Activist Arrested In Belarus For Advertising RFE/RL Frequencies
Uladzimir Shulzhytski at a Chornobyl demonstration in Minsk today
April 26, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Police officers in the northern Belarusian city of Smarhon detained on April 24 an 18-year-old activist, Uladzimir Shulzhytski, who was advertising the frequencies of RFE/RL radio broadcasts.
Shulzhytski faces trial on charges of using obscene language in public -- a common tactic of Belarusian authorities looking to prosecute political opponents of the ruling regime or people who are simply deemed officially objectionable.
Shulzhytski produced, and inserted into mailboxes, homemade advertisements featuring the radio frequencies and times of RFE/RL's Belarusian-language broadcasts.
Shulzhytski also included his phone number on his ads, asking potential listeners to get in touch with him if they have problems tuning in to the broadcasts.
The telephone number, he told RFE/RL's Belarus Service, enabled police to lure him into a simple trap by pretending to need help with the broadcasts.
"They phoned me as I was going out for work, and I made an appointment with a man for 6 p.m. He gave me an address," Shulzhytski said. "I went to that address, and there at the very door, my district police officer and some other policemen were waiting for me."
At the police station the policemen drafted a protocol of detention, in which they charged Shulzhytski with swearing in public. He spent the night in custody and was asked to appear in court today.
RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin condemned Shulzhytski's detention and the charges leveled against him
"This kind of development is deeply disturbing," Gedmin said. "I want to make very clear that Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty supports the free citizens of Belarus and, in particular, the listeners of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, who simply want to exercise the most basic of political rights and civil liberties. These people, these listeners, have our deepest respect, admiration and solidarity."
Shulzhytski's leaflet with information about RFE/RL's broadcasts in Belarus (RFE/RL)
Shulzhytski told RFE/RL's Belarus Service that he was distributing the homemade RFE/RL ads because he wanted to inform people in his city about an alternative source of independent information.
"I simply don't see any other way in which people could obtain free information," he said. "I think [RFE/RL] is a fairly democratic media outlet, and it can successfully compete with the state propaganda."
During today's trial, Shulzhytski objected to the choice of presiding judge, Mikalay Shelyah. Shulzhytski accused Shelyah of issuing a number of politically motivated verdicts last year.
The trial was then adjourned for an indefinite period until another judge can be appointed. Shulzhytski was told to expect a new summons when that judge is named.
(RFE/RL's Belarus Service contributed to this report.)
Talk Of Transdniester Agreement Sparks Speculation
By Ryan Kennedy
May 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Reports of a secret settlement last week between Moldova and Russia on the 'frozen conflict' in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester republic sparked a frenzy of diplomatic activity.
The rumors began when Vladimir Socor, a Munich-based analyst, leaked the contents of a purported agreement between Russia and Moldova. The story was picked up by "The Economist," which suggested that the consequences of such an agreement "may be disastrous, but a deal on the worst territorial dispute in Europe's poorest country was still too tempting."
Other participants in the 5+2 settlement talks (Transdniester, OSCE, and Ukraine as direct participants, the United States and European Union as observers) took quick measures to confirm whether a secret deal had been signed.
The EU's special representative to Moldova flew to Moscow and then to Chisinau in search of an answer, while EU top diplomat Javier Solana raised the issue with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. None was able to confirm that an agreement had been reached.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Kramer, meanwhile, announced at an April 26 press conference that Moldovan authorities had denied the existence of any secret deals.
"We have received -- specific reassurances from the Moldovan government that they have received no written plan from the Russians," Kramer said. "These were reassurances that came from President Voronin personally, from [Reintegration] Minister [Vasile] Sova, from [Foreign] Minister [Andrei] Stratan. We asked this question explicitly so that there is no confusion or misunderstanding."
While reports of an actual settlement appear to have been premature, they are likely not without foundation. Two weeks ago, the deputy chairman of Moldova's parliament, Iurie Rosca, gave an interview to "Flux" magazine in which he criticized reported Russian proposals for a quick settlement of the Transdniester conflict.
