Posts Tagged ‘tourism’

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A gay weekend update – Odessa

August 14, 2015

A few days ago an entry was published relating to a proposed and yet somewhat mysterious premier of an Odessa LGBT festival – mysterious insofar as organisers and the knowledge of the event amongst the Odessa LGBT at the time of writing.

Since then a little more has come to light – this being due to Odessa City Council (not to be confused with the Oblast Council) having made representations to the Odessa Administrative Courts to ban the march which is proposed as part of the festival events.

Odessa City Hall

Odessa City Hall

Odessa City Council, predictably raised some reasonable concerns that were raised in the above linked entry regarding the safety of the march participants and the general public on a weekend when football fans from Donetsk, Luhansk, Dnepropetrovsk and Odessa will all be milling around the city due to two games being played in the city this weekend.

It is perhaps arguable whether the City Council is best placed to comment upon the ability of the Odessa Militsia to police such coinciding events, or whether it is the Militsia that should raise any potential violent/public (dis)order flag.

The proposed “Unity March” route – Pushkinska, Maryinska and Shevchenko.  At the time of writing, a route as yet to be approved by the Militsia.  All 3 are busy routes for traffic and prone to congestion with or without any form of marching truth be told.

Whatever the case, the City Council appealed to the Odessa Administrative Court and the court has banned the march citing a high probability of violence all things considered.

An appeal can be expected tomorrow.  One of the organisers, Alina Rakhuba, has stated “If we get an official court decision banning the event, we will file an appeal.  If they ban the demonstration on specific streets, it’s OK – Odessa is big. We will not give up. The festival will definitely take place.

It is claimed that about 200 people, including foreigners, have registered to attend the festival.

Undoubtedly the festival will take place in some form, for the Administrative Court has banned only the march – although it has to be said that any orchestrated violence can be targeted at the other festival events – where ever they are to be centered – just as easily as any march.

It has however, apparently been agreed between the event organisers and various Odessa groups such as “Odessa Self-Defence”, “Right Sector” and “Odessa Automaidan” that violence towards festival attendees from their members will not occur.

Quite whether agreements have been struck with other Odessa groups, for there are many others ranging from far left to far right (and everything in between), or if there have been any such agreements struck with the groups from Donetsk, Luhansk or Dnepropetrovsk that will be in the city for the football this weekend is a different question.

Whether any appeal against the march ban will be successful remains to be seen – albeit it seems very unlikely the court will lift the ban for any streets in or near the city centre having cited the high probability of violence and public disorder behind the ruling.

Thus it is still unclear how this is going to work itself out.  The ever-thorny problem of insuring the fundamental human rights of expression and assembly, verses that of being able to protect those exercising the said rights, the safety of the general public amongst whom those rights are being exercised, and the safety of those that are charged with that protection presents itself – A problem aggravated by two football fixtures in the city this weekend.

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A gay weekend in Odessa – or perhaps not so gay?

August 12, 2015

It is claimed by some local Odessa media outlets, though certainly not all have mentioned it/carried the news as of yesterday, that this weekend will see the first LGBT festival in Odessa.

The festival is due to run 14 – 16 August, combining a city “quest” tour, discussions, a forum directed towards using art/gay characters in mass culture as a tool for communication, and promoting “gay tourism” as part of Odessa’s future regional branding.  There is also to be a small film festival, photography exhibition and, of course, a (unity) march.

Quite where this is to take place, at the time of writing, remains unclear.

Of those you author knows (which in all honesty can be counted on the fingers of one hand) within the Odessa LGBT scene, they too are currently unaware of where the event will be, or indeed just who is behind it and has organised it – A far cry from the events in Kyiv earlier in the year which were clearly organic and the organisers known.

It is claimed by some, that the organising entity is Swiss based -maybe so, maybe not – but it is somewhat strange that those few within the Odessa LGBT scene your author knows (and one lady is particularly active within it) seem to know little or nothing about this event.

