Issue No. 271 - May 7, 2002

            By Paulyuk Bykowski

            By Slobodan Rackovic

            An interview with Sergei Yuschenkov
            By Stojan Obradovic

    By Paulyuk Bykowski

    Alexiy II, Patriarch of Moscow and All of Russia, will visit
Belarus from May 18 to 21.  On the agenda for the visit by the head
of the Russian Orthodox Church will be the consecration of the
Charity House in Minsk and participation in ceremonies for the
festival of the miracle-working Zhirovichskaya Icon of Our Lady.
Belorussian authorities also have a gift for His Holiness.  They are
going to follow the example of the Russians in ensconcing the
priority of "traditional religion (read Orthodoxy) in the Law on
Freedom of Religion and of Religious Organizations."
    The Patriarch's visit was preceded by a campaign in the state
press saying that Belorussians will eternally belong to the
Russian Orthodox Church. Therefore, Catholic missionary
activity, especially by their Polish neighbors, is impermissible.
It was also stated that Protestants are fanatically luring youth into
totalitarian cults and expressed indignation that law
enforcement agencies have not put a stop to the Society for Krishna
Conscience and the like.  The protests of the non-Orthodox have
also been ignored by law enforcement-freedom of speech, you know.
    However, many are unhappy about the press campaign, and it is
no wonder.  According to statistics from the Committee on
Religious and Ethnic Affairs of the Belorussian Council of
Ministers, 15-20% of the country's population identifies itself as
Catholic or claims connections to the Catholic Church, making it the
second largest religious group in the country after the Russian
Orthodox Church.  As of last year, first place for the number of adherents
and congregations was occupied by the Belorussian Orthodox Church
(the exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church) with 1,172
congregations, followed by Protestants with 879 (of which 470
were Baptist), Roman Catholics with 405, Orthodox Old Believers
with 32, Muslims with 24 Greco-Catholics (Uniates) with 11,
Orthodox Jews with 22 and other Jews with 10.  In addition, new
religious organizations are active and some of those are
destructive cults.  The considerable number of atheists, who
belong to no groups, should also be taken into account, although
their numbers are not attested to by any reliable statistics.  At
the beginning of the 1990s, sociologists found that 30% of those
interviewed claimed a religious faith, 60% did not.  The remaining
10% were unable to say.
    After Soviet state atheism was lifted in Belarus, the number
of Russian Orthodox congregations fell to less than the
number of congregations of the two other leading denominations
for the first time since 1838, when Greco-Catholics of Belorussian
lands that were transferred to Russia after the dissolution of the
Recz Pospolita were converted to Orthodoxy.
    Nonetheless, official propaganda proclaims that more than 80%
of the Belorussian populace belong to the Belorussian Orthodox
Church, president Alexander Lukashenko describes his country as
Orthodox and the Ministry of the Interior publishes a newspaper
called "The Orthodox Warrior."  The influence of Orthodoxy is most
noticeable right now in the education of the younger generation.
There is a suspicion in anticlerical circles that there is a
secret agreement between the Belorussian Orthodox Church and the
government.  But that partnership is not a secret, in and of
itself.  The Coordinating Committee for Cooperation between the
Belorussian Exarchate and the Ministry of Education functions
completely openly.  Minister of Education Petr Brigadin has
approved the suggestion by Orthodox educators of joint and
far reaching lectures of moral and spiritual subjects for
students, parents and teachers and the introduction of televised
and videotaped lessons in schools.  The BELTA state information
agency reports that "this initiative by the Orthodox Church is in
step with ministry intentions to change the school week to five
days of courses, with Saturday reserved for moral and spiritual
    There is nothing blameworthy in that, if attendance at
Saturday Orthodoxy lessons is voluntary and members of other
denominations and atheists are given the chance to raise their
children as they see fit.  However, such respect for the rights of
minorities is unlikely.  In Belarus, even "subbotniki," days of
voluntary unpaid labor, are state mandated and state agencies
charge their subjects a "contribution" of the management of any
form of property in the amount they owe the "subbotnik" fund.
    The striving of the Orthodox to broaden their sphere of
influence over its potential flock is understandable.  The
behavior of government officials is more surprising.  With rare
exception, they are still atheists, but they act with the fervor
of the newly converted faithful.  More precisely, they act like
Soviet functionaries during a change in the Party line.  We are
presented with a situation where Orthodox Christianity has been
taken into the arsenal of the Pan-Slavic ideologues of the
Belorussian ruling regime and is being used to facilitate the
alignment of Belarus and Russia.