Shortly thereafter, an anonymous source leaked the contents of the Russian draft proposals to Infotag. The Moldovan news agency reported that Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin had discussed the proposals with leading opposition party officials in a closed-door consultative meeting.
However, Rosca later told RFE/RL that no concrete plans had been presented during the meeting.
"During talks on April 11 , we were not presented any document," Rosca said. "In his speech, President Voronin only mentioned the existence of some intentions -- pertaining to points that you already know from the press -- waiting to see the reaction of the domestic and international participants."
He added that he advised waiting to discuss such a plan, noting that it apparently had strong support in Russia but that it would "not respect Moldovan interests, nor the interests of our international partners." Obstacles To Implementation
The leaked proposals share some basic elements -- the signing of an agreement between Voronin and Trandniester leader Igor Smirnov, the dissolution of the Moldovan and Transdniestrian legislatures, the holding of parliamentary elections as early as November 2007, the guarantee of 18-19 mandates in the Moldovan parliament (out of 101) to Transdniestrian representatives, quota positions for Transdniestrian representatives in the government, firm guarantees of Moldova's neutrality, and a continued Russian troop presence in Moldova for another two-three years.
These proposals are very similar to those in the 2003 Kozak Memorandum, a proposal based on the idea of 'federalized' state that was negotiated through shuttle diplomacy between Moldova and Russia, and which was rejected by Moldovan President Voronin.
Although it appears that the purported settlement is still in its draft stages, the controversy surrounding it has highlighted several obstacles to implementing a quick settlement.
One obstacle lies in Moldova's own parliament. Currently, Voronin's Communist Party holds 56 of the 101 seats, far short of the two-thirds majority necessary to make the constitutional changes for adoption of the proposed legislative structure.
Their coalition partner, the Christian Democrats, have responded negatively to Russia's proposals. In his interview with "Flux," Rosca singled out each point of the Russian proposal for criticism.
For example, it would require extraordinary circumstances to dissolve the current Moldovan parliament, such as failure to elect a president after three attempts, failure to elect a government in three tries or in three months, or failure to pass laws for three months.
While Socor has suggested that Voronin might be tempted to instruct his party to take such actions, it seems unlikely that the politically savvy Voronin would shut down government operations over an issue that, according to a poll by the Institute for Public Policy, only 3.7 percent of Moldovans rate as most important. Unclear Origins
Implementing the purported agreement would also require that Voronin sign a joint agreement with Smirnov, a step that Rosca characterized as "juridical flippancy" that would "blacken the prestige of our president."
"I do not see that people exist in Moscow or Chisinau to whom such thoughts occur, and who would put forward such proposals," he concluded, attributing the draft proposals to the Transdniestrian authorities.
But problems in implementing such an agreement do not stop in Chisinau. Politicians in Transdniester have shown increasing resistance to the idea of reintegration with Moldova. During last year's presidential election, Smirnov made independence a centerpiece of his electoral campaign.
Furthermore, in recent comments to RFE/RL Smirnov denied any knowledge of an agreement based on Russian proposals.
"I do not have such a plan. I haven't received anything officially," Smirnov said. "There is a format for negotiations. I met with [Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Yury] Zubakov about three weeks ago and [he] didn't give [me] anything either. Maybe something is going on in Moldova, but as usual they're doing it without [taking into account] the opinion of the Transdniestrian Moldovan Republic."
Transdniester's minister of foreign affairs, Valery Litkai, characterized the settlement rumors as "Voronin's electoral trick."
Meanwhile, a Moldovan expert on Transdniester, Oazu Nantoi, told RFE/RL on April 23 claimed that the proposals were initiated by Moldovan Reintegration Minister Sova and presidential adviser Marc Tcaciuc.
Nantoi, director for conflict management at the Institute for Public Policy in Chisinau, said the two have been working on the plan since last fall with Zubakov.
"Such a plan is not a big secret because Vasile Sova and Marc Tcaciuc had been in Moscow seven times," Nantoi said. "I've seen a plan they had begun these talks with, and I've heard about the version they'd agreed upon after the seven meetings with Yury Zubakov. But I'd like to underline again that I don't believe such a plan could be acceptable for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin to assure the unification of Moldova."
