped down the steps alone and walked to the limousine that was to lead the convoy heading for the Katyn forest. Thirty miles of road were closed to normal traffic that day. Policemen manned the checkpoints at every crossing.

    Putin was engaged on a ground-breaking mission. Even though Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet general secretary, had bravely told the world in 1990 that the massacres were ordered by his wartime predecessor, Putin would be the first Russian leader to visit the cemetery at Katyn. Moreover, as a former KGB officer, he could not have been unaware that Stalin’s order had been carried out by the KGB’s forerunner, the NKVD.

    For 50 years the Soviet government upheld the false story that the Nazi SS was to blame for the massacres. Successive British and American governments had willingly colluded in the cover-up, presumably intent on protecting the myth of their “good war”. Now, after many delays, Putin was throwing his weight behind the truth.

    It seems his aim was to introduce the Russian public gently to the realities of Stalin’s mass crimes. He had approved the screening of Andrzej Wajda’s film Katyn on a minor television channel. In the final searing sequence, Russian viewers could see how soldiers of the Soviet security army had murdered thousands of blindfolded prisoners at high speed, carefully firing a German bullet into the base of each man’s skull.

    The plane carrying Donald Tusk, the Polish prime minister, had landed at Smolensk five minutes before Putin’s. With him were a team of people who had worked long and hard for a breakthrough in Russo-Polish relations; among them was Lech Walesa, the former Solidarity leader and former president, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Poland’s first non-communist prime minister in 1989, Adam Daniel Rotfeld, a former foreign minister heading the “commission on difficult matters”, and Andrzej Sariusz-Skapski, chairman of the Katyn Families Association, a quiet determined man who had resisted all attempts to politicise the subject. I was aboard, too, as one of several historians, together with my wife in her capacity as a victim’s relative.

    Ever since the war, Polish people had talked in private about Katyn but public discussion was forbidden. I only heard about it in detail in the 1970s from Zofia Litewska, my son’s elderly Polish teacher in Oxford. On September 1, 1939, she had been the head of a rural school in eastern Poland and had watched as her husband mounted his horse and rode off to join the army. His fate is unknown to this day. She and her four children were arrested by the NKVD shortly after and transported to a camp in Arctic Russia. Escaping by raft, they survived an epic two-year journey across Russia to Uzbekistan, Persia and finally India.

    It was Litewska who showed me a copy of the Spis Katynski — the Katyn List — a volume published in London recording thousands of names of missing officers. Possession of that book was a criminal offence in the Soviet bloc.

    My wife never knew her cousin’s father, Roman Frydrych. We first heard about him 40 years after his death as we sat on cousin Danuta’s sofa in Bromley, south London. In 1939 he had been a civil servant, a “counsellor” in Poland’s defence ministry and a reserve officer. He said goodbye to his family during their August holiday following a sudden recall to duty. His daughter had no further news until the spring of 1943, when the German occupation authorities in Warsaw screened a film about their excavation of the Katyn graves. She was one of many who boycotted German cinemas, but friends told her they had recognised her father’s identity card taken from his wallet.

    Nazi propaganda was saying that the massacres had been perpetrated by the NKVD. It was one of the occasions when Goebbels had no need to lie. He released the grisly film to divert attention from the suppression of the Warsaw ghetto which had started that same day.

    The simple memorial service we attended was held in front of a square, rust-coloured monument erected in 1995. A Polish orthodox bishop recited a prayer, Poland’s chief rabbi sang the Hebrew lament for the dead and the service was followed by the laying of wreaths and prime ministers’ speeches.

    Tusk, who comes from Gdansk, has no personal link with Poland’s eastern tragedies but as a historian he is well aware of the implications. His tone was firm but conciliatory.

    Putin pulled no punches. Fears that he might mouth platitudes were unfounded. Speaking without a prepared text in a brisk professional style, he watched his audience intently, fixing his piercing eyes on those individuals — including me — who were listening without headphones.

    He condemned the “totalitarianism” which had devastated Russians as well as Poles and stated clearly that “the truth can never be revised”. He also spoke moving words of sympathy, talking of the murdered men’s families, of widows and fatherless children. The two leaders shook hands warmly and helped each other from the stage, which had been erected at the intersection of the Russian and Polish sectors of the site.

    The Russian sector contains unopened mass graves that are said to date from Stalin’s great terror of 1937-9. The Polish site is covered by a quadrangular structure reminiscent of the Vietnam memorial wall. It carries the name, dates and rank of every known victim, each recorded on a separate tablet. We found the tablet of Second Lieutenant Roman Frydrych and left a red carnation.

    After the ceremony, talks between Putin and Tusk overran by nearly two hours. No one present could have doubted that Russo-Polish relations had taken a definite step forward.

    President Lech Kaczynski had not been invited to Katyn on April 7. Ever since his appearance in Tbilisi during the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008, he was high on the Kremlin’s watchlist of suspect politicians. He had made a speech in Tbilisi which included a vainglorious boast that he had come “to fight”. He and his twin brother, Jaroslaw, were forever demanding “strong policies” or inciting Polish fears about Germany, Russia’s principal business partner in Europe. So Putin preferred to follow protocol and limit his invitation to his Polish counterpart. President Kaczynski was left to organise a second and separate visit to Katyn scheduled for the Saturday.

    The president’s chancellery prepared a guest list packed with dignitaries from almost all walks of life for this trip to Smolensk and Katyn. The aircraft, an old three-engined Tupolev Tu-154 (Nato reporting name “Careless”), had recently undergone a total refit at its manufacturers in Moscow. It was in sound mechanical condition, although doubts remained as to whether its automatic landing equipment was compatible with Russian military guidance systems.

