Wednesday, September 30, 2009

S&D MEP Kristian Vigenin elected as EP Chair for Euronest

S&D MEP Kristian Vigenin was elected as EP Chair of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, a new body created by the initiative of the European Parliamen, during its first constitutive meeting today.

Kristian Vigenin was born on 12 June 1975 in Sofia.

He graduated 91-th German Language Gymnasium in 1993, and was awarded his Bachelor degree in International Economics and Macroeconomics at the University of National and World Economy , Sofia in 1998.

During the last years Vigenin took part in multiple political and professional trainings and specializations in Belgium, Sweden and USA among others.

From March 1999 to March 2001 he was employed as a senior expert in European Integration Directorate of the Customs Agency of the Republic of Bulgaria (subdivision of Ministry of finance ). In March 2001 he started working in Foreign Policy and international activity Directorate of the Supreme Council (SC) of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). Vigenin led the Directorate in 2003. Currently, he is the principal head of Foreign policy, European integration and international cooperation section of the National council of BSP.

His political career began in 1994, when he was one of the founders of the Bulgarian Socialist Youth (BSY) and for 3 consecutive mandates, until 2000, he was a member of the Executive bureau of the organization, International secretary and vice-president respectively. At that time, Vigenin was responsible for the international activity of BSY, during which he attained an observer status of BSY at the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY) in 1996 and full-right member in 1998. He led BSY to become an associated member of the youth organization of the Party of European Socialists (ECOSY) in 1997.

In 2000 Kristian Vigenin was elected as a member of the Supreme Council of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and in the end of 2001, member of the Executive Bureau of the Party, responsible for international activity. Vigenin was re-elected as a member of the Council on 45-th, 46-th and 47-th Congress of BSP and respectively – member of the Executive Bureau and its Secretary, responsible for foreign policy and international activity. During his mandate BSP was associated as a full member of the Socialist International (in 2003) and the Party of the European socialists (in 2005).

In 2005 Vigenin was elected as Chairman of the District organization of BSP “Poduyane” (Sofia) and member of the City Council of BSP Sofia. He was re-elected to both positions in 2008.

Since 2006 Vigenin was part of the Presidency of PES and coordinates the operation of the PES network for South-eastern Europe.

Elected posts

In the local elections of 1995 Kristian Vigenin was elected as a district counsellor in Poduyane and held the position until it`s abolishment by the democratic majority in the Parliament in 1999. He was a MP candidate at 24-th multi-mandate local districts (MMLD) on the 1997 and 2001 parliamentary elections. He was positioned No. 4 in the Coalition for Bulgaria (CB) 24-th MMLD list and No. 1 on the Coalition for Bulgaria list for 31-t MMLD – Yambol on the 2005 parliamentary elections. He was elected as a member of the Parliament from Yambol. Thirty first MMLD had the highest rate of votes in favour of Coalition for Bulgaria – the socialists won 4 out of the 5 mandates for the area. Vigenin was a member of the Presidency of the Parliamentary Group Coalition for Bulgaria.

As a Secretary responsible for International activities he took part in the sessions of the Foreign affairs and European integration Committees until he left the Parliament in 2007. In September 2005 Vigenin became an observer in the European Parliament and the head of a six-member delegation of CB. After the accession of Bulgaria to the European Union he was appointed as member of the European Parliament. He held first position in the national list of Platform “European socialists” for the elections for EP in May 2007. He was elected as MEP together with four other socialists namely Iliyana Yotova, Atanas Paparizov, Marusya Lyubcheva and Evgeni Kirilov – 5 socialists out of the 18 Bulgarian MEPs. After the elections his post of vice-president of the Group of the European socialists (a post he held from March 2007) was reconfirmed by the PES Group with secret voting and only four votes against.

Kristian was placed 3d on the BSP EP election list in 2009 and chosen to be one of the 17 Bulgarian MEPs. He was elected Member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) and a Substitute of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food afety (ENVI).In September 2009 he was elected to become the S&D Group Coordinator to the AFET Committee.

Visit his website for more info about Kristian Vigenin

U.S. OSCE Official Says Dialogue Best Way To Spread Democracy

Michael Haltzel, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, heads the U.S. delegation at the OSCE's "Human Dimension" workshop taking place in Warsaw on September 28-29. In an interview with RFE/RL correspondent Ahto Lobjakas, he says engagement remains the best way to tackle difficult regimes. He also says he hopes to see gradual progress in those post-Soviet nations where human rights abuses remain regular and democratic standards have yet to take root.

RFE/RL: The OSCE's Chairman-in-Office next year, Kazakhstan, has a rather patchy democratic record at best -- less than free and fair elections, pending legislation for a president for life, and rife rights abuses. How will the elevation of such a nation to leadership status affect the OSCE?

Michael Haltzel: It's a challenge. I mentioned it this morning in my opening statement. Other speakers alluded to it without actually mentioning it by name. There was a silent protest when the representative of Kazakhstan gave her opening speech. This was because of the imprisonment of Yevgeny Zhovtis, who's a human rights worker. It's a criminal case having to do with a fatal car accident [and] there is concern about his treatment. So, people understand that this is a real challenge for them and we hope that Kazakhstan can rise to the occasion.

RFE/RL: Kazakh officials have said in the past that the OSCE needs an injection of "Asian values." Do you think that is the case?

Haltzel: No. I think that people all over the world have the same attachment to human values, to human rights. I think North Americans, Europeans, and Central Asians -- the average person still wants to have freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly, and freedom from torture, and all of the other values that are outlined in the OSCE.

And don't forget -- all the countries, all 56 participating states in the OSCE, [which], of course, is the largest regional organization in the world encompassing close to 900 million people, they all signed on the dotted line -- [or] their governments did. This is nothing that is being imposed on anybody. The government signed, and it's a solemn pledge, and it's not imposed and there is nothing to with geography -- east of Vienna, west of Vienna, or anything like that at all.

RFE/RL: Who's meant to enforce this, to make sure that everyone in practice adheres to the same set of values?

Haltzel: This is a [voluntary] exercise. There is no world government and whether it's the OSCE or the United Nations or any other organization, obviously, enforcement is done by the powers that be. And one hopes that discussions like the 'Human Dimension Implementation Meeting' will have an effect on the governments -- but there is no world government. That's just not there. I think behavior has been changed in the past and we hope that will be the case in the future. It's not just Kazakhstan -- no government has a perfect record in these things.

RFE/RL: Speaking of the "human dimension" -- what difference do efforts by the EU and the United States, and possibly others, to conduct human rights dialogues and civil society outreach programs actually make in countries like the Central Asian nations, or Belarus?

Haltzel: This is a fair question and, again, it gets back to the enforcement issue. It would be nice if one could say one has an international organization, be it a regional one like the OSCE, or an almost universal one like the United Nations -- when they decreed something that there'd be instantaneous acceptance by all parties. That's not the way the world works. There's no magic formula.

There's a whole series of ways that governments can be influenced. There's [what] some people have called 'shaming,' I'm not sure that's the right word, but it's not good to be called upon the carpet, so to speak, at an international meeting and [other] countries going into detail.

Of course, one of the great advantages of HDIM -- the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the OSCE -- is that nongovernmental organizations have status here. And they speak and give everyone the benefit of their expertise. There are side events which are not in the plenary sessions -- the program is full of them. There are obviously discussions, bilateral meetings. I have bilateral meetings set up as head of the U.S. delegation [and] with 20 other delegation heads.

We just came from a luncheon with the head of the EU delegation here, [its] Swedish presidency, and talked about all sorts of important issues. So -- yes, there are different ways to pressure, obviously the whole OSCE is one part of a whole, one part of a puzzle whereby the national governments and non-governmental organizations attempt to influence each other.

It's a complex process, I know it sounds frustrating, it is frustrating both for journalists and diplomats and for the average citizen alike -- that sometimes progress is frustratingly slow, painfully slow. But I think they have to put things into perspective.

RFE/RL: Do you think RFE/RL's listeners in Central Asia and elsewhere will see the benefits of that progress within their lifetime?

Haltzel: I certainly hope so. In my opening statement today I mentioned the fact that one of the governments had recently blocked FM broadcasting of RFE/RL and the BBC. We're obviously pushing for [them to resume]. But again, I want to re-emphasize that the OSCE, important as it is, is only one piece in the puzzle.

There are any number of other ways, there are bilateral relations between the United States and each of these governments. There are relations between the EU and individual EU states and these governments. There are a host of economic and political [issues which] come into play. I would only say that the OSCE is an important element in this picture.

RFE/RL: From your point of view, are powers like the EU and the United States best advised to engage difficult regimes like those in Central Asia, or should they opt for sanctions more often?

Haltzel: I'm always in favor of engagement. I think if we talk only to our best friends, it's kind of futile. We should engage, we can calibrate the level of engagement, we can do any number of things that way. But if we don't talk to people with whom we have disagreements, we'll continue to have disagreements. So, yes, I'm completely for engagement.

By Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Published on 29 September 2009
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

EU-Backed Report To Split Blame For Russian-Georgia War

A long-awaited report on the causes of the five-day war between Russia and Georgia in August 2008 will split the blame between the two sides, according to EU officials familiar with the document.

The EU's Special Representative for the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, told RFE/RL that he believed the document -- which he said he had not seen yet -- contains nothing "fundamentally" new.

Officials in Brussels are acutely aware of the risks of alienating either Moscow, a key energy supplier whose cooperation is desired in a host of areas, or Tbilisi, whose political standing took a beating over the 2008 conflict despite broad Western support for its aims of keeping Georgian territory intact.

The report, compiled by a group of international experts led by Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, will presented to EU ambassadors in Brussels on September 30 and then released to the public.

But the unveiling of the “Tagliavini report” is expected to be something of an anticlimax.

EU ambassadors will be briefed on its contents over a low-key lunch. There will be no formal ceremony to mark the handing over of the more than 500-page document. There will also be no formal discussion of the report's contents among EU member states, nor will an official EU position be adopted relative to its conclusions.

What the EU wants is closure, officials suggest. The bloc believes no one has anything to gain from protracted finger-pointing and wants to get on with the Geneva talks between Georgia, Russia, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia on defusing tensions and allowing refugees return to their homes.

"What I can say is that I believe that now, more than a year after the war and after quite a few studies and reports have been published on the topic, I think that most of the events are fairly well known,” Semneby said. “I expect that this study, which is quite a thorough one, is probably going to reveal a few new facts, but I would be surprised if it would reveal anything that would fundamentally change our picture of the course of events."

Privately, EU officials have told RFE/RL the report will not be a "one-way street," blaming Georgia alone, as some early leaks have suggested. Instead, it will apportion blame relatively equally on Georgia and Russia.

The report is expected to roughly follow the established Western take on the events, according to which Georgia overreacted to severe and long-standing Russian provocations. While the Georgian military may have fired the first shots, it was Russia's meddling in the irredentist territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia which had set in motion the chain of events leading up to the war.

Georgian officials appear to be resigned to being given some of the blame. But one senior official told RFE/RL that Tbilisi believes it has "the law on its side." The official also alluded to Russia's long history of involvement in Georgian affairs, noting that "the war did not start on August 7, 2008."

Recriminations Expected

To date, only Nicaragua and Venezuela have joined Russia in recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia's early charges of a Georgian-conducted genocide in South Ossetia and other war crimes have not been substantiated.

Georgia now expects a long cold war of attrition with Russia. The official quoted above said the report's release is likely to be followed by a few days of mutual recriminations between Georgia and Russia, which will then eventually subside.

This is broadly in line with EU expectations.

Semneby said the bloc will leave interpreting the report to others.

"It's not, obviously, the ultimate truth about the war, but rather should be seen as a contribution to highlighting the facts around what is a very complex series of events that started actually...long before the war in August of last year," Semneby said.

The EU, which helped to end the war in August 2008, is now a key mediator in the Geneva talks.

The bloc's interests, however, are broader. It needs a working relationship with Russia. Moscow is seen as a strategic partner in the EU. Its energy deliveries are vital for the bloc, as is cooperation with Moscow in many other fields.

Georgia, on the other hand, remains a key part of the EU's Eastern Partnership outreach program. Although Tbilisi's standing in EU eyes has slipped since the war -- a fact acknowledged by Georgian officials, too -- the bloc remains committed to helping the country.

The EU's monitoring mission (EUMM) along the demarcation lines between Georgia proper and Abkhazia and South Ossetia now represents the only involvement of the international community in the conflict zone. Earlier this year, Russia was instrumental in securing the ejection of observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe from South Ossetia, and that of a UN mission from Abkhazia.

Meanwhile Georgian hopes of getting the United States to join the EUMM have been dashed. Objections from EU member states such as France, fearing complications in the EU-Russia relationship, have caused the idea to be shelved.

Adjusting to new realities, Georgia has toned down its expectations of the EU accordingly. Economic assistance is now foremost on the minds of Georgian officials.

On the political front, Tbilisi knows that hanging on to the status quo will be difficult enough, with the EU increasingly preoccupied with its own constitutional future, expected to be settled in the remaining months of the year. Then, Spain will take over the rotating half-yearly EU presidency from Sweden, to be followed by Belgium. Neither country is as interested in the eastern neighborhood as Sweden, so Tbilisi will face an uphill struggle to retain a presence on EU radar.

Correspondingly, Georgian officials can now only hope for signals of continued EU support.

By Ahto Lobjakas. Published on 29 September 2009
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Turkish-Armenian Diplomatic Ties In The Offing?

Turkey and Armenia won international applause on August 31, when they agreed on diplomatic protocols aimed at establishing diplomatic ties and reopening their border after almost a century of hostility.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on September 27 said the two countries' foreign ministers -- Armenia's Eduard Nalbandian and Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey -- will sign the protocols on October 10 in Switzerland.

Richard Giragosian, director of the Armenian Center for National and International Studies, a Yerevan-based think tank, tells RFE/RL there is reason to believe the agreement will proceed as planned.

"We've seen a wave of protests and some demonstrations in the Armenian capital, but we've also seen some opposition within Turkey itself,” Giragosian said. “The interesting thing is [that] in many ways, the opposition to the normalization has actually been less than expected by many -- including by the governments of both sides -- which gives ground to some optimism that the protocols will in fact be signed."

That prospect is being seen by many as an opportunity that could help end hostilities stemming from the World War I mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks.

But even if the protocols were signed, the parliaments of both Armenia and Turkey would have to ratify them before they could take effect. That stands as a significant hurdle, considering the intense positions that have prevented a normalization of relations between the two states.

A main issue of dispute is that Yerevan wants the massacre by Ottoman Turks recognized as genocide, which Turkey strongly rejects.

Armenia scholars say 1.5 million Armenians died at the hands of the Ottoman Turks from 1915-23 in a campaign aimed at eliminating the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire.

Ankara says that up to 600,000 Armenians died during World War I and during deportations out of eastern Anatolia. But it says the deaths were in the context of an Armenian uprising, as Armenians sided with invading Russian troops at the time.

Regional Disputes

Turkey recognized the state of Armenia after its independence in 1991, but failed to establish formal diplomatic relations.

In 1993, Turkey closed its border with its neighbor in solidarity with its Turkic ally Azerbaijan over Yerevan's support to ethnic Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The enclave falls within Azerbaijan's borders, but has been controlled by ethnic Armenians since they won a three-year war against Azerbaijan in 1994.

Eduard Sharmazanov, a spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, told RFE/RL's Armenian Service that deputies will start debating the protocols on October 1.

"This is a very complicated process,” Sharmazanov said. “It will show whether we take the right way or the wrong one. I think we are going the right way. And after that, we'll start the process of ratification. I don't expect it to be done at once."

Armenian critics to the deal, including the Zharangutyun (Heritage) and Dashnaktsutyun (Armenian Revolutionary Federation) opposition parties, say it would mean the recognition of the two countries' borders and includes elements that call into question Yerevan's stance on the genocide issue.

But analyst Giragosian says a difficult passage "or even much of a debate" is not expected at the Armenian parliament, given the overwhelming majority of pro-government deputies.

The real challenge, others suggest, might come from Turkey, where the government faces accusations of making concessions that damage the country's interests and of selling out Azerbaijan.

"The protocol establishing diplomatic relations has a higher chance of being endorsed by the parliament,” said Barcin Yinanc, a commentator for the “Turkish Daily News.” “But as for the protocol that foresees the opening of the border, I think that the chances are very dim, unless there is improvement toward a solution to Nagorno-Karabakh."

On September 26, Azerbaijan's officials news agencies quoted the chairman of the Turkish parliament, Mehmet Ali Shahin, as saying the accords on normalizing ties with Armenia will not be ratified as long as the Armenia-Azerbaijan dispute remains unresolved. He reportedly made the comment during talks with President Ilham Aliyev in Baku.

Giragosian says both the Armenian and Turkish government have done "far too little" to prepare their societies to for a normalization of relation. And in the case of Armenia, he says, there may be a backlash.

"Opening borders, establishing diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey is pretty much a shared goal of a large majority of the population of Armenia,” Giragosian said. “The problem is the process of this diplomatic negotiation. There's overwhelming secrecy, there's a lack of information that is encouraging only disinformation. And there is also a disconnection or disengagement where the ordinary Armenian citizen and even civil society feel unengaged in this process."

Armenia's President Serzh Sarkisian embarks on a world tour October 1 that will take him to France, Lebanon, Russia, and the United States to explain the benefits of the accord to the Armenian diaspora.

By Antoine Blua . Published on 29 September 2009
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Banned Islamic Group Draws Female Members In Kyrgyzstan

A year ago, residents of the southern Kyrgyz village of Nookat took to the streets in protest after being denied the right to celebrate Eid-al-Fitr in a local stadium.

The authorities, blaming the banned Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir for staging the demonstration, arrested dozens of participants. When court verdicts were later handed down, two women were among those found guilty of organizing the protest, with each receiving sentences of 15 years or more.

