22 April 2003, Volume
WARSAW BUYS U.S. JET FIGHTERS IN 'THE CONTRACT OF THE CENTURY.'
On 18 April, Poland and the United States finalized a contract on the supply of 48 F-16 jet fighters worth $3.5 billion from Lockheed Martin to the Polish Army in 2006-08. The contract actually involves four separate deals: a sales accord, an accord on the financial servicing of the deal, a package of offset investments in Poland, and an agreement on a low-interest U.S. government loan to finance the purchase. The signing ceremony took place in Deblin, southeast of Warsaw, at a local air base and aviation school, with Prime Minister Leszek Miller in attendance. "We can call this the contract of the century," commented Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski, one of the signatories on behalf of the Polish government.
The deal was initialed in December, after the Polish government announced that Lockheed Martin with its F16 multirole jet fighter won a supply tender, which involved also Dassault Aviation S.A. of France (Mirage) and a combination of Saab AB of Sweden and BAE Systems PLC of Great Britain (Gripen). Both the decision of the U.S. government to grant a loan of $3.8 billion to Poland for the purchase and a U.S. offset offer seem to have essentially contributed to Warsaw's choice of the F16 over Mirage and Gripen.
Under the contract, Poland will obtain 48 F16 CD Block 52+ (until now, a prototype version) jet fighters in 2006-08. The purchase will be directly financed by the U.S. government loan, which Poland is to repay in 2011-15. Finance Minister Grzegorz Kolodko estimates that the servicing costs of the loan will amount to some $1.2 billion. Lockheed Martin and a number of other U.S. firms (including General Motors and Motorola) have committed themselves to investing more than $6 billion in Poland in 2003-13, in 43 offset projects involving the purchase of Polish commodities (70 percent of the total sum), direct investments in Polish production capacities (20 percent), and transfer of U.S. technologies (10 percent).
Premier Miller said after the signing ceremony that the value of the offset deals is certain to exceed $6 billion and can rise to $10 billion in several years, thus boosting the job market and making the Polish economy more competitive. U.S. Ambassador to Poland Christopher Hill told journalists that if the offset scheme proves to be successful, U.S. investments in Poland may double in the several coming years. Poland attracted some $65 billion of foreign investment in 1989-2002, with the U.S. share amounting to $8.7 billion (13 percent).
The finalizing of the F-16 deal came two days after Poland signed the EU Treaty of Accession in Athens, thus emphasizing Poland's "special relations" with the United States not only in the political sphere (Poland was the only European country aside from Great Britain to join combat in Iraq), but also the economic one. Other EU countries, notably France, have criticized Poland for sidestepping the European arms industry and awarding the contract to a U.S. company. The latest acrid comments came from EU Commission President Romano Prodi, who said in an interview on 18 April that "there is no joy in the fact that a day after signing the [EU accession] treaty in Athens, Poland signed a huge contract for the purchase of American fighters," PAP reported. According to Prodi, the states joining the EU must now realize that "whoever enters Europe is being accepted into a family" and be aware that "having your wallet in Europe, you cannot entrust to the United States the guaranteeing of [your] security."
"I regard Romano Prodi's statement as highly ill-considered," Minister Szmajdzinski said in a statement. "Poland has held an honest, transparent tendering competition and its European participants have not questioned the outcome or appealed against it. It was not a politico-geographical criterion -- as Roman Prodi would want -- but a merits criterion that was decisive in selecting a multirole aircraft for the Polish air force." (Jan Maksymiuk)
EUROPEAN YOUTH PARLIAMENT STRUGGLES ITS WAY INTO BELARUS.
Last weekend (19-20 April), the Belarusian group of the European Youth Parliament -- or EYP(BY) -- convened in Minsk to prepare for its final attempt to register as a legally constituted public youth organization. Belarusian law permits only three such attempts. The first two failed. Officially, the EYP(BY)'s applications were rejected on technical grounds -- the documents submitted allegedly did not comply with the regulations. In fact, the discrepancies were minor and could easily have been notified and corrected informally, had the Belarusian authorities so wished. In fact, however, they seem to have applied one set of criteria to the EYP(BY) and another to less controversial organizations.
Thus, to quote but one instance, both the EYP(BY) and Bel-Greenpeace applied to register their organizations at the same address �- the International Sakharov Environmental University in Minsk. Bel-Greenpeace was registered without any problems at that stage; EYP(BY) was informed, however, that it could not use the address of an academic institution without the permission of the Ministry of Education. Moreover, the Ministry of Education delayed its decision on what should have been a minor routine matter for several weeks, by which time a new and more stringent law on the rental of state property (including use of address for registration) had come into force.
Other objections were equally pettifogging: There was much discussion about whether the words "European" and "parliament" could be used in the name of the group, although these have been used without objection in all other member countries and, of course, in the umbrella organization, European Youth Parliament (International).
This organization was founded in 1988 by Bettina Carr-Allinson, a Dutch woman living in England, and aims to encourage and train young people in their later teens in democratic, nonpolitical debate, team building, and networking in a "European dimension," by means of international conferences and meetings. It quickly built up an active membership in Western Europe and, slightly later, in the postcommunist countries of Central and Eastern Europe, but spread to the CIS only at the end of the 1990s. It currently has groups established in Ukraine and Georgia, while further groups are now being formed in Russia. None of these have encountered the type of problems which face the EYP(BY).
