Books on Belarus
Principal ethnic groups
Update No: 289 - (27/01/05)
The Orange Revolution scares Europe's last dictator
The victory of Viktor Yushchenko in Ukraine's presidential elections is a bad
day for Belarus's tyrant, Alexander Lukashenka.
Conceive of a country within the Western world, in which elections are rigged as
in Mugabe's Zimbabwe, private enterprises are expropriated as a matter of
routine, land is farmed collectively, like in the days of medieval serfdom, and
every workplace has been recently mandated to hold government-approved
"ideological seminars." Sounds like Orwellian fiction? Not quite. Or
an all-dominating Stalinist behemoth? Closer, but still seventy years away. This
country exists today, adjacent to the prosperous liberalizing lands of New
Europe. It is Belarus, and it is governed by Europe's last despot, Lukashenka.
Now there is a genuine democrat in charge of the country to the south of him, as
well as the north in the Baltic states. The repercussions are being felt right
across the former Soviet Union, including in Russia. But nowhere more so than in
Belarus and Russia are discussing plans on a possible reunification. Russia has
forged close ties with the former Soviet state, its closest economic partner
among all the CIS states. It is therefore highly significant what the reaction
of the Russian public is to the idea of a full Union of Russia and Belarus.
About 50 youth activists of Russia' Union of the Right Forces party held an
unsanctioned rally near the Belarussian embassy in Moscow on October 13th. They
protested against a referendum in Belarus that gives the current country leader,
Alexander Lukashenka, the right to run for president for the third time.
The rally's slogans were "Yes to Belarus, no to Lukashenka", "No
to tyranny" and others, Interfax News Agency reported. The rally members
passed a Lukashenka doll to Russian law enforcement officers.
The union with Russia was to be also with Ukraine and Moldova. That all looks
now like old hat. Ukraine is no longer interested. Nor is Moldova.
The tyrant of Minsk
The regime in Belarus is in all but name communist, much more so than the
government in Moldova, which is communist in name, but looks to the West for
help, not Moscow.
Although Alexander Lukashenka was first elected president in 1994 with a
populist mandate to fight corruption and restore stability, the country has
become one of the most repressive of the former Soviet republics, the most
repressive in Europe.
Following its separation from the Soviet Union in 1991, the political state of
Belarus was altered only nominally; while "reforms" and
"democracy" were proclaimed, the majority of government posts remained
occupied either by ex-Communists or lingering sympathizers of Marxism. According
to Jaroslav Romanchuk, an Objectivist thinker and free-market economist in
Belarus, "Belarussian ex-communists were frightened and had to pretend that
they were in favour of reforms. Opposition does not appear overnight. That is
why all major positions in state bodies were still occupied by hard and soft
liners. They did not call themselves communists, but in fact they were."
Within three years, despite the best attempts of Premier Stanislav Shushkevich
to liberalize the economy and institute privatisation, no formidable ideological
opposition to collapsed Communist lore was established. In 1994, the Communists
re-emerged onto the scene, establishing, via a massive electoral campaign, the
ascent of their intellectual heir, the former chairman of a collective farm, to
the newly-created post of the presidency. Ever since, under the iron grip of
Alexander Lukashenka, Belarus has entered a period of economic backwardness and
Lukashenka's control extends far beyond politics. In 10 years in power, he has
increased his sway over business, the news media, civic organisations and
schools - in short, over anyone or anything that might challenge him.
Journalists have been charged with criticising the president, a crime punishable
by fines, internal exile and as much as four years in prison. What few private
businesses exist - nearly 80 per cent of the economy remains in state hands -
have faced prosecution based on what critics call the slimmest pretences.
The authorities have closed or harassed private organisations, especially if
they have received financial support from Europe or the United States, which
Lukashenka regularly denounces in language reminiscent of the Cold War.
The Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the local chapter of the international human
rights organisation, has since August 2003 faced a prosecutorial assault for,
among other things, failing to use quotation marks around its name on official
"We think it cannot be worse," Tatsiyana Pratsko, the committee's
president, said in an interview in her small office. "And it becomes
After Kiev, Minsk?