The lengthy sentences shocked many both within and outside Kyrgyzstan, whose justice system is known for its leniency toward women. But in this case officials appeared intent on sending a message to all who dared join Hizb ut-Tahrir, which the government considers an extremist group that poses a threat to the secular order.

A year after the events in Nookat shone a spotlight on the role of women in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a new report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) indicates that the Islamic organization might have thousands of women members in Kyrgyzstan.

In its recent report, "Women and Radicalization in Kyrgyzstan," the ICG states that Hizb ut-Tahrir "may have up to 8,000 members" in the country, "perhaps 800 to 2,000 of them women."

And the ICG suggests that growing poverty and a lack of opportunities for women could push those numbers even higher.

Aziza Abdurasulova, a Kyrgyz women's rights activist, notes that many women in the country are constrained by limited opportunities, compounding the difficulties of the worsening economic situation and widespread corruption.

"When women struggle with difficulties in their everyday lives, it is possible that they turn to Islam,” Abdurasulova said. “Because there is not any guarantee from the government, they don't see any kind of better future. So, they turn to Islam, to God -- although I don't believe they would necessarily follow Hizb ut-Tahrir and other extremists' paths."

Banned Across The Region

Hizb ut-Tahrir first emerged in the region in the 1990s with the recruitment of members in Uzbekistan.

Today the movement is banned in all of the countries of Central Asia, whose governments deem Hizb ut-Tahrir a serious threat to security and the secular order.

In Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, officials have accused Hizb ut-Tahrir of being behind armed attacks. Those accused of membership can face lengthy prison sentences.

The group itself admits that the creation of an Islamic caliphate is among its ultimate goals, but officially rejects the use of violence.

In Kyrgyzstan, the banned group was widely believed to be active mostly in the country's more religiously conservative southern provinces.

According to the ICG, Hizb ut-Tahrir has now spread to the rest of the country, including the more liberal north, attracting new members and sympathizers both in cities and mountain villages.

Kyrgyzstan is one of the poorest states in Central Asia. Women there were especially hard hit by the transition that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the free-market system, often losing jobs and experiencing a declining social status.

Unemployment among Kyrgyz women has grown over the past two decades, and is currently 1.5 times higher than that of men. Many women make their living by selling goods at markets, an occupation that offers no social protection or guaranteed, stable income. Those who are employed often work in the low-paid education and healthcare jobs.

Under such circumstances, the ICG reports says, Hizb ut-Tahrir might offer disillusioned women "a sense of identity and belonging, solutions to the day-to-day failings of the society they live in."

Promises Of Change

Muhiddin Kabiri, the head of the only officially registered Islamic party in Central Asia, Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party, says many might view organizations like Hizb ut-Tahrir as offering an "easy solution" to their problems.

"Hizb ut-Tahrir [seeks to establish] a caliphate and it says that under the caliphate there would be no borders, customs, and corrupt police officers in Central Asia,” Kabiri said. “For example, an Uzbek farmer would be able to sell products in Dushanbe, Ashgabat, or Almaty without having to face corrupt customs official and police officers. People who are fed up with hardships and corruption, and who mistrust governments, accept these kinds of promises and don't question their impracticalities."

Kabiri gives a harsh assessment of the group, saying that "Hizb ut-Tahrir's ideas are no more than an illusion; they are no more than a utopia." However, he notes, "it seems to be appealing for some women who don't see other alternatives."

Taji Mustafa, Hizb ut-Tahrir's media representative in Britain, tells RFE/RL that female members of the group play an active role in spreading the organization's message among their family members and other women, as well as in recruiting new members.

"People will discuss [Islam] in their families, so whether it is husbands and wives, whether it is parents with their children, it is very natural that Islam is discussed in the home,” Mustafa said. “Islam is discussed in social gatherings. So, for ourselves, women will meet with other women and will discuss with them. Because we are an intellectual organization, we put our ideas to people, so people can question, can debate, can ask us questions about our vision."

Accusations Of Abuse

According to the International Crisis Group, a softer approach might find success in countering the group's influence. It states in its report that "a policy based on repression will play into the [Hizb ut-Tahrir's] hands and may even accelerate its recruitment."

Members of the group already claim to have become victims of repression. Relatives of convicted Hizb ut-Tahrir members in Tajikistan, for example, have repeatedly claimed they were beaten and raped in prisons.

In Uzbekistan, there have been reports of widespread abuse and torture of thousands of imprisoned alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir members.

And human rights groups say the two women arrested in Kyrgyzstan following last year's protest in Nookat were tortured while in detention, and that one of the women had a miscarriage after she was severely beaten -- a claim rejected by Kyrgyz officials.

In its report on Kyrgyzstan, the ICG recommends that the Kyrgyz government work more closely with religious leaders to address women's needs and their social and economic problems.

Other experts second that approach, such as Kadyr Malikov, director of the Bishkek-based Research Center for Religion, Law, and Politics.

Malikov tells RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service that "it is usually moderate Muslims who suffer from a government crackdown on so-called religious extremism."

That, in turn, runs the risk of aiding the recruitment efforts of the very groups such crackdowns intend to counter.

By By Farangis Najibullah. Published on 29 September 2009
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Estonian Signatory Mart Laar Champions 'Stand Up For Georgia' Letter

Earlier this month, 12 prominent European thinkers and former leaders issued an open letter titled "Europe Must Stand Up For Georgia." In it, they urged the authors of a coming EU report on the causes of the Georgia-Russia war of 2008 to "remember the painful lessons of our recent past."

Noting that "the European Union was build against the temptation of Munich and the iron curtain," the signatories -- all of whom grew up inside the Soviet bloc or threatened by its tall shadow -- cited "the critical question...[of] which country invaded the other, rather than which soldier shot the first bullet."

RFE/RL Georgian Service correspondent Nino Gelashvili spoke with one of the letter's signatories, former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar, about how the international response to the Georgian-Russian conflict could help make or break "the fate of the project to which we continue to dedicate our lives: the peaceful and democratic reunification of the European continent."

RFE/RL: Mr Laar, in his address to the UN General Assembly on [September 24], Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili evoked the example of the Berlin Wall and spoke about the "new artificial dividing lines" that are present in Europe. Such parallels have been drawn before. In what ways do you think the case of the Berlin Wall is pertinent to current processes?

Mart Laar: I think it's important that Europe, first of all, remember what happened and remember how several areas and countries fell under the rule of totalitarianism. Because when we are looking at Georgia, comparing last year's events with events in Budapest's 1956 Soviet aggression or in Prague's 1968 Soviet aggression, there are lots of things to remember, to think about how such things happen.

It's important to celebrate the fall of the Berlin wall, and the fall of Communism. At the same time, keep all this in mind as a lesson.

RFE/RL: In the open letter published in "The Guardian" and other European newspapers and signed by many distinguished European politicians and intellectuals -- including yourself -- you call on Europe to stand up for Georgia. What made you write this letter now? Do you see any immediate danger for Georgia -- or for Europe?

Laar: [It's] not so much an immediate danger, I must say. This [letter] was [conceived] through discussions [held] several times. Such a group of people -- [representing] quite different political parties, different ideas, and different backgrounds -- agrees that Europe must remember these events and must look at Georgia now, and not [when] it will be too late. I think that is an important message, and it's not so much connected to any concrete event.

RFE/RL: The EU-funded mission which is investigating the August [2008 Georgia-Russia] war is due to publish its findings next week. Some reports -- including those published by the German magazine "Der Spiegel" -- speculate that the report will lay most of the blame with Georgia -- although other sources contradict this. What are your expectations about the document?

Laar: I'm a little afraid because of the discussion we see around the report -- which is not yet published -- and still I keep hearing [things] that make it look like it's been published already. But it is not. We will see from the report; it is very difficult to comment [on it] now.

But, of course, I am a little afraid -- looking at the comments on the possible report, and looking at the statements of several people who belong to that commission -- statements they made even before [joining] the commission. [They seem to be] looking at things from a very, we can say, interesting point of view, forgetting history, forgetting context, and forgetting one simple point: that during the war, no Georgian soldier, no plane, no other military equipment left the legal, internationally recognized territory of Georgia. It was Georgian territory, and no Georgian soldier [left] the borders of Georgia.

So it could not have been any aggression, any attack, or anything like this. One other country -- the neighboring country -- actually [entered] Georgia in several ways, in several areas, in several trajectories. That's very clear; this is a fact. And the problem is that some people do not want to look at the facts.

RFE/RL: What more steps, in your view, can Europe undertake vis-a-vis Georgia?

Laar: I think, first of all, Europe can speed up the European integration. There has been hope for a long time that agreements like [on] visa facilitation, trade development, etc., will [finally] be made. I really hope this will now be the case, that [the Swedish EU] presidency will now seriously deal with these matters. I very much hope that at least the visa-facilitation agreement will be done [soon], and then there will be positive movement forward with the free-trade agreement, too.

