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BELARUS


  

 

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Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 17,493 14,304 12,200 76
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,590 1,360 1,290 122
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Belarus

REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km)
207,595

Population
10,310,520

Principal ethnic groups
Belarusians 77.9%
Russians 13.2%
Poles 4%

Capital
Minsk

Currency
Rubel 
(Belarusian Rouble)

President
Alexander Lukashenka


Update No: 303 - (23/03/06)

The outcome of the presidential election of March 19th in Belarus was no surprise. The incumbent, Alexander Lukashenka, "won" a grotesque 82% of the vote, a result reminiscent of the worst days of South American banana republics. It was heavily criticised by the neutral Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). They brought 400 international observers to monitor the electoral process for irregularities, and reported widespread electoral fraud, harassment and arrest of opposition candidates. "The arbitrary use of state power," they said, "obviously designed to protect the incumbent president went far beyond acceptable practices." Unsurprisingly, the main challenger came nowhere. After the results of the election were announced, thousands of protesters thronged the square calling for a new vote - an unprecedented act in Belarus, which has a gruesome history of imprisoning opposition figures or worse and violently breaking up rallies.
Even though the number of protesters is much smaller than the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who ushered opposition leaders to power in Georgia and Ukraine, authorities are still intent on curbing the protest, which they see as embarrassing.

Illiberal regime
In Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenka is certainly an autocrat. It is a one-man regime. He manipulates state television; he bans distribution of critical newspapers from state-owned kiosks (which are the majority), and often has those that are printed abroad confiscated at the border; he makes it hard for opposition parties to hold rallies; and he uses the police in a partisan and frequently brutal way. 
Students fear expulsion and government employees the sack if they join protests.

Economic recovery 
Like other former Soviet republics, Belarus suffered a massive collapse after 1991, with output dropping by more than half thanks to "shock therapy" reforms. But in 12 years of power Lukashenka has righted that.
Would you expect a European leader who has presided over a continual increase in real wages for several years, culminating in a 24% rise over the past 12 months, to be voted out of office, in a state where all national news is managed by the government? What if he has also cut VAT, brought down inflation, halved the number of people in poverty in the past seven years, and avoided social tensions by maintaining the fairest distribution of incomes of any country in the region? 
Residents, as well as western visitors, report that many people are satisfied with their living standards. Many have family or other ties to Russia, their giant neighbour, and feel grateful for the stability, moderation and absence of an oligarch-dominated economy that Belarus enjoys. Others claim that Lukashenka must one day meet the bill for 'disappearing' and probably murdering political opponents in the past.

Denim Revolution?
In the circumstance what chance is there of a 'Denim Revolution' in Belarus ever happening, the name being suggested for an equivalent to the 'Orange Revolution' in Ukraine, the 'Rose Revolution' in Georgia or the 'Tulip Revolution' in Kyrgyzstan?
It is highly suggestive that the latter three were named after natural phenomena, while the former is after all a human product, denim, that happens to be a staple product of the Belarussian economy.
There's the rub. Nobody is prepared to take Belarussian denim in bulk except the Russians, as is true of virtually all that they sell them. 
The Belarussian economy is totally dependent on Moscow remaining benign in its policy towards its former subjects, as it sees them. Russia sells Belarus oil and gas at one fifth, or less, of world prices, much of which, after it has satisfied its domestic needs, it then refines or whatever into another form and sells on to world markets.

Pressure from the West
Contrary to claims that Lukashenka's repression has produced an "information black hole," the choice of news is wider than in 1996, reported Jonathan Steele in The Guardian of March 11th. 
The EU-funded EuroNews channel is available on cable, which millions of people have, and access to uncensored websites is easy in internet clubs and cafes or at home. 
Despite this, there is a huge campaign by foreign governments to intervene in the Belarussian poll, even more controversially than in Ukraine in 2004. While Russia is hardly engaged in this election, Europe and the US were pumping in money. According to the New York Times, cash is being smuggled from the US National Endowment for Democracy, Britain's Westminster Foundation and the German foreign ministry directly to Khopits, a network of young anti-Lukashenka activists. 
Poland has reopened a state-owned radio station on its eastern border to beam programmes across Belarus, while the German government's Deutsche Welle started broadcasts to Belarus this year. Alexander Milinkevich, the main opposition candidate, has been touring European capitals and getting endorsements that amount to blatant interference in a foreign electoral contest, although little reported in the Belarus media. 
But why is the US, with the EU in its wake, so concerned about Belarus? Is it because Belarus stands out as the only ex-Soviet country that maintains majority state ownership of the economy. Is ideological deviance forbidden? (The IMF, while admitting Lukashenka's economic success, calls it "ultimately unsustainable," being based on cheap Russian energy imports and wage increases that outstrip productivity growth). Is the problem Lukashenka's independence, his friendliness to Russia and resistance to Nato, his abrasive, don't-push-me-around style? As one Minsk resident put it he is a "Slavic Castro." Others say that no other European state has a totalitarian government, so why should they?
The revolt against Lukashenka within Belarus is genuine, idealistic and, in some cases, courageous. As in the rest of eastern Europe, nationalist intellectuals and the urban elite, particularly in the capital, include many who want change and feel the rewards are worth the risk. They want the west's moral support and its freedom, as well as its money. But they were not the majority in this election. A poll in January by Gallup/Baltic Surveys, and reported in the émigré Belarusian Review, found only 17% in favour of Milinkevich and nearly 55% supporting Lukashenka. Of course, the government made sure that Milinkevich remained an obscure figure to Belarussian electors, little exposed on state controlled TV or newspapers. 
The disappointed opposition to Lukashenka, hoping for a colour revolution are not going to get one any time soon. Moscow predictably stood behind their man and justice was seen, not to be done! But nevertheless, the young protestors who have so courageously braved the thuggish police and KGB, in sub-zero temperatures, will probably ensure that this authoritarian holdout in a free Europe, cannot last beyond this generation. 