The Americans were always worried that there would be a domino effect if
they allowed a communist revolution to take place. Its neighbours would follow
Actually, the real domino effect occurred in 1989, when one after another the
central Europeans had revolution after revolution to escape communism, followed
by another one two years later in the USSR.
A democratic 'domino effect' is perfectly possible and President Lukashenka can
see it coming. After the collapse of the USSR, Belarus ended up in the hands of
the tyrant of Minsk who preserved everything from the old system, including the
most authoritarian of customs. However, from the moment when Yushchenko's
democratic opposition began to make headway in Ukraine, Lukashenka has been
quaking in his boots. He fears the next elections in his own country might get
rid of his regime and consign him to the same fate as Ukraine's president Kuchma,
who was effectively imprisoned in his own palace for days by thousands of
The radicals of Minsk
As a result, the situation in Ukraine is being scrutinised minute by minute
from the presidential palace in Minsk: Lukashenka knows that the destiny of
Belarus is often linked closely to the destiny of the Ukraine, and would rather
not pay the price. The 'number one enemies' of the regime are no longer the
opposition parties but non-violent democratic movements, such as those that have
filled Independence Square in Kiev and forced the Putin-Yanukovich train to be
stopped in its tracks. The Belarusian presidential administration - that exerts
an almost total control over the country and its economy - understands all too
well that the young members of the Belarussian Zubr organisation are serious
about what they do, following the ways and teachings of the non-violent Serb
movement Otpor ('resistance' in Serb).
Secret weapons: pamphlets in your jacket and clicks galore
The 'secret weapons' of Zubr are the ones which have already been used
against Milosevic's Serbia, Shevarnadze's Georgia and Kuchma's Ukraine by the 'enfants
terribles' of organisations such as Otpor, Kmara and PORA. The first of these
weapons is called Vybar ('Choice'). This newspaper-pamphlet is carefully
designed so as to be hidden between the folds of one's jacket even at several
dozen degrees below freezing. The second is called Internet. By way of a few
clicks, the web allows the mobilisation of 'dormant' activists from the deepest
Belarusian countryside to the Western capitals. From this follows an avalanche
of demonstrations halfway between student pranks and serious disobedience. On
December 6th in Nemiga Street in central Minsk, a Zubr militant (later arrested)
enjoyed 8 metres of freedom for a few minutes as he hung a banner proclaiming:
"today Ukraine, tomorrow Belarus!"
The tyrant of Minsk talks back: repression, repression!
Meanwhile, today in Belarus the government has decided to go for the
hard-line approach. Just a few hours after the announcement of the results in
Kiev, Lukashenka named his new leader of the presidential administration: Viktar
Shejman (who has been implicated in a series of political assassinations). The
top priority: seek out and break down attempts by the West to put the regime in
crisis with 'populist tactics'. Indeed, on their return from a meeting with
"revolutionary" colleagues of the regime in Kiev, three dissidents
were sent to prison.
And yet in Minsk, Aliaksandr Atroshchankau, one of the leaders of Zubr, is
encouraged by the firm position shown by the European Union on the situation in
the Ukraine. However, he hopes that when it is the turn of Belarus, Javier
Solana (the EU foreign policy representative) does not just show up when all is
done and dusted. Lukashenka has personally declared that he excludes for Belarus
a "Ukraine scenario", since "wise people know how to interpret
the errors of others". Let us hope the European Union and its governments
are wiser than Lukashenka and do not just enter on stage at the very last
possible moment (as they did in the Ukraine) - for the sake of making the icy
ground of Belarus fertile for democracy, and knocking down the last domino on
the borders of the Europe of 25.
Fitch upgrades 2 Belarussian banks
International rating agency Fitch upgraded the Belarus-based Belarusbank's and
Belpromstroibank's long-term ratings to CCC+ from CCC, Interfax News Agency
Their other ratings were affirmed at short-term C, individual E and support 5,
Fitch said in a statement. The rating outlooks remain stable. "The rating
action follows a modest improvement" in "still very weak operating
environment in Belarus." Belarusbank and Belpomstroibank are two of six
Belarussian banks considered by the authorities to be "systemically
important," the agency said.