For now it is clear that the main task for Georgia is to look for stability, look for development of its economy, politics, legal structure. This, I think, is the highest priority; and whatever steps help Georgia in this [direction], the same steps -- in the long run -- help with territorial problems, too.

This problem is nothing new -- just look at other countries. In Cyprus it took a long, long time till solutions began to be put on table. They are not yet there, but I think they will be.

RFE/RL: Do you believe that Europe has real leverage for pressuring Russia?

Laar: Actually, it has. Otherwise, Georgia would probably have been occupied [on a larger scale] -- because it was largely the European Union's intervention that stopped the war last August.

When Europe is united, there are a lot of possibilities, a lot of influence. When Europe is not united, then of course there is not so much.

By Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty. Published on 27 September 2009
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Declaration by the Presidency on behalf of the European Union on the appointment of a Moldovan Government

The European Union welcomes the appointment of a Government in the Republic of Moldova, following the repeat parliamentary elections on 29 July. The European Union notes with satisfaction all political contributions to the democratic process following the elections and trusts that a climate of responsible cooperation will prevail as political developments proceed.

The appointment of a Government is an essential first step, which will enable Moldova to begin to tackle the critical challenges that it faces, in particular in the context of the world economic and financial crisis, and to move forward with reforms. The European Union stands ready to support Moldova in these efforts and reaffirms its commitment to deepen and strengthen its relations with Moldova, including in the framework of the Eastern Partnership. In particular, the European Union looks forward to starting, as soon as possible, negotiations on a new agreement with Moldova that will replace and go beyond the current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. In this context, the European Union welcomes the decision to abolish the changes to Moldova’s visa policies introduced this April, which ensures equal treatment of all EU citizens.

The European Union reiterates its call on all political actors to engage in a constructive political dialogue in order to conclude the post-electoral political process, in particular through the election of a new President.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Interview: New Moldovan PM Filat Talks About Priorities

Moldovan Liberal Democratic Party leader Vlad Filat has won backing for a Western-leaning government that is vowing to turn the page on nearly a decade of Communist rule and lead the country out of a financial swamp. Lawmakers on September 25 approved Filat's cabinet representing a coalition that emerged to challenge longtime Communist President Vladimir Voronin in repeat national elections in July. In one of his first interviews after his government won its vote of confidence, Filat cited the motto of "freedom, democracy, and welfare" in his governing program and assured RFE/RL correspondent Valentina Ursu that "this is what the citizens of Moldova have wanted so much."

RFE/RL: Ten years ago, you were part of the ADR [Moldova's Alliance for Democracy and Reforms, which comprised the Democratic Convention of Moldova, the Party of Democratic Forces, and the Bloc for a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova] government. Today you assumed the leadership of an Alliance for European Integration government. What are the differences and the similarities? Are the risks similar?

Filat: In some ways the situation is similar. But there is also a very big difference. Moldova is very much different today in terms of international relations [and] the prospects that lie ahead.

There are things that look pretty much the same, such as the coalition government, in which one may not be able to express a point of view exactly or sufficiently -- concerning both candidates and certain decisions.

[The coalition] represents a compromise, from my reasonable point of view. The crisis -- then it was a regional one, now we've got a worldwide slump....

I am confident in my own forces and I trust my colleagues [in government]. I want to stress that we are sincere in our beginnings, and this is going to help us complete a mission we have accepted. It's not going to be easy at all.

RFE/RL: Imagine that a subordinate minister tells you that he would like to follow the words of his party leader rather than an order from the prime minister. What would you do?

Filat: In that case he would have to step down. Prime Minister Filat would not ask anyone to break the law or neglect his duties. I will demand -- and in this regard I will be very severe -- that someone who's failing will have to leave, I'm telling you.

'Success Is All That Matters'

RFE/RL: Are you aware that [Moldovan] success will likely be attributed to the merits of the entire...coalition, but the premier alone gets blamed in the event of failure?

Filat: In my life, it has always been as you said. This is the rule, and I accept it.... Success is all that matters. It is important that people become proud of being citizens of Moldova and live in their own country.

RFE/RL: There is a [new] wave of price increases for public utilities. Will there be any increase in salaries or pensions? There is a sort of panic in society.

Filat: You're talking about the increases in the municipality of Chisinau. I can't see any grounds or reasons for tariff increase for other services on a national level.

In terms of the government, if there is going to be any [such] price increase, it should be followed by a salary increase. Certainly, within the competence of the government, any [price] increase must be compensated for with a pay rise.

To a great extent, if we look at what's happening on the Moldovan currency market, we can see that this is speculation, impulses from the former government [intended to] create panic and stir emotions in this area.

RFE/RL: At the beginning of next week, you are scheduled to visit Brussels. What do you think Moldovan-EU relations should be?

Filat: They have to be normal and pursue the achievement of our goal: the integration of Moldova into the security space of the European Union.

We aim, first of all, to warm up the dialogue, to let them know what we are going to do in Moldova. Let's review the preconditions for the signature of agreements between Moldova and the EU... a document to embody the legal relations, and very importantly it has to do with our message, which -- I must be frank -- is not a pleasant one; it envisages assistance for Moldova in this complicated situation.

RFE/RL: Are you going to be begging [for aid] in the West?

Filat: I will never stretch my hand to beg or spend my mandate in humiliation. With dignity, however, I shall ask the European community to help the citizens of Moldova. We have been forced to face a very grave situation. We have to pay out pensions and salaries to the citizens. This is not begging; it is a request, made with dignity to our partners.

...And Other Foreign Partners

On the other hand, at the beginning of October, your Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin is likely to come to Chisinau. What priority are Chisinau-Moscow relations?

Filat: Frankly speaking, I'd like very much to meet Mr. Putin. For me, he is a strong man who knows exactly what he wants. I can discuss political decisions endlessly, or aspects with which I would not agree.

But as a personality, he is a strong man who has goals and meets them. I am strongly convinced that, given a chance, I can succeed, too, because Moldova too has strong people who know exactly what they want [and] who are capable of negotiation, who are able to fix pragmatic goals and meet them. Or, both sides have interests, and sometimes they must be achieved in consensus.

RFE/RL: Can you succeed in persuading the Kremlin to withdraw its troops from Moldova?

Filat: I'll try. And I think that I'll succeed in persuading the Kremlin to keep its promises and to respect the citizens of Moldova and Moldova as a state.

RFE/RL: But Moscow has not done anything in the past 10 years to comply with its own commitments, assumed at the OSCE's Istanbul summit.

Filat: This means we have to resize our message -- to amplify it and probably search for certain solutions in order to finally achieve a real solution.

Right now, I'm concerned with my own agenda. We don't have any intention of following foreign agendas. Based on our agenda, we have to negotiate -- to find compromises in some places. But we'll be insistent in promoting our national interests. We'll demand that Moldova get [due] respect as an independent, sovereign, and neutral state, without Russian weapons or military.

RFE/RL: What will be the dimension of Moldovan-Romanian relations? You've talked a lot about [signing an agreement on cross-border traffic]...

Filat: There will be talks. There will be a sincere discussion, in the light of diplomatic modernity, in order to get this [cross-border] document signed. It is very important for Moldova and Romania.

We need to get rid of stereotypes that exist in the minds of many people in Moldova and, very importantly, get rid of certain impediments to our dialogue with the Russian Federation.

RFE/RL: I've heard that the Moldovan prime minister might be making a visit across the Atlantic, to the United States. Is it true that you'll go to Washington?

Filat: Moldovan-American ties are very important, even decisive. In my speech [to the parliament on September 25], I outlined the stance of the government. We hope that the United States stays near Moldova in perpetuity, near the citizens of Moldova, and that it gives the institutional framework to ensure the sovereignty and independence of Moldova.

We need the backing of the United States of America and this thing must be achieved with very, very much work here in Chisinau, and face that opening coming from America.

By Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty. Published on 26 September 2009
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ukraine's Options To Counter Russia Are Limited

Russia has only a limited window of opportunity within which it can hope to achieve its maximum objectives in Ukraine, while Ukraine has only a limited number of options for developing its relations with the Russian Federation in such a way as to ensure its survival as an independent state, according to two leading Kyiv-based specialists on international relations.

The current issue of "Zerkalo nedeli" includes a 4,100-word discussion by academician Volodymyr Horbulin, director of the Kyiv Institute of Problems of National Security, and Oleksandr Lytvynenko, his adviser, of the security trap in which Russia and Ukraine find themselves.

The two analysts argue that Russia's domestic problems, including demographic decline, ethnic and religious challenges, and regional separatism (both ethnic and non-ethnic) have been compounded by its return to authoritarianism and by the impact of the global economic crisis. Those cumulative pressures, they write, are forcing Moscow to "concentrate on the resolution of questions of a primarily regional nature that it can't put off any longer."

'Subjagation Of Ukraine'

"The subjugation of Ukraine must be considered [Russia's] most crucial foreign policy objective," Horbulin and Lytvynenko write, noting that by means of "the subordination of Ukraine, or at least its southeastern part, the Kremlin [could] essentially improve the situation in the Russian Federation."

