Books on Belarus
Principal ethnic groups
After seven decades as a constituent republic of the USSR, Belarus attained its independence in 1991. It has retained closer political and economic ties to Russia than any of the other former Soviet republics. Belarus and Russia signed a treaty on a two-state union on 8 December 1999 envisioning greater political and economic integration but, to date, neither side has actively sought to implement the accord.
Update No: 279 - (23/03/04)
Belarus has Europe's last tyranny. But there have been two hopeful developments recently, one is the formation of an electoral bloc in opposition ahead of forthcoming parliamentary elections. The other, an even more significant one is the sign of a serious falling out between Belarus and Russia, with which it is supposed to be in a Union, and between their two presidents. The Russians give every indication of losing patience with the clown of Minsk.
The president, Alexander Lukashenka, is an egregious ass, who likes to engage in sports which he invariably wins, Idi Amin-style. He is undoubtedly a buffoon, but, as the British historian Sir Lewis Namier said of Ribbentrop, he is "a sinister buffoon." Journalists and oppositionists 'disappear.' It requires real courage to oppose him, but that is, exactly what many exasperated by his clowning are now doing. One literally takes one's life in one's hands by doing so. The events in Georgia, coming after those in Serbia, are giving the opposition new heart and fresh hope.
The "5 Plus" bloc
The. Bloc consists of five, embattled democratic parties, joined by a wide array of political and civil rights groups, who are united by one objective, to remove the baleful shadow of the president, who has been astride the pinnacle of power for ten years now. He will not go willingly.
The West needs to keep monitoring the situation and giving whatever help it can. Unfortunately Lukashenka is not without his supporters in the countryside, who like his folksy ways. But among the students and the young people in the towns he is widely
despised and detested.
A spat or the end of Russian support for Lukashenka
On February 18th Russia cut off supplies of gas to Belarus, certainly a hostile act in mid-winter. This was for two reasons Gazprom said. Firstly, non-payment for past supplies, even though Belarus pays well below market prices for them. Secondly, because Beltransgaz, the Belarus pipeline operator, is siphoning off gas intended for Lithuania and Poland.
The Russians restored supplies within twenty-four hours. The extraordinary thing is the nature of the language used on both sides.
"This is an act of terrorism on the highest level," Lukashenka said on state television. He called on the government to review all its treaties with Russia, presumably with an eye to retaliation. "What, Russia doesn't enjoy privileged conditions in Belarus? In transit, its military bases, airspace and so on?" Lukashenka said. The Russian Foreign ministry issued a sharp statement hours later, saying that Lukashenka, "disdaining the interests of the Belarusian people, is taking the course of aggravating relations with Russia."
Lukashenka said he would not give in to blackmail or what he alleged was Russia's main goal: to transfer ownership of Belarus' gas and oil pipelines, refineries, electricity grid and railroad to Russian companies "for a song." He said he wanted Belarus to receive the same amount in transit fees from Russia as neighbouring Ukraine does.
Russian companies, which until recently have supplied Belarus with gas at Russia's internal price of US$30 per 1,000 cubic metres (35,310 cubic feet), are now urging it to pay a non-subsidised price of about US$50.
Belarus depends fully on Russia's energy resources, and even a brief halt in supplies can badly hurt the economy, which has retained centralised Soviet-style controls under the rule of Lukashenka, an admirer of the Soviet Union who has been shunned by the West for his authoritarian ways and crackdown on dissent and independent media. The country has only enough gas stored for about 10 days of consumption.
Leader claims Russia will destroy treaty union
Lukashenka accused Russia of trying to destroy the union treaty signed by him and former Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1996, which would have merged the two countries.
However, before the gas dispute, Lukashenka had already rejected Putin's scenario of integration under which Belarus would essentially be absorbed by Russia. Moscow, for its part, no longer wants to continue subsidising the Belarusian economy, but may be playing a larger game in terms of the Union.
FOOD & DRINK
Detroit and Belarus Brewing set up JV with Dednovo
Dednovo, a Belarussian brewery, and Detroit-Belarus Brewing Company LLC of the United States, have set up a joint company called the Belarussian Brewing Company, Interfax News Agency reported recently, quoting the Mogilevoblimuschestvo fund. The joint venture, set up at Dednovo, was established on February 19th. Detroit-Belarus Brewing Company received the controlling stake of 50% plus one share in the new company. The foreign company cleared Dednovo's debts to the budget and budget funds and paid off wage arrears. The US company plans to overhaul production, increasing capacity first to 100m litres of beer a year and then to 200m litres. Dednovo produced 1.8m litres of beer in 2003 compared with 5.5m in 2002. The plant planned to start work at the end of February after closing for over two months.
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