Nevertheless, if this event is to occur (and is not a phantom event created to “stir society”) then it will have to be policed, or if it cannot be effectively policed, perhaps canceled or postponed, for there is an issue of policing to raised as quite coincidently – or perhaps no coincidently – Odessa is home to 2 football matches during the same weekend that the mysterious first LGBT festival is to occur.

That naturally means four sets of “Ultra” fans in the city at the weekend – and coincidently (or not) two teams are from the war battered east of the country – Shakhtar Donetsk play Dnepropetrovsk, and Odessa play Zorya Luhansk.

“Ultras” from Donetsk, Luhansk, Dnepropetrovsk and Odessa milling around the city at the same time as the mysterious premier of a LGBT festival? – The cynical may smell if not conspiracy, then at the very least some degree of orchestration.  Only the most charitable may see mere coincidence amongst the local constituency – and the people of Odessa have a cynical streak.

Lest we forget, the last clearly orchestrated event in Odessa involving “Ultras” from Odessa and Kharkiv on one side and the pro-Kremlin advocates on the other, resulted in half a dozen people associated with the “Ultras” shot dead in the street by those advocating a nostalgia for the Kremlin, events that subsequently resulted in the burning of Union House and almost fifty deaths therein of those from the said pro-Kremlin advocacy.

In short, the last clearly orchestrated clash involving Ultras resulted in dozens of dead people as matters escalated.

Serhiy Sternenko

Serhiy Sternenko

Indeed, Serhiy Sternenko, a current leader of Right Sector in Odessa sees the LBGT event as nothing less than a provocation whereby not only are Ultras from Donetsk, Luhansk, Dnepropetrovsk and Odessa are likely to be mired in any anti-LGBT violence that occurs, but also he sees it is a “trap” laid for (more) bad press for Right Sector.  He states on Facebook – “Тепер про ЛГБТ-фестиваль в Одесі, новина про який вже заполонила увесь інформпростір.

Візьмемо декілька фактів:
– Організатором є невідома спільнота, зареєстрована в Швейцарії. Перевірити, що і як стосовно цієї “організації” просто нема часу, так як строки вкрай малі.
– Жіночка, що позиціонує себе як організатор, цілком дивна особа (мав щастя з нею спілкуватись), яка не приховує, що її мета – відпрацювати гроші.
– Днями проведення заходу в Одесі обрали саме ті дні, коли в місті будуть ультрас аж 4х команд (Чорноморець, Заря, Шахтар та Дніпро).
– Основні (недо)ЗМІ, що тиражують інформацію про фестиваль – проросійські спільноти, Таймер та російські ресурси.
– Одеські лгбтшники чомусь не дуже в курсі про захід.
– Повідомлень до органів влади про проведення “фестивалю” не надходило. Місце проведення та маршрут – невідомі. Звозити учасників будуть на автобусах, які вже орендовано (заявила сама організаторша).

Моє особисте відношення.
Не маю нічого проти людей, що відносять себе до секс-меншинств, хоча й не вітаю їх вподобання. Але то їх особиста справа, як то кажуть, мають право.
Проводити це зараз в Одесі – як мінімум недоречно, а по факту – провокативно і на фоні війни на сході – вкрай небезпечно, може призвести до масових заворушень. Навіть якщо ніхто з будь-якої організації не прийде туди, щоб не допустити проведення, усе одно в місті багато військових-фронтовиків, ультрасів та звичайних громадян, які аж ніяк не закриють на це очі. І це, до речі, також факт.

Що матимемо в результаті і на що розраховано проведення даної провокативної ходи?
– Заворушення, можливо масові, висвітлені великою к-тю ЗМІ, що знизить потік туристів до міста.
– Чергові хвилі пропаганди, як з боку рос, так і укр ЗМІ. Перші розкажуть про нацистів та жахливі євроцінності, другі – про негідників добровольців (правосєків/азовців/ін.), які не дають Україні отримати безвізовий режим (людям скоро їсти не буде що, а вони про візи) та інтегруватись до ЄС. Чергова хвиля інформвійни, спрямована на дискредитацію патріотичних рухів.

