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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: June 20, 2006

June 20, 2006, Volume 8, Number 23
TRAFFICKERS CAST A GREEDY EYE ON THE WORLD CUP. The World Cup in Germany has been tipped as arguably the largest global sports event, with a cumulative television audience of tens of billions throughout the world. At least 2 million fans are also expected to travel to Germany during the month-long tournament. However, international officials and human rights groups warn that the World Cup is likely to generate a dramatic growth in the demand for sex workers, prompting criminals to smuggle thousands of women into Germany to force them into prostitution.

Several people work seated at tiny desks in a couple of crammed, badly lit rooms at the top of a staircase with no elevator in a Soviet-era building in Chisinau.

Not exactly someone�s idea of modern office space, but there�s one thing that lights up the place -- hope. Hope for many desperate women who come here to escape human trafficking and its horrific effects.

This is the Moldovan headquarters of the La Strada Program, an international network combating trafficking in women from Central and Eastern Europe.

La Strada, in addition to providing support for human-trafficking victims, is involved in an international campaign meant to raise awareness among local women about the increased dangers of human trafficking during the World Cup.

La Strada Vice President Daniella Misail-Nichitin says its existing hotline has been updated to offer guidance related to work offers in Germany during the World Cup.

"Our permanent hotline also offers specific information in relation to this event, when it comes to [work] offers in Germany," Misail-Nichitin said. "We are ready to give advice regarding any kind of offer coming from Germany around the World Cup period."

World organizations and foreign governments have warned that up to 40,000 women could be trafficked to Germany for the World Cup to serve as prostitutes for some of the estimated 2 million football fans from across the world.

Prostitution has been legal in Germany since 2002, with an estimated 400,000 women legally employed as sex workers there.

Germany has seen a boom in sex clubs recently, including the opening of a four-story, 3,000 square-meter mega-brothel in Berlin, just down the road from the World Cup stadium.

The U.S. State Department took the unusual step of warning Germany against forced prostitution in its annual report on human trafficking, which was issued on June 6.

The methods used by traffickers range from kidnapping to deception -- the offer of a well-paid job in a foreign country.

For underprivileged or naive girls and women in poor Eastern European countries such as Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, and Romania, the promise of a job abroad sounds like a dream -- which more often than not, turns out to be a nightmare.

Sveta, a Moldovan girl in her early 20s, was a victim of traffickers before seeking help with La Strada.

"My name is Sveta," she told RFE/RL. "I was lured abroad, to Turkey, under the promise that we would get a job in Cyprus as chambermaids. But when we arrived in Turkey, [the woman who got us there] sold us to some pimps. We were four girls, and we were all sold for $500 each [in Istanbul]."

Sveta recalled her ordeal, which lasted for almost a year, before she managed to run away and go back to Moldova, where La Strada came to her aid.

"In the beginning, we worked [as prostitutes] in a hotel, but after about a month, we were locked down in a basement," Sveta said. "Clients would come down there and pay the [pimp] master, and we would be forced to work there. When someone refused to work, they would be beaten and kept without food. I spent nine months there."

La Strada�s Misail-Nichitin believes the World Cup has increased the danger that girls might fall prey to traffickers. She says that, on the international level, action by antitrafficking NGOs to raise awareness among potential victims is under way.

"We have joined this initiative, and in cooperation with partners from Germany, such as the SOLWODI [Solidarity with Women in Distress] organization, we are informing potential victims about the services provided both by La Strada and other groups, including some from Germany, to facilitate these persons' access to assistance," Misail-Nichitin says.

Sister Lea Ackermann is a German Catholic nun and the founder of the German nongovernmental organization SOLWODI, which initiated a project dubbed �Red Card For Sexual Abuse And Forced Prostitution."

Ackermann says many women in poor Eastern European countries risk being lured into Germany by false offers of jobs as babysitters, bar workers, or waitresses.

She says that well over 100 NGOs have been involved in the Red Card initiative.

"We were writing to [organizations in] 20 countries more or less in East Europe -- [such as] Estonia, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, and so on," she says. "And in these 20 countries we had contact with about 150 nongovernmental organizations."

Under the plan, Ackermann's group distributed across Eastern Europe 30,000 yellow cards containing a warning in several languages about the dangers of human trafficking during the World Cup.