Doing so would, they predict, reduce Russia's demographic problems, guarantee the reliable transportation of oil and gas to Europe, significantly increase its economic potential in machine building (including in the defense sector) and in agriculture, make it impossible for the United States to use Ukraine as a military base, and neutralize a potential ideological threat to its authoritarian regime.

Those considerations, they continue, demonstrate that "the aggressive policy of the Kremlin with regard to Ukraine is the result not of Kyiv's actions, but of Russia's needs as the current leadership of that state understands them." For that reason, a shift in Ukrainian policy "will not lead to a significant revision of Russian policy."

At the same time, Horbulin and Lytvynenko argue, the Kremlin recognizes "that the historical 'window of opportunity' relative to quite short and may close as early as 2015, by which time a new generation of Ukrainian elites" will have emerged and the West may have changed its approach either to Moscow or to Kyiv, or both. All these considerations suggest, the two Ukrainian security analysts argue, that Russia will launch a "decisive and pitiless" campaign against Ukraine in the very near future.

Horbulin and Lytvynenko then examine in greater detail Russian policy toward Ukraine and possible Ukrainian responses. With respect to the former, they make five points. First, Russia has repeatedly made clear that it recognizes the borders of Ukraine, but nonetheless demands that Ukraine defer to Russia on such issues as possible membership in NATO.

Second, "both legally and ideologically and in institutional terms" Russia today is the direct successor of the USSR and has inherited the latter's "institutional memory" with regard to "mechanisms for developing and taking decisions," in the first instance those involving "strategic" questions. Because of that continuity, they write, it is very likely the Kremlin has not developed "a precise, clearly formulated program of actions with regard to Ukraine," but rather is being guided by the need to determine "the main tasks, directions, and arsenal of instruments to be used."

Third, this lack of a specific plan does not mean that Moscow has not decided on its long-term "strategic vision" of relations with Ukraine. In fact, it did so at the December 25, 2008, meeting of the Russian Security Council and State Council of the Russian Federation. That vision, subsequently made public by State Duma Deputy Konstantin Zatulin in May, amounts to "an ultimatum" whereby respect by Russia for Ukraine's territorial integrity is contingent on Kyiv agreeing to "special relations" with the Russian Federation -- in effect, to a Russian protectorate over a weakened Ukraine.

Fourth, in the course of "almost 20 years of relations with independent Ukraine," the Kremlin has become "convinced" of the effectiveness of using "so-called pro-Russian elites" to advance its cause in Ukraine, and that a Russian protectorate will ultimately lead to "the territorial division of Ukraine into three parts," part of which will be subsumed into Russia.

And fifth, the Russian political elite is divided as to how best and how quickly to achieve these goals, with the "hawks" arguing that more pressure sooner is the best approach, while the "doves" favor less pressure over a longer time period. In recent months, because of economic problems, the hawks have gained the upper hand.

'Application Of Direct Force'

Moscow is using its security services to promote its goals in Ukraine, the two analysts say. But if these services are unable to achieve Moscow's goals, and if the January 2010 presidential elections in Ukraine do not yield the result Russia wants, "one cannot completely exclude the application of direct force."

Horbulin and Lytvynenko argue that in face of this Russian policy, which places at risk "the very survival of the Ukrainian state in its current borders," Kyiv must immediately adopt a number of "complex measures" encompassing both democratization and a new approach to its foreign partners.

Above all, they argue, Ukraine's leaders must deliver on their repeated promises to protect citizens' constitutional rights and freedoms and must "establish political stability on the basis of elite and social consensus regarding a European path of development." That will necessitate adopting a new constitution that defines Ukraine as either a presidential or a parliamentary republic, rather than trying to combine the two; the reduction of corruption in the bureaucracy; reform of the armed services; developing effective intelligence and counterintelligence services; and better articulation of Ukraine's goals.

In foreign affairs, the two analysts suggest, Ukraine must continue on its "strategic course" toward membership of NATO and the European community, but should show far more "tactical flexibility" in doing so, which would enable it to "accentuate" positive aspects of its ties with Russia as well.

Such ties cannot be developed in isolation. Instead, Ukraine must use "the possibilities offered by international organizations" like the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the UN, and the Council of Europe. Kyiv must be willing to think outside the box by considering such possibilities as declaring the Black Sea a demilitarized zone.

In its relations with the United States, Kyiv should shift "the accent from the public and the official to the working level, above all in the sphere of security," and in ties with the EU, it should move from declarations to taking albeit limited practical steps. And Ukraine should, Horbulin and Lytvynenko argue, "expand its dialogue with China, [again] in the sphere of security, by making use of the fact that China became the first state guarantor of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity and confirmed this guarantee in 2006."

Even if such policies cannot lower tensions between Ukraine and Russia, the analysts conclude, they could at least gradually "limit the risk of conflict between them, and also minimize the potential damage to Ukraine's national interests." Perhaps more to the point, such actions will help those in Russia who want to organize their country "on the principles of freedom."

Article by Paul Goble.Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on the former USSR. The views expressed in this analysis are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Belarus needs to pick up the pace of reforms

Belarus was a star reformer in the World Bank's latest "Doing Business" report, and Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky has led a charge over the last year to push through an unprecedented package of reforms and privatisations, designed to attract foreign capital. Trouble is, time is running out for the one-time pariah nation as the crisis eats away at its resources.

Changes emanating from Minsk have been coming thick and fast over the last year. The country once famously described as the "last dictatorship in Europe" opened its charm offensive last November in London with the first ever Belarusian Investment Summit. Since then, the government has been actively pushing through an ambitious programme of change designed to loosen the state's grip on the economy.

The prime minister's job used to be nothing more than play lackey to the president's lead, but Sidorsky is now the head of an administration with a real and full docket of change to implement. The first dividends from this sea change were paid out in September when the World Bank ranked Belarus amongst the world's 10 best business reformers. "Belarus eased the process for getting construction permits by simplifying approval processes," the World Bank said. "Restrictions relating to redundancy dismissals were eased by raising the threshold for prior notification requirements. Tax payments were made more convenient through increased use of electronic systems - reducing tax compliance times - while lower ecological and turnover tax rates and a reduction in the number of payments for property tax reduced the tax burden on businesses."

The progress is more than welcome, but the small republic sandwiched between Russia and the EU remains a tough place to work. According to the businessmen working in Belarus that bne has talked to over the last few months, all report the same thing: there is growing enthusiasm and commitment to the reform process at the top level. However the problems for new projects is going the last mile; dealing with the small guys at the bottom of the chain of command who actually supervise the work. Here, progress has been much slower and attitudes have changed little, making it very difficult to actually implement ideas approved by the higher-ups.

Right model?

President Alexander Lukashenko has gone for a gradual transition from Soviet to open society, a la China, which has delivered some real benefits. The biggest victim of the collapse of the Soviet Union was anyone over the age of 50 and an entire generation was largely abandoned to its miserable fate in the chaos of the 1990s. Not so in Belarus, where the old system continued to work more or less unchanged.

The transition in emerging Europe has been a boon for the young, who have been presented with the gamut of opportunity. Some have made fortunes overnight, while more recently the less ambitious have the prospect of a normal job and a better standard of living than their parents could ever dream of. But again, not so in Belarus; the cost of the slow pace of reform has been to cap the opportunities, so the pace of growth has been a lot slower than elsewhere.

Coming from the relative freedom of Western Europe, most critics are predisposed to reject Belarus' model out of hand, but the trouble is that until the crisis struck last year, it was actually working pretty well. "Whatever its critics may say about the Belarusian economic model, there can be little doubt that it has proved (until recently) to be extraordinarily successful in meeting the objectives of strong economic growth and full employment," Vlad Sobell of Daiwa Securities wrote in a recent report.

The country's fiscal position is relatively sound, with a deficit of 0.6% of GDP in 2007 and a balanced budget in 2008, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). During much of the present decade, Belarus' economy grew at an annual average rate of 9.5%, amongst the fastest rates in the CIS. GDP growth has come off that pace, but the government is still expecting to put in a small positive increase this year. Unemployment rates were always low and fell further from 3.1% at the end of 2003 to 1% in 2007. And according to European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) calculations, Belarus reached the level of 1989 GDP in 2003, significantly earlier than Russia (2007) and Ukraine (which is still not there yet).

Despite the central planning nature of industrial policy, the republic has still made enormous progress towards economic diversification and industry is largely oriented towards exports.

A series of rows with Russia, starting with a fight over oil transit in the winter of 2007 and ending most recently with the so-called "milk war" over diary exports to Russia, has forced the republic to open up. Brussels has even gone as far as to invite Belarus to join the Eastern Partnership policy, which is a de facto validation of Lukashenko's regime.

However, all this action doesn't mean that Minsk is about to abandon its close relations with Russia; rather Lukashenko is attempting to build a classic "multi-vector" foreign policy, which includes better relations with Western Europe (that accounts for about 40% of the republic's trade), but at the same developing its commercial relations with its main customer, Russia (also about 40% of trade).
Crisis spanner

Despite the progress, the Belarusian model is not sustainable. The growth of recent years was fueled by a variety of factors – a Russian boom, high revenues from oil and gas transit, cheap and skilled local labour – but the most important was the republic's simple taking up of the spare capacity left over from Soviet days. This capacity has now been filled and for the country to continue strong growth, it badly needs investment.