Проводити такі фестивалі не варто в Одесі. І в Україні загалом.

Ну і найактуальніше питання, що мені задають: Чи буде Правий Сектор бити геїв?
Ні, не буде. Ми не хочемо давати внутрішньому та зовнішньому ворогу інформаційного туза в рукаві, тому провокації з силовим протистоянням не буде. І ходи ЛГБТ не буде також.

P. S. Тим, хто хоче мені розказати про “євроцінності” та наші стрімкі кроки до Європи, хочу сказати одну річ. Перш ніж йти в ЄС, треба дійти до України.

І повторюсь. Поки Україну дерибанять підараси, нам роблять проблему з геїв.
Нагадує вату з надуманими “притіснєніями”.

To don a “conspiracy hat” for a moment, then there are numerous permutations as to those that may wish to orchestrate such a potentially violent event in Odessa, so speculating is a fool’s errand.  Equally whilst wearing such a hat, there are as many permutations as to those that may wish to raise the prospect of a phantom event that never occurs.

Whilst a reader may or may not agree with sentiments of Mr Sternenko , or indeed Right Sector, he has clearly felt the need to pre-distance any violence displayed toward the LGBT festival (if it takes place) by. on behalf of, or associated with Right Sector in Odessa.  A wise move considering the vast majority of locals will once again take a very dim view toward those bringing violence to the city.

From a policing perspective – and that of rule of law more generally – one wonders whether the Odessa militsia are prepared and able to police four sets of Ultra fans in the city centre over the weekend, not to mention thousands of tourists and thousands more locals, as well as a LGBT festival and march (if it is a genuine event and not a social media phantom).

If it is real and a festival occurs, then every effort has to be made to allow it to take place and insure the event is peaceful.  Presumably the Militsia will know where it is being held even if the Odessa LGBT community currently seem somewhat unaware.

As with any gathering, as long as all occurs within the law, then the attendees have every right to hold and attend the event – although those rights have to be balanced against keeping the peace/preventing gratuitous violence and the ability to protect (as far as is practicable) all parties concerned – of which there are four.  Those parties are the LGBT community, those that may violently oppose such a festival, the general public who will be almost oblivious to the event occurring until, and if, all hell breaks lose around them (as was the case with the last orchestrated tragedy involving “Ultras” in Odessa), and that of the safety of the police themselves.

Whether the Militsia in Odessa will fare any better than those in Kyiv at the last LGBT event remains to be seen (if it goes ahead).  It will be the first a stern public (dis)order test for the new Odessa Police Chief Giorgi Lortkipanidze and the Militsia under his command.

A gay summer weekend in Odessa – or perhaps one that is not going to be gay at all?

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One side of the conversation – Odessa reforms

July 7, 2015

Unusually for this blog, one side of a conversation held with a visiting diplomatic corps is going to be summarised for public consumption, rather than the usual carefully selected parts that are always subjected to the Chatham House Rule, if anything that is said is mentioned at all.

The side of the conversation is that of your author, and naturally not the side of the diplomats in question.

The very first point made was the timescale in which Governor Saakashvili has to made a significant impact – rather than the (although not meaningless) public shafting of, or sacking of officials and/or departments to the point of disbanding them.  Individually and accumulatively such things do have an impact on the public psyche – but the public of Odessa are expectant of change that they will see and feel rather than watching what can be interpreted as “show dismissals” on TV and YouTube.

This notwithstanding the dubious legality of some of the dismissals.

If the Governor has a policy of meeting ends regardless of means, rather than creating legitimate means to reach sustainable ends, then his reform process will be one that is based on the premise of keep going and let the rule of law try and catch up!  Sustainable ends are only ever reached by legitimate means, and it is questionable just how legitimate some of the current means are.  Justification is not interchangeable with legitimacy.

The timescale offered was 6 months to create a meaningful change that will be noticed by society with personal impact for most.  If such a single issue is identified, dealt with thoroughly and transparently, and effecitvely delivered then it will buy him another 3 months of grace/continued goodwill to deliver a second such reform.  Thereafter the public pressure/expectency will become somewhat more manageable.