Oil transportation via Belarusian pipelines up 2.5 per cent in 2004
Oil transportation via Belarus's pipeline system increased in 2004 by 2.5 per
cent on the year to 103.273m tonnes, which includes oil transit, which dropped
0.1 per cent on the year to 84.171m tonnes, the country's Economy Ministry said,
Prime-TASS news agency reported.
Oil transportation in December 2004 rose 0.2 per cent on the year to 9m tonnes,
while oil transit in December fell 3 per cent on the year to 7.325m tonnes,
according to the ministry.
Gazprom and Belarus sign deal
Gazprom signed a contract with Belarus' Beltransgaz to supply 9.1 billion cubic
metres (bcm) of natural gas in 2005 for US$46.68 per 1,000 cubic metres, the
Russian gas company said in a statement, RBC News Service reported.
Under the deal, signed by Gazprom Deputy board chairman, Alexander Ryazanov, and
Beltransgaz Director, Dmitri Kazakov, on December 30th, Gazprom will supply an
additional 1.4 bcm of gas to Belarus if there are available gas transportation
The transportation fee is set at US$0.75 per 1,000 cubic metres - for
transportation through Beltransgaz's network and at US$0.46 per 1,000 cubic
metres - for transportation through the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline.
Gazprom's contract with Beltransgaz for 2004 was signed last June. Gazprom
supplied 10.2 bcm of natural gas for US$46.68 per 1,000 cubic metres. Before
Gazprom began exporting gas to Belarus, the country received Russian gas from
independent producers Transnafta, Itera and SIBUR.
Russia and Belarus are facing two major energy problems: prices for natural gas
and the evaluation of Beltransgaz with a view to setting up a joint venture.
The gas price problem seems to be solved, but no agreement has been reached on
the joint venture. The deal followed the fuel and energy trade plan for 2005,
the Belarussian Economics Ministry department chief, Alexander Moiseyenko, said.
Belarus and Russia signed the financial statement of the Union State on fuel and
energy for 2005 on December 27th.
Russia guarantees the delivery of natural gas to Belarus this year in the amount
of 19.1 bcm and an additional 1.4 bcm - if it is technically possible.
The deliveries will be made by Gazprom, including 0.6bn that will be delivered
through the gas-oil subsidiary. The Belarussian side hopes that the contract for
gas delivery will be signed before the end of the year.
Belarus assessed its need for gas at 21.5 bcm for this year, Eduard Tovpenets,
the first deputy minister of energy, said.
Regarding the prices, he did not rule out the increase of the price of gas,
which, in turn, will affect the level of tariffs within the country.
"This does not mean, however, that if, for example, the price of gas rises
18% at the border, the rise will be the same within the country," he said.
Oil supplies from Russia to Belarus in 2005 will amount to 19.5 tonnes, up from
18m tonnes in 2004, including 18.75m tonnes by pipeline and 750,000 tonnes by
train. In addition, Russia will also supply 5.5bn kWh of electricity to Belarus
in 2005, the same as in 2004, and 260,000 tonnes of coal - down 27.8%
Moiseyenko said that this plan would be confirmed by a resolution from the
council of ministers of the Union of Russia and Belarus in the near future.
FOREIGN ECONOMIC COOPERATION
Belarusian premier, Russian governor discuss cooperation
The boosting of supplies of Belarusian-made agricultural equipment to Russia's
Altay Territory was the main goal of governor, Mikhail Yevdokimov's, visit to
Belarus, Belarusian television reported.
A full-scale assembly of Belarusian tractors of different models should be
organized in Altay Territory. The territory's governor, Mikhail Yevdokimov, said
this at a meeting with Belarusian Prime Minister, Syarhey Sidorski. It is
planned that only one light tractor will be assembled in this region for the
present time. In future, supplies and the assembly of Belarusian agricultural
equipment should satisfy the territory's farming needs to a greater degree.
In order to boost bilateral trade - it is currently worth only US$40m per year -
exhibitions of the republic's leading exporters will be held in Altay by the end
of this year. Specialized trading houses selling Belarusian products will be set
up in the territory if the experiment proves to be efficient.