Books on Belarus
Principal ethnic groups
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.