    Of course a common religion unites.  But Belorussian citizens
do not have such a religion.  If a single religion, even the
predominant one, is declared foremost, it will lead to the
destabilization of society.  It is necessary to approach religious
questions with caution in multi-denominational countries,
especially on the level of legislation.  The proposed Law on
Freedom of Religion and of Religious Organizations, which will
come before the lower house of the Belorussian parliament within
days, does everything possible to make things harder for
"non-Orthodox" denominations.
    Belarus does not have enough Catholic priests, since they were
not allowed to receive the necessary education in Soviet times. Of
the 266 Catholic priests serving Belorussian perishes, 149 of them
are foreign citizens; most of those are Polish.  Authorities cite
formal reasons to refuse priests assigned to Belarus permission to
enter the country and there have been cases of refusal to extend
previously granted entry permits.
    One of the most recent instances took place in Brest.  Here,
Father Zbignew Karoliak was forced to work illegally for the
better part of a year after he was denied, without explanation, an
extension of permission to stay in Belarus.  His congregation
petitioned the courts, but to no effect.  The priest was forced to
leave the country and has so far not been replaced.
    The new law, if it were to pass in its present form, will lead
to the closure of the majority of Catholic perishes because the
leaders of religious organizations will have to be Belorussian
citizens, under article 13, and foreign citizens will have the
right to engage in religious activity in Belarus for only one
year, under article 30.  At present, Aum Senrikyo, the Center of
Our Lady, the Great White Brotherhood, "Satanists," and the Family
of Love are banned in Belarus as totalitarian cults.  That list
could be notably enlarged under article 24 of the proposed law.
Under its provisions, a religious organization could be closed
down for causing damage to health or morals.  It is not specified
what is considered damage.  To the conservative, missionary
organizations and those that encourage their followers to leave
society and take up ascetic lifestyles will seem the most
dangerous.  The Jehovah's Witnesses were banned in the Soviet
Union, but legalized in 1990.  They could be see such a light and
their 26 congregations prohibited.  Furthermore, the authors of
the proposed law would make it illegal to run a religious
organization without forming a corporation.  This recalls the
Soviet practice of making it practically impossible to register a
religious organization, and the police hunting down unregistered
    In Soviet times, the majority of cult buildings were either
destroyed or nationalized, and non-Orthodox denominations are able
to recover their property only with great difficulty.  Local
authorities in Raubichi, Minsk Region, refuse to hand over the
Catholic Church of St. John the Baptist until the parish builds,
at its own expense, new premises for the ethnological museum the
church now houses.  The Church of St. Rokh in Minsk is now used as
the philharmonics chamber music hall, and the parish must make
arrangements with the philharmonic's administration to hold
services there.  Jews are in a similar situation.  Yakov Gutman,
president of the World Association of Belorussian Jews, says that
the synagogue in Slonima, Grodno Region, is being used for public
rest rooms.   Many Jews have left and often there is no one to
demand the return of sacred buildings.  In 2000, for the first
time since the fall of communism, a procession was prohibited at
the Catholic Church of Saints Simon an ena on Independence Square
in Minsk.  This year, Easter Mass at that church was not allowed
to be simulcast over state radio, after being on the air for the
last eight years.  However, Orthodox broadcasts continued.
    Let us think about the tale of the enchanted house, where
every lie told within its walls becomes the truth.  A miser who
tells everybody that he is poor is really ruined.  Girls searching
for rich husbands fall in love with no selfish motivation.
Braggers are turned into heroes and blackmailers into
philanthropists.  The religious inequality imposed by Belorussian
authorities is malicious and is unlikely to lead to any benefit
for the Orthodox Church.  Forbidden fruit is sweetest.  If the
current government policy results in Christian virtue taking hold
among Belorussian masses, there will be little left of the current
worldly state.  Orthodox Belarus, as it is being invented by
atheist officials, is not likely to be what they really want.
There may be no place left for the legendary Belorussian tolerance
that patiently suffers the whims of the Party line.

                                    * * *
    By Slobodan Rackovic

    At its very start, implementation of Belgrade agreement to
transform the Yugoslav federation into a Union of independent
states - Serbia and Montenegro - has already run across
insurmountable obstacles.
    Even the most ignorant political layman knows that
implementation of Belgrade agreement setting new relations between
Serbia and Montenegro wasn't going to be easy, right from the
start  when it was signed on the 14th March in the presence of high EU
representative for security and foreign politics Javier Solana.
