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Transitions Online Transitions Online http://www.tol.org/client/ Sat, 25 May 2019 03:02:45 +0100 FeedCreator 1.7.2-ppt (info@mypapit.net) A Lobby Losing Its Power https://www.tol.org/client/article/11056-a-lobby-losing-its-power.html BREMEN, Germany--Russia’s agricultural lobby has been a powerful force in Russian politics for over a decade, and one of the strongest opponents of market reform in the 1990s. It has, with success, used its political leverage at both the national and the regional level to ensure that many elements of the Soviet-era farm system survived the transition to a market economy. It was, in part, thanks to this lobby that private ownership of farmland did not become possible until 2002. But the lobby was never as powerful as the slowness of reform might suggest. And since Vladimir Putin’s accession to power, the political constellations of forces seems to have shifted against them. The Duma elections on 7 December could mark their eclipse as a force in Moscow, though they will remain a powerful factor in the regions. A TROUBLED INDUSTRY Ever since the collectivization of the 1930s, Russian agriculture has been organized in big agro-industrial enterprises. At the end of the 1980s, their number stood at about 25,000, with each enterprise employing an average of 400 people. This left Russia’s agricultural sector facing two major problems when economic reforms began to be implemented in the early 1990s. First, the sector had little modern technology and used it ineffectively. As a result, the average harvest of grain per acre was roughly three times lower than in the United States. The harvest per employee was 10 times lower. Second, the old managers remained in place in virtually every farm. They paid scant regard to efficiency and competitiveness. Instead, their main concern seemed to be the “social situation in the countryside”; that is, the preservation of the social status quo. Government policy then added a third problem. When it began to liberalize prices in 1992, the government chose to free the prices of farm inputs (machinery, fertilizer, fuel), but it continued to regulate the prices of most agricultural products. As a result, the domestic terms of trade for agriculture worsened considerably. From 1992 to 1993, Russian agriculture was, in fact, subsidizing other sectors of the economy, mainly private households. These problems created a severe crisis. In the 1990s, farm output fell by one-third, livestock herds fell by two-thirds, and the share of agriculture in Russian GDP dropped from 15 percent to 6 percent (although its share of the workforce rose slightly, to 14 percent). OLD FARMERS NEVER DIE The big agricultural enterprises of Soviet times have more or less survived the turbulent changes of the past decade. They may have a different legal status than they did, but typically they still have the old managers in place. In 1993, the land they used was formally transferred into the collective ownership of the workers of the enterprises. However, land could not be sold and the rights of the new “land owners” were not defined. The land therefore remained de facto under the control of the farms’ managers. Since land could not be sold, it could not be confiscated if a farm became bankrupt--and most farms were indeed insolvent. Since then only a very small group of enterprises (about 300 out of the 25,000) have been able to produce a substantial, regular profit. The survival of most farms has depended on state support. An agricultural lobby formed, with three main demands: the state should maximize subsidies and minimize taxes; the state should maintain control over agricultural land (and not establish a land market); and the state should protect Russian enterprises from foreign competition. THE AGRICULTURAL LOBBY The lobby relied on old Soviet-era networks. As early as 1990, the farm managers and bureaucrats from the former Soviet state agricultural administration founded the Agrarian Union as a lobbying group. (It was renamed the Russian Agro-Industrial Union in 1997.) In 1993, they founded the Agrarian Party in order to gain political representation. For most of the past decade, they have occupied positions of power. The agricultural lobby has traditionally dominated the Ministry of Agriculture. Of the six ministers of agriculture since 1991, five have held leading positions in the Agrarian Party--as have four of the five deputy prime ministers with responsibility for agriculture. However, they have been less successful in other ministries that wield some influence over agriculture. The Finance Ministry, which controls subsidies, and the Ministry of Trade and Economic Development, which handles negotiations to join the World Trade Organization, have generally been under the control of market reformers. They have resisted the conservative agricultural lobby, represented by the Ministry of Agriculture, and have questioned the protection of the domestic market for agricultural products. In the lower chamber of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, the lobby has been represented by the Agrarian Party since 1994. In the three Russian Dumas so far, the Agrarian Party faction had about 30 to 40 members--equal to 7 to 10 percent of the total vote. Most of the deputies in the Agrarian Party are themselves farm directors. Though a small party, the Agrarian Party has boosted its influence through a strategic coalition with the Communist Party. The two parties have voted together on most issues, with both parties united in opposing a liberalized land market (although the Agrarians, unlike the Communists, are not opposed to all forms of private land ownership). Together, the Agrarian and Communist parties commanded 22 percent of deputies in the first Duma (1994-1995), about 40 percent in the second Duma (1996-1999), and roughly 28 percent in the third Duma (2000-2003). This is a strong coalition. Indeed, it is only thanks to the Communists that the Agrarian Party was able to gain the 35 members needed to form a parliamentary faction. In 1995 and 1999, the party won some seats in single-mandate constituencies, but on both occasions it failed to garner the 5 percent needed to win seats based on proportional representation. The Communist Party made up for the loss by transferring some of their deputies to the Duma faction of the Agrarian Party. It is perhaps at the regional level, though, that the agricultural lobby has exercised the most power. In most agricultural regions, the governors made their careers either as farm directors or as bureaucrats in state agricultural agencies. Regional governors have a number of tools to influence agrarian policy: they distribute most of the state subsidies; they strongly influence the regulatory framework for agriculture in their region, (e.g. price regulations or trade restrictions); and, until political reforms in 2002, they were able to use their automatic membership of the Federation Council (the Russian parliament’s second chamber) to shape national policy on agriculture. RESURRECTION UNDER YELTSIN Despite its strong presence in the government, parliament, and regional administrations, the conservative agriculture lobby failed in the early 1990s to achieve its goals. It could have done so without too much difficulty. The state policy towards agriculture that Russia carried over from the Soviet era already satisfied most of their demands. All they had to do was to block attempts at reform. Moreover, the political opponents of the agricultural lobby in the executive branch and in parliament were divided, and unable to form a united opposition to the agrarian conservatives. Even so, the lobby failed to muster a majority for a specific law to maintain tariff protection on food products in 1992 and 1993, when Russia’s foreign trade was generally liberalized. Imports rose to more than half of all food sales. The agrarian lobby also failed to preserve state subsidies in the chaotic years of 1992 and 1993, a time when state revenue was plummeting and there were many rival claims on federal spending. By 1995 and 1996, however, the agricultural lobby began to reassert itself, thanks in large part to its strong representation in the Duma. As a result, state subsidies to agriculture (mainly in the form of soft credits to cover the purchase of inputs) were brought up to about 20 to 30 percent of production costs. This was not that far behind the average level of countries in the OECD, where the percentage--known as the “producer subsidy equivalent” (PSE)--was about 35 percent in the second half of the 1990s. LOSS OF INFLUENCE UNDER PUTIN Since Vladimir Putin became president in 2000, the agricultural lobby has weakened considerably. In the current Duma, elected in December 1999, the Agrarian and Communist Parties command less than a third of the votes, and they were soon marginalized by a union of pro-Putin factions. In the new government, the Ministry of Agriculture was isolated and the policy initiative for many questions related to agriculture was transferred to other ministries. Moreover, the divisions between opponents to the agricultural lobby began to disappear. The increasing cooperation of their opponents meant that, in government and parliament, the agricultural lobby could no longer find a veto majority. As a result, a liberal land code was introduced in 2002 and negotiations over Russia’s entry into the WTO--which means a reform to agricultural subsidies--gained speed. Two further factors have weakened the lobby. First, the devaluation of the ruble after the financial crisis of 1998 has made Russian agricultural products cheaper than imports. As a result new agro-holdings emerged, concentrating their energy on developing new business opportunities. Second, the fading influence of the lobby and of their strategic partner, the Communist Party, has led to an internal crisis. Gennady Kulik, for example, a founding member of the Agrarian Party and agriculture minister from 1998 to 1999, switched to the Fatherland Party in the 1999 elections--and since April 2002, he has headed the Duma’s agricultural committee as a member of the pro-Putin bloc. This May, after an internal power struggle, the current minister of agriculture, Aleksei Gordeev, and another senior party figure, Nikolai Kharitonov, were removed from the party’s leadership after seven years in office. Party leaders favoring a break with the Communists seem to be the victors of this power struggle. These factors could mean that the Agrarian Party will cease to be a significant political force. It is quite possible that, after the Duma elections on 7 December, the Agrarian Party will have no representatives in the Duma. Nor is it clear whether, if the party does make it into parliament, its faction will cooperate with or oppose the pro-Putin bloc. However, regional