Books on Belarus
Principal ethnic groups
Update No: 291 - (30/03/05)
The threat of revolution
The regime in Belarus, regarded as Europe's last dictatorship, is very alarmed
at what is going on in Kyrgyzstan. The Belarussian Foreign Ministry has called
on Kyrgyzstan to settle its political crisis using legal means.
In the capital of Belarus, Minsk, demonstrators tried to rally outside the
office of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenka on March 25th, Easter
Friday, to demand his ouster in a self-declared attempt to emulate the uprising
in Kyrgyzstan, but they were beaten back by riot police swinging truncheons.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry harshly assailed the Kyrgyz opposition, warning
that protests that drove Akayev from power could destabilize the entire region.
Mass riots and the seizure of administrative buildings are not constructive
instruments of resolving political differences, the ministry said in a statement
quoted by the news agency, Interfax. "We ... urge all parties involved to
settle any disputes within the framework of the law," the statement said.
All that needs to be said about this reaction is that Belarus and Kyrgyzstan are
both former Soviet republics in the Commonwealth of Independent States, and both
are ruled by authoritarian regimes.
Belarus the backward
One of Europe's post-Soviet laggards, Belarus has been the fief of the cunning
and erratic Alexander Lukashenka since 1994. Lukashenka was first elected
president in July 1994 having received 80.4 percent of the vote in the second
round. In September 2001, he was re-elected with 75.6 percent in the first
According to the old Belarus' Constitution, the same person could be elected
president for no more than two terms. Changes to the Constitution on this issue
could only be made after a referendum. That duly happened on October last year.
The referendum was set for the day of the parliamentary elections in Belarus,
October 17, also won by the regime. The only question for it was whether
Belarussian people would allow the president of the republic, Lukashenka, to
take part in the presidential elections as a candidate and whether they approve
article 81 part 1 of the Constitution in the following edition: the president is
elected for five years directly by the nation in the universal free, equal,
direct elections via secret ballot. The voters did endorse it.
Lukashenka has tightened his grip on power, transforming elections into a sham,
and appears set to win any other rigged referendum whenever he wants. He has
repressed all opposition, even relying on death squads, which helped him win
September 2001's presidential poll. That which does exist remains muted, though
some officials have spoken out.
In foreign relations, Lukashenka has provoked and alienated Western diplomats.
The U.S. Congress has passed economic sanctions against Belarus, calling
Lukashenka's regime tyrannical. In response, Belarussian president called this
act "stupid," the congressmen "dumb-asses."
One of Belarus' few friends is Russia, which props up the country's decrepit
economy by supplying cheap energy. Lukashenka would like to reunite the two
countries, but enthusiasm for the plan has waned. He and Vladimir Putin,
Russia's president, have a strained relationship.
Russia-Belarus congress takes place in Moscow
The second congress of the peoples of Russia and Belarus was held in Moscow on
March 26th, but under the sponsorship of a very different Russian leader,
Gennady Zyuganov, chairman of the Communist Party of Russia, which provided
assistance in organizing the forum.
As many as 200 Belarussian representatives, among them members of parliament and
heads of political movements and organizations, attended the congress, which
took place in Moscow's Izmailovo district.
Zyuganov is a fervent fan of the idea of integrating Belarus with Russia. But he
is not likely ever to come to power. Lukashenka has backed the wrong horse.
Belarus approves huge oil transit tariffs increase
Belarus went ahead with plans to boost the tariff for the transit of oil
products, Itar-Tass News Agency reported recently.
The 75.4% increase affected the US$0.89 per tonne for 100 kilometres through one
of its pipelines, Mosnews said in a report. The decision was made by the
Belarussian Ministry of Economics in keeping with the Belarussian-Russian
inter-governmental agreement "On Interaction and Operation of Oil Mains in
Belarus," according to Itar-Tass.
About nine million tonnes of oil are transported through Belarus each year.
Experts were quoted as saying that the tariff rise would help the government
fill its coffers as the budget revenue will rise by another US$4.5m. Russian oil
majors YUKOS, LUKoil, TNK-BP and Sibneft use Belarussian pipelines to send their
oil products to eastern and central Europe.
"The decision was made in accordance with an agreement reached last June
and it relates to Zapad-Nefteprodukt," an official at the economics
ministry was quoted as saying by Mosnews. The company shipped about eight
million tonnes of oil products last year when the transit fee was US$0.51 per
tonnes, the reports said.
MINERALS & METALS
Gold, forex reserves shrink 5.1%
Belarus' national definition gold and foreign currency reserves contracted 5.1%
to US$993.3m in January, the National Bank of Belarus announced recently, New
Of the gold and forex reserves, deposits in foreign currency decreased 6.6% to
US$701.4m, those in gold 17.1% to the equivalent of US$163.7m. The value of
other assets declined 30% over the month to the equivalent of US$128.2m.
Belarus' international reserves, as calculated by International Monetary Fund (IMF)
methods, contracted 10% in January to US$692.8m. Foreign currency reserves in
non-resident deposits went down 6.9% to US$642.7m.
Mobile subscribers grow 8%
The number of active GSM mobile subscribers in Belarus, according to market
operators, Mobile Digital Communications and Mobile TeleSystems (MTS), exceeded
2.54m people on March 1st, which is 8.1% higher that at the start of the year,
Interfax News Agency reported.
The number of registered subscribers in the company's network as of March 1st
2005 amounted to over 1.22m, up 7.5% from the start of the year, said a source
in Mobile Digital Communications (trade name Velcom). The MTS subscriber base
increased 8.7% in January-February to amount to over 1.32m, the source said. The
number of active GSM subscribers in Belarus increased 110% in 2004 to 2.35m