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ENERGY

Beltransgaz to increase gas transit revenue 6% 

Belarussian gas transport company, OAO Beltransgaz, plans to receive US$210 million from transiting Russian gas in 2006, which is 6.1 per cent more than in 2005, company Chief Engineer, Tsvitomir Sorokhan, said at a press conference, New Europe reported.
"This year gas transit from Russia through Belarus will increase by almost three billion cubic metres, which will make it possible to increase revenue to US$210 million," he said. He added that transit of gas from Russia this year should amount to 44 billion cubic metres, which is 7.8 per cent more than last year. Sorokhan said that the Yamal-Europe pipeline plays a significant role in gas transit. Transit through this pipeline in 2005 amounted to 27 billion cubic metres, which will increase to 29 billion cubic metres in 2006. The increase in volumes was achieved thanks to the launch of two new compressor stations. Two more stations are to be launched this year - in Minsk and Orsha, which will make it possible to increase gas transit to 33 billion cubic metres.

LUKoil plans to invest 500- 600m Euro in Belarus 

The Russian oil company, LUKoil, is planning to invest 500-600 million Euro in the Belarussian economy, counting on economic and political stability in that country, LUKoil President, Vagit Alekperov, said, Interfax News Agency reported. 
"Our company has invested about 100 million Euro in the Belarussian economy, and we are prepared to launch new projects estimated at 500-600 million Euro," Alekperov told Interfax in Minsk. Before entering any market, "we calculate all risks, including economic, financial, and political ones," Alekperov said. "We have calculated these risks in relation to Belarus as well," he said. "Such political stability does exist in Belarus for the investor's work, for free movement of profits, and for reaching the profitability level," Alekperov said.

Belarus ready to help boost gas transit to Europe 

Belarussian cooperation with Russia's Gazprom in building underground storage facilities, in gas treatment and in transit deliveries to Europe has good prospects, Belarussian President, Alexander Lukashenka, said. "Gazprom is showing great interest in Belarus from the viewpoint of building underground stores, delivering gas, treating and processing it here," he said at a meeting in Minsk with the leadership of oil company, LUKoil. Lukashenka made the comments during a meeting with Vagit Alekperov, the president of Russian oil company Lukoil. "We are ready to work with you under the same principles," he said. Belarus and Gazprom are discussing construction of a second line of the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline, Lukashenka said. "We promised to build two compressor stations last year and did that ahead of schedule. We promised the Russian government and president that next year we will build the entire infrastructure for the gas pipeline to guarantee Russia's independence in gas deliveries to Europe, and we will surely do that," Lukashenka said. "You should have no doubts about our word. If we promise something, we stick to our promise," he said, New Europe reported.

Russia, Belarus discuss building union state 

The presidents of Russia and Belarus recently discussed issues in building the long-planned union state between their countries and hailed the progress in the development of the union, New Europe reported. 
Russian President, Vladimir Putin, said he had "a detailed and frank discussion of a broad range of issues in the strengthening of the Russian-Belarussian integration" with his Belarussian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenka, at the meeting of the Russia-Belarus Union Supreme State Council in St. Petersburg. More than three billion roubles (about US$110 million) have been allocated to the Russia-Belarus union's 2006 budget for an array of projects ranging from computer technology development to Chernobyl disaster support.

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MINERALS & METALS

Belarus amalgamates metals plants 

Belarussian President, Alexander Lukashenka, on January 28th signed a decree on the formation of the Belarussian Metallurgical Plant Production Association, Lukashenka's press office said, New Europe reported.
This non-profit organisation is being set up to bolster the country's scientific, technical and industrial potential, the decree says. The move will help metals plants logistically, enabling them to increase output of competitive products and exports and to deepen cooperation. The new association will be led by the Belarussian Metallurgical Plant (BMZ), the country's biggest steel mill from Zhlobin in the Gomel region, and the Rechitsa Metalware Plant, both of which are accountable directly to the Belarussian Industry Ministry.

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