Books on Belarus
Principal ethnic groups
Update No: 293 - (27/05/05)
It looks as if the US is closing in on Belarus
Events in Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and now Uzbekistan have changed
everything. The Bush Administration wants to see the end of the ghastly
dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenka there.
Rice calls for free and fair elections in Belarus
US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, recently called for free and fair
elections in Belarus, rebuffing Russian demands for an end to external
interference in the country. Asked if she would support pro-democracy street
protests in Belarus, Rice said the United States did not want to "tell
people how to fulfil their aspirations for freedom."
People on the ground "know best the methods necessary to make changes in
Belarus," she underlined, adding: "The key here is that people ought
to be able to protest, to speak their minds. There ought to be free media."
Rice, attending a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Vilnius in April ahead of
the May celebration in Moscow of Victory Day in 1945, said that she was not
interfering in the internal affairs of Belarus which she earlier described as
the "last true dictatorship in the centre of Europe."
But after talks with Belarus opposition groups in Vilnius - a meeting also
attended by European Union foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana -
Rice said it was vital to keep a close watch on the situation in the country.
"Elections have been an important catalyst in any number of countries
around the world if the international community makes very clear that they need
to be free and fair and is prepared to judge whether they are free and
fair," she said.
The polls should not be a "sham," Rice insisted, adding that the US
and the EU were determined to "shine a spotlight on places where people are
still denied freedom. We can insist on certain standards of behaviour, including
standards of elections," she said, adding that Washington would support
"independent voices in this struggle."
Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, rejected US calls for
political change in Belarus, saying reform must be generated within the country.
But how does that happen in a glacial dictatorship? Where is the Belarus
The Minsk monstrosity
The regime in Belarus is in all but name communist, much more so than the
government in Moldova, which is communist in name, but not in fact.
Although Alexander Lukashenka was first elected president 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
"We think it cannot be worse," Tatsiyana Pratsko, the committee's
president, said in an interview in her small office. "And it becomes
After Kiev, Minsk?
The Americans in their post-war policies were always worried that there
would be a domino effect if they allowed a communist revolution to take place.
Its neighbours would follow suit.
Actually, the real domino effect occurred in 1989, when one after another the
central Europeans had revolution after revolution to escape communism, followed
by another one two years later in the USSR.
A democratic 'domino effect' is perfectly possible and President Lukashenka can
see it coming. After the collapse of the USSR, Belarus ended up in the hands of
the tyrant of Minsk who preserved everything from the old system, including the
most authoritarian of customs. However, from the moment when Yushchenko's
democratic opposition began to make headway in Ukraine, Lukashenka has been
quaking in his boots. He fears the next elections in his own country might get
rid of his regime and consign him to the same fate as Ukraine's president Kuchma,
who was effectively imprisoned in his own palace for days by thousands of
The radicals of Minsk
As a result, the situation in Ukraine is being scrutinised minute by minute
from the presidential palace in Minsk: Lukashenka knows that the destiny of
Belarus is often linked closely to the destiny of the Ukraine, and would rather
not pay the price. The 'number one enemies' of the regime are no longer the
opposition parties but non-violent democratic movements, such as those that have
filled Independence Square in Kiev and forced the Putin-Yanukovich train to be
stopped in its tracks. The Belarusian presidential administration - that exerts
an almost total control over the country and its economy - understands all too
well that the young members of the Belarussian Zubr organisation are serious
about what they do, following the ways and teachings of the non-violent Serb
movement Otpor ('resistance' in Serb).
Secret weapons: pamphlets in your jacket and clicks galore
The 'secret weapons' of Zubr are the ones which have already been used
effectively against Milosevic's Serbia, Shevarnadze's Georgia and Kuchma's
Ukraine by the enfants terribles of organisations such as Otpor, Kmara and PORA.