Russia's Prominent Role
Along with the difficulties posed in implementing a settlement, the discussion sparked by the reports of a settlement has highlighted the economic leverage that Russia has on both sides in the negotiations.
Russia's economic influence over Moldova is well-known, and has been emphasized by an ongoing ban on Moldovan wine imports that is devastating the country's economy.
Less well publicized are the economic problems faced by the government in Transdniester. Official reports from the breakaway republic still provide a picture of economic growth, reported at 5.6 percent in 2006, and with a goal of 7 percent GDP growth for this year.
At the same time, some information has come out that puts such ambitious growth projections into doubt. For example, since Moldova and Ukraine began requiring Moldovan customs stamps on products from Transdniester, exports from Transdniester's largest company, steel producer MMZ, have dropped nearly 40 percent. In mid-March, Transdniester's economy minister reported that total exports had dropped 23.2 percent in 2006.
Another indicator of economic trouble came at the beginning of April, when Transdniester's Supreme Soviet passed a resolution asking Russia for increased aid. The resolution described citizens as "deprived of the right to normal social and economic development." It also characterized the shortage of budget revenues as "critical." Yevgeny Shevchuk, the speaker of parliament, said of the lack of Russian aid: "We should be ready for the worst."
Given Russia's leverage in both economies, it is easy to see why news of a Moscow-brokered agreement is being taken so seriously by Western diplomats.
(Ryan Kennedy is a PhD candidate and a Fulbright researcher from Ohio State University who recently returned to the United States after living in Moldova.)
Reaping The Harvest Of Presidential Indecision
By Jan Maksymiuk
April 27, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Following the tumultuous Orange Revolution in 2004, Ukraine is facing its second serious crisis in just less than three years.
President Viktor Yushchenko on April 2 issued a decree dissolving the Verkhovna Rada and calling for early elections in May, but both the government and parliament refused to obey it. On April 26 Yushchenko signed another decree, rescheduling the early elections for June.
Yushchenko's new decree on early parliamentary elections effectively annuls his decree of April 2, which has been undergoing examination for its compliance with the constitution by the Constitutional Court since April 17. It is expected that the Constitutional Court, in accordance with its rules of procedure, will soon end consideration of this decree now that it is no longer valid.
The Legal Issues
Many Ukrainian legal experts and political commentators have opined that Yushchenko's April 2 decision to disband the Verkhovna Rada was poorly justified, predicting that the Constitutional Court would invalidate it. According to them, by issuing another decree Yushchenko obviates such an unfavorable turn of events.
Yushchenko's decision to dissolve the Verkhovna Rada should have been made in July 2006, when Our Ukraine, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and the Socialist Party buried all chances to recreate their post-Orange Revolution ruling coalition, and the Verkhovna Rada clearly overstepped the constitutional timeframe for forming a majority.
In his first decree, Yushchenko quoted Article 83 of the constitution, which stipulates that a government majority in parliament be formed by deputy factions. Since the ruling coalition had expanded its parliamentary representation with some 40 lawmakers from other factions in March, Yushchenko argued the coalition violated the constitution, thus providing him with the right to disband the legislature in order to put the political process in the country back on a constitutional path.
Pro-Yanukovych supporters outside the Constitutional Court in Kyiv on April 27 (epa)
However, the moot point for Yushchenko's opponents from the ruling coalition of the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party is that the reasons for early parliamentary elections are specified in Article 90 of the constitution.
This article stipulates the president may call early elections if the Verkhovna Rada fails to form a majority in accordance with Article 83 within 30 days after its first sitting; fails to approve a new cabinet within 60 days after the dismissal or resignation of the previous one; or fails to gather for a sitting within 30 days during an ongoing parliamentary session. None of these reasons was explicitly mentioned in Yushchenko's April 2 decree.
Yushchenko's new decree refers to Point 1 of Article 90 as a reason for the dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada. It remains to be seen whether, as Yushchenko implies, the defection of more than 30 opposition deputies to the ruling coalition in March may be considered the formation of a new majority. But at any rate, as one legal expert recently told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, the new decree at least provides the Constitutional Court with substance for discussion.
