Friday, October 30, 2009

EU statement in the OSCE on death penalty in Belarus

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, 29 October 2009.

It is with deep regret, that the EU has learned that the Supreme Court of Belarus turned down the appeals by Mr. Vasilii Jazepchuk and by Mr. Andrey Zhuk, who were sentenced to death this summer.

The European Union reiterates its longstanding position on the use of death penalty. We oppose the use of capital punishment in all cases and under all circumstances and have consistently called for its universal abolition. We believe that the abolition of the death penalty is essential to protect human dignity, and to the progressive development of human rights. The EU considers this punishment cruel and inhuman. It has not been found to act as a deterrent, and any miscarriage of justice - which is inevitable in any legal system - is irreversible. Consequently, the death penalty is abolished throughout the European Union.

The EU also recalls the resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 18 December 2008 that reaffirmed its resolution adopted in December 2007, which expressly called upon all states that still maintain the death penalty to establish a moratorium on its use as a first step towards its abolition.

We call on the authorities of Belarus to commute these death sentences.

The two cases are in contradiction to the stated efforts by the Belarusian authorities during the past years to gradually restrict the death penalty. The EU continues to urge Belarus to introduce a moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view to its abolition. The EU welcomes the dialogue established with Belarus on these matters.

Press Release: Swedish Presidency of the European Union. Published on 29 October 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ukraine Presidential Elections 2010 in Pictures

The fifth presidential election since declaring independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 is scheduled to be held on 17 January 2010. The official Presidential campaign commenced on October 19, 2009.

The EU's Learning Curve Heralds Beginning Of End Of Sanctions

The European Union's curious history of applying punitive sanctions on non-member states is likely to prove short-lived. After EU foreign ministers decided on October 27 to remove all remaining restrictions on Uzbekistan, which has one of the world's most repressive regimes, the end of the whole idea of sanctions cannot be far away.

Sanctions are a relative recent addition to the armory of what was, until the 1990s, essentially a trading bloc. The end of the Cold War brought about a quickening of the EU's political pulse. The waves of enlargement which followed added a sense of mission.

The EU's own ideologues began speaking of the bloc as a harbinger of a more just and better-ordered future, in which selfish "modern" nation states would pool sovereignty to create a value-based "postmodern" world. A sense of moral superiority developed, requiring a practical outlet. The idea of sanctions was born.

Over the past 10 years or so, the EU has developed a complex array of punitive measures, ranging from asset freezes for individuals and organizations believed to be involved in terrorism and denying technical assistance to governments whose actions are not in line with EU principles, to wholesale cutting of links to regimes which kill or imprison their citizens for political motives. Uzbekistan, Belarus, Burma, and Zimbabwe are the most prominent examples of the latter.

But the ultimate test of whether the EU indeed has the courage of its convictions is its readiness to pass judgment on sovereign states. In this respect, the bloc's record is discouraging. A point seems to have been reached where interests take precedence over principles.

Rehabilitated Dictatorships

Uzbekistan and Belarus present two instructive cases in point. Those post-Soviet dictatorships have followed an identical trajectory which has taken them in the course of a few years from the depths of EU contempt to a restitution of their status as valued partners in dialogue.

Uzbekistan had a year's head start on Belarus, when in 2005 the EU froze all contacts with Tashkent in the wake of the massacre of civilian protesters in Andijon in May that year. Visa bans were imposed on top officials and an arms embargo enforced against the country.

Belarus followed in Uzbekistan's footsteps when President Alyaksandr Lukashenka rigged the parliamentary elections in 2006 and clamped down on opposition protests. The EU imposed visa bans and asset freezes on top Belarusian officials.

Barely two years after the sanctions were put in place, however, the EU was already looking for a way out. In exchange for minor and largely meaningless concessions, which could be grouped under the heading "increased dialogue," the burden of sanctions was progressively lightened.

As of today, Uzbekistan is completely free of EU sanctions, and Belarus is well on its way to full rehabilitation.

There is no single or simple explanation. But some similarities stand out. First, the EU's aspiration to be recognized as a moral avant-garde of world powers has been quietly laid to rest.

The reasons for this are manifold. They may go as far back as the bloc's powerlessness in the Balkans in the 1990s. But more tellingly, most of the damage has been done by the EU's self-professed "multilateral" persuasion.

The "multilateralism" preached by EU leaders since the start of the war in Iraq in 2003 has been partly inspired by the desire to undermine the global hegemony of the United States, and partly reflects the fact that the rise of Russia, China, India, and other new powers has reshaped the international arena.

Shifting Alliances

As the EU tries to position itself in what it hopes and believes is an emerging multipolar world, it has come to realize that in that world, allies equal power. When sanctions were slapped on Uzbekistan and Belarus, both were seen by the EU as tin-pot dictatorships of little consequence.

Then the EU -- or, more precisely, shifting alliances of key member states -- began to see both countries, for different reasons, as key players in complex regional struggles involving Russia. Securing Tashkent's goodwill became essential if the EU was to make any headway in its relations with energy-rich Central Asia, where Uzbekistan is the most populous state, with its own significant gas reserves.

The EU's vision of Belarus underwent a similar evolution, as its tug-of-war with Russia for influence in the former Soviet space intensified.

It quickly dawned on the leading national capitals -- and a little later on Brussels -- that not only do sanctions close down vitals channels of communication, but they can also be perceived as calculated insults.

Visa bans proved particularly irksome. For Lukashenka and his cohorts, finding ways of dodging the ban to visit other European countries must have been humiliating.

But national pride is also at stake. Both Belarusian and Uzbek officials never let slip an opportunity to remind the EU that they should be treated as "equals," meaning that they should not be lectured or otherwise treated as junior partners on account of their values, politics, or anything else.

Weighing Its Interests

The EU's sanctions policy has also become increasingly size-conscious. Uzbekistan, Belarus, Zimbabwe and Burma are of little global consequence. But Russia and China, whose rights records are in some ways scarcely better, are a different matter.

The EU has in the past frozen assistance money meant for Russia and engaged in tit-for-tat trade wars, but these measures have always been calibrated not to cause political affront. Its ambition to act as one of the "poles" in a multilateral world means the EU cannot afford to makes enemies of permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Commercial interests often play a role. Countries whose companies are involved in places like Burma or Belarus have traditionally been more skeptical than others when it comes to cutting contacts. But at the end of the day, the most important lesson the EU has learned is that in a multipolar world, its own internal coherence and unity come under growing pressure.

In some cases that pressure is great enough to excite powerful national interests; consequently, EU unity has already become collateral damage. All roads no longer lead to Brussels. Russia is a prominent example of an outside force that exerts a powerful -- and fragmenting -- pull on policy choices made in Berlin, Paris, and London.

For that reason, member states with vested interests have increasingly become prime movers in decisions regarding sanctions. Germany, which aspires to a leading role in shaping EU policy in the former Soviet space, forced the rehabilitation of Uzbekistan to get the EU Central Asia Strategy it sponsored off the ground.

Similarly, Poland and Lithuania have pursued a pragmatic approach with regard to their immediate neighbor Belarus. Contacts are deemed vital. Views of Russia also tend to color policy choices in much of Eastern Europe, where Minsk's cooperation is now valued a long way above its readiness to respect EU values.

All this is not to say that the EU does not have a foreign policy. But it is turning out to be a foreign policy very different from what was imagined only a few years ago.

By Ahto Lobjakas. Published on 28 October 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.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee

The 13th meeting of the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee took place in Kiev on 26-27th October at the Verkhovna Rada. The meeting ended with a press conference, during which Co-Chairmen Pawel Kowal and Borys Tarasyuk presented a `Final Statement and Recommendations`.

Vice-Chairwoman of the delegation Vilija Blinkeviciute, Kristian Vigenin and Marek Siwiec represented the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialist and Democrats.

Among the main issues discussed during the meeting were the Association Agreement and Ukraine`s aspirations for EU integration, the upcoming Presidential elections due to be held on 17 January 2010, Constitutional reforms and changes in the electoral law, visa facilitation agreement and the Eastern Partnership.

The EU delegation also had an exchange of views with the representatives of NGOs and civil society, Ambassador of Sweden to Ukraine on behalf of the Presidency-in-office of the Council of the EU, Head of EC Delegation in Ukraine and EU MS.

Meeting were also held with Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Volodymyr Lytvyn,Deputy Prime Minister Hryhoriy Nemyrya, President of Ukraine Viktor Yuschenko and also with Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

The 14th meeting of the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee will take place in Brussels in March 2010.

Ten Years Later, Deadly Shooting In Armenian Parliament Still Echoes

Ten years ago today, the tedium of an Armenian parliamentary question-and-answer session was shattered by shouts and the rattle of gunfire.