The global economic crisis has accelerated the growing pressure on Minsk's public finances caused by the shrinking amount of spare Soviet-era capacity. Driven by government orders, unusually for the region exports from Belarus have fallen faster than imports to the republic. At the same time, the rising price of Russian oil and gas caused a widening of the current account deficit, which has ballooned from $1.4bn in 2006 to over $5bn in 2008, equivalent to 8.4% of GDP. But since the crisis struck, this number has leapt again to 17.7% as of the end of the first quarter of this year.

Belarus' gross external debt has also been rising fast as the government starts to import new equipment to add new capacity, rising from $2bn in 2002 to $5.2bn in 2005. As the current account deficit increased sharply in 2007 and 2008, the growth of external debt has picked up speed, reaching $15bn at the end of 2008, equivalent to about 25% of GDP.

The external debt position remains manageable, but the IMF says the deficit could top 10% by the end of this year, which the state would struggle to finance. State-directed spending has also held up GDP growth and investment, which was also unusually for the region in positive territory, up 16.9% over the first eight months of this year. The bottom line is much of Belarus' apparent economic health is actually artificial and unsustainable. "The economy is living off borrowed time," says Sobell. "To their credit, the authorities appear to be well aware of the gravity of the situation and have embarked on credible steps to cope with the crisis in a comprehensive manner. The key moves have been the request in 2008 for a $2bn long-term balance of payments loan from Russia (with an additional $500m to be provided by Belarus' ally Venezuela) and the start of negotiations with the IMF in October 2008."

The state began the reform process because it wanted to keep up its exception pace of growth. But since the crisis struck, it will have to go even faster, because the need to attract more foreign capital has gone from a nicety to a necessity. The government has responded well and introduced a slew of new rules, but the time has come to make them work.

Article by Ben Aris (Moscow). Published on 23 September 2009.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

OSCE High Commissioner discusses minority participation, education during visit to Kazakhstan

The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Knut Vollebaek, urged Kazakhstan today to further enhance effective minority participation in the country.

Vollebaek, speaking at the end of a three-day visit to the country, recognized Kazakhstan's record in supporting minority languages and culture and said minority participation needed further attention.

"The Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan, with its diverse composition and regional outreach, is an important mechanism of dialogue between the Government and ethnic groups. Making the Assembly an electable body would significantly increase its authority, legitimacy and visibility within Kazakhstani society," Vollebaek said.

In talks with government officials and minority representatives, the High Commissioner also advised them to expand the Assembly's work to the areas of policing, language learning, advocacy and conflict prevention at a regional and local level.

On education reform, Vollebaek expressed support for the Government's efforts to introduce multilingual education in Kazakhstan.

"Multilingual education will improve the knowledge of Kazakh among minorities while maintaining their identity and helping them preserve their mother tongues. This is essential for long-term integration. At the same time, introduction of multilingual education has to be carried out gradually and in full consultation with parents, teachers and minority organizations," Vollebaek said.

National minorities have a right to participate in decision-making when it comes to minority-related and other matters which may directly affect them, he added.

During his visit to Kazakhstan, the High Commissioner examined the role of consultative bodies at a joint seminar with the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan and looked into the situation of the Uighur and Uzbek communities in the country.

OSCE, Press Statement: 23 September 2009,SHYMKENT, Kazakhstan.

OSCE and Kazakhstan's independent newspapers

OSCE media freedom representative protests over authorities' actions against one of Kazakhstan's few independent newspapers

The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti, said today the seizure of all copies of the independent Kazakh weekly Respublika - delovoye obozrenie and the freezing of the paper's accounts ahead of its appeal in a defamation case were "openly hostile towards the free press".

"This is an evident attempt to remove one of the few remaining critical voices in Kazakhstan. The level of intolerance toward the free flow of information and opinion is troubling in light of Kazakhstan's forthcoming OSCE Chairmanship in 2010," Haraszti said.

The 18 September confiscation came before the appeal deadline against the ruling of the Medeu district court. The original ruling of 9 September held that the owner of the newspaper, the publisher and the editor-in-chief must pay 60 million tenge (approximately 280,000 euros) as compensation for "moral damages". The article in question covered the state's involvement in the rescuing of BTA bank. It offered a platform for public discussion on the future of the bank.

"This defamation case is openly hostile towards the free press and is once again a pretext to target the independent media in Kazakhstan," Haraszti said.

Respublika has endured a history of pressure by the authorities, including raids on its premises and instances of blocking and filtering of the newspaper's online version, he noted.

On 15 September, before the seizure of the paper by the authorities, Haraszti wrote to Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev to protest the court's decision against Respublika.

"The measure is disproportionate and against international guidelines on reconciling protection of reputation and protection of freedom of discussion of public issues," he wrote to the Minister.

Instances of excessive fines for alleged defamation have become recurrent in Kazakhstan, added Haraszti. On 26 February, an Almaty court ruled that the newspaper Taszhargan had to pay compensation of 160,000 euros for allegedly defaming a Member of Parliament. As a result the paper had to close down.

OSCE, Press Release: Vienna, 22 September 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Benita Ferrero-Waldner on EU-Tajikistan PCA

Plenary Debate, European Parliament

Strasbourg, 16 September 2009

Honorable Members ,

First of all, I would like to thank Mr. Peterle for his excellent report and the resolution, which gives a very good analysis of the situation in Tajikistan and makes recommendations which I can support.

Since the EU Strategy for Central Asia was adopted in June 2007, our relationships with all the countries of Central Asia have been deepening, to our mutual benefit. The rhythm of contacts between us has gathered pace, and there is now a shared understanding of the benefits of greater co operation on security matters, border management and controls, education, governance and energy diversification. The Strategy is succeeding in forging a new kind of partnership with the five Central Asia republics.

Clearly though, this overarching strategy is underpinned by individual, and differentiated bilateral relations that reflect the varying aspirations and orientations of the countries concerned. As you all know, our co operation with Tajikistan is currently still governed by the Trade and Co operation Agreement concluded with USSR in 1989, and endorsed by Tajikistan in 1994. This agreement does not fully reflect our ambitions under the Central Asia Strategy, neither does it serve to support the kind of relationship we now seek with Tajikistan.

Your assent to the new EU-Tajikistan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), which is before you for debate today, would represent a major step forward, allowing us to widen and deepen our co-operation with this country.

Today's Tajikistan is confronted by major economic and social challenges. It is important – and in Europe's own interests – that Tajikistan should succeed in tackling its difficulties. This is a country which shares a nearly 1400 km border with Afghanistan, and which lies close to the Swat Valley in Pakistan. It is a territory vulnerable to spill-over from these conflict areas and to infiltration of Islamic militants. Tajikistan is also key to efforts to stem the flow of illegal drugs to Europe from Afghanistan. Greater co- operation with the EU can play a part in helping to prevent the spread of instability.

A key element in Tajikistan's vulnerability is its weak economy. The poorest of the Central Asian republics has been badly hit by a substantial decrease in prices for aluminium and cotton, due to the global downturn. This, taken together with a 34% drop in remittances in the first half of 2009, gives rise to concern that poverty levels may be rising, and that a precarious socio-economic situation could provoke social unrest.

I believe that we are on the right track with Tajikistan, supporting and encouraging indispensable reforms . This has been the focus of EUSR Morel's frequent visits, and of my own visit in Spring 2008. There is progress, but clearly more needs to be done. The government has made clear that in addition to greater trade and co operation, it is willing to implement measures to improve social welfare, health, education, tackle corruption and improve human rights.

It is to be welcomed that President Rahmon has created the post of Ombudsman. The Ombudsman will be an important interlocutor for us in the next round of the EU-Tajikistan Human Rights Dialogue, on 23 rd September. Judiciary reform is still making slow progress, but we hope the recommendations of a recent human rights civil society seminar in Dushanbe will be taken into account by the Government, particularly in reform of the legal profession and the new Criminal Procedure Code in Tajikistan.

I am very well of your concerns on Democracy and Human Rights in Tajikistan and, therefore, I can assure you that the Commission will take these concerns fully into account in our dialogues with the country.

As to economic reforms, we see progress for example on the drafting of a cotton debt resolution mechanism, which hopefully will pave the way for wider agricultural reforms and the implementation of ‘Freedom to Farm’, crucial to tackling poverty in the country.

The EP’s assent to the PCA today will help us to continue to work with Tajikistan on a whole range of political and economic reforms, with a special focus on democracy and human rights, and to ensure their thorough implementation.

(The reform effort is already underpinned by a relatively large amount of bilateral assistance from the Commission (€66 mio. for period 2007-2010 which will rise to €70 over the three years 2011-2013 ). Our aid will focus on sector support for social protection and health, public finance management reform, and technical assistance for private sector development.)