Various potential issues were discussed as well as the issues of timeliness for each – quite rightly if a nation is going to invest serious diplomatic and political energy, notwithstanding their taxpayers money, in supporting a specific regional reform.

Thus several “whats”, a few “who’s” and the “hows” were pondered with a good dose of “when”.  The final outcomes will become fairly clear fairly soon.  The problem diplomatically, of course, is just how closely does any nation want to be seen hugging somebody like Governor Saakashvili, vis a vis, if he doesn’t succeed and get the right level of visible support, then reforming Odessa will be set back by a decade at least if it doesn’t happen now.

prior

Longer term projects that have to be dealt  as a priority regionally would be that of administrative structure.  Odessa Oblast is not and should not be the “Saakashvili Show”.  As has been previously written, the civil service and public administration must be competent and allowed to function without significant and unnecessary political meddling.  Structural reform is desperately needed.

Whilst when Winston Churchill slammed his fist on the table, and General Alanbrooke slammed his fist on the table in reply, Governor Saakashvili seems to be lacking a General Alanbrooke.  An “ideas man” requires a “structures man” who is capable of project managing numerous project managers and also influencing the “ideas man”.  Thus the long term and important projects will undoubtedly be interfered with unnecessarily, and project/policy delivery will suffer as a result.

Another long term project should be the ports/docks.  They are after all the economic centers of Odessa.  Customs e-clearance, porto fanco/free ports etc, and other such ideas have their pluses – but also their minuses.  Impact analysis not only upon economics but also criminality would be a sensible prerequisite, together with a review of the structures within the customs and borders agencies.  If customs procedures are to be relaxed under e-clearance and/or porto franco then intelligence led checks take primacy.  The Iran, Turkey, Odessa, Poland/EU corridor an obvious target of a few.

With Odessa next in line to get a newly minted “Police”, your author raised concerns that go much deeper than those comments recently made over a hopefully bright future for the new “Police” in Kyiv.

Quite simply Odessa is not Kyiv.  The extraordinary lengths that were went to in Kyiv over the recruitment of the new “Police” under the noses of the President, Cabinet of Ministers and foreign diplomats to Ukraine was highly unlikely to be anything less than scrupulous.

Odessa has a fairly large but generally weak and unnoticed diplomatic corps.  There is no President, Cabinet of Ministers or immensely influential diplomatic community to keep a watchful and ever-focused eye over the recruitment process.  That there will be (and are) “interests” in Odessa keen on hijacking or perverting the process from the very start at the recruitment phase should come as no surprise.

However much political time, diplomatic energy, and money was invested in the Kyiv Police, it would be wisely doubled for Odessa if “interests” are to be resolutely rebuffed and the desired outcomes from the very moment of the recruitment process are to be realised at graduation (and beyond).  Thereafter a consistently watchful eye will have to remain on those “interests” until any new force and its structure are robust enough to self-recruit and mentor new recruits and management can withstand consistent attempts at manipulation.

Those that any new “Police” service deal with are then subject to the notoriously corrupt courts in Odessa – thus it is important to distinguish between good policing and justice being done.

The usual issues of FDI, tourism etc were raised, and simply put a few examples of cheaply resolved  inaction were raised – the low hanging fruit such as proof-checked English from the administration for professional purposes is absent, as well as any media information from the administration in well structured English.

How to attract foreign interest when most of the planet doesn’t read Ukrainian or Russian, and can barely understand the garbled English that the administration puts out – when it puts any out at all?

With the massive amount of big-board advertising space, why is there not a single map with English names of streets with a “you are here” marker for tourists wandering about lost?  It costs nothing but makes tourist life a little easier.

Anyway, to dwell of the long list of “easy fixes” for tourism and FDI attraction that are currently not being fixed distracts from the major issues as foreseen and listed above by your author for the next 6 – 9 months, and that were conveyed to the visiting diplomatic corps of the day.