administrations continue to play a major role in managing the farm sector. While Putin may find it possible to pass agricultural reforms into law with greater ease, the future of reforms in Russia depends to a large degree on the government’s ability to force rural regions to implement these reforms. The agricultural lobby may no longer be a powerful barrier to legislative change, but it remains a fundamental barrier to practical changes. For more articles on Russia, visit our Russia country file, at http://russia.tol.cz. Heiko Pleines Inanimate Farm https://www.tol.org/client/article/11057-inanimate-farm.html MINSK, Belarus--When President Aleksandyr Lukashenka boasts that one of the major achievements of his nine-year rule is the preservation of kolkhozes, he is not saying that these Soviet collective farms are thriving. They are not--even according to official figures. The achievement he has in mind is political: he has turned the rural population (30 percent of Belarusians) into the social base of his support, and the kolkhoz system into a pillar of his authority. It was huge support in the countryside that brought this former kolkhoz head to the presidential palace. His popularity persisted; and not just because, in the Belarusian countryside, the individual is almost completely subordinate to the authorities. Lukashenka has made every effort to tailor his policies to the mentality of his most loyal supporters, who emerged from the Soviet Union with the feeling that, after lives lived in the kolkhoz, a change in the system would be too challenging. Most importantly, he restored the traditional way of life in almost every detail, starting with Soviet-era state symbols and ending with ‘socialist competitions’ and ‘battles for the harvest.’ Soviet-style paternalistic relations have also been preserved almost in their entirety. Farmers still have to meet production targets, and must sell their crops to the state (at a price set by the state). In exchange, the state pays wages (albeit ridiculously low), provides some everyday necessities, and even helps agriculture workers harvest their private plots of land. Poverty may be widespread in the countryside (at their lowest, in 1998-99, kolkhoz wages were $10 a month, and those were not always paid on time), but basic survival has always been guaranteed: kolkhoz farmers can take and cultivate up to one hectare of land free of charge (perhaps the only novelty that Lukashenka has added to the Soviet system), and this is enough to cover daily needs. Not much has changed. Agriculture is also a primary way for Lukashenka to imprint the image of himself as a good tsar encircled by careless boyars. ‘Battles for the harvest’ are fought at a pitch of hysteria. Lukashenka himself hovers over the fields in his helicopter, landing out of the blue to sack negligent officials who fail to deliver meals to the workers in the field. Higher-ranked bureaucrats are stigmatized and threatened in televised conferences between Lukashenka and regional officials, who report via satellite on their progress in collecting the harvest. Police chiefs and KGB leaders are appointed to be regional supervisors and charged with coordinating the kolkhozes’ harvesting efforts. And when the villains are defeated, Dazhynki, a traditional folk festival held at the end of harvest, is celebrated as a state holiday. The president himself makes a star appearance to reward ‘heroes of the harvest’ in person. A leader like this was adored in the old system--and still is. Lukashenka has rarely had less than two-thirds support in the countryside. Despite the political battles in Minsk and other larger cities, Lukashenka, the tsar of the countryside, has been able to rest easy in the knowledge that he has the rural vote. With their votes and most of the 40 percent of Belarusian voters who are pensioners, his victory in elections is ensured, without needing to resort to (much) vote-rigging. TOWN VERSUS COUNTRY But Lukashenka’s policies have taken the agricultural sector to the brink of death. Even during Lukashenka’s ‘economic miracle,’ between 1997 and 1999, when the economy officially grew by a quarter, the agricultural sector shrank by 15 percent. After a period of relative stagnation, the decline is again becoming steeper: output in the first six months of 2003 was 6 percent lower than between January and June 2002. Belarusian agriculture is already bankrupt. In mid-2003, almost 1,400 of the 2,000 kolkhozes lost money. Costs in the sector were 3.4 percent higher than revenues (even worse than their 1.5-percent gap in 2002). Its debts totaled $1 billion, or roughly 7 percent of the country’s GDP--and 27 percent of the agricultural sector’s 2002 output, of about $3.7 billion. Facilities and equipment are in an appalling state, with 55 percent of all Belarusian combine harvesters out of operation this harvest time. Even if every asset owned by the kolkhozes were sold, the sector could cover only one-third of its debts. Poor equipment is affecting output, and lower production is reducing arable land by about 1 percent a year. Replanting this fallow land would incur huge extra costs. Belarusian collective farms can be only partially blamed for the dismal state of the agricultural sector. True, they benefit from generous subsidies. However, last year’s subsidies (800 million in 2002, or about $230 per person in the countryside) covered less than 40 percent of the gap between state-imposed sale prices and the prices on the peasant market in Minsk. Back in the 1990s, Lukashenka effectively made a choice: he tried to keep the urban population happy at the expense of the rural population. Lukashenka generated GDP growth by printing money, which led to inflation, which in turn reduced the exchange rate and cut deep into the value of nominal wages. By capping food prices, Lukashenka succeeded in preventing the purchasing power of wages from falling (indeed, for several years real wages rose, despite a fall in their nominal value). The countryside thus turned out to be the absolute losers of Lukashenka’s unorthodox economic experiments. Moreover, the agricultural sector was the only sector where a substantial stock of unpaid wages accumulated. For most of Lukashenka’s reign, around 10 percent of total wages, on average, have been unpaid; over half of those arrears have been in the agricultural sector. Still, Lukashenka has ensured that there are also some mechanisms in place to protect the rural population. Throughout the Lukashenka period, pensions have been raised consistently and faster than wages. Since 40 percent of the rural population has retired, pensions are an important source of cash in the countryside. This has helped ensure social stability and relative cohesion in rural areas--and, needless to say, has helped sustain Lukashenka’s enormous popularity among both peasants and pensioners. This delicate redistribution of income has prevented the poor state of agriculture causing major difficulties. There is another simple reason: kolkhozes do not produce most of the food that the Belarusian population eats. Produce from peasants’ private plots and city dwellers’ weekend cottages--dachas--accounts for over 90 percent of potatoes, almost two-thirds of vegetables, over half of all meat, and even 40 percent of the wheat produced in the country. Belarusian city dwellers are, in short, ‘urban peasants.’ This ensures the population’s subsistence. It also helps Lukashenka politically, as it keeps large swathes of the population immersed in the daily routine of work, distracting them from any kind of political activism. THE UNTENABLE STATUS QUO But Lukashenka’s economic model is now unstable, and the status quo in the agriculture has been shaken. When the government finally tried to stabilize the currency in 2000, a harder currency pushed production costs up. Moreover, hikes in the prices of raw materials hit producers badly (in two years, the number of loss-making enterprises grew from 20 percent of the total to 50 percent). Agriculture was hit particularly hard. To cover at least some of the kolkhozes’ losses, the state had to partially liberalize prices for foodstuffs. However, locally produced food proved prohibitively expensive, and imports surged. The official response was a mix of hectic protectionist and redistributive policies. Thus, food-processors were ordered to squeeze profits to keep retail prices down. The economy’s problems therefore spread to another sector. Second, food imports were severely restricted. Since 2002, no one has been allowed to import more than ten kilos of food. Anything over that weight is confiscated at the border. This applies even on the Russian border. Despite the customs union that is supposed to exist, Belarusian police scour cars and trucks coming from Russia for ‘unorganized imports,’ as officials term excess food. This protectionism has even been extended to the regional (oblast) and district (raion) level: executive committees adopt one regulation after another forbidding the sale of products ‘imported’ from another oblast or raion. But, despite these measures, the targets set by Minsk are not met. Officials therefore turn to the tried and tested Soviet-era trick of improving the picture. Reporting of false data--pripiski--is flourishing in Belarus’s command economy. This ‘crime’ has led to arrests and sackings at the very highest levels in the government. Junior officials have been fired for overstating harvests. What cost the prime minister, his deputy, and the minister of agriculture (and 200 local officials) their jobs this summer was the government’s failure to pay debts to collective farms. The government did not tell the president, preferring instead to tell him that it was indeed settling its debts. After their bluff was called, Lukashenka launched a campaign to unmask and sack those responsible for pripiski, sometimes doing so on television. REFORMS, IN NAME ONLY The crisis in the agricultural sector has reached such a scale that even Lukashenka, for all his affection for the kolkhoz system, cannot ignore the need for reform. In spring 2003, he recently ordered collective farms to be reorganized into cooperatives with a (theoretically) different property structure. Schemes that would allow investors to buy such farms are also being considered. On the surface, agrarian reform is in full swing in Belarus. The number of kolkhozes is steadily falling, as they re-register as agricultural cooperatives. Familiar names, such as Lenin, Kalinin, or Suvorov--or ‘Great October,’ ‘Path to Communism,’ and ‘Soviet Belarus’--are vanishing from farms, since the country’s new civil code requires that no company names can be identical. The new romantic and poetic names--such as Blue Lakes, Green Valley, Golden Wreath, and Meadowlands--may even bring to mind upscale suburban estates somewhere in Britain or the United States. But apart from the names, little has changed. Private ownership of farmland is still out of the question (though private property is allowed in urban areas). Indeed, under the constitution adopted in 1996, owning farmland is unconstitutional. This is restricting the development of individual farming: the few hundred private farmers, who have leased land from the state, account for only a small fraction of the country’s output. Furthermore, state subsidies will continue. This year, various government agencies are expected to subsidize the sector to the tune of $700 million (offering subsidies for fertilizers and so on). The government still has to decide what to do with the thousands of cooperatives former kolkhozes that it cannot revive. Belarus does have several profitable and successful agricultural companies. While visiting one of them in the Minsk region in August, Lukashenka suggested that the state could set up eight to ten such companies--known as “locomotives” in Belarus--in each of the country’s six regions. The idea is feasible. Cheap produce from several successful cooperatives around Minsk may soon prompt most of the capital’s ‘urban peasants’ to think twice about spending money on increasingly expensive gasoline to drive all the way out to a tiny plot of land and labor for hours. But what to do with the deadweight? Lukashenka declared that new ‘locomotives’ will have to take loss-making kolkhozes under their wing, and will be obliged to make them solvent. In other words, the command-economy policy will not be abandoned, but will instead be slightly modified and channeled through ‘locomotives.’ Moreover, there are plans to ‘attach’ kolkhozes to private businesses and state-owned industrial enterprises--who will then have to provide financial assistance to them. This is an extension of yet another Soviet-era practice that has never been abandoned in Belarus: urban businesses are ‘requested’ each spring or autumn to ‘donate’ sums to special harvest funds. Failure to do so may result in yet another punitive tax inspection. (There is also a special tax to help agriculture). Now, however, Lukashenka has publicly warned that private businesses that do not adopt kolkhozes could be closed. Despite the threat, there is no rush to follow Lukashenka’s orders. State-owned enterprises and private sellers alike publicly refuse to provide assistance, not so much because they want to oppose the authorities but for a simple reason that they have little, or nothing, to give. One in two industrial enterprises is losing money; and prohibitively high taxes and extensive regulations are already causing the number of private business to shrink fast. Finally, the state has adopted a series of import-substitution programs aimed at ensuring some foodstuffs are produced in Belarus. This may match Lukashenka’s new rhetoric about independence and self-reliance, but compulsory cultivation of sugar beet (for example) may simply lead to another uncompetitive Belarusian product. Estimates suggest production costs in Belarus may be far higher than the cost of importing beets from Ukraine or Russia. As for potatoes, known as the country’s ‘second bread,’ their yields are very low-quality. Indeed, the potato industry faces ruin. As one of the country’s top potato selectors recently noted, “Belarusians should be forbidden to grow potatoes, until they learn how to grow them properly.” An insult indeed for a people commonly known in the former Soviet Union as bulbashi, or ‘potato-eaters.’ The only promise of a brighter future for the agricultural sector in Belarus lies in the efforts being made by the rural population. Observers note a rapid increase in the number of ‘shadow farmers,’ collective farmers who privately cultivate produce for sale. They run small, illegal businesses--registering nowhere, and paying no taxes--and some try to enlarge their informal domains through deals to cultivate the land of their friends, relatives, or neighbors. In the past decade, for example, households have increased their production of meat and vegetables several times over. But this is not yet real individual farming; shadow farmers do need kolkhozes: they use the assets and resources of the collective farms (such as fuel, fertilizers, and equipment) for their own purposes. Still, at least it can be said that part of the state’s subsidies is going towards help for what could be the embryo of a future private sector, if property relations are changed and the economy is liberalized. But for now, that seems a distant prospect. RUNNING TO SEED For all Lukashenka’s skill in playing to his rural electorate, the dismal state of agriculture has eroded his popularity in the countryside. Back in 1998, 70 percent of peasants supported him. Now, for the first time ever, the rural constituency is almost equally split in its attitude towards Lukashenka, with about 40 percent saying they would like to see a different president after the next election. Roughly half still support Lukashenka; the remainder are uncertain. This shift, though, poses no direct threat to Lukashenka’s political position. The rural population is still highly apathetic; political activism is non-existent; and elections can be rigged with impunity and with much greater ease than in larger towns (where the opposition at least makes some effort to monitor the process). Still, a danger lurks. If the agricultural sector continues to deteriorate, Lukashenka may find it increasingly hard to keep the economy running and to pacify the increasingly disgruntled urban electorate. In the end, absolute authority presumes that a ruler can meet his obligation to feed his people. And if Lukashenka fails to do so, political change may be inevitable. For other articles on Belarus, visit our Belarus country file, at http://belarus.tol.cz. Vitali Silitski Blinded by Mirages https://www.tol.org/client/article/10620-blinded-by-mirages.html At the mention of water, politicians become deluded with grandeur. Here are a few timid suggestions to bring them to their senses. There must be something about water that drives political leaders out of their senses. Take last week, a week in which the International Fresh Water Forum ended in Tajikistan. Perhaps delirious at the prospect of a new set of hydroelectric plants, the country’s prime minister, Oqil Oqilov, said Tajikistan plans to sell electricity to Europe. He might have had some reasons--he might have thought that, in the wake of blackouts in Europe, this was a good time to make a pitch for money--but his reasons, put kindly, lacked a rationale. In a country that has still to put up the electricity pylons that were downed in the civil war, where the winter bursts chronically bad pipes, and the water carries typhoid, it would be better to stick to simple tasks than dream grandiose visions. An even grander vision comes from a more expected source, Turkmenistan’s President Saparmurat Niazov. On the other side of Central Asia he is now building the Lake of the Golden Century, a massive reservoir that is expected to take 20 years to build. Meanwhile, last week in Russia, the suggestion by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov to re-route Siberian rivers to Central Asia was discussed at a conference. Stalin apparently said that “water which is allowed to enter the sea is wasted.” Perhaps Luzhkov is impressed by that notion, whether consciously or sub-consciously. Whatever Luzhkov’s reasons, it is a bad idea and (some) Russian scientists have said so. Before President Vladimir Putin considers the idea, he should consider the legacy of the Soviet re-routing of two great rivers, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, into the Aral Sea: a shrunken sea, a water system so full of pesticides that health has suffered and infant mortality risen, a way of life that has disappeared. That is not the only Soviet legacy. Central Asia’s water-management system is largely Soviet. There is no currency, just barter. Supply and demand are determined by quotas. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan supply water (and electricity) to the others and in exchange receive oil and gas. Agreements are largely bilateral. Disputes are frequent. Some common sense would have helped in the Soviet era, and would help now. One obvious point would be not to move water to people, but people to water--to settle, as people always used to, relatively close to a river, rather than moving the river to people. It is perhaps possible to “make the desert green,” as Israel and Abu Dhabi like to claim. But both would be small blots on the map of Central Asia, both have a coast, and Abu Dhabi has vast pots of oil money. Central Asia is landlocked and relatively poor. Another simple point would be not to grow a thirsty product like cotton when you don’t have enough water. They call cotton "white gold," but it is false gold. Its value is inflated because water is priced too cheaply. In a proper market, which Central Asia’s state-run cotton market is not, pricing water more realistically might prompt farmers to change crop. Any reduction in cotton growing could be significant: 90 percent of the region’s water is used in agriculture. Instead, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan plan to grow more cotton. But, of course, the problems lie in the execution. Thanks to current water supply lines, a way of life has emerged. A network of subsidies has developed. The United States is only just beginning to do away with the irrationalities of its subsidies in California. It would be unreasonable to expect Central Asia, so much poorer and so much more problematic, to do away with subsidies. Pricing water more realistically may be a long way off. Nor is replacing cotton easy. Central Asia’s agriculture is effectively a monoculture, though other crops are now being grown. In any case, reforming agriculture seems one of the hardest of reforms. This year, a normally compliant Kazakh parliament voted down an attempt to reform the agricultural sector. President Nursultan Nazarbaev ostentatiously distanced himself from the bill. The prime minister resigned, the government fell. Then there is the politics of water itself. The Soviet system has given each country a bargaining chip, either water or fuel. Thanks to the quota system, each can bicker about the hand they’ve been given. They do. When Uzbekistan did not "pay" by delivering energy, Kyrgyzstan flooded downstream areas in Uzbekistan. Neither upstream nor downstream countries have much reason to invest in infrastructure: upstream countries complain that downstream countries are unwilling to invest in infrastructure, and downstream countries view upstream countries as poor and antagonistic. The result is waste. As the International Crisis Group, a nongovernmental think tank, wrote recently, “each country has started to view the problem [of