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After seven decades as a constituent republic of the USSR, Belarus attained its independence in 1991. It has retained closer political and economic ties to Russia than any of the other former Soviet republics. Belarus and Russia signed a treaty on a two-state union on 8 December 1999 envisioning greater political and economic integration but, to date, neither side has actively sought to implement the accord.
Update No: 269 - (29/05/03)
The last European dictator
The situation in Belarus is dire in the extreme. Alexander Lukashenka, a dictator who sees Belarus as a mini-USSR is in charge as president. He tries to block any adverse news from leaking out, as did the Soviets. A sort of political black hole is his aim for relations with the West and most of his neighbours.
But news gets out all the same, not least from the one ally he has, Russia. The young people are getting restive. There has been a series of political protests against him, calling for him to go. The latest was on May 14th when a demonstration took place to protest against the outcome of the May 14th 1995 referendum, which was almost certainly rigged. It saw a victory for changing the symbols of the state, the national flag and so on, back from Belarusian ones to Soviet ones. Two students were arrested and sentenced to jail the same day, admittedly only for a few days each. But they are marked for life now and can expect little under the Lukashenka regime.
Basis of state ideology
Indeed the sort of future for Belarussian youth he has in mind was spelled out by the president on the next day, as it was by his education minister in a simultaneous seminar. He told students of the Belarussian State Arts Academy on 15th May that culture is the foundation of state ideology, Belarussian Television reported.
"Our society needs ideology because we are a young state that recently gained independence for the first time after many centuries," Lukashenka noted. He urged students and professors of the academy to adapt themselves to market conditions, warning them that the state will only support "talented" artists and the art that is needed by the people. "Everyone says 'You owe us money'," Lukashenka said. "I don't owe anything to any body. It is you who owe something to the state and to me, as a representative of this state. If you have anything to give our state, I'll pay you."
Education Minister, Pyotr Bryhadzin, chaired a seminar in Hrodna on 14th-15th May at which he instructed university rectors on how to organise "ideological work" at their institutions, Belapan and RFE/RL Belarussian Service reported. According to Bryhadzin, the task of state-run universities is to bring up students who are loyal to the state policy pursued by President Lukashenka. Bryhadzin suggested re-establishing the Soviet-era system of ideological instructors, with each supervising a certain number of students. Bryhadzin also urged universities to make appropriate changes to curricula and adjust university research so as to reflect the course of state ideology.
The end-game to 2008
Lukashenka is offering the young people nothing but subservience, a sure sign that his regime is heading nowhere. For the moment he has the support of Russia. Putin disdains him personally, but he finds him useful for this subservience to Moscow.
What may bring him down is his own pet scheme, the formation of a Belarus-Russian Union, which is planned to be in full fruition by 2008, when Russia under its constitution will have a new president (one can only stand for two terms). A new president may be less well-disposed towards preserving the regime.
To make the security of one's regime dependent on another state is a dangerous thing to do. Lukashenka may yet find that out.
Belarusian arms exporter counts on stable demand in 2004
The head of the marketing department of the Beltekhekspart joint-stock company, a major Belarusian exporter of weapons, Vyachaslaw Sheyd, believes that the results of the war in Iraq are unlikely to significantly influence the situation in the international arms market and the position of the Belarusian companies, Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta has reported.
Sheyd said: "This conflict was not large enough to bring about drastic changes in this market. The demand for weaponry remains as stable as ever. The market might witness some redistribution. Demand might pick up for means of counteracting high-precision weaponry."
In reply to a question regarding a performance forecast for next year Sheyd said, "I believe that the situation for our company will remain the same. We have been operating at a profit, which we invest in a range of projects, including the modernization of planes in Baranavichy, tanks and infantry fighting vehicles at factory No 140, and anti-aircraft missile systems at factory No 2566. I believe that these projects will allow us to remain profitable in 2004. A portion of our profits goes into research and development projects. At the MILEX-2003 military exhibition held in Minsk on 14th-16th May we presented an electronic portable anti-aircraft missile system simulator.
Belarusian, Russian inspection agencies sign joint action plan
As a result of talks held in Minsk on 12th-13th May, the chairman of the Russian Audit Chamber, Sergey Stepashin, and the Belarusian State Control Committee head, Anatol Tozik, have signed a joint action plan for the year 2003, Belapan News Agency has reported.
As Belapan learnt from the Belarusian State Control Committee, the plan envisages organization of joint sessions to discuss the results of union state budget audits and training programmes for specialists of both agencies. In addition, the meeting participants stressed the need to spread the experience of fruitful cooperation between the Russian Audit Chamber and the Belarusian State Control Committee to all CIS countries.
MINERALS & METALS
Belarus' diamond cutting giant may opt for cheaper South African material
The Belarusian diamond cutter Kristall based in the city of Homel has had to temporarily stop buying feedstock from its main raw diamond supplier, the Russian uncut diamond monopoly Alrosa, because the latter has raised its prices, a Kristall official told Prime-TASS News Agency on 19th May.
From March to May the price rose 19.3 per cent, which may lead to a situation when the price for Kristall's polished diamonds exceeds the world's by 20 per cent, the official said. In Russia, the difference between the price of non-polished and polished diamonds stands at around 15 per cent, while in Belarus the figure until recently has been 18 per cent.
At the same time, the official said, Kristall rules out the possibility of completely stopping purchases from Alrosa as the alternative feedstock from South Africa is of lower quality than Alrosa's.
Kristall controls about 90 per cent of Belarus' diamond cutting and 40 per cent of the jewellery production. The company exports up to 99 per cent of its output. The company's capacity allows for the production of US$100m worth of polished diamonds a year as well as US$40m worth of
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