Books on Belarus
Principal ethnic groups
Update No: 298 - (27/10/05)
Students of the world - unite
Often called "Europe's last dictatorship," Belarus held its first
presidential elections in 1994. The elected president, Alexander Lukashenka, has
been in office ever since.
His overthrow has now become a world-wide concern. He has become a butt of his
own students in Belarus, who openly deride him. Out of sympathy other students
in the world staged a walk on October 15th. Students for Global Democracy held
its main, but not only, Worldwide Walk for Democracy in Belarus in Brown County,
Indiana, US. Money raised will go to groups directly contributing to
Students for Global Democracy, the walk's sponsor, is a worldwide organization
with local beginnings. Started by Indiana University junior Charlie Szrom in the
winter of 2004, there are now chapters at Stanford and Berkeley, in Chicago, Ann
Arbor, Mich., Irvine, Calif., Ontario and Kathmandu, Nepal.
The walk is titled "worldwide" because there were walks also organized
for the weekend of October 15th-16th in 13 other locations around the world,
including countries without chapters. Ghana, Poland, South Africa, Taiwan and
Turkey are all supporting efforts to raise awareness and funds for Belarus. The
group is non-partisan and supports non-violent, pro-democratic efforts by
students living in countries without democracy.
As it so happens, it is not only students who are militating for a change of
regime in Belarus. It is other layers of society also, both in and out of the
country. A brilliant account of the subject is appended below:-
Opposition movement gains momentum in, and outside of, Belarus
By Tom Hundley
Ukraine's was orange; neighbouring Georgia's was rose. But Belarus hasn't yet
picked a colour for its revolution.
Back in 1989, when the first winds of change toppled the Soviet empire like a
house of cards, Czechoslovakia had a "velvet" revolution. Lucky
Czechs, lucky Slovaks. Belarusians are not expecting a similar smooth ride.
"More like Romania maybe," said Anton Cialezhnikau, 23, a
pro-democracy activist from Belarus. "Lukashenka is a pretty brutal leader
and he has powerful instruments of repression at his disposal."
President Alexander Lukashenka is the big dog in what President Bush has
described as the "last dictatorship in Europe."
But after "people power" managed to topple corrupt and undemocratic
regimes in Ukraine last year and in Georgia the year before, there is a sense
that Lukashenka's days might be numbered. An opposition movement is quietly
building strength inside and outside the former Soviet republic wedged between
Russia and Poland.
Poland has become a critical support base for the opposition movement. Last
month, when Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel and other heroes of 1989 gathered at the
gates of the Gdansk shipyard for the 25th anniversary of the Solidarity
movement, they used the occasion to remind the world that revolution is not yet
complete. Later, at a rock concert in Warsaw, a band from Belarus called N.R.M.
ignited a youthful audience, which began chanting: "Freedom for our
Polish political leaders, meanwhile, have been banging the drum for the Belarus
opposition in the European Union's corridors of power, urging the European
powers to become more involved.
"The EU can't have a country like Belarus on its doorstep," Janusz
Onyszkiewicz, the former Polish defence minister who now serves as vice
president of the European parliament, told journalists.
All of this has infuriated Lukashenka, a former state farm boss and Soviet
apparatchik who enjoys the political backing of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Lukashenka has retaliated against Warsaw with a harsh crackdown on ethnic Poles
living in Belarus. Poland responded by recalling its ambassador in Minsk, and
suddenly the Polish-Belarus border is one of the chilliest in Europe.
"Our view is that Europe is larger than the EU, and the EU should feel some
responsibility for all of Europe," said Edmund Wnuk-Lipinski, an analyst at
the Collegium Civitas in Warsaw.
"But ask any Western European politician, 'What's going on in Belarus?' and
he'll think, 'Well, how would Putin react to what I'm going to say,'"
Wnuk-Lipinski said. "Most Europeans are stuck in this Cold War sensibility
that Belarus somehow belongs to Russia." Or as Cialezhnikau, the
pro-democracy activist, put it: "As long as the EU and the U.S. keeping
trying to humour Putin, our situation will stay the same."
Cialezhnikau is typical of the new breed of young activists who have sparked
peaceful regime change in Ukraine, Georgia and Serbia. A fourth-year university
student, he is working on a degree in marketing and management. He and fellow
activists eschew revolutionary rhetoric for business plans; beards for
BlackBerries. The Internet is their weapon of choice.
"What we have is a business plan for beginning a revolution," said
Vitali Locmanau, 28, an activist with the Union for Democracy Support in
Belarus, an umbrella group based in Warsaw.
"Right now, we are networking private companies, NGO's (non-governmental
organizations) and other people with financial resources to support the
opposition. Then we need to do the political marketing," said Locmanau, who
has a degree in economics and a day job as a marketing representative for a
The main Belarus opposition group is Zubr, named for the bison that can still be
found in the country's primeval forests. Modeled on Otpor in Serbia, Kmara in
Georgia and Pora in Ukraine, Zubr is an organization dominated by twenty
somethings specializing in non-violent protest. But their non-violent efforts
are frequently met with violent suppression by the Lukashenka regime, which
seems to live in a time warp.
In many ways, Belarus exists as a kind of Cold War-era Soviet republic preserved
in aspic. The media are strictly controlled. State television broadcasts endless
reports on agriculture, paeans to Lukashenka and little else.
The KGB is alive and well here. Even after the collapse of the USSR, the local
branch in Belarus didn't bother to change its name.
"Why would they?" Locmanau asked. "It's a very strong brand
Last year, Lukashenka arrested Mikhail Marinich, a leading opposition figure, on
trumped-up charges of stealing U.S. government property. The American Embassy in
Minsk had lent Marinich several computers on the theory that borrowed embassy
property would be harder for the host government to confiscate. Marinich is in
Facing elections next year, Lukashenka recently appointed Viktor Sheiman as his
chief of staff. According to prosecutors who have since fled the country,
Sheiman's previous assignment was organizing the death squads that murdered four
of Lukashenka's most bothersome political rivals. A month ago, Lukashenka banned
foreign assistance for all political activity, clamped down on the ability of
NGOs to operate freely in Belarus and made it much more difficult for young
people to travel in and out of the country. For good measure, he also imposed
strict limits on foreign music on the airwaves.
With an eye on the election, the Belarus opposition chose a former U.S.-educated
physicist Sunday to challenge Lukashenka. About 800 representatives of Belarus'
opposition parties and movements named Alexander Milinkevich as their candidate
at a congress in Minsk.
"We believe that Belarus will be next after Georgia and Ukraine,"
Milinkevich told The Associated Press.
But the pro-democracy movement also understands the difficulty of the task
"Belarus was handed its independence on a silver platter," said
Cialezhnikau, referring to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
"Freedom came too easily. Now we understand that you have to earn it."
Belarussian economy grows 8.7% in 9 months
Belarussian GDP grew 8.7 per cent year-on-year in January-September, reported
Interfax News Agency, citing the Statistics and Analysis Ministry.
The ministry said that industrial output rose 9.7 per cent, agricultural output
grew 3 per cent and capital investment rose 23.3 per cent. GDP will grow 8.5-10
per cent this year, according to the socioeconomic development program approved
by the Belarussian president. The president in April asked the government to
ensure GDP growth of at least 10 per cent in 2005. The International Monetary
Fund at the end of March raised its GDP growth forecast for Belarus to 7.1 per
cent from 5.5 per cent.