Books on Belarus
Principal ethnic groups
Update No: 299 - (28/11/05)
The world is watching
The regime in Belarus is known to be a vile tyranny, the last such one in
Europe. Its neighbours, but also people from further afield, are considering
ways of ending it from outside. This is not, however, an easy proposition.
On August 25, the press department of the then Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka
announced that Belka had recently led a discussion with the prime ministers of
Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine about the possibilities of overthrowing Belarus
President Alexander Lukashenka. The previous week, the Polish President
Aleksander Kwasniewski had held similar talks with the presidents of Ukraine,
Georgia and Lithuania on the Ukrainian peninsula of Krim.
These unconcealed Polish threats against Belarus were preceded by a series of
diplomatic conflicts between the two countries. In May, Lukashenka sacked the
recently elected head of the "Union of Poles in Belarus" (ZPB),
Andzelika Borys, replacing him with former chairman Tadeusz Krukowski. With
25,000 members, the ZPB is the largest non-governmental organisation in Belarus.
In contrast to Borys, Krukowski believes in keeping out of the country's
At the end of July, the conflict escalated and both countries recalled their
ambassadors. Lukashenka had 20 leading members of the ZPD arrested. On August
28, the ZPD elected a government supporter, Jozef Lucznik, as its new chairman.
The election, however, was conducted behind closed doors. Belarus police had
cordoned off large areas surrounding the voting place and prevented some
delegates from voting. After the results were announced, the Polish government
refused to acknowledge Lucznik as the new chairman.
Even before this episode, and in particular after the so-called "Orange
Revolution" in Ukraine last year, politicians and the media in Poland have
campaigned heavily against the president of Belarus. Hardly a day has gone by
without a report in the media about the "last dictator in Europe." In
recent months, Kwasniewski, Belka and foreign minister Adam Rotfeld have been at
pains to gain the support of the European Union (EU). Rotfeld told the Polish
public broadcast network: "It's good that the EU takes an interest in many
of the world's countries, like Burma, East Timor, various African regions,
Burkino Faso and the Sudan. However, it would also be a start if they considered
The Polish government has long been an active supporter of the Belarus
opposition. On August 15, Belka allocated 950,000 zloty (234,000 euros) in an
attempt to finance a Polish radio broadcaster in Belarus. State technical
employees are presently working on resolving outstanding technical issues to
allow broadcasts to commence. Some oppositions groups, such as various
anti-Russian outfits and the extreme nationalist "White Russian People's
Front," partly coordinate their work from within Poland. A large proportion
of the opposition's newspapers and leaflets are being printed in Polish print
Another coloured revolution is being planned
If Belka was now talking about a possible overthrow of Lukashenka, his words are
to be taken seriously. Concrete plans have already been drawn up for Belarus in
the same style as the "rose revolution" in Georgia and the
"orange revolution" in Ukraine. All of these "colour
revolutions" have been organised according to a similar model: a lost
election is disputed with various claims of irregularities which are then
carefully promoted in the media and channelled into demonstrations, combined
with international pressure, thus compelling the incumbent ruler to stand down.
A significant role has been played in these events by various youth
organisations that led the protests in these countries. In Georgia it was "Kmara,"
in Ukraine "Pora" and in Belarus the opposition movement is being led
by the "Zubr" (bison) group. The members of all of these groups were
educated by the Serbian organisation Otpor, which organised the overthrow of
Serbian President Milosevic in 2000 with direct support from the US. These
opposition organisations are financed through a network of various foundations,
such as the National Democratic Institute, which is chaired by the former US
secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, and the International Renaissance
Foundation (IRF), which obtains funding directly from the US State Department
and other Western nations.
A possible colour revolution in Belarus is being planned for the middle of next
year, when the next presidential election is to be held, and supposedly will
take on the symbol of the blue cornflower. Whether it pans out the way its
organisers foresee, however, remains to be seen. Lukashenka is relatively secure
in office and the opposition is divided into various antagonist groups. What is
certain, though, is that the Polish government would play a significant role in
an attempted regime change.
Polish politicians already played a decisive role during the orange revolution
in Ukraine. Without support from the Polish government for Victor Yushchenko,
the power struggle in Ukraine would hardly have been as quick and smooth.
Belka had already issued warnings several weeks before the Ukrainian
presidential elections about possible election rigging. A few days after the
election, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski travelled to Kiev as the
government's official observer. Before departing, he spoke to both US President
George Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and developed a
"three-point plan," the content of which largely coincided with
demands of the Ukrainian opposition.
Kwasniewski used all his powers to prevent serious resistance against the
toppling of incumbent President Viktor Yanukovich. On November 26, when 60,000
miners from the country's east made their way to Kiev to confront supporters of
the orange revolution, Kwasniewski mustered all his diplomatic weight to prevent
their arrival. After the demonstration was stalled, two of the three demands of
the marchers were met on that same evening.
