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BELARUS


  

 

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Key Economic Data 
 
  2002 2001 2000 Ranking(2002)
GDP
Millions of US $ 14,304 12,200 12,700 76
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,360 1,290 1,380 124
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Belarus

REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km)
207,595

Population
10,322,151

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

Capital
Minsk

Currency
Rubel 
(Belarusian Rouble)

President
Alexander Lukashenka

  

Update No: 288 - (01/01/05)

In Belarus, president attacks a university
By this time in the college semester, Marina Puzdrova, should be making her way from class to class in the drab brick building on Brovka Street. Her university has been shuttered though, its students and professors dispersed by this country's president, Alexander Lukashenka, the International Herald Tribune reported.
Puzdrova, 19 would have been a second-year student at the European Humanities University, which since its creation in 1992 has been an outpost of liberal education in an increasingly illiberal place. It was, therefore, a threat to the new state ideology that Lukashenka is steadily building.
Although offered a place at Belarus State University, she and two philosophy classmates, like others at the university, plan to leave Belarus instead, continuing their studies in the Czech Republic. 
"There," she said, "we hope to find some more personal freedom."
On Oct 17th, Belarus held a constitutional referendum that gave Lukashenka the right to seek unlimited terms in office. The vote, denounced as illegitimate by political opponents and international observers, consolidated political power in what was already Europe's last dictatorship.
Like the other nations that emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union 13 years ago, this country of 10 million initially embraced its independence, only to have its democratic hopes fade as Lukashenka rose to power.
Although he was first elected in 1994 with a populist mandate to fight corruption and restore stability, the country has become one OF the most repressive of the former Soviet republics.
Lukashenka's control extends far beyond politics. In 10 years in power, he has increased his sway over business, the news media, civic organisations and schools - in short, over anyone or anything that might challenge him.
Journalists have been charged with criticising the president, a crime punishable by fines, internal exile and as much as four years in prison. What few private businesses exist - nearly 80 per cent of the economy remains in state hands - have faced prosecution based on what critics call the slimmest pretences.
The authorities have closed or harassed private organisations, especially if they have received financial support from Europe or the United States, which Lukashenka regularly denounces in language reminiscent of the cold war.
The Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the local chapter of the international human rights organisation, has since August 2003 faced a prosecutorial assault for, among other things, failing to use quotation marks around its name on official stationery.
"We think it cannot be worse," Tatsiyana Pratsko, the committee's president, said in an interview in her small office. "And it becomes worse."
Lukashenka, a former collective farm boss, has not only retained aspects of Soviet economics but has also moved to recreate the structures that allowed Moscow to maintain order over society.
He issued a decree two years ago that required government agencies, factories and schools to hold "political information" meetings, like those once conducted by the Communists. Last year he created the Belarusian Union of Youth, which, like its soviet-era inspiration, Komsomol, is a prerequisite to acquiring positions in the university jobs category. He also established an official ideology, which remains ill-defined though it revolves around the unquestioned power of the presidency.
The government's campaign against the European Humanities University is typical of Lukashenka's operations. In April, the Education Ministry issued an order outlining 26 ways that classes and activities should be regulated in the country's universities. They included restrictions on money from abroad, as well as on exchange programs. One measure called for monitoring of "the moral-psychological climate" in dorms.
It was clear that the European Humanities University would become a target.
The university was established in the first heady days of Belarusian independence by a group of professors and the Belarusian Orthodox Church, which created its first department of theology. The concept was to create a private institution modelled on universities in Britain and the United States. It began with 67 students, but grew to nearly 1,000.
"People with free thought were formed here," said Grigor Miniankov, the dean of the university's philosophy department. "They learned critical thinking. People like that are not wanted here."
In January, the country's education minister, Alexander Radkov, called for the resignation of the rector, Anatoly Mikhailov, who refused to go. In July, Lukashenka's administration ordered the university evicted from its rented building on Brovka Street. A week later the Education Ministry revoked its licence, citing, in a Kafkaesque twist, its lack of space for classes.
Lukashenka made his motive clear in a speech last month, denouncing the university's educational mission.
"There was an implicit, though focal intention to train here in Belarus, in the European Humanities University, first of all, the new Belarusian elite, aimed at leading Belarus to the West when the time is appropriate," Lukashenka said.
"And what about other Belarusian universities, located in Brest, Vitebsk, Gomel and Mogilev, not speaking about other leading universities in Minsk?" he went on, according to a transcript published in the official newspaper Soviet Belarus. "Whom are they training? Servants and slaves for this very new elite?"
The Humanities University, with fewer than 100 students left, is struggling to stay alive in a virtual state. Dozens of students have transferred to US and European universities and have agreed to recognise credits already earned. Mikhailov has left the country, accepting a position at the Davis Centre for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard.
Vladimir Dounaev, the vice rector, said classes would continue online.
"It is very difficult to close a concept," he said. "We are living not in the era of Brezhnev, but of the Internet."