All of these issues should be at the top of the “Watch List” for both Governor Saakashvili and those that would support him.  It is quite possible that reform opportunity will lost for a decade or more depending upon actions (or inaction) by the year end.

The reactions and comments by those on the other side of this conversation, unfortunately dear readers, are not about to be revealed.

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Riga Summit – To Visa-free or not to Visa-free? That is the question

March 19, 2015

Some months ago, in the usual Ukrainian populist (and therefore unwise) political manner, President Poroshenko stated he expected the Riga Summit in May to produce a Visa-free regime for Ukrainian tourists within the Schengen nations, beginning 2016.

“I would like to discuss the Eastern Partnership’s Riga summit to be held on May 21-22 with the European commissioner. It is extremely important to us, and our main expectation from the summit is a positive political decision of the EU, opening opportunities to us for the practical and technical introduction of visa-free regulations for Ukrainian citizens as early as by the end of this year.”

Clearly President Poroshenko is yet to learn to manage his own expectations, let alone those of his people – and this despite several lessons from the Europeans since Russia started its (guns and tanks) war with Ukraine.

Some would perhaps expect the president to tone down his expectations, and yet further curb his public rhetoric, when the illegal annexation of Crimea met with untimely, reactionary and timid sanctions from the Europeans.  This despite the gravity of Russia unilaterally throwing international instruments such as the Helsinki Final Act under a bus.

If that lesson was not enough, then the fact that the Europeans have not further enhanced such timid and untimely sanctions despite continued and consistent Russian sponsored (and managed) disregard of ceasefires under Minsk I and II, whilst not arming Ukraine with defensive lethal weaponry despite pleas to do so, is yet another lesson.

A further lesson to come, is likely to be the rebuffing of the Ukrainian request to the UN, Council of Europe and EU for peacekeepers following the favourable vote of 341 Rada MPs to make such an international request yesterday.  That Russia will likely veto any UN request is expected.  That the EU will not support an Eulex type mission in the absence of a UN mandate, despite the pleas of the host government, is a likely (though not definite) extension.  To do so without a UN mandate would be seen by too many capitals as a “provocation” that The Kremlin would react to – similar to arming Ukraine when it requests it.  That such peacekeeping missions generally set, rather than roll-back, facts on the ground, is for now an irrelevance.

The Riga Summit in May is certainly not predisposed to deliver upon President Poroshenko’s publicly declared expectations relating to Visa-free travel for Ukrainian tourists within Europe.  If it doesn’t, then yet more political points will once again be lost by the president amongst the Ukrainian constituency that counts, the 20 – 45 demographic that is generally reform-minded.  Not the constituency any government carrying out unpopular reforms can afford to unnecessarily alienate or lose.  It is not that the reform-minded will be any more or less reform-minded with or without an EU Visa-free regime, it is a matter of further undermining belief in the words and political capital of the president.

Indeed, despite Ukraine finally introducing and issuing biometric passports – only those holding biometric passports would qualify for the Visa-free regime – and therefore now starting to meet the technical requirements, doubts remain regarding the EU allowing such free movement to go ahead regardless of Ukrainian adherence to European diktats.

This realisation is now starting to be understood within the Ukrainian government – only after having trumpeted its expectations to the public.  Pavlo Klimkin has started stating that the EU is in no rush to deliver on the agreement – “The EU has concerns about security. And that’s one of the Russian scenarios. The European capitals say: how can we give Ukraine a visa-free regime if there is no control over the border?”

That would seem entirely sensible – prima facie – except Ukraine has more than one border between eastern Ukraine/the Donbas, and the EU.  One in the east has a Russian created hole in it – the others not.  Ukraine’s common borders with the EU nations remain as robust (or porous) as they were prior to Kremlin actions in the east.

So is it really as entirely sensible as that statement appears prima facie?

What security concerns are increased by allowing a Visa-free regime only for those that hold a biometric passport?