Meanwhile, red cards are being handed out to German and foreign men in Germany, warning them about trafficking in women.

The campaign has also established a permanent hotline in Germany where advice and help is offered in several languages.

"We installed a hotline with 20 women being on the service," Ackermann said. "And these women all speak German and another language -- [a total of] six languages [beside German] -- Russian, Polish, Bulgarian, Romanian, French, English."

Ackermann says it is too early into the World Cup tournament to evaluate the efficiency of the Red Card campaign. But she adds that there have been an increasing number of appeals -- hundreds more -- on the German hotline since its inception. (Eugen Tomiuc)

OPPOSITION LEADER SPEAKS ABOUT DETENTION EXPERIENCES. Belarusian Popular Front head Vintsuk Vyachorka was the deputy head of opposition leader Alyaksandr Milinkevich's campaign during the March presidential election. During the course of his political career, Vyachorka has been detained several times by the authorities. He spoke to RFE/RL correspondent Valentinas Mite about his time spent in detention centers as a political prisoner.

RFE/RL: How do the authorities go about detaining people? And who is it that does this?

Vintsuk Vyachorka: As a rule, they come from a special department of police, the so-called OMON, which has now been renamed 'Spetsnaz' [special operations police unit]. Very often they are dressed in plain clothes. They do not produce any documents and perform their duties in a very rough way. They twisted my hands and though they did not throw me face down to the ground or on the floor of a bus, they often treat other people this way.

RFE/RL: Tell us more about your detention during the presidential campaign last March.

Vyachorka: I was detained in a rough way on March 8 after I organized Milinkevich's campaign rally, by the way a completely legal one, aimed at meeting with voters. People in plain clothes seized the bus where we were transporting our [sound] equipment. The head of Minsk's police unit [in charge] of public security, in person ordered me to spread my legs and to put my hands on the wall [while he conducted a search.] He was very happy that I was caught on that bus and told me he wanted to get me for a long time.

RFE/RL: What usually happens after being detained?

Vyachorka: The police take away everything from you, everything you have in your pockets, as their instructions say that all items, with which you can hang yourself, have to be taken away. After a detention, a person is transported to a detention center. Here a person, if he is detained on Friday, spends a night or two before a trial. He is kept until Monday [for a trial.]

RFE/RL: What are the conditions like in Belarusian detention centers?

Vyachorka: After a trial, when you are given a sentence, you become a full-fledged detainee. The state takes care of your expenses. It means that twice a day you get food. In the morning you get porridge and tea. You get soup, porridge, a cutlet and also tea in the evening. And also bread. They give enough bread and there are no problems with the quantity of food, but there is nothing positive to say about the variety and vitamins in the food.

RFE/RL: What was it like in the detention centers after the postelection protests were dispersed in March?

Vyachorka: Many people were arrested in March. All in all, some 1,000-1,300 people were detained in Belarus. All the prisons were overcrowded. In the cell, where I was put, there were around 14 people and some were sleeping on the floor.

RFE/RL: What was the attitude of the institution's administration toward political detainees?

Vyachorka: I would not say that the bosses of the detention center, the personnel of the center, were in some way rough toward political detainees. On the contrary, they treated them rather softly. If it is possible to say, speaking about a jail, they treated us normally. However, just before the elections and during the elections some special measures were introduced from above. For instance, it was not allowed to get anything from the outside -- no provisions, no newspapers, no nothing, and it was called a quarantine."

RFE/RL: How did ordinary detainees treat political prisoners?

Vyachorka: When I was detained in April, after the Chornobyl March, I was housed together with the center's usual inhabitants -- hooligans and so on. I have never experienced these people -- if not given special orders -- treating political detainees in a bad way.

OUR UKRAINE TAKES STEPS TOWARD UNLIKELY COALITION. What had been considered an unlikely possibility has now happened: after nearly three months of futile negotiations with the parties with which it allied in the Orange Revolution, Our Ukraine has turned to the Party of Regions to discuss the formation of a new government.

If the two parties reach an agreement, the pro-presidential Our Ukraine would team up with the party headed by President Viktor Yushchenko's main rival in the bitterly contested elections that triggered the revolution, Viktor Yanukovych.

Our Ukraine explained this seemingly improbable move by saying coalition talks with its former allies in the Orange Revolution broke down because the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and the Socialist Party "have put their ambitions regarding the key portfolios above the will of the Ukrainian people."