The first of these weapons is called Vybar ('Choice'). This newspaper-pamphlet
is carefully designed so as to be hidden between the folds of one's jacket even
at several dozen degrees below freezing. The second is called Internet. By way
of a few clicks, the web allows the mobilisation of 'dormant' activists from the
deepest Belarusian countryside to the Western capitals. From this follows an
avalanche of demonstrations halfway between student pranks and serious
disobedience. On December 6th in Nemiga Street in central Minsk, a Zubr militant
(later arrested) enjoyed 8 metres of freedom for a few minutes as he hung a
banner proclaiming: "today Ukraine, tomorrow Belarus!"
The tyrant of Minsk talks back: repression, repression!
Meanwhile, today in Belarus the government has decided to go for the
hard-line approach. Just a few hours after the announcement of the results in
Kiev, Lukashenka named his new leader of the presidential administration: Viktar
Shejman (who has been implicated in a series of political assassinations). The
top priority: seek out and break down attempts by the West to put the regime in
crisis with 'populist tactics'. Indeed, on their return from a meeting with
"revolutionary" colleagues of the regime in Kiev, three dissidents
were sent to prison.
And yet in Minsk, Aliaksandr Atroshchankau, one of the leaders of Zubr, is
encouraged by the firm position shown by the European Union on the situation in
the Ukraine. However, he hopes that when it is the turn of Belarus, Javier
Solana (the EU foreign policy representative) does not just show up when all is
done and dusted. Lukashenka has personally declared that he excludes for Belarus
a "Ukraine scenario", since "wise people know how to interpret
the errors of others". Let us hope the European Union and its governments
are wiser than Lukashenka and do not just enter on stage at the very last
possible moment (as they did in the Ukraine) - for the sake of making the icy
ground of Belarus fertile for democracy, and knocking down the last domino on
the borders of the Europe of 25.
Belarus boosts gold reserves
Belarussian gold and currency reserves amounted to US$1.258bn on April 1st 2005,
up 20.2% from the start of the year, the National Bank of Belarus said, Interfax
News Agency reported.
In March the reserves increased 5.4%, after an increase of 20.1% in February.
According to the National Bank, forex reserves increased 27.7% to US$958.7m in
January-March, while gold assets increased 28.2% to the equivalent of US$126.5m.
Belarussian gold and forex reserves calculated using the International Monetary
Fund method, increased 26.5% in January-March to amount to US$974.6m on April
1st 2005. In March reserves increased 2.7%, after an increase of 37% in
FOREIGN ECONOMIC RELATIONS
Viet Nam welcomes Belarus as traditional friend
Viet Nam welcomes Belarus as a close friend with whom it has maintained fine
political and diplomatic ties for over 50 years, vnanet.com reported.
State President Tran Duc Luong, while receiving Chairman of the Belarussian
National Assembly Council of the Republic Gennady Novitsky in Ha Noi on May 17,
also noted with satisfaction the friendly and bilateral cooperative relations
between the two countries' leaders.
Viet Nam and Belarus should continue strengthening their cooperation in
economics, trade, investment and technological application in conformity with
each country's potential, Luong said.
To boost bilateral trade exchanges, Luong said, the two countries' governments
should consider supportive measures on taxes, administrative procedures,
transportation and methods of payment.
Also on this occasion, President Tran Duc Luong conveyed his best regards to the
Belarussian President and invited him to visit Viet Nam this year.
Gennady Novitsky expressed his pleasure at visiting Viet Nam, especially as Viet
Nam is preparing to mark the 115th birthday of President Ho Chi Minh. He agreed
with President Tran Duc Luong's assessment on the potential to expand and
develop cooperation between Belarus and Viet Nam, especially in economics and
Belarussian trade surplus grows
Belarus saw its foreign trade surplus soar 180% year-on-year in January-February
2005 to US$449m, the statistics and analysis ministry said, Interfax News Agency
The ministry said visible and invisible trade grew 18.6% to US$4.424bn,
including growth of 25.3% to US$2.437bn for exports and 11.4% to US$1.988bn for
imports. Belarus closed 2004 with a trade deficit of US$1.8499bn, up 77.3% from