    When it took off from Warsaw shortly after 7.30am, the presence of thick fog at its destination was already known and planes were being diverted to Minsk or Vitebsk, but the president’s forays into international affairs had been marred by several incidents featuring crossed purposes, dubious aircraft and inadequate flight plans. On his way to Georgia, for example, he insisted as commander-in-chief as well as head of state that his pilot should fly to Tbilisi despite the absence of air traffic clearance. The pilot had the temerity to land in Azerbaijan and was dismissed from the air force. By way of compensation the minister of defence awarded him a medal.

    As we now know, when the plane arrived at its destination it made three successive approaches and three successive ascents. The Russian controller, who has been interviewed, said he had advised the pilot to divert but without response. When it crashed on its fourth approach, an explosion was followed by a fireball: 96 passengers and crew were killed instantly.

    Great catastrophes cause emotional shock and shock leads to disorientation and a loss of judgment. Events preceding the catastrophe are forgotten, reactions to new developments are exaggerated, reporting veers out of control and conspiracy theories abound. In the case of this tragedy, the shock in Poland has been multiplied by its link with the pent-up sorrows of Katyn, which for decades knew no release.

    A wave of sympathy has flooded over Poland from Russia. Russo-Polish relations have improved far beyond the modest advance already noted. Wajda’s film has moved to a mainline Russian television channel. The presence of a Russian president and prime minister at President Kaczynski’s funeral, scheduled for today, will be unprecedented.

    More important is the impact that news of the crash and its circumstances must be having on Russians’ knowledge of themselves. After millions have learnt what Stalin did to their Polish neighbours, Putin’s compatriots will demand clarification of what he did to their own parents and grandparents. Calls will rise up to condemn him. The time is passing when the great Stalin can be presented as the victor of 1945 and as nothing else.

    The paradox is stark. Kaczynski, a politician whose achievements in life were modest, has been rapidly transformed in death into a national hero, a master of his trade, a figure of global significance. One week ago President Barack Obama or President Dmitry Medvedev would not have found time for him: yet this weekend both were planning to attend his funeral in an intercontinental show of mourning and solidarity.

    A dispute has erupted in Poland over the funeral’s location. Without consulting anyone, Kaczynski’s supporters persuaded the cardinal-archbishop of Krakow to have their man buried in the royal crypt of Wawel cathedral. Wajda and his wife led a brief protest in vain. “Lech Kaczynski was a good and humble man,” they said, “but there is no reason why he should be laid to rest among Poland’s kings.” British people will recognise the attitudes that divided this country after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. One grief-stricken side wants to sanctify the departed; the other side protests hysterically against the hysteria.

    Conspiracy theorists are blaming the Polish government for Kaczynski’s death, saying Tusk was at fault for not restricting the president’s guest list, if not for actively plotting with Putin. “Mossad”, I was told by an earnest professor at Warsaw University, “would have immediately secured the crash site.” Yet Tusk’s “weak government” did nothing, letting all the victims’ laptops and mobile phones be pocketed by Putin’s police.

    Nonetheless, several good things may come from the disaster. Poland, so often ignored, has found its way onto the lips of the world. The gathering of leaders at today’s funeral will do more than 20 years of dogged diplomacy. Its government, relatively unscathed, is functioning normally. And the meaning of Katyn will be pondered by millions who previously had never heard of it.

    Katyn is the supreme symbol of honesty in European history. It is far from being the largest of European atrocities. But it is the test of whether people are prepared to face their denial, to bear the pain and to tell the truth. It is the archetype of all the many tragedies of the second world war that never reach the headlines but whose absence distorts our understanding.

    ‘I knew almost everyone on board’

    As Poland’s foreign minister I knew about the crash within minutes: the Polish ambassador to Russia was 100 yards from the wreckage when I spoke to him by phone. My initial reaction was one of disbelief. I hoped it was a crash landing but not a crash. I could not imagine that everyone on board was dead.

    I rang the prime minister, and later had the unenviable duty of telling the president’s twin brother what had happened. I phoned him and said I had horrible, horrible news. It was a particular stroke of fate that it fell to me, since he had been leader of the opposition and we had often crossed swords.

    He was calm, dignified, but I could feel the enormous emotion. He thanked me for the information. They had talked by satellite phone only half an hour before the crash. The president was anxious, a nervous flyer, and he also liked to talk to his mother before and after takeoff and landing. I knew that, because I had flown with him myself many times.

    I knew almost everyone on board. I knew all the chiefs of the armed forces; the chief of staff got the job on my recommendation. I lost my deputy for eastern affairs who was a close friend. I even knew one of the stewardesses who died, a 22-year-old. She had flown with me to Norway the day before. She was asked to stand in for a friend on Saturday morning and she lost her life.

    David Miliband was in touch to express his condolences, for which we are very grateful. And I am glad that there is going to be a huge television screen today in London so that Polish people there will be able to follow the state funeral of the president. I was in exile myself in London at one time and was grateful for being granted asylum there in 1981.

    I told my children there are moments in history that we need to preserve in our memories. One such moment was 9/11; another was when I took my son — we were living in America then — to the funeral of Ronald Reagan. This is another such moment.

    The outpouring of grief has been compared to that following the death of Princess Diana, but I think that it perhaps has more in common with the death of the Queen Mother. The mood is quieter, more dignified.

    There was a possibility that I myself might have been on the plane. Several people rang me to see if I answered my phone after the crash. It is diplomatic protocol that a foreign minister often accompanies the head of state on such a journey, but on this occasion my deputy went. Sadly, he too is dead.