Books on Belarus
Principal ethnic groups
Update No: 296 - (26/08/05)
Lukashenka the pariah
The US and its European allies see the presidential election in Belarus in 2006
as an opportunity to unseat President Lukashenka; "the last dictator left
in Europe," as US Secretary of State Condi Rice calls him - true enough if
one is prepared to overlook President Robert Kocharian of Armenia. Charity for
Kocharian is extended for special reasons. He is not running a Soviet-style
regime and has hostile neighbours making repression mandatory for now.
The pressure on Lukashenka, the man who has systematically crushed all political
opposition since his election in 1994 is growing inexorably. A series of
European leaders used the summit of the Council of Europe in Warsaw in July to
call for change in Belarus.
Lukashenka is used to criticism from the US and EU. What makes the new attacks
different is that many of them now come from Central Europe and former republics
of the Soviet Union. On 17th May, Slovakia added its voice to the swelling
chorus of condemnation. The detention of yet another prominent opposition leader
in July was, it said, further evidence of political motivated pressure on the
opposition and media in Belarus. (see also LITHUANIA and the GUAM group).
The Polish thorn in the flesh
Closer to home, Poland, which borders Belarus, has become one of Lukashenka's
most outspoken critics. It expelled a Belarusian diplomat on May27th in
retaliation for the expulsion of Marek Butko, the first secretary of the Polish
Embassy in Minsk one day before. "He will not return until the situation in
Belarus is resolved," said Polish foreign Minister, Daniel Adam Rotfeld.
"Polish-Belarus relations are in very serious crisis," he added.
Butko had acted as an important link between Western governments and Belarus'
often-repressed opposition. He also had maintained contact with ethnic Polish
groups living in Belarus. Lukashenka has accused Poland and other NATO-member
governments of funding Belarussian opposition groups in an attempt to unseat
him. Again, this is not paranoia. It is quite likely to be true. The regime is
trapped in a vicious circle of alienation from all and sundry, whether abroad or
Earlier, at the summit of the Council of Europe, Polish President Aleksandr
Kwasniewski said that "widespread violations of elementary principles of
democracy and human rights in Belarus" were not acceptable. Foreign
Minister Rotfeld made much the same point. "In Belarus, the internal system
has to change," Rotfeld said. "It is the last example of the sort of
museum piece that the Council of Europe does not accept."
Poland-Belarus ties in crisis over civil rights abuses
The diplomatic moves come after a recent clampdown by Belarus' authoritarian
regime on leaders of the country's ethnic Polish minority working in the
independent Union of Poles in Belarus (UPB).
Rotfeld accused president Alexander Lukashenka's government of
"intimidating" and harassing the UPB leadership and Polish diplomats
in Belarus, New Europe reported. "The actions of Belarus authorities show
they are not interested in respecting minority rights," he said, stressing
Poland would not stand by in silence and tolerate the gross violation of
fundamental human and civil rights in Belarus.
The foreign ministry also called on the European Commission to take decisive
action to support Poland in its efforts to protect minority rights in Belarus.
The European Union condemned the repression of ethnic Poles in Belarus. Poland
will request the EU's British presidency to address the matter.
The Polish foreign ministry also wants funding to be made available for an
independent radio station that would transmit from Poland into Belarus in an
effort to loosen Lukashenka's tight-fisted grip on the country's media. His
regime launched an assault recently against the leadership of the Union of Poles
in Belarus (UPB), the largest organisation in Belarus to remain independent of
Recently, three leading members were sentenced to 10-15 days in prison for
organising so-called "illegal meetings," while the UPB President
Andzelika Borys was stripped of her title and detained by Belarussian
prosecutors for questioning. A reporter from Poland's state TVP covering the
story was also detained. Lukashenka lashed out against the United States and the
European Union, accusing them of carrying out both overt and clandestine
campaigns to oust him from power. He particularly accused Polish diplomats and
the UPB of conspiring.
Senior East European statesmen have indeed used strong language to condemn
Lukashenka's regime, with Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga mincing no
works to plainly call him "Europe's last dictator." Warsaw and Minsk
have also been locked in a diplomatic war since April 2004. The most recent
salvo came when Belarus announced the expulsion of a fourth Polish official.