What wasn't expected was that implementation of this controversial
document would be almost impossible. That conclusion came out of the
following sessions of Montenegrin parliamentary groups during the
past few days,  the mission of which was to lay basis for adoption of
Constitution of new community.
    It is easy to guess what will happen when two republics clash
on the grounds of the agreement and its implementation. Javier Solana
himself saw these problems and addressed Montenegrin president
Milo Djukanovic and head of Montenegrin opposition Predrag
Bulatovic, asking them for a more expedient implementation of the
    The international community, especially USA and EU, are very eager
to see the Belgrade agreement working in the field, if for no other
reason than the fact of proclaiming the March 14 signing of the
document as their important achievement, one of the rare achievements
in a messy Balkan area. They went even further in order
to force Serbia and Montenegro to form a new community as soon as
possible. Two special Solana's envoys - Stefan Lehne and Fernando
Gentilini - came to Podgorica from Brussels. At the same time,
president Djukanovic was urgently invited to a White House
briefing in Washington. The Lehne-Gentilini duo, which also actively
participated in the drafting and signing of the Belgrade agreement, will
try to speed up implementation of agreement in Podgorica via talks
with highest state officials - Montenegrin prime minister Filip
Vujanovic, foreign minister Branko Lukovic and opposition
    Similar action will be undertaken in Belgrade, because the EU is
getting more and more certain with each passing day that leaders
of ruling DOS coalition have never genuinely accepted the
agreement; and separatist tendencies growing in Serbia are
building up. On 29th April Belgrade and 140 Serbian cities saw a
massive action of signature-gathering for a referendum on Serbian
independence. If 100,000 signatures are to be collected, Serbian
parliament will be forced to set date for referendum. Organizers
are certain that number will be three times as big.
    "There is a wrong opinion that everyone in Serbia supports
formation of joint country with Montenegro. President Kostunica
talked with EU representatives by drawing on that artificial
platform. They simply didn't know what is political will of the
citizens. Now the time has come to ask the people what they think,"
said organizer Vladan Batic, one of the ruling DOS leaders and
Serbian minister of justice who is president of Serbian
Demochristian Party.
    "Creators of a monster state called the Union of Serbia and
Montenegro are aware they don't enjoy majority support in the
parliament, so it is not sure whether this agreement will pass.
Most DOS leaders ultimately want a independent Serbia, but for now
only some of them are ready to say it in public ", said Batic
adding that action initiated by his party - gathering signatures -
was basically not opposed to integrative processes forced by EU.
"Nobody should falsify the will of the people ", Batic said.
    While the EU initiative for speeding up the process of
implementation of Belgrade agreement is facing numerous
difficulties, it seems that Washington, which put much less effort
into the preservation of a joint Montenegrin and Serbian state than
Brussels, is having more success or, better said, stronger
    Secretary of State Colin Powell met Milo Djukanovic and
managed to persuade him to promise that he would implement
Belgrade agreement, although his personal opinion was that
independence was the only way for Montenegro. However, that
promise was given in exchange for substantial American aid to
Podgorica. Also, there's no doubt that the American government
will openly support  Djukanovic's regime in its struggle with Serbian
opposition. And finally, the international community has promised
Montenegro that no-one will bother it in three years' time, when
referendum on independence is set.
    And this conclusion of the Council for political system in the
Montenegrin parliament has raised the temperature both in Podgorica and
in Belgrade, with two parties accusing each other of changing the
formal and actual content of the Belgrade agreement. Conclusions of this
Council, if accepted at the ongoing parliamentary session, will
serve as basis for Montenegrin members of Constitutional
Commission, who will participate in the making of the new Constitution
of the Union of independent states Montenegro and Serbia. Especially
controversial was the issue of whether the new community was a Union
of independent states, as is written in English in original, or a
federation, as claimed by representatives of "Together for
Yugoslavia" coalition. There were also some other disputes about
issues related to name and character of future community. Among
most important conclusion of the Council, voted against by parties
of Serbian-Yugoslav block, was the opinion that the Constitution will
not be superior to constitutions of members and that there will
be no federal elections as it could lead to unified country,
feared by separatist parties. Representatives to the new, joint,
parliament will be chosen by Montenegrin parliament, according to
reciprocity principle. Another conclusion is that the current Federal
parliament should be disbanded immediately after constitution of a
new one. Introduction of a state of emergency and declaration of war
will be separately decided by two parliaments, and protection of
minority rights will be under separate jurisdiction of Montenegro
and Serbia.
    If we add the fact that president Djukanovic said in a recent
interview to Belgrade weekly newspapers "Svedok" that Montenegro
and Serbia will have their own separate hymns, flags and other
symbols of state - then it is clear that those who say that Union
will not even reach third year of its "test drive" may be right .