Five heavily armed gunmen burst into the chamber, spraying a hail of bullets that left Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, parliament speaker Karen Demirchian, and several other leading politicians dead.

RFE/RL correspondent Ruzanna Khachatrian was among the journalists covering parliament that day and her report from the scene captured the unfolding horror.

"A group of young men opened fire on the prime minister and the deputies. We're now hiding under the benches and the firing is still going on," she reported. "The gunmen are shouting that if anyone comes near the parliament building, they will be shot. The firing is coming from the security services office.

"One of the wounded deputies has been carried out. The leader of the gunmen is shouting about how the government has been 'sucking the blood of the people.' "

Marked The End

The brazen act of political terrorism, captured in television footage that was shown repeatedly to the nation in the days that followed, traumatized the small South Caucasus country.

It is not always easy to define precise turning points in a country's history, but for post-Soviet Armenia, the tragedy of October 27, 1999, was just such a moment.

Looking back a decade later, the parliament shooting marked the end of Armenia's development as an emerging democracy with balanced political and social institutions, and the beginning of its slide into a semi-authoritarian state dominated by a powerful president.

Anna Israelian was also reporting from parliament that day, for the leading independent newspaper "Aravot," and remembers the trauma of witnessing the murders.

"After leaving the parliament chamber together with RFE/RL reporter Ruzanna Khachatrian, we hid in the parliament's library. We used armchairs to barricade ourselves near the door and huddled together in one corner. It seemed to us that there were not only those five or six gunmen who had burst into the parliament chamber, but that it must have been a larger group," she recalls.

"We kept waiting for an attack. I was really horrified, because it was the first time in my life that I saw people being killed before my own eyes. It was a terrible stress that I haven't been able to overcome."

The gunmen claimed to be carrying out a coup d'etat, prompted by what their ringleader, former journalist Nairi Hunanian, called "the miserable situation of our people."

"The people are starving. In Armenia, there is no positive movement or evolution," Hunanian said, speaking to journalists during a brief hostage standoff that followed the shootings.

The five men surrendered to authorities on the morning of October 28, and in 2003 they were sentenced to life in prison for the murders. During the trial, Hunanian said that by killing Sargsian, he had helped restore "constitutional order" by strengthening the position of then-President Robert Kocharian. (Neither current President Serzh Sargsian nor Prime Minister Tigran Sargsian is related to the slain prime minister.)

Unanswered Questions

The long trial of the gunmen, however, failed to shed light on key questions, including how the former journalist was able to get an accreditation to parliament through Armenian state television, or how the men were able to get their weapons and ammunition into the chamber

The trial was hastily brought to an end just as Hunanian was reportedly about to reveal new information about the crime, and many are convinced that the real masterminds of the shooting remain unknown. One of the gunmen, Vram Galstian, was found hanged in his prison cell in April 2004, an apparent suicide.

Karine Kalantarian is an RFE/RL correspondent in Yerevan who covered the trial for nearly four years. She says the long process failed to bring closure to the case.

"The preliminary investigation that lasted about a year, and the court proceedings that lasted for more than three years, revealed little more than was clear already within days of the terrorist attack," Kalantarian says. "Suspicions that the terrorist act could have been the work of a mastermind were not dispelled."

Analysts agree that the events of October 27 were deeply traumatic for the entire country, shaking confidence that the newly independent state was capable of governing itself. Armenians have never fully recovered from the feelings of vulnerability and shock that were produced by seeing repeatedly on television how vicious thugs were able to gun down the country's most powerful politicians in the parliament chamber.
In the wake of the tragedy, President Kocharian was able to quickly consolidate power, and in the ensuing years he was able to dismantle Armenia's emerging democratic institutions. The legislature ceased to be an independent locus of political power. The country's leading independent television station was closed down. Political parties were weakened to the point of irrelevance.

'Big Question Mark'

Journalist Israelian, who now reports for RFE/RL in Yerevan, says Armenia's trend toward semi-authoritarian rule began on October 27, 1999.

"The question that has troubled people for a decade is whether or not there was a force that stood behind, and guided, the gunmen in the parliament chamber," she says. "That question has yet to receive a clear and well-established answer. A big question mark remains.

"As of now, only one thing is clear. After October 27, authority in Armenia became very monolithic, with a single center."

The shooting also derailed the process of settling the conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.

On the very day of the 1999 shootings, Prime Minister Sargsian had met with a smiling U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, and there was a palpable sense that a road map for regulating the dispute was within reach.

As Kocharian -- who was president of the self-declared government of Nagorno-Karabakh from 1994-97 -- solidified his grip on power, those hopes became increasingly elusive.

By Robert Coalson, Harry Tamrazian. Published on 27 October 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, October 26, 2009

EU Reviews Cooperation With The South Caucasus

After years of cultivating bilateral ties with the three South Caucasus countries, the European Union is now looking to inject a new, regional dynamic into the relationship.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, speaking for the current EU Presidency, said the bloc has a "common approach" for the region that takes account of the "individual preparedness" of the different countries.

The emphasis in Bildt's remarks after today's series of meetings between the EU and the three foreign ministers -- which culminated in a joint press conference -- was distinctly on the region, rather than on individual countries.

"I think we have overall a very good atmosphere between the European Union and the region," Bildt said.

In practice, this means the three countries find themselves in relatively similar starting positions as the EU prepares to launch talks with them in November on new association agreements. None can realistically hope for EU membership in the foreseeable future, but all three can qualify for free trade and visa-free travel arrangements with the EU in the long term.

All are members of the EU's Neighborhood Policy and its Eastern Partnership scheme, which seek to promote technical cooperation and political contacts.

No Longer Front-Runner

Behind the scenes, EU officials make it clear that Georgia no longer enjoys front-runner status in the region. All three governments have serious problems with democratic standards, harbor prisoners of conscience, and harass free media in their countries.

Nevertheless, all three countries have very different political agendas, something which they sought to impress on the EU throughout the meetings today.

Armenia, which was the first to sit down this morning with Bildt and the EU's external relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, has limited aims when it comes to political cooperation. The country is Russia's closest ally in the region, and it is looking to the EU for mostly technical assistance and financial aid.

Eduard Nalbandian, Armenia's foreign minister, stressed the particular attraction of visa-free travel arrangements with the EU for Yerevan.

"In the course of our discussions, I also highlighted the importance that we attach to the facilitation of people-to-people contacts and visa arrangements for our citizens," he said.

Although all three South Caucasus countries are keen to escape the EU visa requirement, a number of powerful member states, led currently by Spain, resist the idea.

The EU today welcomed the recent agreement between Armenia and Turkey to normalize relations. But the EU played no direct role in the rapprochement, which was chaperoned by the United States and Russia.

There is a small "advisory group" of EU experts working with a number of Armenian ministries, but the impact of their presence is expected to be negligible. After an high-level EU judicial assistance mission achieved very little in Georgia in 2004, the bloc has grown increasingly pessimistic about its ability to transform the three governments.

'Core Of The Issue'

Azerbaijan remains most concerned about the presence of Armenian troops in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and a number of adjoining Azeri districts. Elmar Mammadyarov, the country's foreign minister, raised the issue today at the press conference.

"We believe strongly that the core of the issue, if we want to achieve peace and stability in the region, is the withdrawal of Armenian forces from the occupied territories, which is definitely the core if we want to bring sustainable and durable peace and development to the region," he said.

Azerbaijan has had relatively good relations with the EU. Brussels regards Baku as a crucial link in its energy diversification plans, which rest on the hope of reaching out to the Central Asian countries.

But Baku has been rattled by the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement, and today Mammadyarov spoke at some length about the "different options" of supplying gas to EU markets without once mentioning the EU's Nabucco pipeline expected to link Azerbaijan via Turkey to an pipeline hub in Austria by 2015.

The EU is keen to speed up Azerbaijan's accession to the World Trade Organization, something it sees as important in developing energy cooperation with the country.

Georgia, meanwhile, remains preoccupied by Russia's virtual annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the wake of the war between the two countries in August 2008.

Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze stressed the importance his government attaches to continued EU support on this issue.

"We are thankful to the European Union for its unwavering support for our territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty," Vashadze said. "We drew the attention of our colleagues to the fact that Russia is fulfilling none of the obligations it voluntarily has undertaken under the August 12, 2008 agreement [the so-called Sarkozy-Medvedev accord]."

The EU is a key mediator at the Geneva talks between Tbilisi, Moscow, and the two de facto separatist governments.

Like Armenia, Georgia has put visa-free travel and free trade at the top of its EU wish list. Political reforms have been moved to the back burner, as the country's increasingly restrictive president, Mikheil Saakashvili, has accumulated an estimated 200 political prisoners and taken over the country's most influential media outlets.