As the entire point of a biometric passport is that is it a far more robust form of identity, it is surely a far better document to insure the holders identity is genuine, and thus European security is enhanced.  Otherwise the Europeans would not insist upon its introduction as part of the Visa-free regime, and only accept those that hold a biometric passport as qualifying for Visa-free travel.   45 million Ukrainians stampeding over the EU borders, biometric passports in hand, upon any Visa-free regime implementation is not going to happen – a Kremlin controlled hole in its eastern border or not.

Biometric passports, having only just begun to be produced and issued a few weeks ago, therefore remain as rare as rocking horse sh*t.  It will take years to issue biometric passports to all Ukrainians that want one – perhaps close to a decade to issue them to all Ukrainians if they were to become a mandatory internal document too.

Thus even with a very simplified Visa regime, for the vast majority of Ukrainians that will not hold biometric passports any time soon, it will be the EU Member States that will continue to grant most Ukrainians their Visas.  The issue of European security will remain with a starting point that is the EU Member State that grants the Schengen Visa for years to come.

As of today, the EU Member States are still issuing Ukrainians with Visas.  The Schengen Visas are not biometric (unlike the UK Visa) and neither are the Ukrainian passports into which they are affixed.

By way of example, the Greek Consulate in Odessa has a Schengen Visa turnaround time of between 24 – 72 hours (Bravo).  Aside from, perhaps, an Interpol, Europol search and/or check with the Greek national police database – or not – it seems that refusal is likely only to be due to the documents being completed incorrectly, or a required supporting document being absent (unless you happen to be on a “list” of those deemed unwelcome).  Otherwise, it is welcome to Greece, please spent a lot of cash whilst you are here – and by extension, welcome to the other Schengen nations should you decide to fly onward from Athens.

The lack of Ukrainian control of its borders in the east with Russia has been the case for almost 12 months, and is not likely to be reestablished any time soon.  Throughout the duration, and without suspension or interruption, the EU Schengen Member States have continued to issue non-biometric Visas to non-biometric Ukrainian passports.  To this day, the normal, non-biometric service (or lack of service, depending upon issuing Member State) continues.  Clearly there has been little overt reaction to the ruptured Ukrainian border in the east when it comes to changing the Visa system, or refusing/suspending access across the Ukrainian-European border to the west.

It therefore seems unclear how Visa-free biometric passport holders would radically change the status quo regarding security.

Thus what EU “security concerns” can be raised in delaying (indefinitely) its promises that facilitate a Visa-free regime only for those with a far more robust biometric travel document?

It is easier to fake or obtain a fraudulent biometric passport than it is a non-biometric passport in Ukraine already?  Unlikely.

Does a Visa-free regime for biometric passport holders remove or invalidate all the other security measures the EU has at its borders?  Measures that have not noticeably changed since Russia punched a hole into Ukraine’s eastern border a year ago.

Would the ability to stop, check, detain or return individuals be somehow lessened due to the commencement of a Visa-free regime for those with biometric passports?  No.

Are the increased security concerns relating to “terrorism” and “terrorists” from eastern Ukraine entering the EU and causing havoc?

The Ukrainians, Americans and Europeans waste no time in identifying the real identities behind the “call-signs” of those fighting in eastern Ukraine.  Are these people more, or less, likely to try and gain a Ukrainian biometric passport, or attempt to get a non-biometric Visa in a non-biometric passport, if wanting to head into Europe as a Ukrainian for the purposes of mischief?

Perhaps all intelligence relating to the nefarious, the suspected, or the wanted, ceases to either exist, be shared, or be actioned, due to biometric passport holders being granted Visa-free?  Has intelligence sharing decreased, rather than increased, between the EU and Ukraine since the war with Russia took a physical format?  One would suspect something of an intelligence sharing uplift.

As the Europeans at least go so far as publicly acknowledging many fighting against Kyiv in eastern Ukraine are “Russian volunteers”, have the European schengen nations reduced the amount of Visas they are granting to Russian citizens, or introduced additional checks upon Russian applicants – just in case they fought in The Donbas whilst “on holiday”?  It is more likely the EU will be keen to increase the amount of Visas issued to Russians, rather than reduce them, in an attempt to show EU greener grass and administer democracy and rule of law to those that visit via osmosis – as flawed or as hopeful a policy as that may or may not be.