                                * * *
    An interview with Sergei Yuschenkov
    By Stojan Obradovic

    Sergei Yuschenkov (50) is a member of Russian parliament Duma.
He is the leader of the new party Liberal Russia, founded in April
2000. Although one of its founders was controversial Boris
Berezovski, Yuschenkov claims that Bezrezovski's money is cleaner
than money coming from Kremlin oligarchy which is used to finance
other parties. Yuschenkov belonged to The Union of Right Forces
(SPS), but he thought that opposition group was starting to
support Putin  and Kremlin politics instead of opposing them.
Therefore he founded Liberal Russia, the aim of which is to
strengthen the opposition to Putin's regime and develop liberal
democracy in Russia.
    Q: How would you rate Putin  government so far?
    A: The basis of Putin's politics is limiting human rights. It is a
revision of the constitution, where it is written that human
rights and freedom are of the highest value. But, almost since the
day he came to power, Putin has been proclaiming that other things
are more valuable. According to him, these things are interests of
the state, which in reality mostly means interests of Russian
government. All Putin politics revolves around these interests.
People say that during Putin's rule Russia saw a certain economic
progress. However, the whole "progress" is based on currently high
oil prices. At this moment, there are no other ideas for economic
development. Tax policy is very bad and unstimulating. It is
discouraging small- and mid-level investors. It is a tax policy
which aims to fill state coffers, not enable development.
    Regarding media, one might say that Putin has a strong
tendency to limit freedom of expression. All bigger media,
especially electronic, are under state control.
    Another alleged Putin's credit is opening to the West.
However, this opening to the West on the basis of anti-terrorist
operation in Afghanistan is based upon the fact that Putin and his
military command now have much easier time explaining war campaign
in Chechnia as anti-terrorist operation similar to the one in
    Russia is waging illegal war in Chechnya. War which was never
officially declared and which can be considered a crime according
to our constitution and other laws. According to the constitution,
army can be sent to war only in three cases: in case of
declaration of war, in case of war, and in case of state of
emergency. Chechnya doesn't belong to any of these three cases.
    Therefore, I would say these two years of Putin's rule are
years of abstention from democratic values, years of restoration
and returning of old political methods as well as establishment of
a police regime.
    Whatever one might think about Yeltsin and his rule, there was
more care for freedom of speech and political freedoms than today.
Also, Yeltsin didn't have so many special services Putin now has
and which are in reality running the country.
    Q: What about democratic forces in Russia - parliamentary
opposition, civil society, independent media? How can they help to
control what Putin is doing?
    A: Democratic forces are demoralized. Most of them accepted
the rule of the game as laid down by Putin. Opposition
parliamentary parties like The Union of Right Forces and Yabloko
coalition are practically supporting Putin, despite their
criticism. That can be seen during voting in Duma, the Russian
parliament. Both parties supported the most odious law bills
proposed by Kremlin - especially the state budget which acknowledged
finances for the illegal war in Chechnya. It is a budget which
destroys independence of Federation subjects. The layout of the
government has been dispensed as well as Federation Council which
was to some extent enabling all Federation members to coordinate
their interests. Now everything is under absolute control of
Kremlin. One might freely say that Putin's budget is a budget of a
unitarian and beauracratic, not a federal country. There is no place
in it for development of small enterprise.
    The Duma also supported the Law on political parties which enabled
Putin administration to put all parties under his control.
    Because of all this, we could say that democratic parties in
the parliament parading as opposition have turned away from the
ideals of democracy and are playing along according to the rules
set by Kremlin.
    That is why some parliamentary representatives which had been
forming The Union of Right Forces formed party Liberal Russia
which will fight to implement liberal politics in all spheres of
    Q: What do citizens think about Putin? How much support does
he enjoy among the people? How long can the current situation keep
    A: Putin's rating is tied to oil prices. If the price of an
oil barrel is higher than 25 US dollars, then Putin's rating
increases to 70 per cent. If prices are falling, his rating is
dropping to 60 per cent. If price of a barrel dropped to 15
dollars, his rating would fall to 40 per cent. If price was 9
dollars, as had been the case during Yeltsin's time, then Putin
would stand no chance of getting re-elected.
    At this point, he has luck with oil prices as well as
anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan and war between Israel and
Palestine. It all enables him to keep oil prices high, and the
people don't realize it. Even more, citizens are happy because
higher oil prices improved their standard; considering it to be
Putin's achievement, they continue to support him.
