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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: July 22, 2005

22 July 2005, Volume 7, Number 27
EXPELLED U.S. ACADEMIC SAYS MINSK IN ANTI-WESTERN 'CLEANUP.' Last week, Belarusian authorities gave U.S. professor Terry Boesch and his two daughters 24 hours to leave the country. Boesch, who taught business and law at Belarusian State University in Minsk since 2003, says the government did not explain its decision to deny his visa extension. But the professor believes his case is part of a campaign to rid Belarus of Western influence ahead of next year's general elections.

As Terry Boesch explains it, his sudden expulsion has no explanation -- at least, not officially. "The Belarusian government denied my visa and ordered me to leave the country on the same day [14 July]," he told RFE/RL. "But the government kept my documents and visa so I cannot leave the country until I get them back. I have been here for two years and I have shown by my behaviors and teaching that I am trying to help the Belarusian people."

However, Boesch has his own ideas of why he and his two daughters have been kicked out of Belarus. In a letter posted to the website of the Belarusian human rights group Charter-97, the American wrote, "Before taking part in the 2006 presidential election, [Belarusian President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka has started a big cleanup aimed at representatives of the West."

Boesch told RFE/RL that he has avoided politics and contacts with the opposition while staying in Belarus, where he has concentrated on academic and humanitarian activities, including the organization of exchanges for Belarusian students, visits of guest lecturers, and donations of English-language textbooks.

"We were able to attract some interest from schools and libraries in the United States who donated more than 40,000 books," Boesch said. "I paid for the shipping of the two large ocean-going containers to get [them] here. Unfortunately, I contacted the Ministry of Education here in Belarus when that happened, suggesting that I thought we could bring over 400,000 books, but there just has not been an interest in bringing English textbooks, or English-language books, into Belarus by this government."

Boesch's case is not the first expulsion of a Western educator from Belarus. In July 2004, Belarusian authorities invalidated a multiple-entry visa for Alan Flowers, an expert in radiology based at Kingston University in London, and banned him from visiting the country for the next five years. No official reason for Flowers' expulsion has ever been given.

Like Boesch, Flowers was careful to steer clear of what in the West would be termed "politics." What he did, however, was to foster pro-democracy activities among Belarusian students -- debate and discussion clubs -- and to assist them to participate in such activities at an international level.

But promoting democratic ideas among Belarusian students, or simply exposing them to ideas not supported by the state, is what Lukashenka abhors in the first place in his attempt to reconstruct Soviet-style education in Belarus.

Last year, state ideology was introduced as an obligatory course at all universities in Belarus, both private and state-run.

In July 2004, the government closed the privately funded European Humanities University (EHU) in Minsk, a school that provided Western-style education and promoted the exchange of ideas between students from Belarus and the West. Lukashenka subsequently acknowledged that the EHU was closed because it was training a new Belarusian elite that would make the nation pro-Western. Earlier this year, the EHU reopened in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Boesch says that Belarusian State University has been undergoing a process of "continued politicization" and isolation from international contacts following the appointment of former Education Minister Vasil Strazhau as rector in November 2003. "One of the first things that the new rector did was to cancel the international relations pro-rector's position," he said. "So, the Belarusian State University, to my knowledge, is the only university now in Europe without an international relations vice president or vice rector. Second, there has been an elimination of at least three international programs that have been long-standing in our university."

Boesch said he is planning to leave Belarus with his two daughters on 20 July for Lithuania, where he said he hopes to relax after "72 hours of hell" in Minsk after he was told to leave. (Jan Maksymiuk)

(RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Irena Chalupa of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service contributed to this report.)

YUSHCHENKO ORDERS LAW-ENFORCEMENT OVERHAUL. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has called for a shake-up of law-enforcement agencies in an attempt to crack down on corruption and organized crime. The president ordered the disbanding of the country's traffic police, known by the acronym DAI (State Vehicle Inspection). He also called for replacing regional police chiefs.

On 18 July, President Yushchenko ordered the traffic police to be abolished within 24 hours. The traffic police is a large unit that employs 23,000 people. It is also known for being notoriously corrupt.

