Books on Belarus
Principal ethnic groups
Update No: 284 - (27/08/04)
Spats with Moscow
Despite leaning heavily towards Russia, with whom it aspires to a union, the
Belarus regime, cantankerous at best, is not above making its weight felt by its
giant neighbour. In February gas supply from Russia was temporarily cut off due
to non-payment. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenka predictably called this
an "act of terrorism" at the time. He has obviously been brooding on
the matter and now in sunny August has his solution worked out.
Lukashenka said Belarus will strive to become less dependent on oil and gas
purchased from other countries, that is Russia. Speaking to citizens in the
Vitebsk region Lukashenka remarked: "Do you think gas prices will not
change? Gas will be more expensive, which is why we need to switch to local fuel
types," such as wood and peat. Lukashenka labelled the gas supply problems
Belarus experienced last winter "little things. There will be a time when
Russia will switch to world gas prices, and we will do it as well."
Lukashenka reassured his audience that Belarus will continue to use natural gas,
asserting,: "We will buy gas and will supply it to Belarusian
The most recent spat, however, concerns the closure of an errant Russian TV
station, bold enough to cover an opposition rally. This comes ahead of
parliamentary elections on October 17th.
Russia insists on the resumption of work at the office of the VGTRK (Russian
state television) channel in Belarus, the Foreign Ministry declared on July
The ministry protested to Belarus' temporary plenipotentiary in Russia against
the channel office closure. This decision by the Belarussian authorities
"does not blend with the allied relationship between our countries and is
directed to the infringement of freedom of speech," the ministry statement
was quoted as saying.
On July 29th, the journalists of VGTRK in Belarus were deprived of
accreditation. Their office had earlier been closed. The decision was made in
connection with a VGTRK report on a protest rally against Belarussian president
Lukashenka. Belarus' Interior Ministry said 193 people had attended, including
44 detained by police before the protest got under way. The Russian television
report said several thousand demonstrators took part in the rally. Belarus
called this report "improper."
Supreme Court closes opposition party
The opposition is constantly being harassed. Belarus's Supreme Court ruled on
August 3rd that an opposition party must close down, prompting Lukashenka's
critics to accuse him of mounting a crackdown on opponents before the elections.
"The Supreme Court took the decision to satisfy the suit of the Justice
Ministry (against the Labour Party) ... that the party's legal address did not
correspond with the real location of its headquarters," said a court
Labour was a small member of a five-party coalition due to fight the
parliamentary elections. "The closure of the Labour Party ... is another
step to cleanse the political spectrum of opponents before the parliamentary
elections," the Belarussian People's Front, a leading party in the
coalition, said in a statement. "It raises the question whether it is
possible to conduct democratic elections in this country." Opposition
parties and the West have accused Lukashenka, a former collective farm boss who
has been in power since 1994, of increasingly autocratic tendencies.
Several opposition politicians have 'disappeared,' while others have been
jailed. Lukashenka's 2001 re-election was criticised as fraudulent by the
opposition and Western countries.
Presidential elections are due in 2006. Lukashenka says that he might hold a
referendum to enable him to stay in office beyond the two-term maximum set by
UK scientist, expert on Chernobyl, expelled
A UK citizen and professor at Kingston University, Alan Flowers, has been
expelled from Belarus, without explanation. His research into the effects of the
Chernobyl nuclear disaster, begun in 1992, could be the reason.
The academic was issued the order to leave the country on August 2nd by the
passport and visa service of the Interior Ministry's directorate in one of
Minsk's districts. He has also been banned from visiting Belarus for the next
five years. The professor believes his expulsion may be linked to his close ties
with some Belarusian NGOs.
For more than a decade, Alan Flowers has been involved in scientific and
humanitarian exchanges with Belarusian academics. He has recently taken part in
a youth summer camp of the European Youth Parliament in Belarus.
The Chernobyl power station, in Belarus' neighbouring former Soviet republic
Ukraine, exploded on 26 April 1986. The blast, which killed at least 30 people
and forced the evacuation of 135,000 more people because of the level of nuclear
contamination in the area, was the world's worst nuclear disaster.
Vladimir Kuzura, an official from the Belarusian Interior Ministry, refused to
explain the reasons behind the withdrawal of Dr Flowers' visa and the
But Dr Flowers is said to have made a claim that, if proved right, would cause
great embarrassment to former top Soviet officials. According to Vera Rich, who
was the Soviet correspondent of the scientific journal, Nature, at the time of
the tragedy, many believe the then Soviet Union seeded clouds to make them rain
on Belarus. The move was aimed at preventing winds from blowing contaminated
material towards Moscow, theorists say.
However, many scientists are highly dubious of claims for successful
cloud-seeding. One of the problems is proving that any rain following
experiments would not have fallen anyway.
According to Ms Rich, who is currently a freelance writer for the Ukrainian
Weekly, Dr Flowers said he had many colleagues in Belarus who believe in this
theory but would never admit it in public for fear of retaliation.
In her article, she quoted him as saying: "For a full understanding of the
distribution and effects of the Chernobyl fallout, we need as much evidence as
possible. What caused the rain is still an uncertainty in our knowledge about
the intensity and nature of the contamination."
The Chernobyl disaster led to a dramatic rise in the number of cases of thyroid
cancer, leukaemia and birth defects, especially in Belarus. Up to seven million
people are believed to have been affected.
Credit rating for Belarus
The National Bank of Belarus called for the process of the republic receiving a
country credit rating to be sped up as much as possible, Interfax News Agency
"The position of the National Bank is to complete work on receiving a
country credit rating as soon as possible," bank CEO, Pyotr Prokopovich,
said. "As a member of the presidium of the Council of Ministers, I always
criticise my colleagues in the government because we are carrying out this work
very slowly," he said. "At the moment there is every chance of
finishing this work by the end of this year."
FOOD & DRINK
Brewery sale attracts IFC loan
The first privatisation of a brewery in Belarus has attracted investment fro m
the World Bank's International Finance Corp (IFC), just-drinks said recently,
New Europe reported. The IFC is sinking US$3m in equity funding into the
country's Detroit Belarus Brewing Co and lending US$7m to the CJSC Belarus
Brewing Co; both companies are participating in the privatisation of OJSC
Dednovo Brewery, in Belarus' Mohilev region. The IFC will join other western
investors in supporting a US$31.3m investment programme to expand, modernise and
refurbish the Dednovo plant, improving quality and consistency, and developing a
range of brands of its beer.
FOREIGN ECONOMIC COOPERATION
Belarusian, Syrian parliaments sign cooperation accord
A cooperation agreement was signed between the National Assembly [parliament] of
the Republic of Belarus and the People's Assembly of the Syrian Arab Republic.
[The speaker of the Syrian parliament, Mahmud al-Abrash, was on a visit to
Belarus], Belarusian television reported.
The speaker of the Belarusian parliament's upper house, Henadz Navitski, said
that Belarus regards Syria as one of its major partners in the Middle East.
Interests of Belarus and Syria are multifaceted and lie in many areas, including
economic cooperation and scientific and cultural exchanges. The two speakers
also noted the need to step up work on establishing a joint venture to assemble
[Belarusian] tractors in Syria.
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