Books on Belarus
Principal ethnic groups
Update No: 294 - (28/06/05)
Iron Curtain descends
Human rights activists think that things could not get worse in Belarus. Yet
they do. A new decree concerning foreign travel tightens the screws of the
Under the decree, even parliament's speakers need President Alexander
Lukashenka's consent to go abroad on business trips, including attending the
sitting of the Union of Russia and Belarus. 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 in Belarus now only President Lukashenka is held accountable to no one.
Like 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 the women's
national team of the country. As for the West, Lukashenka has been long banned
Belarus slams Bush's inititative
Lukashenka would not want to go there anyway. He fears and loathes the West and
all it stands for. Lukashenka in recent months has spoken out against national
revolutions kicking out strong-arm governments in former Soviet republics,
Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, charging that Washington financed the
insurrections, which is not of course entirely untrue, particularly in Ukraine.
A statement made by US President George W Bush recently indicates that
preparations are underway to interfere in the internal affairs of other
countries, Belarussian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ruslan Yesin has told the
Interfax News Agency, obviously acting on orders from above.
In his statement, Bush proposed creating a corps of government workers to
support emerging democracies. "It is obvious that the US is continuing its
line of actions that go beyond the boundaries of international law. Its overt
preparations for interference in foreign states' international affairs are also
evident," Yesin was quoted as saying. "Such initiatives should receive
an uncompromising assessment from the international community and should be
fended off resolutely," the spokesman said.
Minsk is quite right to be worried, as is shown by a recent spat between
Washington and Moscow on the issue.
International spotlight falls on Minsk (Special Report by RFE/RL)
US President George Bush has responded to Moscow's accusations that the US
is attempting to provoke a revolution in Belarus by naming Lukashenka Europe's
last dictator and calling on US allies to stand up and be counted in the cause
of strengthening democracy.
The following report by Robert Parsons is reprinted with the permission of Radio
Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington DC 20036. Funded
by the US Congress.
Bush delivered a quick rebuff to Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia's Federal
Security Service (FSB), on 17 May when the US leader described Belarus as
Europe's last dictatorship and praised the efforts of its neighbouring countries
to promote freedom in Belarus. He was speaking at the International Republican
Institute in Washington, which Patrushev accused recently of plotting to
undermine the government of Belarusian President Alexsandar Lukashenka. As RFE/RL
reports, there are signs of growing international interest in Belarus as it
prepares for next year's presidential election. Fresh from his triumphant visit
to two of Europe's newest democracies, Latvia and Georgia, President Bush was in
messianic mood when he addressed the International Republican Institute (IRI),
an organization that seeks to promote democracy worldwide. Bush urged friends
and allies of the US to stand up and be counted in the cause of strengthening
democracy around the world. And he noted that some of the most active supporters
of democracy were those who had themselves suffered under tyrannies. With the
help of the IRI, Bush said, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia were working with
civil leaders in Belarus to bring freedom to Europe's last dictatorship.
A calculated slap in the face
It was a calculated slap in the face for Russian FSB head Patrushev, who
earlier in May singled out the IRI for particular criticism. Addressing the
State Duma, Patrushev said the organization was plotting the continuation of
velvet revolutions in the post-Soviet territory, including Belarus. "Five
million dollars has been assigned in 2005 for the implementation by this
nongovernmental organization of programs to finance opposition movements in
Belarus," Patrushev said. "At the present moment, they are looking
into how to involve Ukrainian 'orange' activists in training of opposition
members in Belarus and creating a network of opposition youth
organizations." US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher described
Patrushev's remarks as completely false and mostly ridiculous. "Our
election aid in Belarus and elsewhere is for civic participation in the election
process, balanced media coverage, nonpartisan political party training, election
monitoring, and electoral administration. these programs are nonpartisan,
they're transparent in nature, and we'll conduct them in Belarus in order to
support efforts to build civil society and democracy," Boucher said.