This process will be supported by our Delegation in Dushanbe. It is my intention that before the end of this year, our regionalised office there should become a fully-fledged Delegation to encourage the reform process and facilitate full implementation of the PCA. In particular I hope it will help us to maintain a thorough assessment of progress in the key areas I have mentioned, which we will measure against clear benchmarks.

EU-Russia summit in Stockholm on 18 November

It has now been confirmed that the EU-Russia summit will take place in Stockholm on 18 November.

"We are looking forward to the summit as a good opportunity to discuss the cooperation between the EU and Russia in areas such as climate, which is a particularly important issue ahead of the conference in Copenhagen", says Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.

Monday, September 21, 2009


The S&D Group called on Russia to investigate murders of human rights activists and bring those responsible to justice. It welcomed Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's commitment on the issue.

The Group tabled a motion in Strasbourg but could not agree a joint text with other groups because they wanted to address other human rights issues.

In a joint statement, Group vice-presidents Veronique de Keyser, Adrian Severin and Hannes Swoboda said: “These issues are undoubtedly important but they are not directly related to the subject of this debate.

“The other groups' resolution addresses the general situation in the North Caucasus. Whilst the volatile situation there, which has multiple and complex causes, is certainly of great concern both for Russia and international community, making unqualified judgements about the Russian role there does not help the purpose of this resolution. The S&D therefore voted for its own motion.

“The S&D Group believes that a better way to address human rights concerns in Russia is to step up EU-Russia Human Rights Consultations and the opening up of this process to effective input from the European Parliament, the State Duma, civil society and human rights organisations both in the EU and Russia.

“The S&D Group stresses that protection of human rights should be a special item for the next EU-Russia summit. It should become an integral part of a new EU-Russia agreement, in line with EU values and principles, as well as Russia's obligations as a member of the OSCE and of the Council of Europe.

“The S&D intends to contribute to the dialogue on human rights and other issues of common interest in forthcoming meetings with Russian political figures”.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

EU Stresses 'Broad, Deep' Relationship With Uzbekistan

The European Union and Uzbekistan appear to have normalized their relationship a year after the EU dropped its sanctions against Tashkent, imposed in the wake of the mass killing of protesters in Andijon in May 2005.

After a routine meeting of senior officials in Brussels on September 14, both sides sought to downplay differences and focus on pragmatic cooperation.
Frank Belfrage, secretary of state at the Swedish Foreign Ministry, who chaired a meeting of officials from both sides, opened a joint press conference by recounting in detail the bloc's priorities in what he called a "broad and deep relationship" with Uzbekistan.

He said "fruitful discussions" had taken place on issues ranging from regional cooperation, the situation in Afghanistan, and energy cooperation to the fight against drugs trafficking, as well as investment opportunities.

Belfrage also addressed democratization and human rights issues, but only as a matter for discussions between officials, without offering any assessment of Tashkent's recent rights record.

"We've been able to exchange views on the regional initiative on education and the rule of law and democratization," Belfrage said. "And also to continue the dialogue on human rights, which had been started in a very efficient manner in the subcommittee of justice and home affairs."

Sanctions Lifted

The EU lifted the better part of its sanctions regime against Tashkent, imposed in 2005, in October 2008. In exchange, Uzbekistan agreed to hold one or two human rights meetings a year and allow greater access to the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and selected nongovernmental organizations.

The decision to lift the sanctions reflected a growing consensus within the EU at the time that the measures were having no effect other than closing down all communication with Tashkent. Also, the EU had in June 2007 adopted a German-sponsored Central Asia strategy, which risked becoming an irrelevant embarrassment without the support of Uzbekistan as the most populous country in the region.

An EU U-turn resulted, with officials now pinning their hopes on plentiful contacts to change Tashkent's policies. Privately, EU officials have expressed hope that, over time, a middle class might emerge in Uzbekistan, creating pressure on the government to carry out democratic reforms.

These hopes appear to remain a once-sided affair at this stage.

Uzbek Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov took issue with suggestions that EU demands may play a role in determining Uzbek policy.

"I would like to remind [everyone] once again that Uzbekistan, the Uzbek delegation, did not come here to account for anything," Norov said. "That is, the European Union has no right to oversee the situation. We are sides in a dialogue between equal partners -- that is, in a dialogue in which we have a common interest."

Extensive Access

Norov went on to say that democratization, respect for human rights, and strengthening civil society are ensured by the 1992 Uzbek Constitution. But, he said, difficulties created by seven decades of Soviet rule cannot be expected to be resolved in a few years.

The foreign minister also claimed that UN and OSCE officials have been given extensive access, and that their recommendations on penal and electoral reforms, respectively, have been taken on board by Tashkent.

Norov said Uzbekistan will only interact with the bloc in the spirit of equality, mutual respect, and pragmatism.

He said the EU must allow for the different history of the region, its cultural traditions, and "the mentality of people" in crafting its policies toward Uzbekistan.

Norov also attacked what he described as "Islamophobia" in the EU, highlighting the Danish controversy over cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad and what he said was a tendency to equate Islam with terrorism.

The EU side sidestepped questions asking for an assessment of the recent Uzbek rights record -- said by observers to have worsened over the summer, with torture allegedly rampant in prisons and activists again imprisoned. No mention was made of the impact of the now-lapsed sanctions or possible plans to reinstitute them.

Instead, the EU special representative for Central Asia, Pierre Morel, praised the accumulating experience of three years of dialogue with Uzbekistan, which he said has led to substantial results, even if certain areas remain "sensitive and controversial."

But, Morel insisted, it is well within the EU's ability to overcome the "difficulties" with Uzbekistan.

"At the point where we find ourselves," he said, "we know well our difficulties and we also know the means for tackling this situation."

The meeting took place at a relatively low level. Norov is not thought to be a top figure in the regime of President Islam Karimov. The three people leading the EU delegation were all civil servants and as such exempt from any political responsibility for EU decisions, which belongs with member state governments.

By Ahto Lobjakas
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

European Parliament decision of 14 September 2009 on the numerical strength of the interparliamentary delegations, delegations to joint parliamentary committees and delegations to parliamentary cooperation committees and multilateral Parliamentary Assemblies

Russia, the Eastern Partnership States, Central Asia and Mongolia

Delegation to the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee: 31 members
Delegation to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee: 16 members
Delegation to the EU-Moldova Parliamentary Cooperation Committee: 14 members
Delegation for relations with Belarus: 12 members
Delegation to the EU-Armenia, EU-Azerbaijan and EU-Georgia Parliamentary Cooperation Committees: 18 members
Delegation to the EU-Kazakhstan, EU-Kyrgyzstan and EU-Uzbekistan Parliamentary Cooperation Committees, and for relations with Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Mongolia: 19 members

Multilateral Parliamentary Assemblies

Delegation to the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly: 78 members
Delegation to the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly: 49 members
Delegation to the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly: 75 members
Delegation to Euronest Parliamentary Assembly: 60 members
Delegation for relations with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly: 10 members (which will consist of members of the Subcommittee on Security and Defence)

The vote on the appointments to interparliamentary delegations will take place on Wednesday 16 September in Strasbourg. For live streaming log on

Ukraine Presidential Elections 2010

The next presidential elections in Ukraine are expected to take place on January 17, 2010.

According to recent opinion polls, the Party of Regions candidate Viktor Yanukovych (26.0%) was placed first among viable presidential candidates, with Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (16.5%) coming in second, and Front for Change candidate Arseniy Yatsenyuk (12.6%) in third place. Incumbent President, Viktor Yushchenko (2.0%) following his decline in popularity with the Ukrainian public comes in at a distant sixth place behind leader of the Communist Party Petro Symonenko (4.5%) and Parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn (4.2%).

3,011 respondents in all regions of Ukraine. Margin for error rate not greater than 2.2%

This poll was conducted by Research and Branding Group. Published on 19 August 2009. For more info:

Monday, September 14, 2009

OSCE Secretary General to visit Kyiv to sign contract to destroy toxic rocket fuel

OSCE Secretary General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut will be in Kyiv on Wednesday to sign a contract with Ukraine's Defence Ministry to eliminate 3,168 tonnes of Mélange, a highly toxic liquid rocket fuel component.

The contract will be signed at an official ceremony by de Brichambaut, Acting Defence Minister Valeriy Ivashenko and representatives of the Russian contractor that won an international tender to destroy the Mélange.

A memorandum of understanding on the melange elimination project between the OSCE and the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine stipulates that the OSCE will assist Ukraine with eliminating a first batch of 3,168 tonnes out of Ukraine's stockpiles of Mélange, which amount to more than 16,000 tonnes.

Mélange is a highly toxic and volatile rocket fuel component that was widely used by the Soviet forces. The Mélange still stored in Ukraine represents a serious threat to human safety and to the environment, and disposing of the stockpiles is a costly and technically complex operation.