Apart from causing headaches for Constitutional Court judges, the current constitutional crisis poses the disturbing question of whether democracy, which was so joyfully celebrated on Independence Square in Kyiv during the 2004 Orange Revolution, has a chance to survive in Ukraine.
Despite ongoing street protests by both supporters and opponents of the dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada, the situation in Kyiv and in the provinces has so far been under the government's control. But it is evident Ukraine is slowly edging toward political and legal chaos, which may culminate in a violent scenario if the president, the prime minister, and parliament fail to find a solution quickly.
The Seeds Of The Confrontation
Could the current confrontation between the key institutions of Ukraine's political system -- the president and the Verkhovna Rada -- have been averted?
The seeds of a potential institutional conflict in Ukraine were sown during the 2004 Orange Revolution in a hurriedly passed constitutional reform that enabled all political players at that time to find a way out of an electoral impasse and paved the way for Yushchenko's victory over Yanukovych in the third round of the presidential election.
The 2004 political-reform package included many vague formulations and loopholes that both Yushchenko and Yanukovych tried to use to their advantage. Yanukovych eventually took the upper hand by passing in January 2007 a law on the cabinet of ministers. This law expanded the prime minister's powers at the expense of the president even more than the constitution amended in 2004, which essentially transformed Ukraine from a presidential republic into a parliamentary-presidential one.
However, this law was not enough for Yanukovych, who launched a campaign to poach lawmakers from opposition caucuses in order to build a majority of at least 300 votes that would enable him to override presidential vetoes, amend the constitution, or even abolish the presidency in Ukraine altogether. Had it not been for Yushchenko's decree on early parliamentary polls, Yanukovych might have succeeded in this plan.
But it would be totally wrong to put the blame for the current crisis only on Yanukovych's appetite for power. Yushchenko should also take a measure of responsibility, because on many occasions he indicated he would like to abolish the 2004 political reform and regain the executive prerogatives enjoyed by his predecessor, Leonid Kuchma.
Yuliya Tymoshenko (left) shakes hands with Viktor Yanukovych during negotiations in June 2006 (epa)
In short, both Yanukovych and Yushchenko showed disrespect for the constitution amended in 2004 and the checks and balances that were included in it to shift the country's authoritarian political system toward a more European model. Both Yanukovych and Yushchenko have failed to pass a test of political responsibility and moderation and have showed they are true representatives of the post-Soviet mentality, for which a "strongman" is still the ideal of a political leader.
Yushchenko's decision to dissolve the Verkhovna Rada should have been made in July 2006, when Our Ukraine, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and the Socialist Party buried all chances to recreate their post-Orange Revolution ruling coalition, and the Verkhovna Rada clearly overstepped the constitutional time frame for forming a majority. At that time Yushchenko could have recaptured political initiative and presented himself as a decisive leader of the nation. What we see now is the direct consequence of his indecision in 2006.
Tymoshenko Behind The Scenes
The current political crisis seems to have been cunningly provoked by his fervent ally in the Orange Revolution, Yuliya Tymoshenko, who helped Yanukovych overcome Yushchenko's veto on the law on the cabinet of ministers and thus goaded Yushchenko into action against Yanukovych. Tymoshenko, for whom there has been no government role following the March 2006 elections, is the actor who most wants early elections and a new political opening.
Sociological surveys indicate that Yanukovych's Party of Regions and Tymoshenko's eponymous bloc are poised to win a new poll and effectively inaugurate a two-party system in Ukraine. For any other country in transition such a situation could be a blessing. For Ukraine -- with Yanukovych's electorate entrenched in the east and the south and Tymoshenko's supporters grouped in the west -- such an election outcome could turn into a nightmare.
For Yushchenko, any resolution of the current standoff does not bode well. If he fails to enforce early elections, he will suffer the humiliation of being marginalized in Ukraine's political arena. If early elections take place and, as generally expected, the results reinforce the Party of Regions and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc at the expense of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine, his political stature will hardly improve. The time when Yushchenko could impose his will on Ukraine appears to have been lost.