However, not all the problems are coming from above. According to EYP structure, each national group is autonomous and has its own national coordinator -- usually a secondary-school teacher or academic. So far, the EYP(BY) has been unable to find a national coordinator of its own. Uniquely, at present, this position is held by a person who is not a citizen of the country concerned -- Dr. Alan Flowers, a British academic. Flowers has been involved with Belarusian matters since 1992, both in the context of exchange programs with Kingston University and also as an organizer of visits of Belarusian theater groups and visual artists to the annual Edinburgh Festival. (Indeed, it was in the context of that festival that the idea of a Belarusian group of EYP first developed.) He is well-aware of the anomalies of his role; and insists that the EYP(BY) must, in the course of the next year, find a coordinator of their own.
According to Flowers, several individual local groups in Belarus are well-organized (particularly those in Brest, Homel, and Vitsebsk), with regular meetings of active membership of 10 to 30 people for English-language discussions and debates on matters of contemporary interest. However, there is relatively little cooperation or ongoing contact between the groups and Minsk. Hence, even the all-important meeting to elect a national board and approve the EYP(BY)'s statutes had been postponed from its original date in mid-March, owing to the tardiness of the Minsk students hosting it in making the necessary arrangements.
When the meeting did, finally, take place, it revealed just how much the work of EYP is needed in Belarus. Several participants showed a lack of understanding of the election procedures, and/or little ability to make an informed and independent selection. And, although the age range of EYP(BY) members is already higher than the Europe-wide average of 16-19, there was a tendency to support older, more "experienced" candidates, and little awareness of the organization's role in training younger members and bringing forward younger individuals with imagination and vision.
Such observations, of course, simply show how important EYP(BY) could be in training young Belarusians in the norms and procedures of contemporary Europe. This is well-appreciated by the U.K.'s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which since July 1999 has allotted funds to support young Belarusians attending EYP gatherings both within Belarus and abroad. (Since the money goes only to reimburse the expenses of individuals, it does not -- a Belarusian government official has confirmed -- contravene Presidential Directive 8 of 2001, which applies to foreign funding of organizations in Belarus).
Given the current political climate in Belarus, it is not, perhaps, surprising that the Belarusian authorities have shown themselves wary of registering EYP(BY). This caution, however, Flowers insists, is mistaken. EYP(BY), he stresses, is not a political nor "opposition" organization. Membership in EYP(BY) is open to young Belarusians of all views and outlooks. Moreover, the aim of EYP, he said, is precisely that proclaimed in official statements of Belarusian foreign policy -- namely, the furtherance of friendly relations with the people of all neighboring states.
This report was written by Vera Rich, a London-based freelance researcher.
OMBUDSWOMAN REPORTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS.
Ombudswoman Nina Karpachova on 18 April delivered an annual report to the Verkhovna Rada on the human rights situation in Ukraine, Interfax and UNIAN reported. Karpachova told lawmakers that the observance of human rights in the country is "far away" from international standards. According to Karpachova, after the post of ombudsman was established in 1998, she received complaints mostly from disabled persons, pensioners, and jobless people, while now she is more and more often addressed by journalists, law enforcers, and state clerks and officials. She said that, in general, some 50 percent of complaints pertain to violations of civil rights (primarily, the right to legal defense), while another 40 percent refer to violations of social and economic rights.
Karpachova revealed that in the past year, she has been addressed by 12,000 citizens who complained that police used torture against them. The most common examples of torture during interrogations in order to force suspects into pleading guilty, she said, were beatings, putting gas masks or plastic bags on the head to make people suffocate, applying electric shocks to the body, or hanging people by the handcuffed hands. She stressed that in many cases, the application of torture led to death, permanent disability, or health disorders. Last year, more than 1,000 police officers were fired because of "inclination to violence" -- application of force and torture to citizens.
Karpachova said that as of 1 January 2003, nearly 150,000 Ukrainians served their sentences in corrective-labor colonies, while more than 43,000 were under investigation in isolation wards. According to the ombudswoman, Ukraine is the world's leader as regards the number of suspects to whom pretrial detention is applied -- on average, 37 percent of suspects are arrested before trial.
Karpachova stressed that journalism in Ukraine continues to be one of the most dangerous professions. She recalled that 36 journalists have died violently in Ukraine since 1993, adding that Ukrainian journalists are killed more often that those in a zone of military conflict. According to the ombudswoman, beating and intimidating journalists, freezing the bank accounts of media outlets, confiscating newspapers and other publications right off the printing press have become common practice in Ukraine. (Jan Maksymiuk)
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
"God help us to find during our lifetime this national idea that could rise our spirits and our people not only in an hour of trial but also in a peaceful time to fight for a better life. Unfortunately, I have so far not known such a national idea." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in an annual address to the National Assembly on 16 April; quoted by Belarusian Television.
"The trouble with the students is that our lecturers and rectors, pardon my saying, don't do any damn [reasonable] thing there, or if they do, they cause only harm. I was astounded to see them together with students gawking open-mouthed at me when I was presenting some pretty trivial things [in a lecture], some conclusions and analyses, and they looked as if something completely new has been dumped on them. This testifies to the fact that today not only students but also lecturers don't self-educate themselves and don't see development trends in the world community and our society." -- Lukashenka to the National Assembly on 16 April; quoted by Belarusian Television.