In particular, Our Ukraine objected to the demand by the leader of the SPU, Oleksandr Moroz, that he be offered the post of parliament speaker.

But a session of the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, on June 14 shed a different light on the coalition-building process in Ukraine.

Tymoshenko charged from the parliamentary rostrum that Our Ukraine was intentionally dragging out the coalition talks in order ultimately to abandon them and conclude a power-sharing deal with the Party of Regions.

"It is becoming obvious [and] absolutely clear," Tymoshenko declared, "that all this protracted, degraded, disgraced Orange negotiating process was an absolute smokescreen to hide real intentions, real plans, and real preferences."

The newly elected Verkhovna Rada needs to form a ruling majority by June 25, one month after it reopened. If not, the Ukrainian Constitution, which was amended during the 2004 Orange Revolution, states that the president has the right to dissolve the legislature.

Tymoshenko also claimed on June 14 that the former allies in the Orange Revolution had reached an understanding "on absolutely all" aspects of the new government's program, a statement that, if accurate, would reinforce her argument that the collapse of the talks was a premeditated ploy by Our Ukraine.

Among the key issues specifically mentioned by Tymoshenko were the sale of land, membership of NATO, and "the development of the country."

In order to rescue the talks to form an Orange coalition, Moroz declared that he would give up his aspiration to become speaker in exchange for a "proportional" distribution of other government posts among the coalition partners.

Tymoshenko and Moroz have not formally abandoned the coalition talks, but clearly indicated that they have no intention of joining a government alongside the Party of Regions, with Tymoshenko saying her bloc will play no part in such a "mishmash" coalition.

For its part, the Party of Regions responded to Our Ukraine's invitation favorably and promptly.

Lawmaker Mykola Azarov, one of the party's leaders, declared on June 14 that the Party of Regions is ready to shoulder responsibility for running a government. At the same time, he sought to defuse fears that the Party of Regions, widely seen as a pro-Russia force, would obstruct Ukraine's European integration, stating that the party sees Ukraine's future "in a united European home" and explicitly declaring that "we support the state's course toward Ukraine's integration with Europe."

Another Party of Regions lawmaker revealed on June 15 that the Party of Regions and Our Ukraine have already held talks on June 14 and expect to come up with a coalition deal early next week.

If such a coalition becomes a reality, what would Ukraine gain?

First and foremost, political power would become more stable. Our Ukraine and the Party of Regions jointly control 267 votes in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada, substantially more than the 243 votes that an Orange coalition would control.

Second, Our Ukraine and the Party of Regions are more likely to agree on a more consistent economic program than a potential Orange coalition. Both groups are essentially liberal in their economic views. In contrast, Tymoshenko is an advocate of state interventionism in economy, while Moroz and his party are in favor of planned economy.

What, then, are the main negative aspects of the Yushchenko-Yanukovych alliance?

The Party of Regions remains hostage to the promises it made in eastern and southern Ukraine during the parliamentary elections earlier this year, particularly those on forging closer ties with Russia, giving official status to the Russian language, and on putting an end to talk of Ukraine joining NATO.

These contentious issues could bring about a significant review of Kyiv's foreign-policy priorities or prompt the return of the inconsistent, "multivector" foreign policy characteristic of former President Leonid Kuchma's rule.

In either case, Ukraine's chances of integrating with European and Euro-Atlantic structures would diminish considerably.

Since politicians from the Party of Regions constituted the backbone of the Kuchma regime, which was widely criticized for antidemocratic practices and shady economic deals, it would be difficult to envision them doing anything to promoting democratic values or transparency in business in today's Ukraine.

Last but not least, a Yushchenko-Yanukovych governing alliance would put a definitive end to the expectation raised by the Orange Revolution that "bandits will go to prison." It is unimaginable that Yushchenko could prosecute his political allies for what he saw in 2004 as their involvement in vote-rigging or dishonest privatizations (or both).

The current process of building a coalition in Ukraine is a typical illustration of the cynical political mantra that there are no permanent allies in politics, only permanent interests. Many Ukrainians may find it very difficult to come to terms with what happened to the expectations nourished by the Orange Revolution in 2004. But there is still hope that at least some of the "permanent interests" of coalition-builders overlap with those of ordinary Ukrainians. (Jan Maksymiuk)