During a meeting at the Interior Ministry, Yushchenko said DAI had fully discredited itself. "You have discredited yourself. That's why I have decided that there will be no DAI in this country. A draft of a decree will be ready in 24 hours. Guys, enough with making money on the roads. Enough with harassing drivers," Yushchenko said.

Yushchenko said that "the main objective of traffic police is to provide assistance" for drivers, but officers "come out to harass people." The president said his government's efforts at reforming the traffic police had proved unsuccessful.

DAI is very unpopular with drivers as they impose fines on the spot and often demand bribes. So there's little wonder that many people on Kyiv's streets support the president's move. "I support it [the decision] because they are doing nothing good but only take money and hide in the bushes as Yushchenko says," one passerby said.

Others say it will be difficult without traffic police but agree there is hardly another way out. "I do not have a definite opinion about it because it will be difficult without DAI. Drivers are not educated. On the other hand, DAI has compromised itself, so I support the move," another passerby said.

However, Larysa Denyssenko, who represents Transparency International in Ukraine, is skeptical about the move. She says DAI was probably one of the most corrupt institutions in the country and something had to be done. However, she doubts if radical measures will work.

"Liquidation of the institution does not always mean solving a problem. Yes, traffic police in many sociological polls figures as one of the most corrupt institutions in Ukraine. However, I don't think it is the most clever measure to root out corruption by rooting out the institution itself," Denyssenko says.

Denyssenko says DAI tried to introduce some order on the Ukrainian roads and streets. Ukraine is known not only for traffic police corruption, but also for a high rate of car accidents. Denyssenko says transferring traffic police work to the municipalities might work.

The authorities seem to have a similar plan. Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko says the DAI will be replaced with a "European-level" highway patrol service. "The majority [of police officers] will be transferred to unified patrol service. Like in all European countries, it will control street crossings and traffic on [local] roads. This patrol service will report to districts and municipalities. To control traffic outside the cities [on highways] another service with different responsibilities will be created," Lutsenko said.

The Ukrainian move is not unique. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili disbanded the Georgian traffic police, which employed 36,000 people, at the beginning of last year.

RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau chief Tamar Chikovani says Georgian authorities have created a new unit named "Patrul" (Patrol). Some former traffic police officers have managed to win the competition and join the new force.

Chikovani says members of the new unit are paid better salaries and have good equipment. Many women serve in the unit. Chikovani says people are enthusiastic about the new police force and trust it very much. Recent polls show that the unit is now the country's most popular institution.

At the same meeting with Interior Ministry officials on 18 July, President Yushchenko said that it is necessary to change all Ukrainian regional police chiefs in order to counteract corruption and enhance efficiency of law enforcement, Interfax-Ukraine reported.

"With a new personnel we will have hope that the work in regions will improve.... If we begin fighting corruption from the beginning, we should fully replace people representing the discredited part of the police," Yushchenko said, noting that oblast police directorates employ investigators who use torture and take bribes. (Valentinas Mite)

SHOTS RING OUT IN TRANSDNIESTRIAN SECURITY ZONE. Moldova has lodged an official protest with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), accusing Russian peacekeeping troops of unprofessional conduct during an incident this week. Moldovan Reintegration Minister Vasile Sova said Russian soldiers guarding a bridge 40 kilometers east of Chisinau fired in the air after demanding that three civilians who had been taking photographs hand over their film.

The bridge over the Dniester River is near the unofficial boundary between Moldova and the breakaway region of Transdniester. The incident could impede a settlement of the Transdniester conflict, which was recently given a boost by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.

The shots were reportedly the first to be heard in the security zone since a short war fought by Transdniester and Moldova in 1992.

According to reports, a U.S. lawyer working in Moldova and two Moldovan lawyers stopped their car on a bridge across the Dniester River on the evening of 19 July, near a post of the Russian peacekeeping contingent.