Today, Vashadze thanked the EU for its "ideas and suggestions" aimed at "increasing the quality of Georgia's democracy," and promised that Tbilisi will make "extensive" use of the bloc's expertise in the field.

By Ahto Lobjakas. Published on 26 October 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.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Twittering The Tyrants: New Media's Role In Authoritarian Regimes

New media websites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have opened a window of freedom for people living in closed societies around the world.

Whether by "tweeting" information to their fellow citizens, posting videos online, or publishing non-state-controlled news stories, democracy advocates have embraced new technologies.

With it, they are organizing protests, recruiting others to their cause, exposing corruption, and shining a light on human rights abuses.

When mass protests arose in Iran last summer following a presidential election that many people believed was rigged in favor of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, news of the demonstrations and subsequent bloody government crackdown got out of the country via Facebook and YouTube and Twitter.

Journalists were banned from reporting the events, so Iranians took it upon themselves to tell the world what was going on. The leader of protesters' Green movement, Mir Hossein Musavi, reached his supporters then, and now, via his blog and Facebook.

So powerful was the force of this "citizen reporting" that, at the peak of the protests, the U.S. State Department quietly asked executives at Twitter to delay its scheduled maintenance on the site in order to avoid an interruption of service.

The ability of these new technologies to bypass government censors has also caught the attention of lawmakers in Washington.

Congress's own human rights panel, the U.S. Helsinki Commission, recently asked a group of technology experts for a briefing on how new media is changing social activism and civil society in countries with repressive regimes, and more importantly, what the U.S. government can do to help.

The Power Of New Media

Nathan Frietas is a software developer who, among other things, has invented technology that allows people to exchange data between mobile devices over wireless networks.

He's also a veteran social activist who has helped organize pro-democracy protests in the United States, China, Tibet, and India. Frietas even designed a course that he now teaches at New York University titled "Social Activism Using Mobile Technology."

This self-described geek-activist introduced himself to the commission as "a representative of the countless technology and new-media advocates who believe that the most amazing and groundbreaking innovations of our generation should be used more than for the acquisition of wealth or distraction or entertainment, but should be used to really do good in the world."

Frietas helped create something called "Twitter Vote Report," an open-source software program that merges Internet-based data with reports from election poll monitors to produce a real-time report of where and when fraud might be happening. It was used in the 2008 U.S. elections, and since then, in India and Afghanistan.

Frietas said Burma's failed 2007 "Saffron Revolution," in which monks and citizens peacefully protested for days against the country's military junta, was the first time the world realized how new media technology can blast through government-imposed barriers.

"The fascinating thing about what happened in Burma in 2007 was the emergence of the video journalist -- someone with a very cheap digital camera broadcasting their message using the Internet, instant messaging, FTP file transfer, and ending up on the BBC," Frietas said.

More Than Technology Needed

Daniel Calingaert runs Freedom House's civil society and media programs. He told the panel that citizens across the former Soviet Union are using new media to assert their rights and challenge abuses of power.

He described how activists in Russia documented instances of election fraud in this month's local elections. They broadcast photos, posted videos, and blogged about what they saw. The result was a criminal investigation of a district election commissioner and a walkout in parliament by three opposition parties.

In Belarus, where the state tightly controls the media, Calingaert said most people with access to the Internet turn to nonstate sources of news. Only three of the 20 most viewed websites in Belarus are state-run.

In Kazakhstan, when a law to restrict the Internet was introduced last July, the free-speech group Adil Soz organized an online campaign using blogs, Facebook, and Twitter to mobilize opposition. The bill ultimately passed, but the campaign harnessed opposition in a way that had never been seen before.

All these examples -- and there are many more -- are a testament to how new media technology is empowering civil activists in ways never before possible.

But Calingaert said it will take more than Twitter and YouTube to bring democracy to places where there is none. "New media alone cannot undermine authoritarian regimes," he said. "Authoritarian regimes in the former Soviet republics and elsewhere continue to repress their citizens, and this repression extends to digital media."

The Authorities Push Back

In Russia, Internet freedom is declining as bloggers fall prey to hacker attacks, legal prosecution, and physical violence. State officials regularly pressure Internet service providers to remove objectionable content on websites. The director of the company Masterhost told Freedom House he gets 100 requests a day to remove content deemed "inconvenient."

In Belarus, the authorities conduct surveillance on Internet users and require cybercafes to register everyone's browsing history.

And in China -- where bloggers have been sentenced to jail terms and Western Internet sites are regularly blocked -- the authorities plant monitors in online chat rooms to guide discussions away from sensitive topics and toward pro-government positions.

"New media has created significant opportunities for advancing freedom in countries ruled by authoritarian regimes. It has expanded the space for free expression and facilitated civil activism," Calingaert said.

"But authoritarian regimes have pushed back. They have restricted Internet freedom in a variety of ways and they are likely to further limit the space for free expression and civic activism on the Internet unless the U.S. government works proactively and vigorously to keep that space open."

NYU's Frietas also warns that as more and more citizens embrace these new methods of electronic communication, they run the risk of being found out by the state -- not only them, but their family, friends, and fellow activists.

"Mobile phones are unique identifiers that track their user. Laptop computers are full of incriminating documents. Digital viruses deliver powerful espionage tools [to activists' computers] such as Ghostnet," Frietas says.

"One slip, and your entire e-mail box and social network can be revealed." As he put it, you can't Twitter your way out of a beating by the security police.

Providing Tools To Fight Repression

So what does the future hold in countries where the state has begun to grasp just how dangerous new media is to its tight control on society?

Calingaert predicts more repression, unless citizens fight to keep the Internet free from government interference. He told the Congressional panel that the United States must get involved in that fight, by:

Preventing the use of U.S. technology in violation of peoples' rights;Building coalitions among democratic governments in defense of Internet freedom;Investing in technology to circumvent censorship and strengthen user privacy; andSupporting citizens' efforts wherever possible to expand free expression online.
Shiyu Zhou is already deep into the fight again state censorship. As the deputy director of the Global Internet Freedom Consortium, Zhou is part of a small group of Chinese engineers spending their own money on anticensorship systems that anyone can use to bypass state controls.

Two of their most popular programs, FreeGate and UltraSurf, provide users with encrypted connections to secure proxy servers around the world. The servers' Internet protocol (IP) addresses are constantly switched -- as many as 10,000 times an hour -- to make it harder for the censors to block.

Zhou said that during the protests in Iran, Internet traffic from inside the country to his IP switching program soared by 600 percent. During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when mass protests in Tibet broke out, traffic increased 400 percent.

Internet censorship firewalls, Zhou told the Congressional panel, have become a 21st-century Berlin Wall -- one that separates nations from the rest of the world as effectively as the original.

"When people in closed societies get a taste of freedom and are given a way to share information, they will no longer acquiesce to tyranny and injustice," Zhou said.

"Internet freedom has the potential of transforming closed societies in a peaceful but powerful way that must not be underestimated."

By Heather Maher. Published on 24 October 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.

Friday, October 23, 2009

EU statement in the OSCE on the appeals trial of 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, 22 October 2009.

The EU would like to recall its statement in the Permanent Council of September 10, in which we expressed our concern with violations of due process observed during the trial of the internationally renowned Kazakh human rights defender Evgeniy Zhovtis. These violations raised serious doubts about the verdict handed down to Mr. Zhovtis on charges of causing the death of a person by negligence in a road traffic accident.

In view of these concerns, the EU is disappointed to learn that, in a hearing in which the defendant was not allowed to participate, Mr. Zhovtis' sentence was upheld and the violations of due process were not appropriately addressed by the Taldykorgan court on October 20. The calls by national non-governmental organizations and the international community on Kazakh authorities to ensure that the appeal be handled with full respect for national legislation and international standards thus went unheeded. This is a matter of profound concern for the EU.

We continue to call for Mr. Zhovtis’ due process rights to be upheld in line with Kazakhstan's OSCE commitments. In light of the shortcomings to date, the EU appeals to the Kazakh authorities properly to address the procedural violations and to conduct a thorough review of all aspects of this particular case.

The EU attaches particular attention to the full respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including for human rights defenders, in its relations with Kazakhstan, as evidenced by the second meeting of the EU-Kazakhstan human rights dialogue yesterday. We will continue to follow this case closely, also in the run-up to Kazakhstan’s Chairmanship.

Published by the Swedish Presidency of the European Union on 23 October 2009

OSCE's mechanisms to prevent conflicts must be used more effectively, says Lithuanian Foreign Minister

The 2008 conflict in Georgia was a signal to OSCE participating States that they need to make better use of the tools the Organization has developed to prevent conflicts, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Vyagaudas Usackas told the OSCE Permanent Council today.