Are there not enough willing, if less than bright, already within the EU that will act on the Kremlin behalf?  All those loony-left and swivel-eyed far right that are attracted to the Alexander Dugin flypaper – possibly for later cultivation by the Russian secret services – obviously exist in numbers sufficient to question whether an “eastern terrorist” will have to go follow the “biometric path” to enter and then engage in nefariousness within the EU.  That is if the “eastern Ukrainian terrorist” hasn’t already been granted a non-biometric Schengen Visa in an existing non-biometric passport, of course.

Is the security concern one of people, drugs, cigarettes or gun trafficking?

Is the Russian made hole in the Ukrainian eastern border now seeing a Golden Horde of Central Asian people flooding through it, en route to the EU to claim asylum?

Are illegal arms floating across the Danube Delta into Romania, or by train into Poland from Ukraine?  If so, is the success of such enterprises to be increased by orders of magnitude for a Visa-free biometric passport holder?  It seems unlikely.

Are Ukrainian biometric passport holders within a Visa-free tourist regime more likely to try and claim asylum or refugee status within the EU, than those that enter on a non-biometric passport with a non-biometric Tourist Visa perhaps?  The EU has hardly been inundated with Ukrainian refugees despite a year of war.

One may rhetorically ask if the EU-Ukraine readmission, after many reasonably successful years, has suddenly and mysteriously become null and void due to a Visa-free regime for biometric passport holders – or whether Ukraine remains obliged to robustly fulfill its bilateral commitments relating to its own, and third nation, migration and border responsibilities?  One has to suspect the latter remains very much the case.

Thus, in the absence of any clearly identifiable “security concerns” that have not caused any overt changes in the EU system of border management or granting of Schengen entry to Ukrainians since Russia punched a hole in its eastern border – one is left to wonder just how a Visa-free regime for biometric passport holders significantly increases European security risks, rather than decreasing them, per their purpose.

If the “security concerns” are indeed negligible (and they may be genuine based on something other than the obvious), what are the real reasons behind any European delay in implementing the Visa-free regime with Ukraine?

That the Kremlin won’t like Ukraine becoming Visa-free before Russia, and some EU nations don’t want to upset The Kremlin any further?

That Ukraine is nowhere near as technically ready as it claims to be – despite officially moving from Stage I to Stage II of the Visa facilitation agreement?

Is European domestic public opinion a hurdle with immigration being high on all political agendas?

Perhaps we will discover just what the “security concerns” actually are/purported to be, when the Riga Summit commences in May – then again, perhaps not.  In the meantime, it seems that President Poroshenko is quite likely to be given yet another public lesson by the EU regarding “expectations”.

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Borders within borders – Ukraine

January 6, 2015

A short entry today relating to the borders within borders created due to events in eastern Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula, for those traveling to, through, or from them.

The US has updated its travel advice, which of course whilst aimed specifically at its citizenry, applies to most foreigners in the identified regions to some degree or another:

Jan 5 at 11:42 PM

* The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to eastern Ukraine.
* This supersedes the Travel Warning for Ukraine dated August 29 to provide updated information on the security situation in southern and eastern Ukraine.
* Despite the signing of a ceasefire agreement in September 2014, violent clashes between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces continue in parts of the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, resulting in thousands of injuries and deaths.
* The Government of Ukraine has stated that foreigners, including U.S. citizens who enter Ukraine through separatist-controlled checkpoints, will not be allowed to pass through government checkpoints.
* Russia-backed separatist groups have taken on an increasingly strident anti-American tone. U.S. citizens who choose to enter or remain in conflict areas should maintain a low profile and avoid large crowds and gatherings.
* U.S. citizens should exercise caution in the regions of Odesa, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson. In addition, due to a recent increase in low level terrorism incidents, travelers in the cities of Odesa and Kharkiv should exercise extreme vigilance in public places after dark.
* The Russian Federation is likely to take further actions in Crimea in 2015 consistent with their attempted unlawful annexation and occupation of this part of Ukraine.
* In addition, there are continuing reports of abuses against the local population by de facto authorities in Crimea, particularly against those who are seen as challenging their authority on the peninsula.
* The Government of Ukraine prevents foreigners, including U.S. citizens, who enter Crimea directly from any country other than Ukraine, from entering mainland Ukraine.

