Books on Belarus
Principal ethnic groups
Update No: 295 - (26/07/05)
Lukashenka curtails most foreign travel by state workers
Human rights activists have described Belarussian President Alexander
Lukashenka's regime as Europe's last remaining dictatorship. Condaleezza Rice
has labelled it "an outpost of tyranny". Lukashenka, indeed, is
turning his country into a prison, which it was under the communists. His latest
move is to curtail foreign travel for most state workers, according to a Bel-1
television report released on June 17th, cited by Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa).
The former collective farm boss has made illegal all trips outside of the
country for any government employee, unless the person has authorisation from
Lukashenka himself. The order theoretically affected hundreds of thousands of
Belarussians working in the massive government-run portion of the country's
centrally-planned economy. Belarus said the rule was necessary to reduce the
high cost to the state of trips by bureaucrats outside the country. Even those
receiving permission would be allowed to stay no longer than 48 hours outside
the country, or face possible fines or jail time, the report said.
Members of Belarus' often-repressed opposition criticised Lukashenka's
announcement. "Lukashenka is returning the country to the Soviet
Union," said Anatoly Lebedko, leader of the United Citizens' Party of
Lukashenka last year made illegal foreign travel by Belarussian students,
fashion models, and orphans without a KGB vetting. The Belarussian president
said the rule was necessary to keep underage Belarussians out of the hands of
international human trafficking rings, and to prevent "pollution of a
consumerist way of looking at the world" on Belarussian students studying
Forward to the glorious past
Human rights activists think that things could not get worse in Belarus. Yet
they do. The new decree concerning foreign travel tightens the screws of the
Under the decree, even parliament's speakers need Lukashenka's consent to go
abroad on business trips, including attending the sitting of the Union of Russia
and Belarus, his pet project to recreate the USSR. The document explicitly says
all foreign trips require the "agreement of the Belarus president, for
parliamentary delegations of Belarus, persons accompanying such delegations,
chairmen of chambers of Belarus National Assembly as well as of their deputies,
of other deputies of the Chamber of Representatives and of members of the
National Assembly's Council of Belarus." The respective documents (also
specified in the decree) are to be submitted at least ten days before the
The term of the foreign trips won't exceed two days. Even the top officials,
whose positions are added to the list of the high state chairs of Belarus, are
to report to the president in detail about the outstanding results of the
foreign tours within ten days on their completion.
Lukashenka, like all dictators, sees treason lurking everywhere, even, indeed
especially, in his own entourage. Treason needs to be nipped in the bud. It is
not paranoia; because he is quite right to think he is widely loathed in the
upper echelons of society. Actually in some of the lower ones too, where his
populist allure is flaking, although the former farm boss still has his
supporters in the countryside where his folksiness goes down well.
It seems that in Belarus now only President Lukashenka is held accountable to no
one. Like in late last year, he may freely go on a so-called working visit to
Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, to ski in the mountains or to play hockey against a
women's national team of the country. As for the West, Lukashenka has been long
banned from it.
EU sanctions urged against Belarus
Sanctions against Belarus should be broadened, the European Parliament said
in a resolution on July 7th, in response to what it described as violations of
media freedom in the former Soviet state. The Belarus Foreign Ministry rejected
the allegations, saying the authorities were upholding stability at a time when
governments should be concentrating on the fight against terror.
In a non-binding resolution, the Parliament condemned what it called
"indiscriminate attacks" on media freedom under the government of
President Lukashenka, who has been in power since 1994. These have included
"arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment of detainees, disappearances and
politically motivated persecution," Parliament said.
The resolution urged the executive European Commission and European Union member
governments to create a support programme for independent journalists. It also
envisioned a possible ban on visas for Belarus officials implicated in abridging
In Minsk, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ruslan Yesin, dismissed the resolution.
"When issues of fighting terrorism are centre stage throughout the world,
some parliamentarians still discuss the affairs of a country with a stable
political and socioeconomic system," he said. The EU imposed limited
sanctions on Belarus last year after alleging that Lukashenka's administration
had staged fraudulent elections. It froze high-level links and increased to six
from four the number of Belarus officials banned from EU territory.
Belarus holds 23 US citizens
Not content with just alienating the Europeans, authorities in Belarus have
picked a fight with the Americans. They have detained 23 U.S. tourists for
staying in the country without proper registration, Interfax reported on July
The nation's Interior Ministry said the 23 were picked up on July 7th near the
village of Nikolayevschina in the Stolbtsovo region. With the ingrained
suspicion of a dictatorship, they were immediately detained.
All of those detained had reportedly arrived in the country at the beginning of
July after being invited by Generation, an international organization. The head
of Generation had failed to properly organize the foreigners' trip and will be
held responsible, officials said.
Alcatel wins Belarus contract
A China-based Alcatel unit has been awarded a contract to supply network
equipment and software to the Belarusian Telecommunications Network (BeST), the
country's newly established GSM operator, the BelaPan news service reported.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Alcatel Shanghai Bell Co outbid companies
such as Siemens AG and LM Ericsson, BeST said in a statement. The state-owned
BeST said it pledged to spend US$200m within three years building a network
covering an area in which 90 percent of the country's population is
concentrated. Belarus' first GSM provider, Velcom, has been buying all network
equipment from Siemens and Ericsson, while the second operator, MTS, from
Siemens, BelaPan added.