The war in Georgia underlined the grave danger that protracted conflicts pose to the security in the OSCE area by demonstrating how quickly a situation can spiral out of control, he said, adding that it also demonstrated that the Organization's early warning, conflict prevention and crisis management mechanisms needed to be improved.

"But this is not enough: all of us should be ready to use these mechanisms more often, more effectively and as soon as possible," he said. "The ultimate goal of the OSCE is to build political will and use all the preventive mechanisms, so as not to have to deal with post-conflict rehabilitation afterwards. The tragedy in Georgia cannot be repeated."

Usackas, whose country holds the Presidency of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, also said there was a "significant potential" for the OSCE to co-operate with sub-regional institutions.

"We can encourage further bilateral or regional initiatives aimed at developing relations of good neighbourhood and inter-regional co-operation," he said.

Lithuania, which will hold the OSCE Chairmanship in 2011, succeeding Kazakhstan in 2010, is interested in promoting such co-operation, Usackas said. Greece holds the OSCE 2009 Chairmanship.

Usackas said the OSCE's shared values and commitments still remained meaningful, almost 35 years after the signing of the Helsinki Final Act.

"All participating States have pledged to defend them and to respect them in our interaction with each other and while organizing and developing our own societies. In this, we are accountable to our citizens as we are accountable to each other. Our performance - whether in consolidating the rule of law and democratic institutions internally or in our behaviour externally - is the subject of legitimate peer review by fellow OSCE states," he said.

"The OSCE is a project that requires our constant engagement and political will. Given the scope of the challenges that we face today, we cannot afford to be complacent."

The Permanent Council is one of the 56-country OSCE's main decision-making bodies. It meets weekly in Vienna to discuss developments in the OSCE area and to make appropriate decisions.

Press Release: OSCE, Vienna 22 October 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Kristian Vigenin promotes Euronest initiative in Stockholm

European Parliament Chairman of Euronest Parliamentary Assembly Kristian Vigenin participated in the Interparliamentary meeting on ´The Parliamentary Dimension to the Eastern Partnership´ held in Stockholm by the Swedish Presidency on 21 October 2009.

Parliamentarians from the Eastern countries and the EU national Parliaments expressed their views on how the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly should be shaped. Kristian Vigenin communicated the views of the European Parliament on this new initiative.

The participants of this meeting were:


Swedish Parliament
Göran LENNMARKER – Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs
Thomas HÖRBERG – Head of secretariat to the Committee on Foreign Affairs
Martin BROTHÉN – Secretary to the Committee on Foreign Affairs
Eva KVARFORDT – Secretary to the Committee on Foreign Affairs
Johan MATZ – Secretary to the Committee on Foreign Affairs
Hannah WENNBERG – Clerical officer to the Committee on Foreign Affairs

Federal Council
Georg SPIEGELFELD-SCHNEEBURG – Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee
Lukas MUSSI – EU- and International Services

House of Representatives
Geert VERSNICK – Chairperson of the committee on Foreign Affairs
Mireille PÖTTGENS – Secretary of the Committee on Foreign Affairs

National Assembly
Dimitar CHUKARSKI – Chairman of the Foreign Policy and Defence Committee

House of Representatives
Averof NEOFYTOU – Chairman, standing Committee on Foreign Affairs
Sophie TSOURIS – International Relations Officer

Alena VENHODOVA – Deputy-Chair of the Committee on EU Affairs
Jaromir STETINA – Member, Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence of Parliament
Martin HRABALEK – EU Unit staff
Chamber of Deputies
Jan HAMÁČEK – Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs
Veronika SYKOVÁ – Head of the Secretaiat of the Committee on Foreign Affairs

People's Assembly
Gitte LILLELUND BECH – Chairman of the Foreign Policy Committee
Eva ESMARCH – Secretary

Sven MIKSER – Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee
Ivan MÖLDER – Adviser of the Foreign Affairs Committee

Erkki TUOMIOJA – Chairman of the Grand Committee
Peter SARAMO – Committee Counsel

Jacques BLANC – Vice President of the European Affairs Committee
Bernadette BOURZAI – Member of the European Affairs Committee
Emilie CATHELINEAU – Adviser of the French Senators

Federal Council
Beatrice KLEINERT – Assistant Head of Parliamentary Relations Services

National Assembly
Mihály BALLA – Member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs
Bálint ÓDOR – Head of EU Department
András KLEIN – Counsellor to the Committee on Foreign Affairs

Barbara CONTINI – Member of the Committee on EU Politics
Chamber of Deputies
Mario BARBI – Member of the Committee on Foreign and Community Affairs
Mario DI NAPOLI – Official

Andris BERZINS – Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee
Arturs JEFIMOVS – Adviser

Audronius AZUBALIS – Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs
Milda PETROKAITE – Adviser to the Committee of Foreign Affairs

Chamber of Deputies
Marc ANGEL – Member of the Foreign Affairs Committtee

Hans FRANKEN – Vice-chairman, Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Development
House of Representatives
Luuk BLOM – Member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs
Arjen WESTERHOFF – Deputy clerk Interparliamentary Relations

Leon KIERES – Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee
Andrzej HALICKI – Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee

National Assembly
Jorge MACHADO – Member of Parliament

Titus CORLATEAN – Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee

House of Lords
Peter BOWNESS – Chairman of Sub-Committee E of the European Union Committee
Edward LOCK – Representative to the European Union
House of Commons
Michael GAPES – Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee
Rebecca DAVIES – Clerk to the Foreign Affairs Committee


Fiorello PROVERA – Vice-Chair Foreign Affairs Committee
Kristian VIGENIN – Member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs
Keith AZZOPARDI – Political Adviser
Stefan PFITZNER – Head of Unit


Allen OLIVIER - Office of the Personal Representative of the SG/HR for Parliamentary affairs 5CFSP°


Naira ZOHRABYAN - Chair to the Standing Committee on European Integration
Karine SHIMSHIRYAN - Chief Specialist, European Integration Division, External Relations Department


Sergei MASKEVICH - Chairman of the Standing Committee on International Affairs
Tatyana BOGUSHEVICH - Official

David DARCHIASHVILI - Chairman of the Committee on European Integration
Rusudan PATSATSIA - Official

Igor CORMAN - Chairman, Foreign Policy and European Integration Committee
Tatiana MOLCEAN - Official

Borys TARASYUK- Chairman of the European Integration Committee
Taras CHORNOVIL- Vice-Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee

The meeting was closed for the public and the media.

Western Ukraine Could Decide Presidential Election Outcome

After what is widely seen as five years of missed opportunities under incumbent President Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine's three-month election campaign has begun.

Past presidential elections in Ukraine have been a contest for control of the "swing" region of central Ukraine that Leonid Kuchma and Yushchenko won in 1994 and 2004, respectively. But to win nationwide, a candidate needs either western or eastern Ukraine as well.

Kuchma won by winning the east and the center, Yushchenko the west and the center. The last three elections were won by slim majorities of 52-56 percent.

The upcoming presidential elections will be different, and the first in which western Ukraine will play a strategic role in deciding the winner. Central Ukraine continues to be dominated by Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, whereas opposition Party of Regions Chairman Viktor Yanukovych has a dominant position in eastern-southern Ukraine.

The presidential election is set for January 17, 2010; if no candidate wins outright in the first round, a runoff will take place three weeks later.

Presidential Fragmentation

Western Ukraine's central role in the upcoming elections is the product of five years of infighting and fragmentation of the center-right. The Our Ukraine-People's Self Defense bloc (NU-NS) that entered parliament in September 2007 included nine parties that had promised to merge into a single pro-Yushchenko party that would support his bid for a second presidential term.

Instead, the nine have grown to 14, with the establishment of two new parties, led by Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko (Self Defense) and former chief of staff Viktor Baloga (United Center), plus three NGOs that are embryo parties led respectively by former Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko (Civic Initiative), former parliament speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk (Front for Change), and Vyacheslav Kyrylenko (For Ukraine!).

Of NU-NS's 72 parliamentary deputies, approximately 40, a slim majority, support the democratic coalition underpinning the Tymoshenko government (together with the Tymoshenko and Volodymyr Lytvyn blocs).

Of the remaining 32 deputies, 17 belong to the single pro-Yushchenko group, For Ukraine!, while a further 10 belong to United Center.

President Yushchenko's election campaign is hampered not only by his low popular support, which he routinely dismisses as unimportant, but also his lack of a political machine. Yushchenko is honorary chairman of the People's Union-Our Ukraine (NS-NU) party, one of the original nine in the NU-NS bloc, and his chief of staff Vera Ulianichenko is its leader. Both the NS-NU and Yushchenko personally can count on only 2-3 percent support.

The NS-NU has been bankrupt since the spring, when Ukrainian businessmen withdrew their funding after it became evident that he was a lame duck president unable to win a second term.