Two roundtable discussions were held, where the opposition laid out its demands.
Kwasniewski played a decisive role here as well. After the second roundtable,
Yushchenko and Kwasniewski spoke together to demonstrators in front of the
Mariinski Palace. Yushchenko declared: "Without the Polish president, no
solution would have been possible, or it would have been only a modest
Yushchenko was not the only one pleased with Kwasniewski's intervention. During
a telephone conference with Kwasniewski, US President Bush said: "Aleksander,
you did so well with the Ukraine, do you have a bit of time for the Sudan?"
The United States had long been campaigning for regime change in Ukraine.
The weakening of Russia's influence in Ukraine constituted an important step
in reducing Russia's geo-strategic role in Eurasia. "Without Ukraine,"
wrote the American intelligence group Stratfor, which has close ties to the US
intelligence services, "Russia is doomed to a painful slide into
geopolitical obsolescence and ultimately, perhaps even non-existence." The
United States views Russia as a direct competitor over the strategically
important oil reserves in the Caspian Sea region, and therefore is determined
that Russian influence, dating back to the Soviet era, has to be weakened.
The calculated intervention of the Polish government opened the back door for
the US in Ukraine. Poland aims to play a similar role with its current threats
against Belarus. Here too, what is at stake are global geo-strategical interests
and not the concerns of the Polish minority in Belarus or the democratic rights
of that country's population in general.
Students in world-wide protest against Lukashenka
On October 15th students from as far away as South Africa, Nepal, Ghana, and
Taiwan were marching through campuses, parks, and streets to protest against
Lukashenka's regime. "The Worldwide Walk, which included Belarus language
slogans, t-shirts, signs, and a pledge drive, also sought to place pressure on
Lukashenka and his government to observe international human rights standards,
including the right to free and fair elections," said Charlie Szrom,
Founder and President of US-based Students for Global Democracy International.
The march was part of a six-month fund-raising campaign, with volunteers raising
money for Belarus student group Zubr-Bison as well as underwriting the efforts
of another pro-democracy group, Third Way Belarus, to unite the opposition into
one political force for upcoming elections. It took place two days before the
first anniversary of a referendum organized by President Lukashenka to extend
The following is a cool appraisal of the chances of the opposition in Belarus,
published just after these events.
In Belarus, faint hopes for an unlikely event
By Steven Lee Myers The New York Times
There are certain people in Belarus planning the unseating of the country's
autocratic president, Alexander Lukashenka. They have little money, no slogans,
no songs and, so far, no colour like the orange that thousands rallied around
during last year's popular uprising in Ukraine.
What they have is a hope - admittedly slight - that the wave of democracy that
has washed over Ukraine and other former Soviet republics in the last two years
might next come to Belarus.
"Lukashenka has exhausted the possibility of strengthening his power,"
said Alexander Milinkevich, a physicist who leads an improbable coalition of
politicians and civic leaders mounting an even more improbable challenge in next
year's presidential election. "Sometimes he thinks if he raises wages a
bit, people will love him again, but not everything is measured by bread and
salo," he said, referring to the salted pork fat that is considered a
delicacy in this part of the world. "There is such a notion as human
Few here or abroad believe Belarus's beleaguered opposition can win the
election, expected before July. But with the support of the United States and
Europe, its effort is shaping up as a new struggle over democracy in what was
once the Soviet Union - one likely to inflame tensions not only with
Lukashenka's government, but also that of President Vladimir Putin of Russia,
whose government opposes Western efforts to democratise former Soviet states.
"There will be a road to democracy in Belarus," Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice declared earlier this year after meeting with Lukashenka's
opponents in neighbouring Lithuania, calling his government "the last
dictatorship in the centre of Europe."
It is hard to underestimate how hard that road will be.
Lukashenka, first elected as a corruption-fighting reformer in 1994, has ruled
with ever-increasing authoritarianism, weakening the other branches of power and
stifling independent media and business. He is able to run as a result of a
referendum last year lifting the constitutional limits on his term - a vote that
was widely denounced as illegitimate.
When people gathered on Minsk's October Square to protest that referendum, the
riot police swiftly suppressed them, beating and arresting dozens.
The police have responded similarly and repeatedly to any subsequent public
manifestation of dissent.
"The Belarussian authorities are particularly concerned with preventing any
small thing from becoming a big thing," a senior diplomat in Minsk said,
speaking on condition of anonymity because of diplomatic protocol. "They're
not going to let people put up tents in October Square."
As it has in the months before previous elections, Lukashenka's government has
intensified efforts to stifle any voices of opposition.
A former student, Nikita Sasim, when asked about his arrest, replied,
He was expelled from university last year, like dozens of others, and served 10
days in prison after joining the underground youth movement, Zubr, named after
the wild bison that live in Belarus. In October, he was beaten at an
unauthorized rally. More recently, he was arrested after posting anti-Lukashenka
leaflets and held over for a weekend by the country's secret service, still
known, as in Soviet times, as the KGB.