water] as a zero-sum game.” With such a tangle of problems to cut through, suggestions should be cautious. Still, that accepted, here are a few timid suggestions. Firstly, there should be a moratorium on talk of moving rivers--and certainly until the former Soviet states have shown that they know how to deal with the consequences of the last two. Preferably the notion would be dropped forever, just as the United States dropped ideas of re-directing some of the Mississippi’s flow to the country’s southwestern corners. Secondly, scientists should be allowed to stay in the lab without fear of being pulled onto the political stage. It would be interesting to know what Turkmen hydrologists think about the Lake of the Golden Century. They are no doubt less enthusiastic than Niazov. As for Putin, he may not be Stalin or Khrushchev and may not be thinking of changing the Ob’s flow, but the spy-mania of his presidency could potentially dissuade scientists to explore the powers of nature without fear of the powers-that-be. Thirdly, "black gold" should be used to ease "white gold" off the market. In plainer terms, some money from oil (and gas, the bigger commodity in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) should be put into a social stabilization fund that would ease the transfer away from cotton to hot-country crops such as those that flourished before the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union replaced them with cotton: alfalfa, vegetable-oil crops, orchards, mulberry groves, pistachio and almond trees. The Norwegians have used a stabilization fund for decades, to stunning effect. Caspian Revenue Watch, an organization backed by George Soros, advocates its use. The Kazakh government has followed advice and in 2001 set one up--but in characteristic style decided not to publish any accounts. Then there is international help. The conference concluded that rich countries should help more. But aside from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, both very poor and both without the easy money that oil and gas produces, money is not necessarily a major problem in the region. The biggest shortage is of reason. The help they need is therefore help to overcome their game-playing addiction. Time, then, to call in the nearest thing that there is to therapy in international relations: specialists in conflict resolution and international organizations. The Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) should, for example, be in the region in greater force. Just 1 percent of its budget is spent in this region. If Central Asian countries cannot be persuaded to change the water-management system--the rules of the game--perhaps another, truly radical option comes into play: the introduction of new players. Since the governments have been so bad at providing basic services, such as maintaining pipes, perhaps they could experiment by giving some projects to private water companies. The state could retain a controlling stake (and a majority of the profits); the companies would manage the system. With new players and new stakes, the governments might begin to notice another ball game, not just the zero-sum game they are playing now. Related Stories: Our Take: Terror Firma The immediate security challenge in Central Asia is not extremism, but the governments themselves. 15-21 July 2003 TOL Europe’s New Power https://www.tol.org/client/article/9752-europes-new-power.html Poland’s new prominence has aroused fear and caused disorientation. The fear is misplaced and the disorientation useful. We are all equal powers, the leaders of France, Germany, and Poland declared at the end of a summit of the Weimar Triangle on 9 May. It was a paper-thin statement; no one can seriously believe that the two countries who see themselves as the motor of Europe really view Poland as their equal. Still, it made up, belatedly but at least a little, for the tirade that French President Jacques Chirac unleashed in February against the “infantile” and “badly brought up” EU candidate countries that supported the U.S.-led war in Iraq. But outbursts say more than diplomatic phrases. It is unlikely that Chirac believes Poland has grown up in the space of three months. It seems likelier that he shares the opinion of those who have called Poland a “Trojan horse” of the United States--or, more insultingly, a “Trojan ass.” In fact, a deep seam of dislike or arrogance (or both) in attitudes toward the Poles has been tapped in recent months. For Germany’s Die Welt, Poland’s new command of a sector in Iraq was a good excuse for it to joke lamely that while Coca-Cola would be sold in other sectors, the Poles would sell gherkins and vodka. Der Spiegel was at least a little more concerned with substance when, raising its eyebrows at Poland’s elevation, it wrote that “few [Poles] seem concerned that they can’t pay for their military operation and will have to ask for aid from the Americans.” Der Spiegel’s argument is weak. Money always helps, but international power is not measured by who pays what. By that benchmark, Saudi Arabia would have been the world’s greatest power during the first Gulf War in 1991. Still, some Poles share the doubts. A Gazeta Wyborcza commentator, Dawid Warszawski, claimed that “a sovereign state carries out such foreign policies as it can afford,” adding that Poland had bitten off more than it could chew. But competence is not what determines a power, nor can it always be known beforehand how big a bite is chewable. Poland may suffer embarrassing mishaps in the running of its sector in Iraq, but no one would suggest that the United States’ less-than-dazzling management of postwar Iraq makes it less powerful or influential. Warszawski and Der Spiegel deploy the arguments of technocrats, not policy-makers. They also reflect a deeper misunderstanding: that power can be defined only in positive terms, such as how wealthy a country is and how well it operates. A poor, ill-functioning country can still be a power; that is, too important to be ignored. If power were measured by wealth and a state’s ability to mobilize itself, in the 1920s the French could have looked at German workers taking their pay back in wheelbarrows and disregarded Germany. Instead, they built the Maginot Line. Money and efficiency are simply measures of a country’s health and muscle. The backbone of power is made up, in part, of geography and demography. Poland had both before 1989, but not security and independence. No longer partitioned, no longer preyed upon, and no longer a Cold War satellite, it became a power back in 1989. But it was dormant, or perhaps single-minded. When it set out to join the EU after 1989, it effectively set itself the task of gaining a schooling in market economics and the building of democratic institutions. On the threshold of the EU, it has new issues to become involved in, and its power has become more obvious and wider-ranging. Whatever Chirac thinks, that is a mark of growing up. So part of the fear and confusion over Poland’s sudden prominence is therefore that it is a new power. But the rest of Europe will simply have to accept that Poland is a big player, that the dynamics of international relations in Europe will change, and that it is time to replace fear and confusion with understanding, and derogatory remarks with debate. What matters now is how Poland applies its strengths and deals with its weaknesses, and on its willingness to take a stand. Over Iraq, it has shown its willingness to assert its views. And whatever one’s attitude toward the war in Iraq, Poland’s position simply reflects the attitude of many: that being European doesn’t mean being anti-American. If a more Atlanticist attitude does emerge across the EU, Poland will have helped make the EU more European. And as it seeks to deal with its own specific weaknesses, it could potentially prove valuable to others. It has many weaknesses--outdated industries, huge unemployment, a flagging economy, overly close ties between government and media, corruption, weak corporate governance, signs of a nationalist backlash against foreign investors, an ugly and strong far right. But the EU is familiar with all of these: Witness the imminent EU presidency of Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, the euro-zone’s sluggish economies, France’s waves of street protests, the EU’s difficulties reforming the common agricultural policy (CAP), and the concerns about the far right everywhere. What Poland brings is the heavy social legacy of post-1989 transition: a generation of workers skilled only for heavy industry and an outsize agricultural sector that employs 24 percent of the (working) labor force. Thirteen years after the revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe, Poland perhaps more than any of the other soon-to-be members of the EU demonstrates the dynamism and power of a new (market) economy and the burdens left by the old (communist) economy. The next great step for the Polish government is to help those Poles left behind by transition to make the transition. Despite the EU’s efforts to cushion itself from the full shock of these problems by phasing in agricultural subsidies, this is a challenge that will now have to be on the EU’s agenda, not just Poland’s. The transfer of money from country to country (in the form of “structural funds”) helped Ireland and should help again, as Peter Cox, the Irish president of the European Parliament, said repeatedly as he toured Poland and the Czech Republic ahead of their EU referendums. But the structural funds help only regions; funds from SAPARD (Special Accession Program for Agriculture and Rural Development) are helping relatively few farmers; and the EU’s system of farm subsidies is unsustainably costly. If Poland’s agricultural sector is to shrink to the EU average, where just a small percentage of the labor force works on the farm, and if the redundant farm workers are to find new jobs away from the land, more targeted help is needed. In other words, by championing its own social interests, Poland could set the next great challenge for the EU: Brussels has helped post-communist countries make the transition. It now needs to help social groups make the same transition. This entails huge costs and institutional challenges. If it means the EU must kill sacred cows, such as the CAP, so be it. And if greater effort and reform is needed to help some of the 18 percent of Poles (and the roughly 10 percent of Spaniards and French) who are out of work, action should be taken. Similarly, by championing its interests along the eastern rim of the EU, Poland could force concerns about political freedom, economic development, and social problems in Belarus and Ukraine higher up the EU’s agenda. Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz declared this week that, for Poland, the battle is now for the “quality of our membership.” It could--and should--also be a battle for its own rural and urban poor, and for those in countries just on the other side of the “Brussels Curtain.” Poland is a new power; it could also be a new hope. Related stories: Analysis: 40 Acres and a Cow? The real challenge for Poland’s leaders is not to convince farmers of the EU’s virtues, but to help them take advantage of what it has to offer. 6 June 2003 Week in Review: In a Multipolar World Poles broadly welcome Bush visit and their role as a chief U.S. ally in Iraq one week ahead of their EU referendum. 27 May – 2 June 2003 Week in Review: Triangle or Pear-Shaped? Talks between the Weimar Triangle--Poland, France, and Germany--show the strains, as Poland gets ready to command one of four stabilization forces in Iraq. 6 – 12 May 2003 Our Take: Frere Jacques, Thank You By labeling them infants and disruptive daughters-in-law, France will hopefully teach the EU’s would-be members not to shut up, but to speak up. 18-24 February 2003 Our Take: No Longer Passive Bystanders Poland’s push to overhaul the EU’s approach to countries left out of enlargement is not only a good idea, but further proof that Central Europe is growing up. 11 - 17 February 2003 Our Take: Choosing Sides Once again, Central European leaders, among the most committed backers of Washington and a united Europe, find themselves in a bind. 4-10 February 2003 Our Take: Now the People Decide The leaders of Eastern Europe were all smiles as they closed EU membership talks in Copenhagen last week, but the deal isn't done yet. 10 - 16 December 2002 Our Take: Toward a Better Union It is excellent--as well as historic--that the European Union is laying out the welcome mat for Central and Eastern Europe. The region's aim should now be to get a better deal for the rural poor and others left behind in the transition process. 8 - 14 October 2002 Our Take: Biting the Bullet The EU candidate countries will try to haggle, but in the end they will probably have to accept lower subsidies for their farmers. 4 February 2002 TOL 40 Acres and a Cow? https://www.tol.org/client/article/9713-40-acres-and-a-cow.html WARSAW, Poland--When the leaders of the eight Central and Eastern European applicants for EU membership emerged from talks in Copenhagen in December, the Polish negotiators had reason to be pleased. True, their farmers would not receive nearly as much support as farmers in the current 15 member states, but they had nonetheless won better entry terms than any other candidate country. In all, after totting up direct payments from the EU (read: subsidies), money from EU rural development funds, and money from Poland’s own budget, the government in Warsaw was able to promise its farmers that in 2004, the country’s first year in the EU, they would receive up to 55 percent of the subsidies that Western farmers are given. The condition is that they do not exceed production limits. Yet six months later, and just days before the EU referendum, Polish farmers’ support for membership is falling. In January, shortly after the Copenhagen summit, 40 percent of farmers were in favor of joining the EU and 45 percent against. In April, the gap had widened to 23 percentage points, with 36 percent saying they would vote “yes” in the referendum and 49 percent saying they would vote “no.” The familiar face of radical opposition is Andrzej Lepper, the leader of the Self-Defense Party (Samoobrona) and the man who has managed repeatedly to persuade farmers to blockade roads. “The situation of Polish farmers is tragic,” he contends. Polish farmers will lose out, he believes, as farmers are already being forced to sell at a loss and prices will fall further after EU accession. “The direct payments to compensate for production limits are not high enough,” Lepper argues. “We [in Samoobrona] are not against the European Union. … We want to be in the EU,” he claims. “We want to cooperate with everybody but absolutely not under such conditions, and that is why we’ll mobilize our electorate to vote against integration.” Lepper believes that more should have been forced out of the EU--and that Poland was big enough to do so. Asked about alternatives to EU membership, Lepper answered: “If Poland does not enter the EU, nobody will move it to the moon, nobody will build a wall around it. On the contrary, the EU will be searching for solutions because Poland is an important transit country to the East.” In Lepper’s presentation, Polish farmers’ euroskepticism is rooted in a sense of injustice and nationalism. The depiction of farmers by many opinion leaders--politicians, commentators, and journalists--is similarly stereotypical. To them, farmers are europhobes because they are closed in on themselves, living in open-air museums, seeking to preserve antiquated values and traditions, and unwilling to open up to the outside world. Moreover, they are so backward and ill-educated that they are unable to understand that EU membership opens up new opportunities, supported by money that they reject. These portrayals of farmers say relatively little about the sources of europhobia. According to opinion polls that dismantle these stereotypes, Polish farmers are better informed about the EU than farmers in other candidate countries, feel better informed than ordinary Poles (in 2002, 21 percent of farmers felt badly informed, compared with a figure of 27 percent for the general population), and see virtues in integration with the EU. They see value in joining for Poland and for their children, and for themselves they generally believe membership will provide access to modern technology, and--to a lesser extent--to new markets for their products. At the heart of farmers’ skepticism may be a lack of confidence in their own ability to bear the economic pain that membership will bring. Agriculture Minister Adam Tanski does not try to hide the problems, saying that EU membership will first bring opportunities and then serious challenges. But the challenges would have to faced in any case, he argues: “We’ll have to bear adjustment costs, but we would have to bear the costs of modernization anyway, even if we were not entering the European Union.” Another reason is a lack of confidence in Poland’s leaders. Barbara Fedyszak-Radzejowska, a sociologist from the Institute for Development of Villages and Agriculture, says that joining the single market is a great challenge for farmers, who will not be able to overcome all the difficulties without the support of the elite. And opinion leaders’ behavior during the negotiation process has not encouraged farmers to believe that they will be supported by the elite as they try to cope with post-accession challenges. During the last phase of negotiations with the EU, the Polish press was full of articles in which commentators and specialists asked why a “stage in civilization” as important as building a European community should be limited to questions such as direct payments and quotas, why Poland’s interests should be endangered by a narrow group, and why payments will be directed to farmers and not, say, to sewers or scientists. She points in particular to the press coverage shortly before the summit in Copenhagen, when the newspapers were full of headlines such as “Too much of the farmers,” and “Resist only on the most important issues,” as if journalists wanted to tell negotiators that farmers are not that important. It is no surprise, Fedyszak-Radzejowska concludes, that in a process as complicated and painful as adjusting to the EU, farmers were disappointed with opinion leaders. “The success in Copenhagen was wasted quickly,” she argues. She underlined that most farmers do not have a degree in European law and that, as they head for the polls on Saturday and Sunday, they will be relying not just on their own feelings but on their perception of what experts and elites are saying. Mistrust in the elite will lead some to vote “no” or to stay home. TO FLOURISH OR SIMPLY SURVIVE? In one sense, the critics of the farmers are right: There is inertia in the agricultural sector. Ahead of accession, the EU offered some support, through a program called SAPARD, but only 1,700 farmers applied, says Dariusz Panasiuk, spokesman of the Agency for Village Development and Modernization. “These are applications from energetic farmers who think that SAPARD is just money lying on the street and that you just have to overcome certain bureaucratic barriers in order to pick it up,” he says. However, willpower is not enough. Before a farmer can apply for SAPARD funds he must already have invested money himself. For that, he will almost inevitably have had to get a bank loan. But no bank will be brave enough to lend unless a farmer has a business plan and can prove that his farm is relatively strong. “It is hard to expect farms that show no initiative and don’t want to be modernized to benefit from additional funds,” Panasiuk says. That means that help will be given only to those who have an idea of how to modernize their farms. What is more, those farms must already be tied into the market--and that does not mean farmers who sell their products at market stalls. It is impossible to hawk your goods at a stall twice a week and still have time to develop one’s farm, Panasiuk says. Only farms with specialized production and steady customers have a chance of receiving financial help from the EU. The other group most likely to be able to take advantage of integration may be the young. Perhaps the biggest effort to support ambitious young farmers is an annual competition aimed at 18- and 19-year-olds. The challenge they face is clear in the name: “How to reform my father’s farm?” The competition, supported by all nine Polish agricultural colleges, is the brainchild of the Schuman Foundation, an influential organization backed by members of the French political elite whose general aim is “to contribute, in every way possible, to the European debate and to the evolution of the EU.” The specific aim in this case was to encourage youngsters to remain in their villages and develop their farms. Wieslaw Szulc, a lecturer at the Main School of Farming (SGGW) in Warsaw, lauds the project. “Eighty percent of participants, whether they win or not, put their projects into practice,” he says, “and there is a great chance that they will receive financial support, because these projects are looked over by experts.” Judging by the winner of this year’s competition, Jaroslaw Masalski, farming experts believe nontraditional businesses are one way forward for the vast majority of Poland’s 2.2 million small farmers. Faced with the tough task of building a future from his father’s one cow and 14 hectares of largely unused land (just one hectare is under seed), the high-school student hit upon Christmas trees and beehives as his route to relative prosperity. “Today this is just a competition project,” he said. “But after I finish my studies I will come back to my farm and try to make it a reality.” Wioletta Rurkowska, another finalist, thinks that small farmers could find a niche, as their produce is mainly organic. There is, she is sure, demand for that in a united Europe. These may be two small farmers who will become big farmers. Few will: Dariusz Panasiuk believes only 600,000 farmers will be able to survive competition from the EU. But what of the 1.6 million others, those farmers who are too small and are unable or unwilling to change their ways and who will therefore not receive EU funding? They will continue to farm, Panasiuk says, but only as subsistence farmers. Related stories: Week in Review: Bribe Scandal May Jeopardize Poland's EU Referendum 11 - 17 March 2003 Week in Review: Warsaw Setting Its Own Course on EU Policy 4 - 10 February 2003 Week in Review: Engaged, At Last Eight Central and Eastern Europe countries respond with a mix of celebration and realism to their invitation to join the European Union. 