At least five of the figures who played key roles in the Orange Revolution will be competing for the presidency: Yushchenko, Tymoshenko, Yatsenyuk, Hrytsenko, and Yuriy Kostenko, leader of the People's Party, one of the original nine in the NU-NS bloc.

The nationalist-populist leader of the Svoboda Party (formerly called the Social-National Party) Oleh Tyahnybok, who won a majoritarian seat in 2002 and joined the Our Ukraine faction (only to be expelled two years later for anti-Semitic remarks), will also be competing for the western Ukrainian vote.

Not Easy Breaking In

The two leading candidates in western Ukraine are Tymoshenko and Yatsenyuk. Yatsenyuk leads among younger and educated voters in the three Galician oblasts, while Tymoshenko leads in the remaining four oblasts of western Ukraine. Overall, Tymoshenko has a 6-7 percentage-point lead over Yatsenyuk throughout western Ukraine.

Yatsenyuk's popularity has catapulted him to third place in national opinion polls, but this should not make him overly self-confident, and his ratings have dropped by a third since the summer. Yatsenyuk's popularity is being squeezed from four directions: Tymoshenko, Ukraine's best election campaigner and most charismatic politician; incumbent Yushchenko, who has the same voter base as Yatsenyuk; Hrytsenko; and Serhiy Tyhipko.

In addition to Yatsenyuk, Hrytsenko and Tyhipko also figure within the "second tier" of candidates. Tyhipko has roots in the Dnipropetrovsk clan's Labor Ukraine Party, but is increasingly challenging Yatsenyuk for the position of the "new face in politics" among disillusioned voters.

Yatsenyuk's western Ukrainian voters could also turn away from him over his inconsistency on issues that they consider crucial to Ukraine's national identity. Although elected to parliament in the NU-NS bloc, Yatsenyuk has de facto ditched key elements in its platform, such as abolishing parliamentary immunity; legal recognition of Ukrainian nationalist partisans who fought against the Nazis and Soviets in the 1940s; NATO membership; and energy independence (Yatsenyuk supports a gas consortium with Russia).

He has also recently become skeptical of EU membership and withdrew his signature from a January 2008 letter to NATO's Bucharest summit (which he signed together with Tymoshenko and Yushchenko) seeking a Membership Action Plan.

These are all issues on which Yushchenko (and to some degree Tymoshenko) are challenging Yatsenyuk. Ironically, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's bitterly critical August letter to Yushchenko will only have served to improve his ratings in western Ukraine and therefore eaten into Yatsenyuk's popularity.

Touted last year as representing the younger generation of Ukrainian politicians and therefore by implication as "pro-Western," Yatsenyuk looked decidedly less so at the September Yalta European Strategy (YES) summit.

YES, an NGO established five years ago by oligarch Viktor Pinchuk, invited Yanukovych, Tymoshenko, and Yatsenyuk to present their platforms to a special "Freedom of Speech" ICTV live program and to European guests (ICTV is one of four television channels owned by Pinchuk). Of the three, Yatsenyuk, according to Ukrainian media reports, was the most disappointing and vacuous.

Tymoshenko Stands Up

Tymoshenko's campaign team have realized the strategic importance of western Ukraine and reached out to the North American diaspora, which retains its influence over the region. Addressing the annual meeting of the World Congress of Ukrainians in Lviv on August 21-22, on the eve of Ukraine's Independence Day, Tymoshenko stressed her support for Ukrainian remaining the only state language, an issue of particular concern to western Ukrainians and the Ukrainian diaspora.

On October 13, the Tymoshenko bloc organized a parliamentary hearing on links with the Ukrainian diaspora. Tymoshenko's reaffirmation of support for the Ukrainian language forced Yanukovych to announce prematurely that, if reelected president, he would elevate Russian to the status of the second state language. This policy, which figured in his 2004 campaign program, will ruin his chances completely in western Ukraine, and to some degree in the central region as well.

The January elections are likely to require a runoff, as in 2004, this time between Tymoshenko and Yanukovych. But unlike five years ago, when Yushchenko ran as the united opposition candidate, this time around the former Orange Revolution parties and leaders are fragmented.

Ukrainian intellectual groups are increasingly calling on the "Orange" camp to unite around Tymoshenko, as they had united around Yushchenko. That lack of "Orange" unity in turn improves Yanukovych's chances, so it is likely that this time the bitter second round will pit him against Tymoshenko.

By Taras Kuzio. Published on 19 October 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.

Is Kazakhstan Fit To Chair The OSCE?

Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev has much to gloat about regarding his country's 2010 chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

As the first former Soviet republic to chair the organization, Kazakhstan seems finally to be receiving the international respect its leaders have been craving. In addition, representing itself as a Eurasian state, Kazakhstan has pledged to mend the East-West rift that threatens the effectiveness of the OSCE.

Nevertheless, as an international organization that, among other things, promotes human rights, transparent elections, and the rule of law, the OSCE is taking quite a gamble by entrusting the chairmanship to a country that is taking steps away from -- rather than toward -- democracy.

In consolidating his power, Nazarbaev can claim some limited successes in the spheres of free press and speech, as well as labor regulations. But these minor gains are overshadowed by undemocratic, even harsh, measures. Constitutional amendments in 1995, 1999, and 2005 have enabled him to manipulate and emerge the winner from successive presidential elections. In 2005, he polled 91 percent of the vote. And the convenient deaths of opposition leaders Zamenbek Nurkadilov just weeks before the 2005 election and of Altynbek Sarsenbaev in February 2006 have removed potential rivals.

That is why the OSCE's decision to extend the chairmanship to Kazakhstan puts the foundation of the organization, as well as its fragile reputation, in danger.

Core Strengths

Defending Kazakhstan's candidacy at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s annual session held in Astana in July 2008, Finnish Foreign Minister and then OSCE Chairman Alexander Stubb stated, "In the face of change, the core strengths of the OSCE are of lasting value. The emphasis on cooperative security, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law – the basic functions -- is still there."

For how long, however, depends on how much damage Kazakhstan inflicts on the organization as chairman.

Although many member states questioned or openly criticized Kazakhstan's nomination, Russia fully supported its efforts to overcome perceived organizational bias and unfair strictures placed on former Soviet republics. Speaking at the OSCE summit in Madrid in November 2007, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov took issue with the proposal to postpone the Kazakh chairmanship, tentatively scheduled for 2009.

"Unfortunately, during the several years that have preceded today's meeting, there were absolutely unacceptable and unseemly maneuvers aimed at imposing restrictions on the right of a specific country -- an equal member of the OSCE -- to chair this organization by making demands on its internal and external policies," Lavrov stated.

Such support was critical along Kazakhstan's road to the chairmanship.

At the 2006 OSCE meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels, Kazakhstan's bid to chair the organization in 2009 received backing from Russia and Germany but was opposed by Great Britain and the United States, both of which suggested 2011 would be a more suitable date, as it would give Kazakhstan the necessary time needed to improve its domestic democracy and human rights records.

The decision was put off until the Madrid meeting in 2007 where factions led by Russia and the United States brokered a conditional compromise date of 2010 based on the assumption that Kazakhstan would undertake a number of reforms, mainly legislation on media, elections, and political parties.

The "reform" process has, however, been excruciatingly slow, opaque, and inconsequential. Although civil society representatives were invited to take part in early "working groups" tasked with drafting the legislative amendments, most of their important and substantive recommendations were subsequently ignored, and they were barred from the final drafting process.

The outcome was predictable.

Regarding media law reform, the government refused to decriminalize libel and insult or to remove special protections for government officials who feel that their "honor, dignity, or professional" reputation has been damaged.

Election reform proved even less successful, with the parliament pushing through in January 2009 legislation that upholds the current 7 percent minimum to gain parliamentary representation, but in the event that only one party surpasses that percentage, allows the second-placed party to enter parliament as well.

Opposition parties had called for lowering the threshold to 3 percent on the grounds that the party that places second may be too weak to effectively oppose Nazarbaev's Nur Otan party. Likewise, the parliament has apparently interpreted "political party reform" as meaning that rival parties should have an even harder time registering. Thus, those who wish to oppose the ruling party must first register a "political party organizing committee" with the state authorities before being considered for registration.

Orwellian Legislation

These "reforms" do not look like the work of a government seriously committed to carrying out the democracy component of the OSCE mandate.

Furthermore, despite calls from civil society and Western governments to reconsider these changes before Kazakhstan takes over the chairmanship in 2010, the parliament rushed through the most Orwellian legislation to date in June 2009 -- the law "On Issues Related to Information-Communications." Signed into law by the president in July, it designates all Internet sites as media and, consequently, subject to the "reformed" media law and the accompanying punishments. It also gives courts the authority to restrict or ban foreign websites without notifying the site operator, and it drastically expands the areas where the distribution of domestic information may be subject to "prior restraint."