Poland has also expelled four Belarussians and has blamed Lukashenka for using
the Polish minority as a scapegoat to divert public attention from his country's
Lukashenka can take the heat
Lukashenka might be feeling the heat, but isolation is a condition to which
he has grown accustomed. He makes no secret of his contempt for international as
well as domestic opinion. His opponents, both at home and abroad, will be
encouraged by the collapse of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in the elections
in Ukraine in late 2004. But Lukashenka is a tougher proposition altogether. He
enjoys a solid nucleus of support in Belarus and he has repeatedly demonstrated
his readiness to use force when threatened.
EU and US fuel Belarus' anger
Diplomatically, he is taking the struggle to the West itself. Belarus on
August 10th accused the European Union and the United States of interfering in
its internal affairs by encouraging an association of ethnic Poles to act
against the Belarussian government. The Belarussian Foreign Ministry said in a
statement that Minsk did not violate its obligations within the framework of the
Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the ITAR-Tass news
The statement rejected as "groundless fabrication" EU and US
accusations that the Belarussian government oppresses non-governmental
organisations, describing the charges as yet another reflection of the double
standards practiced by the EU and US.
Putin for Russia-Belarus union
Belarus is making it even more attractive to Moscow. President Vladimir
Putin spoke in favour of the unification of Russia and Belarus at his meeting
with the Nashi (Ours) political youth movement at the Zavidovo state residence,
Ria Novosti reported recently.
"Russia needs the union. We need it in a geopolitical sense and most
important of all, we are a single nation on the whole," Putin said.
"We do not want to offend those who value Belarussian culture, language and
history, which we are proud of as well. However, in a broad sense, we are a
single nation and we will only benefit if we unite, having gained advantages in
relations with other countries," he said.
This surrender of sovereignty and therefore his own powerbase was the point at
which Lukashenka pulled back from his own often touted concept of union with
Russia. Putin earlier had said that Belarus would be welcome to join the Russian
Federation (along with 89 other republics, territories, etc). Lukashenka was
outraged, insisting that Belarus (that has never been independent before), must
be accorded the national dignity due to its statehood and be treated as an equal
partner in any union. It is believed that he fancies his own chances on the
Russian political stage if opportunity via the 'right kind' of union, allows.
However Russia political leaders are who the Kremlin says they are, and
Lukashenka would be altogether too much of a wild card for them to be likely to
'release' onto the Russian stage.
Belarus predicts harvest of 7m tonne of grain for 2005
Until August 1st, Belarus has reaped grains and pulses from 348,800 hectares,
which is 16 per cent of the overall harvest area, according to data released by
the ministry of agricultural products, New Europe reported.
Grain crop amounted to 1.1m tonnes at an average yield of 3.22 tonnes per
hectare. Malting barley was collected from 11,700 hectares, which is 12.8 per
cent of the forecasted area. The data also showed that rapeseed was reaped from
85,000 hectares, which is 62 per cent of the forecasted area. Belarus is
predicting a harvest of more than seven million tonnes of grain for this year.
Gas transit via Belarus up 23.6%
The transit of natural gas through trunk pipelines in Belarus totalled 21.5
billion cubic metres (bcm) in the first half of 2005, up 23.6 per cent from the
same period last year, Interfax News Agency reported, citing a source at the
Overall, 31.7 bcm of gas was pumped through Belarus in January-June 2005, up
15.1 per cent year-on-year, including 10.2 bcm for domestic consumers, up 1 per
cent. Beltransgaz handles all gas transit in Belarus. It operates 7,000
kilometres of gas pipelines, including 575 kilometres of the Yamal-Europe
Lukashenka on ties with Lithuania
Belarussian President, Alexander Lukashenka, told Petras Vaitekjunas, the new
Lithuanian ambassador at Minsk, that Belarus is prepared to normalise relations
with Lithuania, RIA Novosti reported.
"If the Lithuanian leadership wants normal relations in the political and
diplomatic spheres, we are ready for this anytime," Lukashenka was quoted
as saying, adding that Belarus did not impose its friendship or partnership on
Lithuania and other neighbours, such as Poland, Ukraine, etc.
Velcom, Ericsson win Belarus deal
Velcom and Ericsson signed an agreement on Velcom GSM network extension in
Belarus, New Europe reported.
Under the contract, Ericsson will supply equipment and services for Velcom
network extension for US$33m by end-2005. That will enable Velcom to mount 300
new base stations and 200 Mini Link radio-relay hops and to provide services for
some two million subscribers. Ericsson is to put into operation an intelligent
platform (total capacity - 1 million customers).