10 – 16 December 2002 Week in Review: D-Day Is Set Relief and realism greet Brussels' decision to open the doors of the European Union to eight Central and East European countries in 2004. 8-14 October 2002 EU Observer: Blowing in the Wind Have Lithuanian farmers been well enough informed about the EU, and will they ensure this weekend’s EU referendum fails? by Roman Burstein 8 May 2003 EU Observer: Reaping What the EU Sows How justified are the farmers of Eastern Europe in arguing that EU proposals on agricultural subsidies are discriminatory? by Tomas Doucha 17 May 2002 Want to know more about the sixth-largest country in the future European Union? Our Poland country file (http://poland.tol.cz) has statistics, maps, internet resources, think tanks, books, films, and music all on one page. Inessa Kim Grain is Gain https://www.tol.org/client/article/9235-grain-is-gain.html KIEV, Ukraine--Every day, Kiev’s busy traffic grinds to a halt as senior Ukrainian government members whiz past in their limos, escorted by police cars. For the privileged few who are accustomed to having the road miles ahead of them ending up in a dingy jail cell must come as a shock of a lifetime. That, though, is what Leonid Kozachenko, a hapless former deputy prime minister for agriculture, is now having to cope with after a president-ordered inquiry into reported grain shortages in parts of Ukraine. The former minister, who held office for six months in 2002, is accused of forcing farmers to sell their produce when prices were in a trough and allowing too much of last year’s bumper crop to be exported. Ukraine, it turns out, may soon have to import grain in order to keep bread prices at bay, and somehow it is all Kozachenko’s fault. He is also facing charges of bribery and tax evasion dating back to the time before he took office. Yet in a country plagued by corruption and cronyism, Kozachenko, who was arrested on 24 March, is only the third bigwig to have come so badly unstuck. The first two were arrested either after fleeing the country with stolen millions (former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, who is awaiting trial in the United States on money-laundering charges) or after accusing the authorities of corruption and misrule (former deputy minister for energy Yuliya Tymoshenko). No wonder then that the question on experts’ minds is not whether Kozachenko is actually guilty but why he was singled out for a public humiliation and whether there is a hidden agenda that might explain his arrest. Some believe that the government, which has always seen keeping bread prices low as a political imperative, is simply trying to find a scapegoat to blame for an apparent failure of the country's maturing grain market. Many wonder, however, if the reported shortages are being deliberately hyped up to attack the free market mechanisms that have allegedly caused them. FARMING FORTUNES Farming in Ukraine, a country once known as the breadbasket of Europe, went into a nosedive after independence in 1991. The cash-strapped government could no longer afford to plow huge subsidies into inefficient collective farms, and private farming was strangled by bureaucracy and unfriendly legislation. But after a series of much-needed laws were adopted three years ago, introducing private land ownership and facilitating commercial credit for farmers, Ukrainian agriculture has experienced something of a renaissance. Bumper crops in 2001 and 2002 ended the country’s dependence on grain imports and put it back in the league of exporters. Last year up to 10 million tonnes of grain was sold abroad, out of the total crop of about 40 million. From a bottomless pit agriculture has turned into something of a cash cow--but not always for farmers. Attempts to liberalize the grain market, adopt international quality standards and introduce commodity exchanges to ensure that farmers get a fair price for their produce have been hampered by government bureaucracy. There are powerful vested interests in keeping the market closed to outsiders and not allowing competition among grain traders to drive prices up. Kozachenko, prosecutors say, acted in the interests of these traders by vetting export deals at the peak of the grain supply immediately after the harvest season, when the prices were at the bottom. “About five million tonnes of grain, half of all the exports, was sold when market conditions least favored farmers, and the pressure to sell was coming from Kozachenko,” said Tetyana Kornyakova, deputy prosecutor-general. Indeed, so much grain was sold abroad, prosecutors reckon, that the country may not have enough stocks to tide it over until the next crop. Most experts agree, however, that the charges simply don’t add up. They point out that the oversupply of grain on the domestic market at the time was up to 15 million tonnes. With no budget funds for state interventions to support prices, and no mechanism of futures contracts in place, stimulating exports was the only way to keep farmers afloat, analysts say. Had Kozachenko tried to block export contracts until grain traders were prepared to offer a better deal, the domestic prices would have collapsed even further and Ukraine would have lost its share on the world markets. Some insiders even doubt that there is actually a shortage of grain in the country. They say the granaries are far from empty, and that the owners simply don’t want to sell now, when prices are only just rising out of the trough, in the hope that prices will pick up further. Up to 40 percent of this year’s winter crops have been damaged by the harsh winter and will have to be re-sown, increasing demand for last year’s grain and reducing the chances of a grain glut this year. A HIDDEN AGENDA? Why then all this hype about man-made grain shortages and the former minister’s dramatic arrest? Analysts believe one distinct possibility is a power struggle between political clans who would like to put their own men in charge of lucrative industries. Picking on easy targets to advertise the administration’s anti-corruption drive without treading on important toes is another. More ominously though, experts both in Ukraine and abroad fear that by trumping up the alleged failure of the grain market and, by implication, market reforms in agriculture, the government is paving the way for a restoration of the corrupt and inefficient administrative command system in the sector. Grain traders and farmers alike were dismayed when the prosecutor mused aloud on national television shortly before Kozachenko’s arrest about the possibility of reviving the old Soviet system of state contracts, awarded to (or foisted on) farms at the bureaucrats’ discretion and at rock-bottom prices. As the 2004 presidential election draws nearer, the temptation in some quarters to milk Ukraine’s farming for campaign funds could become irresistible, some fear. And Kozachenko, who is not affiliated with any of Ukraine’s competing political and business clans, could be a convenient candidate for the role of the villain in a campaign to discredit agricultural reform. A very similar view was voiced by the Ukrainian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, a business association, which described Kozachenko’s arrest as a “trumped-up case launched as part of the heated political struggle in the country.” “Instead of working professionally and systematically to create a modern grain market infrastructure, attempts are being made to discredit grain traders,” the union said in a statement. “A search for a professional solution to a real economic problem has been substituted by a search for a scapegoat. This significantly reduces the effectiveness of land reform.” The scandal has already spilt over the country’s borders. Canada, a major sponsor of Ukraine’s agricultural reform, has expressed its concern at Kozachenko’s arrest and hinted that its aid programs in the sector could be suspended. The Canadian ambassador in Kiev, Andrew Robinson, has described the former deputy prime minister as “one of the key proponents of the policy of reforms in agriculture.” If the grain shortages are indeed real, the right way to tackle the problem would be to accelerate reforms instead of reversing them and punishing their advocates, the ambassador said. “Reforms have turned agriculture into a locomotive of Ukraine’s economic growth,” the ambassador added. “Small and medium producers have started making profits thanks to a free market, without the help of the state.” And that, skeptics note, is exactly what the state may be finding so hard to swallow. Ivan Khokhotva The Feeble Constitution of Russia's Liberals https://www.tol.org/client/article/7548-the-feeble-constitution-of-russias-liberals.html DENVER, United States--What would a Russian politician do if he found a small boy making paper planes from pages ripped from the constitution? My guess is that he would not scold him or try to enlighten him--no, instead, he would join him. Or that, at least, is my impression based on the State Duma's decision, on 19 September, to cut in half the time during which Russia's roughly 146 million citizens can express their opinions in referendums, by preventing referendums in years preceding presidential and parliamentary elections. It was an amendment passed "to save democracy," said Boris Nemtsov, co-leader of the Union of Right Forces, a party supposed to defend liberal values. The danger was posed by the Communists, who wanted to call a referendum on the private ownership of land. Clearly, most of Russia's deputies appear to think that Russians would find it too hard to grasp that private farmers would be good for Russian agriculture, and good for them. But for that, the politicians are themselves to blame. In December 1993, 60 percent of the population voted for a new Russian constitution, which