Overall, Kazakhstan's half-hearted efforts to live up to its promises of reform appear to be a deliberate affront to the OSCE, Western governments, and its own citizens' attempts to demand government transparency and accountability.

Kazakhstan has been abuzz lately with talk of passing legislation that would make the 69-year-old Nazarbaev president for life. But is there really any need to do so, given that the president has created a system that guarantees his reelection for as long as he deems fit, and where the opposition has been hamstrung, the media silenced, and civil society given a polite but insignificant role?

Kazakhstan is being rewarded for these flagrant abuses of authority and civil society with chairmanship of the OSCE in 2010. That decision may encourage leaders of other authoritarian states who routinely scoff at democratization and sacrifice the interests of their citizens for their own political and economic gains.

By J.G. Cefalo. Published on 21 October 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.

In Belarus, Romany Man's Looming Execution Stirs Death Penalty Debate

Each day could be the last for Vasyl Yuzepchuk, a 30-year-old illiterate Romany man who faces imminent execution in Belarus.

A court in June found him guilty of robbing and strangling six elderly women. The murders shocked the public in Belarus, where many applauded the court's decision to sentence him to death.

Yuzepchuk maintains his innocence and claims investigators tortured him into making a false confession.

After exhausting his appeals earlier this month, he is pinning his last hopes on clemency from Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

But the iron-fisted Lukashenka, who has pardoned just one person in 15 years in office, has so far ignored his plea.

'Beaten, Ill-Treated, And Threatened'

Human rights groups have mounted a campaign to support Yuzepchuk, who they say was wrongly convicted after a botched investigation and trial.

"Obviously it's a terrible crime and nobody is trying to belittle the crime itself, but when the sixth body was discovered, dozens of Roma were detained," says Heather McGill, a Belarus expert at Amnesty International. "Vasyl Yuzepchuk has said that he was beaten, ill-treated, and threatened. Witnesses have also said that they were threatened. So we have serious fair-trial concerns in this case."

European officials have also thrown their weight behind Yuzepchuk.

The Council of Europe issued a statement voicing deep concern about his fate and calling for an immediate suspension of the death penalty in Belarus, the only country in Europe and the former Soviet Union that still executes prisoners.

Sweden's ambassador to Belarus, Stefan Eriksson, repeated the call at a news conference in Minsk on October 12.

"We hoped the process of introducing a moratorium on the death penalty would be pursued in parliament," said Eriksson, whose country currently holds the rotating EU Presidency. "What we would like to see is a moratorium and, eventually, a complete abolition."

Simple Scapegoat?

Rights activists say Yuzepchuk was probably targeted as a scapegoat by investigators under pressure to solve the case.

Born in Ukraine, Yuzepchuk does not hold Belarusian citizenship and can neither read nor write. He belongs to the marginalized Romany community and earned a living running errands for elderly people.

Like many in Belarus, Prosecutor Mikalai Zhechka has done nothing to hide his distaste for the lifestyle of Yuzepchuk and his alleged accomplice, another Ukraine-born Rom who was sentenced to life in prison.

"The convicts don't have a permanent place of residence, they are not citizens of our republic, they are not employed anywhere, they led a free kind of life with casual earnings," Zhechka told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service after the Supreme Court rejected Yuzepchuk's appeal in early October. "Above all, their behavior was inhuman. I think the court gave them the sentence they deserved."

Roman Kislyak, a lawyer for Yuzepchuk, says he also has a diagnosed mental disability.

"He is unable to identify dates -- all he can tell is whether something happened in winter or in summer," he says. "He speaks indistinctly, he has an accent, and it's sometimes impossible to understand him."

Kislyak has helped Yuzepchuk file a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee. If irregularities in the trial are found, the committee can order Yuzepchuk's sentence to be commuted to imprisonment.

Under bilateral accords, Belarusian authorities cannot execute him pending the consideration of his case at the United Nations.

But according to Kislyak, Belarus has gone ahead with executions in the past without waiting for committee decisions, and Yuzepchuk could be put to death any day.

He says there is no deadline for Lukashenka's clemency decision, which could come in a day, a month, or a year.

Brutal Methods

Right activists estimate the country has executed some 400 people since gaining independence in 1991.

The pace of executions has slowed under international pressure. Only two people have been executed so far this year. But Lukashenka has stopped short of suspending capital punishment, which remains popular in Belarus.

Critics have condemned the country's brutal execution methods.

Convicts are executed within minutes of being told their appeals for clemency have been rejected. They are blindfolded and taken to a nearby room, where they are forced to their knees and shot in the back of the head. They are not allowed to see a priest.

Bodies of executed prisoners are buried in a secret location. The families are informed after the execution and never told where their relatives are buried.

"To the uninformed public, it's an easy solution. But it's not a solution to crime," says Amnesty International's McGill. "I think when people hear about these details, it makes them think twice -- about what it must be like to sit in a cell and to think every time the door opens that this could be your last moment of life. It's devastating."

As the debate over his case trudges on, Yuzepchuk is bracing for death. His lawyer says that despite his mental disability, he is fully aware that he faces execution and is emotionally shattered.

By Claire Bigg. Published on 21 October 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.

Azerbaijan Could Scuttle Nabucco Over Turkey-Armenia Deal

Azerbaijan has apparently decided to play its energy card.

As much of the world applauded Turkey's historic rapprochement with Armenia last week, Azerbaijan felt left out in the cold and abandoned by its closest ally.

Baku had argued strenuously that a deal to reestablish relations between Ankara and Yerevan should not be signed while Armenia continued to occupy Nagorno-Karabakh, and it threatened to take unspecified countermeasures if one was.

Speaking at a nationally televised cabinet meeting on October 16, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev revealed one of those steps: "It is not a secret to anyone that for many years Azerbaijan has been selling its gas to Turkey for one-third of market prices."

Aliyev added: "What state would agree to sell its natural resources for 30 percent of world market prices, especially under current conditions? This is illogical."

Aliyev presented the move as a purely commercial decision and did not explicitly link it to the Turkish-Armenian deal. Azerbaijan currently sells Turkey natural gas at the bargain rate of $120 per thousand cubic meters. But the timing of Aliyev's announcement, less than a week after the accord between Yerevan and Ankara was signed, left little doubt.

If Baku follows through on the move, analysts say it could severely undermine -- if not completely kill -- the Western-backed Nabucco pipeline project to bring gas from the Caspian Sea to Europe via Turkey.

"Potentially this is very important because it could potentially deliver a knockout blow to Nabucco. Without Azerbaijan it would be even more difficult than it is," says Federico Bordonaro, an energy-security analyst with the Italian-based group

Nabucco vs. South Stream

The Nabucco project, which is designed to bypass Russia by bringing gas from the Caspian region via Georgia and Turkey into the rest of Europe, is a key element of a Western strategy to break Moscow's stranglehold on Europe's energy supplies and establish alternative routes and suppliers for the continent.

Russia, for its part, is pushing its own competing pipeline project, called South Stream, that would transport Russian gas to Europe via the Black Sea and Bulgaria.

Aliyev said one option for Azerbaijan would be to export its gas to Europe via Russia, which analysts say would dovetail with Moscow's pipeline plans.

"We should not rule out the possibility that the Russians are trying to use these tensions in order to turn Azerbaijan against Nabucco and directly or indirectly [support] South Stream," Bordonaro says.

Indeed, as the Turkey-Armenia rapprochement gained steam -- and it became clear that it would proceed without progress on Nagorno-Karabakh -- Aliyev began moving closer to Moscow.

He met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at a summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Chisinau on October 9, just before Turkey and Armenia signed their accord.

And on October 14, when Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian was in Turkey watching a World Cup soccer match with his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul, Azerbaijan signed a deal to sell 500 million cubic meters of natural gas annually to Russia's Gazprom starting in 2010.

Speaking about the deal, Aliyev said the 500 million cubic meters was just a starting point and that there was "no upper limit" to the amount of gas Baku could sell to Russia.

Is He Bluffing?

While Aliyev's move has heightened fears that Azerbaijan may be moving quickly into Moscow's orbit, some observers say he could be bluffing in an attempt to influence Turkey's parliament, which is due to debate the agreement normalizing relations with Armenia on October 21.

"The Azerbaijanis could be saying [to the West and Turkey] that if you are not supportive of us on Nagorno-Karabakh, we will choose South Stream over Nabucco," Bordonaro says.

"It is difficult to say if they are bluffing or not. But we shouldn't rule out that they are not bluffing."

Ilham Shaban, a Baku-based energy analyst, is more sanguine. He tells RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that pipelines delivering Azerbaijani gas to Europe via Turkey have a much larger capacity than those passing through Russia.