"The pressure from the authorities," he said, "is becoming
Lukashenka has closed nongovernmental organizations by forcing them to
re-register, then denying permission to those deemed disloyal. During the
summer, security forces raided the headquarters of the Union of Poles, a group
that represents the country's Polish minority, prompting a diplomatic dispute
A presidential decree this year required all state employees - in a country
where the state controls 80 per cent of the economy - to work under one-year
contracts, which, his opponents say, are used to enforce loyalty.
The state media-distribution monopoly recently ordered newspaper stands to stop
selling the last independent daily newspaper, Narodnaya Bolya, or People's Will.
The order - denounced by the European Union as an assault on a free press - has
left the newspaper's survival in doubt.
"They are trying to mop up the media, so that the voters can receive
information from only one source," the editor, Iosif Seredich, said.
Milinkevich, the opposition leader, said the events in Ukraine last year - when
thousands poured into the streets to protest a rigged presidential election -
inspired many Belarussians. He went on, however, to note the essential
ingredients of the Orange Revolution that are lacking here.
"They had television, radio, newspapers," he said. "They had
oligarchs who supported them. Our rich businessmen who support us are either in
prison or abroad."
Lukashenka's opponents do have support abroad. The United States has pledged
US$5 million to support democracy in Belarus, though has not detailed how the
money will be spent. The European Union is paying the German radio channel,
Deutsche Welle, to broadcast into the country, prompting complaints of Cold
War-like tactics from Belarus and Russia. "The West will not spare any
expenses," Lukashenka said this year, in one of his frequent denunciations
of European and American support for democracy. A popular uprising like
Ukraine's, he said, is "the last thing that we need."
There are indications, however, that external pressure - and the continued
isolation of Lukashenka and several other officials, who are prohibited from
travelling in Europe - might be having some impact.
Lukashenka recently agreed to allow 800 representatives of the opposition to
meet in a cultural centre in Minsk - instead of abroad, as they initially had
planned. After meeting on Oct. 1 and 2, delegates from across the political
spectrum, from communists to liberals, selected Milinkevich as a unified
Milinkevich, a professor and television commentator, once served as a deputy
mayor in Grodno and then headed a nongovernmental organization that Lukashenka's
government banned in 2001.
Belarussians, he said, are ready for a change in leadership - something
suggested by recent polls, but Lukashenka does not appear ready to move over and
will probably use his well armed KGB to keep himself in power.
AvtoVAZ finishes placing US$250m in second CLN issue
AvtoVAZ has finished placing US$250m in a second issue of Credit Linked Notes (CLN),
the Russian car maker said recently. The CLN will be in circulation for 2.5
years at a rate of 8.5%. Despite improved trends on the international debt
capital market, demand for the issue exceeded the offer, the release said.
Investors from Switzerland, Britain, Singapore, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal,
Chilli, Russia and other countries took part in the placement, New Europe
A total of more than 50 investors took part. Trust Bank was the organiser and
book-runner of the issue. Alfa Bank, the international Moscow Bank, the
Industrial and Construction Bank, Surgutneftegasbank, Ak Bars Bank, Soyuz Bank
and Impexbank also took part in the placement.
"The transaction is not finished yet and the parameters of the deal haven't
been set," Alexander Gromkov, AvtoVAZ PR director, told Interfax. AvtoVAZ
will use the money from the CLN issue to invest in upgrading existing production
and in reviving a number of AvtoVAZ models.
AvtoVAZ paid off a first issue of CLN on September 23rd that was placed in
September 2004. The company placed US$150m in CLN that were in circulation for 1
year. The money raised was used for investment projects, including setting up
production of Lada Kalina and Lada Priora models.
Russia to export first S-300 missile systems to Belarus
Russia will provide Belarus with the first S-300 missile systems next March, a
senior Belarussian officer said recently, New Europe reported.
"Four missile systems will be sent to equip four air defence divisions by
next fall," said Igor Azarenok, a commander of Belarus' Air Force and air
defence troops. He said the missiles would help improve the country's defence
four-times over, and its air defence by 20 per cent, and also enhance the joint
air defence system of the Commonwealth of Independent States. "The air
defence partnership of CIS countries pioneers real integration and helps
establish close military ties between former Soviet republics," he said.
Belarussian gold reserves soar 56% in January-October
Belarussian gold reserves grew 56.4 per cent to US$1.637 billion in
January-October, according to the national definition, the National Bank of
Belarus said recently in a statistical report.
The reserves grew 7.5 per cent in October after growing 5.6 per cent in
September and falling 4.7 per cent in August, Interfax News Agency reported.
Reserves according to International Monetary Fund (IMF) methodology grew 68.9
per cent in the ten-month period to US$1.301 billion on November 1. They grew
9.4 per cent in October after growing 5.9 per cent in September and falling 8.3
per cent in August.