    Q: What is the situation in Chechnya? Is there a possibility
for new conflicts in Chechnya and wide escalation?
    A: I have already said that the war is Chechnya is a crime.
Unfortunately, that conflict will last for a long time if the
authorities still want to resolve it by force.
    There are already more Russian soldiers dead in second than in
the first Chechnyan war. The situation in Afghanistan is being used as
a smoke-screen for Chechnya. That bleeding wound will take long to
heal if the Kremlin continues to insist on forceful solution.
    My party Liberal Russia proposed peaceful solution to the
conflict because it can still be done, although chances for it are
dwindling with each passing day. The first thing to do is to legally
impose an appropriate regime, even if it would mean introducing state
of emergency. This state enables us to implement laws and control
involved parties by Federation Council and international
organizations, if the conflict was prolonged. At the same time,
according to the Law on state of emergency, Russian president
should pass an act explaining reasons for introduction of state of
emergency and what it related to. That would give us control over
    It is said that the nature of conflicts in Afghanistan and
Chechnya is the same - fight against terrorism. However, if the
war against terrorism is led in Afghanistan, that is not true for
Chechnya where there are, too, terrorists. But basically, in
Chechnya there is no terrorism, but separatism, which is based on
the right, established in various international documents, of a nation
for its own territory.
    Of course, it collides with another basic principle - that
borders cannot be changed. Prolongation of this fighting will
depend on the West, meaning how much it will insist that Russia
resolves this problem peacefully.
    Q: Russian politics is greatly involved in Caucasus and Central Asia
region. What is your opinion of that politics?
    A: Russia is trying to maintain its influence in Caucasus, but
unfortunately with ad hoc politics, changing from one case to
another. That politics is mostly quick and inadequate reactions,
for example Georgia where Russia is directly meddling into
internal affairs of that country. Conflict between Abhasia and
Georgia is treated completely differently, although there is an
example of Chechnya in Russia. If Russia continues to lead such
short-term politics, without clear strategic aims in that region,
then Caucasus will slowly but inevitably leave Russian sphere of
    Things are much more complicated in Middle Asia. Although
countries in the region counted on Russian aid, they didn't get
it. The fact that the USA are implementing anti-terrorist
operations with the aid of Central Asian republics illustrates that
they are ready to closely cooperate with West and other
countries, which is very beneficial to them. I think it is also
beneficial to Russia, in a strategic sense. Russia itself is
unable to give aid to those countries which need investments,
economic re-organization and establishment of the rule of law.
That's why it would be very good if relations between West and
Central Asian countries would not only be based on anti-terorrist
coalition, but on aid, such as Marshal's plan, which those
countries need urgently. Central Asian countries are very poor, with
centres of world-wide narcotics production. The West and the world
as a whole should be interested in peace and prosperity in this
part of the world.
    Q: What was the motive for formation of this new party Liberal
Russia and who supports it? What results can be expected ?
    A: Liberal Russia movement was formed as an opposition to
president Putin. We constituted it in April 2000. Our goal was to
widen the liberal base together with the Union of Right Forces(SPS).
We hoped that the SPS will not give up ideals of liberalism.
However, further events proved that SPS took more and more
participation in government. That's why we decided to leave SPS
and found our own party. The idea popped up after meeting with Boris
Berezovski and we agreed that our aim wasn't just promotion of
liberal ideas, but also improvement of civil society in Russia. We
agreed on cooperation, although I realize very well that some
people in Russia use Berezovski's name as scarecrow. Here in
Russia there are many myths related to Berezovski which are
basically ungrounded. He and some politicians are now
vice-presidents of the party.
    Very important is that we have parliamentary representatives
from various regions of Russia. We also have representatives on
various levels, from city to regional councils.
    That's why I think that we stand good chances at parliamentary
elections in 2003, although in an atmosphere of silencing and
information blockade, as well as media discreditation of our and
other parties, everything will be very difficult. We are counting
on growing displeasure of voters throughout Russia.
    Russia is a special country. Few people in 1998 knew who was
Vladimir Putin, yet he became the prime minister, and then the
Russian president after two years. When Putin passed a secret order to
begin military operations in Chechnya, he got significant
authorities, one might say a kind of state coup was implemented,
which helped him become the president.
    Our party knows full well the price of that coup, and what is
more to come before we get out of this situation. We think the
most important thing now is work on educating people, and creating
political forces and atmosphere which will not be satisfied with
the situation as it is now. When we strengthen these processes,
then we will have more realistic answers about our expectations
and necessary changes.