Friday, May 30, 2008
Elisa Mari, Pitt Law '10, files from Athens:
A huge public outcry erupted in Greece in March when NATO expanded its membership, the reason being that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) wanted to join the alliance under the name of "Macedonia".
For nearly all the existing NATO members this is not a big deal. The United States, for example already officially recognizes the country as "Macedonia". Greece, on the other hand, which refers to the country by the name of its capital Skopje, used its veto power to block FYROM's entrance under the name of Macedonia. Greece is afraid that FYROM will use the historic name of "Macedonia" to try to expand its territory, claiming the regions of Northern Greece that also are known by the name Macedonia.
This is a very sensitive issue for the Greeks, and they are not completely paranoid in their fear. Nationalist movements in FYROM have called for an expansion of the territory and have even claimed the Greek city of Thessaloniki as their capital. To make matters worse and further validate Greek fears, portrayals of the Greek flag with a swastika instead of a cross have been circulating in FYROM.
Greece's ruling New Democracy Party as well as the main opposition party (PASOK) while vehemently disagreeing with each other on practically every other issue, are in complete agreement over the Macedonia issue. In all honesty they have to be. The public is so united on this issue as well, and any government party that did not take a hard line would not survive a single day. Dora Bakogiannis, the Greek Foreign Ministe.r gave a clear explanation of Greece's position. Macedonia, is a larger region that encompasses Northern Greece, some of FYROM, a part of Albania, and a small part of Bulgaria. Therefore, one country cannot claim the title that belongs to the larger region, the majority of which is located in Greece. On the other hand, Bakogiannis has said that the government would be willing to accept the name of Northern Macedonia, or New Macedonia. Many think that even that is too much of a concession.
This issue is of such a national concern and so pervasive that it recently made an appearance on the Greek "Star Ellas" beauty pageant, (the Greek version of Miss America). During the question and answer part of the competition one girl was asked, what would she do if she were Miss Greece and at an international beauty competition the candidate from Skopje was wearing a banner that read "Macedonia"? The girl hesitated, not knowing what to say, and had to be prompted by the event's host to reply. The correct answer? "I would leave!"
Monday, May 26, 2008
Aleksandra (Sasha) Williams, Pitt Law '10, files from Kiev:
Until yesterday any American voter disgruntled by the current presidential election process could find comfort in realizing that at least there are several candidates to pick from. For example, compared to Russian presidential elections, where the only plausible candidate was heavily endorsed by former President Vladimir Putin, American plurality appears very reasonable. Yesterday Ukraine added another assurance that having only two candidates for one nomination is really not that bad: the Kiev mayoral ballot had over 70 names. Moreover, a lot of the candidates ran in the election together with their blocs or political affiliates.
On Sunday, May 25, 2008, residents of Kiev voted for the Kiev Mayor and members of the Kiev Sovet (the municipal decision-making committee). The election was held on the same day as the "City Holiday" and several high school graduation parties. All of these events usually involve general excitement, public performers, crowded streets and increased alcohol consumption, so it was hard to determine what exactly was being celebrated at any given moment. Several Police and Special Forces units patrolled the city, but no substantial problems were reported. The day concluded with a magnificent fireworks display over the Dnieper River.
The official results of the mayoral elections will probably come out no earlier than May 30, 2008. However, according to the exit polls and several preliminary stimates reported by various local news agencies, Leonid Chernovetskyi will probably keep his job as the Kiev Mayor. So far he is said to have about 37% of the total vote, while his closest opponents Aleksandr Turchinov and Vitaliy Klichko gathered 17% and 18% respectively. The Kiev Sovet election showed similar preliminary results, but with a smaller gap between the Chernovetskyi bloc (29%) and its closest opponent (Julia Timoshenko bloc - 23%). The rest of the candidates barely justified printing costs for their campaign ads which ranged from austere soviet-style directives for building a better future to silly random promises of world peace, happiness, prosperity and cheap diapers.
For example the current prime-minister Julia Timoshenko (nicknamed by some as "the woman with a braid", which due to peculiarities of the Russian and Ukrainian languages also means "grim reaper") endorsed Turchinov by reminding voters that she worked very hard to get him on the ballot and urging them not to let her down. Another candidate, Nikolaj Katerinchuk, started his campaign on March 8, the International Women's Day, by announcing that Kiev women are the best in the world. He then posted blue signs with a single word "ashamed" everywhere and later replaced them with similar ones stating "you will not be ashamed of your Mayor." So far it appears that about 3% of the voters actually bought it. Many promised better care for the elderly, rosy future for the children, more women in the parliament and less traffic jams, but did not otherwise substantiate their pledges. Vasily Gorbal undoubtedly took the pinnacle of absurdity award by releasing ads where he silently parodied facial expressions of his opponents and ran around Kiev with a "Free Hugs" sign. The incumbent Mayor, Leonid Chernovetskyi, (nicknamed by some as "Lenia-Cosmos" or "the mayor of Martians") simply promised more buses, better hospitals and cheaper bread. This may explain his success among Kiev citizens tired of the prevalent political idiocy.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Aleksandra (Sasha) Williams, Pitt Law '10, files from Kiev:
On May 16, 2008, Ukraine became the 152nd country member of the World Trade Organization. Although the general Kiev population seemed rather unimpressed by this event, especially in light of the impending mayoral elections and the associated campaign bedlam, the legal community met the news both cheerfully and cautiously. While the merriment can easily be explained by, at the very least, beating Russia to the punch, the weariness is well founded as well. It appears that the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine did little besides adopting a Protocol ratifying the WTO Accession Agreement - the existing legal framework for customs duties remains a confusing mystery to everyone involved. There is some doubt whether the government officials fully understood what was being adopted: the Ukrainian WTO negotiations package consisting of over 1500 pages was translated from English into Ukrainian only two days before the ratification.
Although the pertinent tax regulations were annexed to the Protocol, they were never added to the effective Tax Code. The Customs Service decided to lower the customs duties for import of goods by the WTO members without waiting for the legislature. The Service reasoned that until the respective laws are adopted, customs will be governed by the Protocol. The Verhovna Rada considered this decision to be well outside of the Service's authority, but did not offer any practical solutions. Instead, it proposed lowering customs duties only for certain types of goods - a law which is at variance with the Protocol and the annexed Agreement.
In keeping with the common Ukrainian idiom "god loves trinity" (similar to "three is a charm" or "troubles always come in three"), the Customs Service got hit with two additional problems on May 16: its server crashed and its Chief quit. Valerij Khoroshkovskyy, Head of the Customs Service of Ukraine, must have had to submit an old-fashioned ink-on-paper letter of resignation on Friday as the Service was completely cut off from Internet and electronic network access. Again, in keeping with the common Ukrainian tradition, while government officials boisterously herald the impending economic paradise (whether it is due to WTO membership or some other matter), businessmen are left without any idea about how import transactions should be conducted.
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