The American took some photos of roadside warning posters. A Russian officer demanded that she destroy the film, reportedly claiming that taking photographs near military posts in the security zone is forbidden. An ensuing brawl attracted some 50 local residents to the bridge, causing a traffic blockade. The Russian officer then fired two bursts from his submachine gun into the air.

Moldovan Minister for Reintegration Vasile Sova was at the site of the incident shortly after it took place. He told journalists that the Russian soldiers "acted totally unprofessionally" and had provoked a "serious incident." He said the shooting testifies to a more serious problem.

"Developments taking place recently in the security zone unambiguously show that the situation there is practically not controlled by the Joint Control Commission and the joint peacekeeping forces under its supervision," Sova said.

Transdniester declared independence from Romanian-speaking Moldova in 1990. The two sides fought a short war in 1992 that left some 1,500 people dead.

The Joint Control Commission (JCC) and Transdniester's 220-kilometer-long security zone were established in 1992, following an agreement between Chisinau and Tiraspol on a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The JCC currently includes delegations from Chisinau and Tiraspol -- as well as from Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE -- and supervises the practical implementation of that agreement.

Peace in the security zone has been maintained by Moldovan, Transdniestrian, and Russian forces. Russia has currently some 500 troops in Transdniester, which man two dozen checkpoints in the security zone and watch large stores of ammunition left there by Soviet troops.

Last month, Chisinau presented a list of proposals intended to stabilize the situation in the security zone. In particular, Chisinau suggested abolishing all customs and military checkpoints in the zone and removing other obstacles to the movement of goods and people between Moldova and the secessionist region.

Sova said the shooting incident makes the need for consultations to ameliorate the situation in the security zone even more urgent. However, holding such consultations may not be an easy task.

The problem is that Chisinau regards the authorities in Tiraspol as an illegitimate regime and is reluctant to conduct direct negotiations with them, preferring to talk about the Transdniester settlement with mediators from Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE.

Moldovan parliamentary deputy speaker Iurie Rosca suggested as much when he commented on the Transdniester conflict settlement for RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service earlier this month. "The Moldovan authorities do not want to negotiate with the criminals from Tiraspol because they represent the 'tools' of the Russian Federation in the region. Therefore, it's not rational for us to negotiate with the 'tools' but with the ones who 'handle' the tools -- meaning, with the administration of the Russian Federation," Rosca said. "The Republic of Moldova wants to discuss this with its partners from Moscow, even if this dialogue is a difficult one. To continue unfruitful discussions with Smirnov's separatists is also counterproductive and ridiculous for us. And I hope that that's something that will be understood more clearly also in other capitals of the world, not only in Moscow."

Such an attitude does not bode well for a plan for Transdniester proposed in April by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. His so-called seven-step plan includes the adoption of a law on autonomous status for Transdniester within the Republic of Moldova and the holding of democratic elections in Transdniester under international monitoring.

The Moldovan parliament endorsed the plan last month, but added one important condition -- that Russia withdraw its military contingent from Transdniester by 2006. Last week, support for the Yushchenko plan also came from Transdniestrian leader Igor Smirnov.

Chisinau even prepared a draft bill on Transdniester's autonomous status. But Chisinau drafted the bill without the participation of Transdniestrian representatives.

Transdniestrian Supreme Soviet speaker Grigori Marakuta told RFE/RL this week that the Transdniester settlement process cannot advance if Chisinau continues to avoid contacts with Tiraspol. "Things can be solved only when both sides are ready to talk. If Moldova negotiates only with Ukraine, and if Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin says that he will not negotiate with the leadership of the Transdniester Republic under any circumstances, there is no prospect [for a diplomatic solution]," Marakuta said.

Earlier this month, the Transdniestrian administration asked Moscow to increase its military contingent in the region to 2,400 soldiers, including a helicopter squadron. Tiraspol explained its request by pointing to Chisinau's alleged plans to prepare a "forcible solution" of the Transdniester conflict.

Thus, this week's shooting incident on the Dniester River could mark a turning point -- from a period of hope for a peaceful solution of the Transdniester conflict under the Yushchenko plan to a much bleaker future.

(RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service and Irena Chalupa of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service contributed to this report.)