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AUTOMOBILES

MAZ in truck deal with Vietnam

Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ) plans to have trucks assembled in Vietnam in 2005, the plant's Deputy Director General for Foreign Economic Relations, Alexei Tutubalin, said, New Europe reported.
A corresponding agreement was signed during a recent visit by a Belarussian government delegation to Vietnam, he said. Tutubalin said with kinds of Belarussian trucks will be assembled at the plant. It is expected that 500 Belarussian trucks will be produced in 2005 at the new production facility. The parties signed a contract worth US$10m for the delivery of 500 kits to Vietnam. MAZ hopes the number of vehicles assembled at the plant will increase, Tutubalin said.

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AVIATION

Air Moldova dumps old planes

The Air Moldova state company no longer uses YaK-40, YaK-42 or TU-134 airplanes built in Soviet times and flies only up-to-date Airbus A320 and Embraer 120, Infotag reported.
The company's active fleet includes two leased Airbuses (144 seats each) and one Embraer (30 seats), and one more Embraer that is the company's property. They fly regularly to Amsterdam, Athens, Bucharest, Istanbul, Larnaca, Lisbon, Madrid, Moscow, Paris, Prague, Rome and Vienna.

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FOREIGN DEBT

Belarus foreign debt shrinks

The foreign state debt of Belarus, not including short-term credits, decreased 16.4 per cent in January-September 2004, including 1 per cent in September, to US$615.6m as of October 1st, the finance ministry said, Interfax News Agency reported.
The foreign debt on October 1st included US$298.6m in direct government debt; down 14.6 per cent form the beginning of 2004. Foreign loans received by companies under government guarantees decreased by 17.6 per cent to US$317m, according to. The central budget sets a ceiling of US$2bn for the foreign debt as of the end of 2004. Belarus' main creditors are Russia, Germany, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Kuwait. The ministry said it expects the foreign debt to shrink 23.5 per cent to US$563.4m in 2004.

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FOREIGN INVESTMENT

Belarus posts rise in foreign investment

Belarus attracted US$1,007.2m in foreign investment in the first nine months of 2004, Belarusian News Agency, Belapan, reported quoting the Belarusian Ministry of Economy.
The volume of foreign investment registered an increase of 17.4 per cent in comparison with the same period of the previous year. The private sector of the economy accounted for 67 per cent of the funds attracted, the agency said.

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MINERALS & METALS

BMZ raises 10-mo steel output

The Zhlobin, Gomel-based Belarussian Metallurgic Plant (BMZ) raised steel production by 18.2% to 1,527.3 tonnes in the first 10 months of 2004 Interfax News Agency reported recently. 
The plant turned out 1,346,900 tonnes of rolled metal (+15.5%), 155,100 tonnes of hardware (+23.7%) and 66,100 tonnes of metal cord (+25.9%) in the reported period. In January-September 2004 the company's output in comparable prices reached 116 trillion Belarussian rubles.

Belarus 10-mo gold, forex reserves increase 13%

The National Bank of Belarus increased its gold and foreign currency reserves (national definition) by 13 per cent to US$1.006bn over the period January-October, the bank announced recently, Interfax News Agency reported. 
The reserves did contract 1.8 per cent in October alone, however. Deposits in foreign currencies contracted 0.3 per cent to US$728.7m in January-October, while reserves held in gold increased 63.7 per cent to the equivalent of US$192m.
Other National Bank reserves stood at the equivalent of US$84.9m on November 1st. Belarus' international reserves, calculated by International Monetary Fund (IMF) methods, rose 28.8 per cent to over US$637m over the 10-month period. But the international reserves contracted 3.3 per cent in the month of October. Reserves in foreign currency held in deposit by non-residents increased 203 per cent to US$554m in January-October, while reserves in gold surged 150 per cent to the equivalent of US$83.4m.

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