"Turkey is the door that Azerbaijan needs to use to get it’s energy resources to the world market. We need to make this door wider. And this was our policy so far," Shaban says.

"I don’t think we are going to close this door because of these protocols" between Turkey and Armenia.

Turkey broke off diplomatic relations with Armenia in 1993 in support of Azerbaijan, which was fighting a losing battle against ethnic Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh.

In response to Azerbaijan's anger over the normalization with Armenia, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu assured Baku that its support remains unchanged, saying, "Azeri soil is as sacred for us as our own."

Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz indicated on October 19 that Ankara is ready to pay more for Azerbaijan's gas, suggesting more negotiations were on the horizon.

By Brian Whitmore. Published on 19 October 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, October 19, 2009

EU to negotiate a New Agreement with Moldova

Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt announced Friday 16 October that the European Union is now ready to start negotiations with the Republic of Moldova on a New Agreement.

This message was conveyed during the visit of the EU Ministerial Troika to Chisinau. The agreement will replace and go beyond the current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement which has been in place since 1998. A mandate has already been given to the European Commission and negotiations will be launched shortly.

“The New Agreement is a powerful tool to promote deeper cooperation and approximation between Moldova and the EU”, said Mr Bildt. “The EU decision to start negotiations testifies to the progress made by Moldova in implementing reforms and its commitment to continuing on the reform path. The New Agreement will help Moldova realise these goals.”

“I am delighted that the EU and the Republic of Moldova are taking the next steps towards political association and economic integration” said Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Commissioner for External Relations and Neighbourhood Policy. “The agreement will bring tangible benefits to the citizens of Moldova and the EU notably in the fields of the economy, business and the rule of law”

Moldova is one of six Eastern European countries within the Eastern Partnership which was launched in May 2009 and holds out the perspective of political association and economic integration with the EU.

Press Release: Swedish Presidency of the European Union. Published on 16 October 2009

The Parliamentary Dimension to the Eastern Partnership

Euronest co-President Kristian Vigenin will participate and address an Interparliamentary meeting on The Parliamentary Dimension to the Eastern Partnership organised by the Swedish Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs on Wednesday 21 October 2009 in Stockholm.

As stated in the Joint Declaration of the Prague Eastern Partnership Summit on 7 May 2009, parliamentarians from the European Union and the Partner Countries are encouraged to consider ways and means of shaping a parliamentary dimension to the Eastern Partnership.

The Parliamentary Dimension to the Eastern Partnership


Contributions by the Partner Countries

Contribution by the European Parliament

Themes for discussion:

I. What should be achieved through the Eastern Partnership’s
parliamentary dimension?

II. How to work both bilaterally and multilaterally?

III. How should work within the dimension be organized?

IV. The future work.

The Rise And Fall (And Rise?) Of Arseniy Yatsenyuk

The one enduring symbol of Ukraine’s problems since the 2004 Orange Revolution has been the constant, wearisome guerrilla warfare between its main personalities: the predictable triptych of President Viktor Yushchenko, current Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, and Yushchenko’s defeated rival in 2004, Viktor Yanukovych.

When the economic crisis hit Ukraine in October-November 2008, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, leader of the newly created Front for Change, initially seemed like a breath of fresh air. His Obama-lite campaign turned the contest for the next president into a three-horse race, with himself in third place as Yushchenko dropped out of contention. By this spring, Yatsenyuk was polling at 12-13 percent, almost catching up with Tymoshenko in second place behind Yanukovych.

But Yatsenyuk’s rise stopped abruptly in May. He had clearly started his campaign too early, and by summer it seemed the bubble had burst. Private polls now put him at 9 percent or less.

Now Yushchenko hopes to climb back from political death and rise above him in the polls. So what went wrong? What explains the rise and fall of Arseniy Yatsenyuk?

Yatsenyuk’s rise has indeed been meteoric. He only reached age 35, the minimum required to stand for the presidency, in May. He served as foreign minister for a few months in 2007 and chairman of parliament in 2007-08, though he has never been in any position for long.

In the beginning, this seemed like an asset. On closer inspection, it seems he has been given a series of leg-ups by his patrons: unlike most politicians in Ukraine, Yatsenyuk has little wealth and few resources of his own.

Supported By Oligarchs

He was plucked from obscurity to become deputy head of the National Bank in 2003 by Serhiy Tyhipko. His main patrons now are two of Ukraine’s biggest oligarchs -- Viktor Pinchuk and Dmytro Firtash -- along with smaller versions such as Donetsk tycoon Leonid Yurushev.

Pinchuk is an independent force, but has apparently made his peace with Tymoshenko. Firtash was with Yushchenko, then shifted to the Party of Regions, and more recently has been at daggers-drawn with Tymoshenko over the fate of the shadowy gas intermediary company RosUkrEnergo, where he controls the Ukrainian half. Yatsenyuk was therefore pulled in different directions by his different sponsors.

A turning point came in June when the putative coalition between Tymoshenko and Yanukovych fell apart. Yatsenyuk demanded that Firtash switch to backing him full-time, but Firtash stuck by Yanukovych.

Yatsenyuk was suddenly no longer omnipresent on the Inter TV channel then close to Firtash. Pinchuk became the more important sponsor, and replaced Yatsenyuk’s Ukrainian team with Russian-connected “political technologists:” Timofei Sergeitsev, Dmitry Kulikov, and Iskander Valitov.

As well as working for Yanukovych’s controversial campaign in 2004, the new Russian team came from the Duma Expert Council under Konstantin Zatulin. It is headed by Sergei Markov and notorious for its attempts to set up Russia-friendly NGOs and politicians throughout the CIS. If Russia cannot control or confront Ukraine directly, it has an interest in helping to build up a “satellite ideology.”

The new team pushed a version of a Russian “third way” ideology, which stretches from the nationalist right to earlier campaigns for the Union of Rightist Forces and Anatoly Chubais’s infamous “liberal imperialism.” It combines business-friendly policies with attacks on the bankruptcy of the West and Western liberalism, the consequent degradation of structures based on them like the EU, and the rise of an alternative pole centered around Russia in the east.

‘Greater Europe’

Yatsenyuk shifted from his plague-on-both-your-houses rhetoric and so-called “New Ukrainian Pragmatism” to something more like a new Ukrainian isolationism, suddenly repositioning himself as the Sinn Féin (“Ourselves Alone”) candidate and lambasting the EU and everything non-Ukrainian. His campaign slogans – “Productive Village,” “A Battle-Ready Army,” and “New Industrialization” – suddenly sent a different message, one that also sounded more like “feed and support Russia.”

Yatsenyuk has even toyed with the idea of announcing a Ukrainian-led Eastern European Union as a kind of club for all those disappointed with the EU within what he likes to call “Greater Europe” -- which would almost inevitably be a Trojan horse for Russia.

The new Russian team also tried to sell Yatsenyuk as Putin-lite, the new tough kid on the block. His campaign color became khaki green. But these messages were too Russian and didn’t sell well in Ukraine.

Most Ukrainians would actually quite like to join the EU. Yatsenyuk’s khaki-colored tough-talk was uncomfortably reminiscent of Michael Dukakis’s ill-fated tank ride in 1988 and never sounded convincing coming out of the mouth of someone whose nickname is “Kinder Surpriz.” Yatsenyuk even staged his own Dukakis moment, careering around on a combine harvester.

Vladimir Putin is popular in Ukraine, and many would vote for a “strong hand” as an alternative to disorder. This sentiment is also exploited by Tymoshenko.

But Ukrainian political culture is different. There is no cult of power, or of the KGB.

So Yatsenyuk has faded in the polls. He has three choices when the actual campaign begins on October 17. He can switch back to Plan A and act as a genuine “third force.” Otherwise, he risks losing this niche to other candidates like Tyhipko or Yatsenyuk’s successor as chairman of parliament, Volodymyr Lytvyn. Or his sponsors can keep him in the field with Plan B -- siphoning votes from Yanukovych.

Yatsenyuk’s chances of winning a powerful post like prime minister after the election depend on either a strong performance or the eventual winner owing him a favor. Or Yatsenyuk can play a long game and aim to be a player in the next parliamentary elections -- possibly even holding the key “golden share” between Yanukovych and Tymoshenko. In that case, we may not have seen the last of him or his supporters.

By Andrew Wilson. Published on 18 October 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 Rapprochement Leaves Many Questions Unanswered

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were all in Zurich last week to ease the reportedly difficult negotiations between Turkey and Armenia. All observers welcomed the two sides' agreement this month to establish diplomatic relations and open their borders.

But analysts say the accord is only a first step on a long road toward full reconciliation between the two countries. People in Turkey and Armenia remain deeply divided over events of nearly a century ago, when an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were killed in Ottoman Turkey. Armenia and many Western historians say the Turks committed genocide. Turkey denies the charge.