Patrushev barking up the right tree
Yet Patrushev is undoubtedly correct in thinking that the US and its
European allies see the presidential election in Belarus in 2006 as an
opportunity to unseat President Lukashenka. The pressure on the man who has
systematically crushed all political opposition since his election in 1994 is
growing inexorably. A series of European leaders used the summit of the Council
of Europe in Warsaw this week to call for change in Belarus. Lukashenka is used
to criticism from the US and EU. What makes the new attacks different is that
many of them now come from Eastern Europe and former republics of the Soviet
Union. On 17 May, Slovakia added its voice to the swelling chorus of
condemnation. The detention of yet another prominent opposition leader this week
was, it said, further evidence of political motivated pressure on the opposition
and media in Belarus. Poland, which borders Belarus, has become one of
Lukashenka's most outspoken critics. On Wednesday, it expelled a Belarusian
diplomat in retaliation for the expulsion of the first secretary of the Polish
Embassy in Minsk one day before. Earlier, at the summit of the Council of
Europe, Polish President Aleksandr Kwasniewski said that "widespread
violations of elementary principles of democracy and human rights in
Belarus" were not acceptable. His foreign minister, Adam Rotfeld, made much
the same point. "In Belarus, the internal system has to change,"
Rotfeld said. "It is the last example of the sort of museum piece that the
Council of Europe does not accept."
Lukashenka can take the heat
Lukashenka might be feeling the heat, but isolation is a condition to which
he has grown accustomed. He makes no secret of his contempt for international as
well as domestic opinion. His opponents, both at home and abroad, will be
encouraged by the collapse of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in the elections
in Ukraine in late 2004. But Lukashenka is a tougher proposition altogether. He
enjoys a solid nucleus of support in Belarus and he has repeatedly demonstrated
his readiness to use force when threatened.
Belarus expels Polish diplomat
Poland is now deemed to be in the dangerous Western camp by Minsk. Belarus
expelled a Polish diplomat on May 27th in a tit for tat exchange, Deutsche
Presse-Agneur (dpa) reported, citing a ministry of foreign affairs statement.
Minsk embassy legation member, Marek Butko, was given 24 hours to leave the
former Soviet republic. The Belarussian announcement came less than a month
after Warsaw expelled a Belarussian diplomat possible involved in espionage in
Poland. Butko was kicked out of Belarus because of his "interference in
Belarussian internal political processes," the statement said. Butko's
further presence in Belarus "poses a danger to Belarussian society,"
the government said.
Butko had acted as an important link between Western governments and Belarus'
often-repressed opposition. He also had maintained contact with ethnic Polish
groups living in Belarus. Lukashenka has accused Poland and other NATO-member
governments of funding Belarussian opposition groups in an attempt to unseat
him. Again, this is not paranoia. It is quite likely to be true. The regime is
trapped in a vicious circle of alienation from all and sundry, whether abroad or
Independent radio for Belarus
As if to prove Lukashenka right at what a snake pit lies to the west, Polish
and Lithuanian politicians have joined Belarus' opposition in supporting
"Radio Free Belarus," a new Polish-based private station aiming at
cracking Belarus' authoritarian media monopoly, Polish press reports said
According to Poland's Zycie Warzawy daily, the station will beam news from its
headquarters in Bialystok, eastern Poland, over the border into Belarus,
providing an alternative to state media which is strictly controlled by
Lukashenka. The greatest problem for Belarus citizens is the lack of access to
independent information, which the new radio station should do much to correct.
Belarus boosts industrial output
Industrial production in Belarus in January-April 2005 amounted to 18.7 trillion
Belarussian roubles in current prices, which is 11.2% more in constant prices
than in the same period in 2004, a source at the ministry for statistics and
analysis said, Interfax News Agency reported.
According to the source, in the first four months of 2005 the largest
year-on-year growth in industrial production was recorded in the fuel industry
(16.5%), engineering and metal processing (15.4%), food production (14.4%), iron
and steel (12.8%), construction material production (11.2%), forestry, timber,
pulp and paper production (8%), chemicals and petrochemicals (4.6%) and light
industry (3.4%). Belarussian GDP in January-April 2005 increased 9.5%
year-on-year to 16.4 trillion Belarussian roubles, the data showed.
Siemens to supply goods to MTS
Germany's Siemens Communications and large Russian cellular operator Mobile
TeleSystms have signed a framework agreement worth US$265m for equipment
supplies, a Siemens statement said, Interfax News Agency reported.
Siemens will supply equipment to expand the MTS mobile network in Russia,
Belarus and Ukraine. The main aims of the agreement are to expand switchboard
and radio subsystems and also to integrate platforms for IT services. For this
Siemens will install additional receiver-transmitter stations, new switchboard
equipment and software.