The highlighted paragraphs are thus, to raise awareness of those who will travel to, through, or from areas of Ukraine that are not currently controlled by the Ukrainian authorities.

In short, there are solidifying borders within borders, and those not entering Ukraine via Ukrainian controlled borders will not be able to pass into the rest of the nation should they enter via “occupied territories” – regardless of nationality or passport held.

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Odessa International Jazz Festival 19 – 22 September

September 15, 2013

Away from the world of Ukrainian politics and policy – briefly at least – I will draw your attention to the annual Odessa International Jazz Festival that takes place next week over a four day period.

Amongst this years performers are  Yuri Kuznetsov Honored Artist of Ukraine (Ukraine), Anatoly Vapirov (Bulgaria ), Anatoly Vapirov (a frequent guest at the Odessa Jazz Festival), Cuban violinist Omar Puente, German trio Benedict Yanelya (Germany – Spain – Canada), Lisa Henry & Oleg Butman Trio ( USA – Russia ),  Henry Fox, who will perform with a trio of Oleg Butman ( Russia ), Kuba Stankiewicz ( Poland), Dario Pinelli & Binario Swing ( Italy), Benjamin Faugloire Project ( France), Ahimsa ( India – Germany), Roman Tulei Trio ( Switzerland), FKP Trio ( Ukraine), Asea Sool ( Georgia – Ukraine), Samokhin Band ( Poland), Liberty ( Transnistria), Jam Band ( Ukraine), and Odessa’s Swing Dance Studio – to name but a few.

So if you plan to be in Odessa next week and are a lover of jazz – as long as the weather stays dry, as it opens with a concert in the City Gardens – you will undoubtedly have a good time!

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219th birthday celebrations – Odessa itinerary

August 18, 2013

For those readers likely to be in Odessa between 30th August and 3rd September, you will be present as the city celebrates its 219th “official” birthday – it is far older.

Anyway, the itinerary for those few days is as follows:

It includes rock fest, art & flowers exhibitions, music concerts, gala concert etc.
Traditional concert followed by a large firework will take place at Potyomkin Stairs in the evening.

In the network of the celebration, a range of traditional events will be held, including:
– International “Meetings in Odessa” Culture and Arts Festival;
– Gala concert of the XXII “Piqué Vests” Rock Festival in memory of I. Gankevitch at the Kulikovo Field (Chicherina and Skryabin are the headliners of the concert);
– Gala concert at at Potyomkin Stairs;
– open-air “Rakhmaninov by the Sea” concert by Alexei Botvinov by the Vorontsov Palace’s Colonnade;
– open-air “Jazz in Classics. Classics in Jazz” concert by Yuri Kuznetsov in the City Garden;
– flowers exhibition and the 2nd Arts and Crafts Festival;
– “Open-air cinema hall” at Langerone Descent;
– Yerzy Hoffman’s “Ukraine”movie presentation;
– meeting with the legendary Yuri Norstein, the author of bestseller “Hedgehog in Fog”cartoon;
– festive firework.

The traditional Gala-concert at Potyomkin Stairs will feature numerous famous artists, including In-Grid, Potap and Nastya Kamenskykh, BoomBox, Tina Karol, “X-Factor” Show winner Aida Nikolaychuk from Odessa, “Country’s Voice” Show winner Anna Khodorovskaya from Odessa and others.

As and when more details of who on what date and where become available, I will attempt to let you know.

I must admit I do fancy attending “Rakhmaninov by the Sea” and the jazz classics at the City Garden – both of which I hope will occur before the 2nd September when I shall be heading to Crete for a few days.

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