Turkey and Armenia also remain divided over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-controlled enclave in Azerbaijan. Turkey, a close ally of predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan, sealed its border with Armenia in 1994 in retaliation for the country's invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh, which it seized along with seven adjoining Azerbaijani provinces.

But Amanda Akcakoca of the Brussels-based European Policy Center says "everybody gains" from last weekend's deal.

"This rapprochement represents the first step of a process that will open the way to changing the face of the whole southern Caucasus region, including resolving, obviously, the Nagorno Karabakh conflict," Akcakoca said.

Akcakoca says the rapprochement is a "high-risk strategy" for both Turkey and Armenia. Each government faces stiff resistance at home as it submits the accord to parliament for ratification.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan linked the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border to Armenian concessions on Nagorno-Karabakh, telling his AKP party "no positive steps" could be taken before "Armenia withdraws from Azerbaijan."

But Armenia has no intention of relinquishing control of Nagorno-Karabakh, and must contend with the hard-line views of its influential global diaspora. Many Armenians -- who have spent decades trying to persuade foreign governments to recognize the mass killing of Turkish Armenians in 1915-1918 as genocide -- see Yerevan's deal-making with its historic foe as unacceptable.

Azerbaijan opposed the Turkish-Armenian deal, which it described as harmful to its interests and gravely damaging to its relations with "fraternal" Turkey. Analysts say Azerbaijan holds considerable influence over Turkey, which gets much of its oil and gas from Azerbaijan.

Vessela Tcherneva of the European Council of Foreign Relations says Turkey's main motivation appears to have been boosting its influence abroad.

"Turkey really wanted to assume a new role, that of a regional power that reaches out to its neighbors and is able also to resolve long-standing conflicts," Tcherneva said.

Mutual Benefits

A thaw with Armenia fits Turkey's goal of normalizing relations with all its neighbors. Analysts say Turkey also may be hoping to boost its chances of joining the European Union by positioning itself as a key force for stability in the South Caucasus.

Armenia wants to emerge from the relative isolation to which it's been confined since gaining independence in 1991. The conflict with Azerbaijan has locked Armenia out of lucrative regional energy transit projects and forced the land-locked country to rely on support from Russia, which maintains a strong military presence there.

Officials say the Turkish-Armenian deal wouldn't have been possible without backing from Russia. Some reports suggest Moscow was instrumental in persuading Armenia to sign the accord. But Russia remains a major question in the equation.

Some believe Moscow doesn’t want to see a more powerful Turkey near its southern border. But EU diplomats speculate that by "carving up" the South Caucasus between themselves and Turkey, the Russians may be hoping to reduce the influence of the EU and the United States in the region.

Russia has re-established itself as the leading mediator between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the past year. The two countries' presidents often meet under Russian mediation, most recently in Moscow last week. Officials say that as long as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains unresolved, Moscow will remain firmly in the driving seat.

By Ahto Lobjakas. Published on 18 October 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.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Will Serzh Sarkisian's Biggest Gamble Pay Off?

A little less than three years ago, Serzh Sarkisian, then Armenian defense minister, nailed his foreign-policy colors to the mast by publishing in the "Wall Street Journal" a commentary calling for Turkey and Armenia to establish diplomatic and good-neighborly relations with no preconditions on either side.

At the time, the prospect of doing so appeared little short of utopian, given the lingering enmity and mutual suspicion that have imbued public sentiment in both countries for the past nine decades. Indeed, just weeks after Sarkisian's op-ed appeared, Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who had campaigned fearlessly for reconciliation between the two countries, was shot dead in Istanbul.

Now, thanks in large part to Sarkisian's personal commitment and with the support of the United States, the two countries are tantalizingly close to attaining that goal.

Shortly after his disputed election as president in February 2008, Sarkisian began pursuing his vision in earnest. In June 2008, he said he was ready to accept in principle a Turkish proposal to form a commission of Armenian and Turkish historians that would examine the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, which Armenia has long insisted Ankara should publicly acknowledge constituted a policy of genocide. (Such a commission was initially proposed in 2005 by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to then-Armenian President Robert Kocharian, who rejected it.) But Sarkisian made clear through a spokesman that the commission should be created only after Turkey agrees unconditionally to establish diplomatic relations and open its border with Armenia.

At Sarkisian's invitation, Turkish President Abdullah Gul travelled to Yerevan in September 2008 to attend a soccer match between the two countries' national teams. In late April, the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministries released a statement saying they had agreed, with Switzerland acting as mediator, on a "road map" setting out steps to be taken to normalize relations.

And in late August, two draft protocols on establishing formal diplomatic ties were unveiled for public discussion. The first affirms the shared desire of the two countries to establish good neighborly relations and their "willingness to chart a new pattern and course for their relations on the basis of common interests, goodwill, and in pursuit of peace, harmony, and mutual understanding."

It further confirms their mutual recognition of the existing border between the two countries, and the shared decision to open it. Turkey closed the border in the early summer of 1993 after Armenian forces occupied several districts of Azerbaijan bordering the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

The second protocol outlines three sets of measures to be undertaken to develop bilateral relations. The first of these is the opening of the border within two months of ratification of the protocols by the two countries' parliaments. The second encompasses regular consultations between the two countries' foreign ministries; a "dialogue on the historical dimension" (meaning the creation of Gul's proposed joint commission to research the 1915 killings); and developing transport, communications, and energy infrastructure and networks. The third is the creation of an intergovernmental commission plus sub-commissions to monitor the timely implementation of those proposed steps.

Bid For Support

The draft protocols occasioned a firestorm of criticism in Yerevan from opposition parties across the political spectrum that argued against either abjuring in perpetuum any claims on Turkish territory, or not pegging the establishment of bilateral ties to a formal Turkish acknowledgement of and apology for the 1915 killings, or both.

Sarkisian did his best to ignore that criticism, undertaking instead a tour of cities in France, the United States, Lebanon, and Russia that have sizeable Armenian émigré populations in a not-very-successful bid to win diaspora support for the rapprochement.

Finally, on October 11, the two countries' foreign ministers signed the twin protocols in Zurich after a delay of several hours occasioned by objections by both sides to the wording of the statement the other intended to make following the signing. That last-minute glitch only served to underscore the tenuous and precarious nature of the undertaking.

Scarcely was the ink dry on the two signatures when Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan implicitly pegged ratification of the protocols by the Turkish National Assembly to a withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territory.

"We want all conflicts to be resolved and we want all borders to be opened at the same time," Erdogan said in a televised speech. "[But] as long as Armenia does not withdraw from the occupied territories in Azerbaijan, Turkey cannot take up a positive position.... If problems between Azerbaijan and Armenia are resolved, the public would more easily accept Turkish-Armenian relations. Approval in the Turkish National Assembly would be so much easier," he said. The Turkish parliament vote is reportedly scheduled for October 21.

The Azerbaijan Factor

Sarkisian downplayed Erdogan's comments, suggesting they were intended primarily to mollify Baku. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry had issued a statement on October 11 saying that normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia prior to the desired withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territory "directly contradicts Azerbaijan's national interests and casts a shadow on the brotherly relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan."

But Sarkisian reasoned that "if the Turks are not going to ratify the protocols, then why did they sign them in the first place? Maybe they thought that we might not display sufficient will and take a step back. Maybe."

"In any case, the ball is in the Turkish court today, and we have enough patience to await further developments," Sarkisian continued. "If the Turks ratify the protocols, if they stick to the agreed timetable, we will continue the process. If not, we will not be bound by anything and will do what we have announced."

Galust Sahakian, who heads the parliament faction of Sarkisian's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), said on October 12 that Armenia's National Assembly will start debating the protocols only after they are approved by its Turkish counterpart. "If Turkey makes any reservations, our parliament will not even include [the issue] on its agenda," said Sahakian.

HHK Deputy Chairman Razmik Zohrabian took an even tougher stance, hinting that the Armenian side may well annul the agreements if they do not come into force "before next spring." "If the process drags on, then we could declare the signed document null and void in accordance with international law," Zohrabian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service.

Zohrabian added that Sarkisian and Gul would discuss the timeframe for ratification over dinner on October 13 before watching the return Armenia-Turkey soccer match in Bursa. But in comments after that meeting, neither president mentioned a date for ratification.

If it does come to a parliament vote, Sarkisian's HHK controls 61 seats in the 131-mandate parliament; its coalition allies Prosperous Armenia (BH) and Law-Based State have 25 and eight mandates respectively. Both those parties have signaled their support for the establishment of formal relations with Turkey.

Sarkisian has long had the reputation of being a passionate gambler. It is too earlier to say whether he may have overplayed his hand in this case.

By Liz Fuller . Published on 15 October 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.