enshrined private land ownership (as well as freedom of speech, freedom of movement, free elections, and the right to hold referendums). However, it took the Duma nearly nine years to pass laws enabling the creation of a proper market in farmland, finally doing so this June: not much concern for the constitution there. One of the results is that at least half of Russia's paltry figure of 290,000 private farms are not operating. They are just tiny pockets of private enterprise in Russia's vast rural expanses, farming just 6 percent of the country's farmland and producing a mere 1 percent of its agricultural output. They have encountered huge problems and the entrenched opposition of regional politicians and bureaucrats, while state farms have continued to eat into the state budget. The overall result? Russia is a net importer of food. Instead of defending Russians' constitutional right to own land, the authorities have ignored the violence perpetrated against private farmers. Instead of promoting private land ownership, they have promoted their own political interests in the corridors of the Kremlin and the Duma. (In this case, the speculation in Russia is that the liberals wanted to win support for their calls for military reforms and to dilute support for a bill that would raise the electoral threshold to 7 percent--and potentially shut them out of parliament.) Instead of defending and promoting those farmers who were successes in areas such as Saratov and Tatarstan, they forgot about them, leaving them in a legal limbo that helped only bribe-takers. While Russia's politicians have been fiddling with their laws, the Baltic states have busily set about transforming their agricultural systems. Latvia, with a population of less than 2.5 million, now has 134,000 private farms, operating on 84.5 percent of its arable land and producing 79 percent of total agricultural output. No one now would even dare ask what Latvians think about private land ownership. So, if, as Nemtsov implies, turning farms over to private owners is a measure of democracy, Russia's political establishment has not been particularly concerned with democracy these past 10 years. Instead, Russia's politicians prefer to make decisions in an environment where the public's constitutional rights mean nothing and where the population is reduced to a mob let into the voting booths just to vote in a president and parliament. September's vote merely makes that clearer for everyone to see. It was already clear enough. The Russian constitution lauds referendums as a "supreme direct power of the people" alongside free elections; since 1993, however, no referendum has been held. No political party had until now gone to the people to collect the necessary 2 million signatures needed to force a vote. Now that one party has begun to collect signatures, the Duma rules that the Russian people will have the chance to voice their opinion only in two out of every four years. What we have been left with is the absurd paradox of listening to Anatoly Lukyanov, a former member of the pre-1991 Communist Party central committee, saying he might file a complaint that the Duma's decision violates human rights, and the bitter paradox that it is the country's liberals who enabled this absurdity--not to forget, of course, the shreds of the Russian constitution now metaphorically littering the streets. Vladimir Kovalev The Power of Song https://www.tol.org/client/article/5841-the-power-of-song.html TALLINN, Estonia--For three days in late June, thousands of young people sang, danced, and played music in the Estonian capital. They were participants in Estonia's Ninth Youth Song and Dance Festival. There were 27,000 of them--and this isn't even the biggest song and dance festival that Tallinn has to offer. The "big" festivals are held every four or five years, and the next one isn't until 2004. In between those, the city hosts special youth festivals to satisfy a seemingly insatiable popular demand for opportunities to sing and dance. Singing has played an important role in the history of this small Baltic country for almost two centuries. The first choirs were established here in the first half of the 19th century along with the appearance of public education. In 1865, two music societies--Vanemuine in Tartu and Estonia in Tallinn--were formed. Today, they have metamorphosed into respected theaters. Both of them were destroyed in bombings during World War II and then rebuilt. The two societies played a crucial role in inspiring Estonia's first song festival in 1869, when nearly 1,000 people gathered in the eastern city of Tartu to celebrate music. While the number of participants seems small by current standards, it was a huge number for an age without the amenities of modern transportation. The practice of holding such festivals quickly developed into a tradition. They later played a vital role in the movement to secure independence from the Russian Empire and quickly became major cultural and political events. Estonians often describe themselves as the "singing nation." Although the historical model for the Estonian song festival originally came from Germany, the tradition has developed into something unique in this Baltic state and it has played a central role in creating the Estonian identity. After all, people didn't travel from all corners of the country just to sing at song festivals--they came to spend time together, to wear national costumes, to communicate with others, and to discuss the future of their country. Ever since the festival tradition was established, the country's rulers--whoever they might be--tried to use them for their own interests, squeezing in songs of praise for the rulers and forbidding songs that carried a message of freedom. In 1944, many musicians were forced into exile by the repressive reassertion of Soviet rule. In 1950, three conductors and composers who were scheduled to lead that year's festival were arrested and two of them were sentenced to prison for 30 years on charges of "civil nationalism." But even under such conditions, some songwriters managed to include allusions to freedom and independence in the songs that were approved by Soviet authorities. In September 1988, about 300,000 people--that's every third Estonian--gathered on a field in Tallinn to sing national songs. It was at this festival that the idea of national independence emerged. Since then, the festival and the events that followed it have been dubbed the "singing revolution." Estonians like to say that they literally "sang" themselves to freedom. In recent years, the festival organizers have wanted to update the event and give it a more modern feel. A couple of years ago, the BDG production company came up with the idea of having the world-renowned composer Andrew Lloyd Webber write a song for the Estonian song festival. After two years of negotiations, Webber wrote his first-ever song for non-English lyrics and did so free of charge. The song--which was titled "No One Is Alone Under the Sun" and featured lyrics written by the Estonian poet Leelo Tungal--was peformed on the last day of the festival. "He was very sorry not to be able to attend the festival himself," Peeter Rebane, a BDG manager who was involved in the negotiations with Webber, told the news agency ETA on 28 June. However, Webber's assistant Caroline Skidmore did attend, and said she was very pleased with it. Just after the current festival, Eri Klas, one of Estonia's top conductors, decided that admission to all future song festivals should be free for everyone. "It is the state's duty [...] to say to everybody: Welcome to the song festival!" Klas said on 1 July. "We spent 150 million kroons on Eurovision, while the song festival cost only 13 million kroons. We pay millions to all kinds of consultants, privatization advisers, and god knows who else [...] I see a contradiction here." Hirvo Surva, the art director of this year's festival, agrees with Klas. "So little money is made from the tickets. I think we don't realize ourselves any more what we've accomplished and the ecstatic trips [by visitors] have to remind us of how unique all of this is," Surva was quoted as saying in the daily Postimees on 1 July. But this year's festival was marred by one ugly incident. Some time during the night between 28 and 29 June, someone vandalized 28 graves of former song festival leaders. "Headstones were knocked down, bottles were smashed against them, a huge cross was dug into the grass," Ilma Adamson, leader of the dance group Friendship, told the Baltic News Service on 1 July. While it is possible that the vandals were just a group of drunken youths who happened to be passing by the graveyard, some have noted that all of the vandalized headstones belonged to people connected to former song festivals. "Since it all happened during the festival, it seems to have been an act of terror against national culture," Adamson said. Yet while the act of vandalism may have briefly cast a pall over the festivities, the impact is likely to be minimal. After all, the Estonian song festival has survived worse. Kristjan Kaljund Enlargement Hurdles https://www.tol.org/client/article/5755-enlargement-hurdles.html BRUSSELS, Belgium--The European Union has made an unequivocal decision to finish its current membership negotiations with up to 10 candidate countries by the end of this year. The accession treaties with each of those countries are slated to be signed next spring. The overall aim is to have those countries join the ranks of the EU member states before June 2004. There's nothing new about this scenario. It was confirmed last year at the EU summit in Laeken, Belgium. But the language that the EU used at its most recent summit in Seville not only confirmed the scenario; it also sharpened some formulations. The EU leaders seem confident that there is enough political will among the 15 member states to bring the enlargement process to a successful conclusion. While some try to put an upbeat spin on the issue, an increasing number of EU officials are starting to view it as some sort of grim duty. There is a growing feeling of necessity, if not fatalism, as far as enlargement is concerned. "It must be done. There is no way back, even if I would wish there was," one of the Seville summiteers told me off the record. The current Danish presidency of the EU, which runs from July to December this year, will do its utmost to keep the fire alive. Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has been driving the message home for several days: "Even a small slippage can create a huge delay. The window of opportunity will not stay open for much more time after December." Naturally, the Danes would love to close their glorious "Copenhagen to Copenhagen" circle. Nine years ago, the 1993 EU summit in Copenhagen set the criteria that candidate countries had to meet to become members of the EU. This December, the EU summit in Copenhagen is supposed to wrap up the enlargement negotiations. But Danish vanity is not the only factor involved. Rasmussen has a point. One cannot boil the exercise down to a collection of objective criteria and timetables; it's also about morality and psychology. The momentum that is still guiding the enlargement process could easily evaporate if the parties involved are not careful. There are several stumbling blocks left to overcome as the enlargement process enters the homestretch. First among them is the second Irish referendum on the Nice Treaty, which is considered to be one of the key preconditions for enlargement. In 2001, the Irish voted to reject the treaty in their first referendum on the issue. With the second one rapidly approaching, the polls continue to show that most respondents would vote against the treaty a second time. Granted, the government in Dublin has yet to launch its "yes" campaign, but the prospects do not look good at the moment. Moreover, the leaders of other EU countries are already insisting that responsibility for the "historic" eastward enlargement of the EU is now in the hands of the Irish. If they vote "yes," it can go ahead; if they vote "no," all bets are off. A few brave souls, including outgoing Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, have proposed alternative plans--just in case the Irish do actually vote "no." One of them would be to include the enlargement-related sections of the Nice Treaty into the accession treaties that will be signed with the candidate countries. But some EU member states might be hesitant to support such a move, and the enlargement schedule would have to be delayed. Moreover, the opponents of a swift enlargement--who have grown more and more outspoken since the spring--might use this opportunity to delay the process. TROUBLES ON THE FARM The second big hurdle for enlargement will be Germany's parliamentary elections in September. They are the fundamental reason for the delay in achieving a common EU position on direct subsidies for farmers in the future member states. Germany is the most powerful--and most stubborn--member of the group of four EU member states (along with the Netherlands, Britain, and Sweden) that are opposed to the European Commission's proposal to let the newcomers benefit from a slice of this agricultural aid money. It is widely believed that only a new German government can make the final decision to let the new members get some of the subsidies. But the new German government won't be fully functional until late October, which effectively squeezes the final "money" negotiations into the last few weeks of the year and creates another potential argument for delaying the whole process. Another agriculture-related hurdle to enlargement involves efforts to reform the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). European Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler, along with various EU member states, is pushing for the CAP to be reformed. In this context, the four countries that are opposed to the EC's scheme argue that if the new members start receiving direct farming subsidies as soon as they join, the future of the CAP reforms will be set in advance. On the other side, France and Spain want the newcomers to get as much as they want. So the enlargement process could easily become a hostage to the debate about the future of the CAP, which isn't really scheduled to begin until 2005. Much depends on the EC proposal for a "midterm review" of the CAP and, even more, on the compromise that could be thrashed out on this issue at the Copenhagen summit in December. Nevertheless, there is one reassuring note to this debate: the four countries that are blocking an agreement on the agricultural subsidies have traditionally been supporters of enlargement. Another stumbling block involves Cyprus, one of the candidate countries. At the 1999 summit in Helsinki, the EU decided that it would not grant membership to Cyprus until a solution has been found to the division of the island between Greek and Turkish zones. The EU is likely to push desperately for a reconciliation in Cyprus, but no progress has been registered on this issue so far. There are many ways it could affect enlargement. For one, the other candidate countries could be harmed if Rauf Denktas, who is the leader of the Turkish segment of Cyprus, announces in December that he is in principle ready for reunification but needs a few more months to prepare for it. Everybody might then have to wait for Cyprus, because Greece would simply not let the process move forward until Cyprus is ready. Finally, a pall might be cast over the process of enlargement if a political upheaval or U-turn takes place in one or more of the candidate countries. The EU is not likely to accept Slovakia, for instance, if former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar returns to power after the September elections in that country. [LINK The Trouble with Meciar 2001] This would not stop the EU from accepting the other candidate countries, but it would have a traumatizing effect on everybody. One can imagine other problems along the way, such as a difficult round of negotiations with Russia over the Kaliningrad region. But that would not have as strong an impact as the aforementioned hurdles. In the end, if the Irish give a nod to the process and if the current member states decide that the "historic task" of "reconciliation on the Continent" is worth a few extra euros, the enlargement will happen. After that they'll have to tackle the even more difficult task of figuring out how to manage a union with 25 members. But that's another story altogether. Karel Bartak One Language, No Unity https://www.tol.org/client/article/5041-one-language-no-unity.html KIEV, Ukraine--Russian and Ukrainian, being very similar languages, are understood by everyone in Ukraine. But if somebody addresses you in Russian in Lviv, he must be a tourist. In this formerly Polish town, now the unofficial capital of western Ukraine, Ukrainian rules the streets. In eastern Donetsk, meanwhile, a person speaking with a Lviv accent would be regarded as an alien. Culturally, the Ukrainian nation is no longer homogenous. Christian Easter is respected as "a truly great holiday" by 97 percent of western Ukrainians, according to a recent poll by the Kiev-based Oleksandr Razumkov think tank. It is of similar significance to only 65.2 percent of their southern compatriots, and for 25.4 percent of them it is "just an ordinary official holiday." May Day is a "great holiday" for only 8.1 percent of western Ukrainians, but as many as 40.4 percent of easterners regard it as such. The political differences between eastern and western Ukrainians are even more stunning. In the west, Our Ukraine--an opposition bloc of Europe-oriented nationalists and liberals--won a landslide victory in the 31 March parliamentary election. In the east and south, support for Our Ukraine was counted in single digits, while Communists and pro-government parties shared the victory. Is this one or two nations? If two, the government in Kiev has certainly chosen the wrong tool to unify them--language. Ukraine was divided for centuries, with its eastern and southern areas developing as part of the Russian state from the late 17th century onward, while its western territories were fragmented among Central European kingdoms. Much of this western area was under the control of Poland, which viewed Ukrainians as a foreign group--"them." By contrast, Russian tsars and Soviet general secretaries, though looking down on Ukrainians as "little Russians," viewed them as a rural group that, if "educated," could become part of Russian "higher culture"--"us." That is why eastern Ukrainians, especially in towns, ended up assimilated (or "russified"), while western Ukrainians, defying foreign rulers, stuck to their language and traditions. Ukraine came into being as a Soviet republic in its current borders only in the 1940s. It obtained independence only half a century after that, so it was acutely in need of a tool to create a common identity. The ruling elite in the early 1990s assigned this role to the Ukrainian language, while Russian--the preferred means of communication in towns (except in western Ukraine)--was to be sidelined as the language of former "colonial rulers." The government viewed Russian as a threat to Ukraine's culture and independence. The constitution passed in 1996 made only Ukrainian an official state language. Legally, 100 percent of all TV and radio broadcasting must be in Ukrainian. The number of Russian schools and kindergartens is dwindling with every passing year. Ukraine persists in not ratifying the European Charter on Regional and Minority Languages, which most European countries have adopted. If Kiev were to ratify the charter, it would be obliged to revise its attitude toward the Russian language. In matters of language, Ukraine has repeated the same error in relation to russified Ukrainians and ethnic Russians that Poland made toward Ukrainians in past centuries. The "them-us" divide does not nurture unity--and, over the decade that has passed since independence, Ukrainian has duly failed to become a truly national language. The official "one country, one language" policy is not working. The transition to Ukrainian is being silently sabotaged in schools in the south and the east. Russian dominates the mass media, including the Internet. It is preferred to Ukrainian in the streets of the capital Kiev (and even the name Kiev is preferred to the Ukrainian Kyiv), and it dominates in most other cities. Government officials work with documents printed in Ukrainian, but most of them communicate in Russian. Councils in several eastern and southern cities, openly defying the official line, voted throughout 1998-2002 to allow Russian or Ukrainian to be used in municipal documents. On 31 March, in an unofficial plebiscite sponsored by local authorities and held on the same day as the national elections, 83 percent of voters in Kharkiv--Ukraine's second-largest city--voted for Russian to officially be put on a par with Ukrainian. Perhaps it's time for Kiev to understand that it is impossible to impose Ukrainian upon those who have spoken Russian since childhood, just as Moscow failed to impose Russian upon western Ukraine in the Soviet era. Perhaps Russian is a lesser threat to national security than enforced Ukrainization. It does not forge a common national identity, but it undermines russophones' trust in the government. Passive resistance to the official language policy may never turn active, but what if it does? Natural cultural and linguistic diversity is better than imposed uniformity. Perhaps Kiev should leave Ukrainian to Lviv and Russian to Donetsk and Kharkiv. Oleg Varfolomeyev