OSCE,Press Statement, VIENNA, 14 September 2009

The war between Georgia and Russia: one year on

In a draft resolution adopted on Wednesday 9 September in Paris, PACE Monitoring Committee strongly urges the Russian authorities, before the end of the year, to give unrestricted access to EU Monitors to South Ossetia and Abkhazia, grant freedom of movement for Georgian civilians and international and humanitarian organisations over the administrative boundaries, recognise the right of return of all IDPs of this conflict and to initiate a credible investigation into alleged ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia.

Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee)
Co-rapporteurs: Mr Luc van den BRANDE, Belgium, Group of the European People’s Party, and Mr Mátyás EÖRSI, Hungary, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe


The Monitoring Committee deplores the fact that, one year after the tragic outbreak of the war between Georgia and Russia, little tangible progress has been achieved in addressing the consequences of this war, and that, in several areas, the situation has actually regressed. While Georgia has complied with most, albeit not all, demands of the Assembly, Russia has not complied with most of the key demands placed upon it. Having taken note of Russia’s argument that its non-compliance with the demands of the Assembly is the result of its diverging position with regard to the status of the two break-away regions (South Ossetia and Abkhazia), the Committee argues, for its part, that most demands have no relation to the status issue and therefore can not understand that Russia failed to comply even with them. It therefore considers that Russia’s non-compliance with the Assembly demands underscores its lack of political will to address the consequences of the war in a manner incumbent on a member state of the Council of Europe.

The report concludes by strongly urging the Russian authorities, before the end of the year, to give unrestricted access to EU Monitors to both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, grant the freedom of movement of Georgian civilians over the administrative boundaries of the two break away regions, recognise the right

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, 9 September 2009

Friday, September 11, 2009

EU statement in the OSCE on the case against Kazakh human rights defender Evgeniy Zhovtis

Statement on behalf of the European Union by H.E. Ms. Veronika Bard-Bringéus, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sweden to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, at the OSCE Permanent Council, Vienna, 10 September 2009.

The EU has noted with concern reports on procedural violations during the trial of the internationally renowned Kazakh human rights defender and member of the ODIHR Panel of Experts on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, Evgeniy Zhovtis, on charges of causing the death of a person by negligence in a road traffic accident, as reported by the OSCE Centre in Astana in its spot report of September 8. We are also aware that these concerns have been raised by the ODIHR’s Director, Ambassador Janez Lenarcic, with the newly appointed Foreign Minister, Mr Kanat Saudabayev.

These procedural violations raise serious doubts about the verdict handed down to Mr Zhovtis by the court on September 3.

The EU understands that Mr Zhovtis intends to appeal the verdict. The EU will continue to follow this case closely and calls on Kazakhstan, the incoming Chairmanship of the OSCE, to ensure that the appeal be handled with full respect for national legislation and international standards, as well as OSCE commitments.

The candidate countries CROATIA* and FORMER YUGOSLAV REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA*, the countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate countries ALBANIA, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA, MONTENEGRO and SERBIA, as well as the European Free Trade Association countries and members of the European Economic Area ICELAND and NORWAY align themselves with this statement.

*Croatia and Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.

Published on 10 September 2009, Swedish Presidency of the European Union

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Is This Really The Diary Of A KGB Mole?

Belarusian Activist's Spy 'Confession' Yields More Questions Than Answers

In a matter of hours, Syarhey Haurylin single-handedly managed to shine a spotlight on Belarus's ill-famed secret services, set the Internet abuzz, and wreak havoc on the country's opposition.

Not bad for a 26-year-old who modestly describes himself as an "ordinary person."

The storm around Haurylin began on August 15, the day he went online and posted his "Diary of a Source" -- a rambling confession of what he describes as an almost four-year stint spying on the Belarusian opposition for the KGB secret service.

The 50-page document (available here in Russian), which Haurylin posted after fleeing to Berlin, recounts in detail how the KGB allegedly recruited him to infiltrate and inform on the opposition movement in his hometown of Homel in southeastern Belarus.

It also contains damaging accusations against local opposition leaders.

But even as he published his scandalous and occasionally self-aggrandizing claims -- several times likening himself to James Bond -- Haurylin has expressed the desire to wipe the slate clean.

"I made a mistake. I sinned," writes Haurylin in the introduction to his diary. "I don't want to lie to anyone anymore. I want to be honest. I want people to believe me."

Gaining his readers' trust, however, may prove difficult for Haurylin, as doubts linger both about the authenticity of his story and his motives for publishing the diary.

History Of Subversion

While some praise the self-professed ex-mole for coming clean and uncovering the KGB's dirty tricks, others see the diary as an attempt by the secret police to discredit Belarus's already fractured opposition.

The KGB has so far declined to comment on the case. Haurylin, who gave an interview to Deutsche Welle in Berlin on August 26, has since returned to Belarus and is keeping a low profile.

"I've already said everything I wanted to say," he wrote in an e-mail from Berlin to decline an interview request from RFE/RL's Belarus Service.

A former KGB operative, Valery Kostka, says the KGB has a history of infiltrating the opposition to undermine its fight against the country's authoritarian president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Kostka, for one, believes Haurylin's account. "I am 95 percent convinced that this guy was really recruited, but that he was experiencing an internal battle and consequently felt compelled to tell the truth," he says.

"This is a courageous step, in the sense that he understood the most important thing -- that he was being used against the country's interests, because secret services should never serve solely either the government or the opposition. There should be an open competition between the two."

Detailed Information

Haurylin claims he was paid up to $115 a month to inform on the Homel opposition.

His diary gives detailed information on the opposition's activities, relates dozens of alleged conversations with KGB officials, and describes the methods used by the secret services to recruit and later manipulate him.

Haurylin even provides phone numbers -- currently switched off -- that allegedly belong to his KGB supervisors. He also lists the address of a Homel flat that he says the KGB used as a secret meeting point.

Andrus Tsyanyuta, a Youth Front opposition activist, says the diarymentions several real conversations he had with Haurylin.

"I think it's entirely possible that he collaborated with the secret services. His diary contains some real facts. For instance, that he used to print flyers for me, and that he asked me about the investigator in charge of the current criminal case against me," he tells RFE/RL's Belarus Service.

"I think Syarhey just grew tired of playing a double game and wanted to make a graceful exit. That's his style. He thought this would be an elegant move."

Tsyanyuta says the KGB recently tried to recruit another Youth Front campaigner, Dzmitry Fiaskou, who refused to cooperate and wrote about his experience on the Internet.

Both Haurylin's and Fiaskou's accounts, he says, are useful testimonies that can help dissuade the KGB from using moles within the opposition.

Libeling The Opposition

But not all opposition members are willing to forgive Haurylin.

Uladzimer Katsora, a prominent Homel opposition campaigner, dismisses the diary as a KGB-authored fake aimed at spreading lies about the opposition.

Katsora describes Haurylin as "a very egotistical person who thinks only of his own interests. He worked for money for the KGB and writes that he also took money from the opposition. I think this diary was initiated and drafted by the KGB. Haurylin then added a few artistic flourishes. The opposition now works in open conditions; it has little to hide."

Although Haurylin writes that he met "wonderful people" within the opposition, he also describes the Belarusian opposition as "totally controlled by the KGB" and accuses opposition leaders -- including Katsora -- of routinely pocketing for personal use foreign grant money meant to fund opposition activity.

"An electoral victory of [opposition leader Alyaksandr] Milinkevich is not in Katsora's interest," Haurylin quotes his KGB supervisor as saying ahead of the 2006 presidential election, which Lukashenka won in a landslide.

"After all, Katsora is paid to fight against Lukashenka's regime. As long as the regime exists, Katsora will have money. The others are just the same."

Haurylin says he himself created a bogus ecological group that won a $7,700 grant from the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a U.S. nonpartisan organization promoting democracy worldwide.

"Are they complete idiots? Don't they understand they are being duped?" he writes. He goes on to describe how he laundered these funds with the KGB's help.

An NDI representative told RFE/RL she was aware of the allegations but declined to comment.

'Merely Players'?

The "Diary of a Source" ends with a last post dated August 26, in which Haurylin announces his decision to leave Berlin and return to Belarus despite fears that "something bad" may happen to him.

So far, however, nothing bad seems to have happened to Haurylin. His return to Homel passed without incident, and there have been no reports of his arrest since.

Nor were there repercussions for Ulad Mikhaylau, another Belarusian activist who confessed two years ago to having spied on the opposition for the secret services.

Mikhaylau's experience was of interest for Haurylin, who noted in his diary that a KGB official said they decided against "chopping his head off" when Mikhaylau returned from studies in Poland after making his confession, and even allowed him to be reinstated at Homel State University, from which he had previously been expelled.

So are Mikhaylau's and Haurylin's confessions indeed part of a larger KGB ploy to hurt the opposition? Or are Belarus's secret services simply considerably more accommodating than one could expect from a country dubbed "Europe's last dictatorship?"

Either way, "Diary of a Source" suggests Haurylin's true talent may lie not in activism or espionage, but the art of self-promotion. "All the world's a stage," Haurylin begins his journal, quoting William Shakespeare. "And all the men and women merely players."

By Claire Bigg, Aleh Hruzdzilovich
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.