Books on Belarus
Principal ethnic groups
Update No: 288 - (01/01/05)
In Belarus, president attacks a university
By this time in the college semester, Marina Puzdrova, should be making her way
from class to class in the drab brick building on Brovka Street. Her university
has been shuttered though, its students and professors dispersed by this
country's president, Alexander Lukashenka, the International Herald Tribune
Puzdrova, 19 would have been a second-year student at the European Humanities
University, which since its creation in 1992 has been an outpost of liberal
education in an increasingly illiberal place. It was, therefore, a threat to the
new state ideology that Lukashenka is steadily building.
Although offered a place at Belarus State University, she and two philosophy
classmates, like others at the university, plan to leave Belarus instead,
continuing their studies in the Czech Republic.
"There," she said, "we hope to find some more personal
On Oct 17th, Belarus held a constitutional referendum that gave Lukashenka the
right to seek unlimited terms in office. The vote, denounced as illegitimate by
political opponents and international observers, consolidated political power in
what was already Europe's last dictatorship.
Like the other nations that emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union 13
years ago, this country of 10 million initially embraced its independence, only
to have its democratic hopes fade as Lukashenka rose to power.
Although he was first elected 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.
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
Lukashenka, a former collective farm boss, has not only retained aspects of
Soviet economics but has also moved to recreate the structures that allowed
Moscow to maintain order over society.
He issued a decree two years ago that required government agencies, factories
and schools to hold "political information" meetings, like those once
conducted by the Communists. Last year he created the Belarusian Union of Youth,
which, like its soviet-era inspiration, Komsomol, is a prerequisite to acquiring
positions in the university jobs category. He also established an official
ideology, which remains ill-defined though it revolves around the unquestioned
power of the presidency.
The government's campaign against the European Humanities University is typical
of Lukashenka's operations. In April, the Education Ministry issued an order
outlining 26 ways that classes and activities should be regulated in the
country's universities. They included restrictions on money from abroad, as well
as on exchange programs. One measure called for monitoring of "the
moral-psychological climate" in dorms.
It was clear that the European Humanities University would become a target.
The university was established in the first heady days of Belarusian
independence by a group of professors and the Belarusian Orthodox Church, which
created its first department of theology. The concept was to create a private
institution modelled on universities in Britain and the United States. It began
with 67 students, but grew to nearly 1,000.
"People with free thought were formed here," said Grigor Miniankov,
the dean of the university's philosophy department. "They learned critical
thinking. People like that are not wanted here."
In January, the country's education minister, Alexander Radkov, called for the
resignation of the rector, Anatoly Mikhailov, who refused to go. In July,
Lukashenka's administration ordered the university evicted from its rented
building on Brovka Street. A week later the Education Ministry revoked its
licence, citing, in a Kafkaesque twist, its lack of space for classes.
Lukashenka made his motive clear in a speech last month, denouncing the
university's educational mission.
"There was an implicit, though focal intention to train here in Belarus, in
the European Humanities University, first of all, the new Belarusian elite,
aimed at leading Belarus to the West when the time is appropriate,"
"And what about other Belarusian universities, located in Brest, Vitebsk,
Gomel and Mogilev, not speaking about other leading universities in Minsk?"
he went on, according to a transcript published in the official newspaper Soviet
Belarus. "Whom are they training? Servants and slaves for this very new
The Humanities University, with fewer than 100 students left, is struggling to
stay alive in a virtual state. Dozens of students have transferred to US and
European universities and have agreed to recognise credits already earned.
Mikhailov has left the country, accepting a position at the Davis Centre for
Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard.
Vladimir Dounaev, the vice rector, said classes would continue online.
"It is very difficult to close a concept," he said. "We are
living not in the era of Brezhnev, but of the Internet."
MAZ in truck deal with Vietnam
Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ) plans to have trucks assembled in Vietnam in 2005,
the plant's Deputy Director General for Foreign Economic Relations, Alexei
Tutubalin, said, New Europe reported.
A corresponding agreement was signed during a recent visit by a Belarussian
government delegation to Vietnam, he said. Tutubalin said with kinds of
Belarussian trucks will be assembled at the plant. It is expected that 500
Belarussian trucks will be produced in 2005 at the new production facility. The
parties signed a contract worth US$10m for the delivery of 500 kits to Vietnam.
MAZ hopes the number of vehicles assembled at the plant will increase, Tutubalin
Air Moldova dumps old planes
The Air Moldova state company no longer uses YaK-40, YaK-42 or TU-134
airplanes built in Soviet times and flies only up-to-date Airbus A320 and
Embraer 120, Infotag reported.
The company's active fleet includes two leased Airbuses (144 seats each) and one
Embraer (30 seats), and one more Embraer that is the company's property. They
fly regularly to Amsterdam, Athens, Bucharest, Istanbul, Larnaca, Lisbon,
Madrid, Moscow, Paris, Prague, Rome and Vienna.
Belarus foreign debt shrinks
The foreign state debt of Belarus, not including short-term credits, decreased
16.4 per cent in January-September 2004, including 1 per cent in September, to
US$615.6m as of October 1st, the finance ministry said, Interfax News Agency
The foreign debt on October 1st included US$298.6m in direct government debt;
down 14.6 per cent form the beginning of 2004. Foreign loans received by
companies under government guarantees decreased by 17.6 per cent to US$317m,
according to. The central budget sets a ceiling of US$2bn for the foreign debt
as of the end of 2004. Belarus' main creditors are Russia, Germany, the
International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Kuwait. The ministry
said it expects the foreign debt to shrink 23.5 per cent to US$563.4m in 2004.
Belarus posts rise in foreign investment
Belarus attracted US$1,007.2m in foreign investment in the first nine months of
2004, Belarusian News Agency, Belapan, reported quoting the Belarusian Ministry
The volume of foreign investment registered an increase of 17.4 per cent in
comparison with the same period of the previous year. The private sector of the
economy accounted for 67 per cent of the funds attracted, the agency said.
MINERALS & METALS
BMZ raises 10-mo steel output
The Zhlobin, Gomel-based Belarussian Metallurgic Plant (BMZ) raised steel
production by 18.2% to 1,527.3 tonnes in the first 10 months of 2004 Interfax
News Agency reported recently.
The plant turned out 1,346,900 tonnes of rolled metal (+15.5%), 155,100 tonnes
of hardware (+23.7%) and 66,100 tonnes of metal cord (+25.9%) in the reported
period. In January-September 2004 the company's output in comparable prices
reached 116 trillion Belarussian rubles.
Belarus 10-mo gold, forex reserves increase 13%
The National Bank of Belarus increased its gold and foreign currency reserves
(national definition) by 13 per cent to US$1.006bn over the period
January-October, the bank announced recently, Interfax News Agency reported.
The reserves did contract 1.8 per cent in October alone, however. Deposits in
foreign currencies contracted 0.3 per cent to US$728.7m in January-October,
while reserves held in gold increased 63.7 per cent to the equivalent of
Other National Bank reserves stood at the equivalent of US$84.9m on November
1st. Belarus' international reserves, calculated by International Monetary Fund
(IMF) methods, rose 28.8 per cent to over US$637m over the 10-month period. But
the international reserves contracted 3.3 per cent in the month of October.
Reserves in foreign currency held in deposit by non-residents increased 203 per
cent to US$554m in January-October, while reserves in gold surged 150 per cent
to the equivalent of US$83.4m.