Books on Belarus
Principal ethnic groups
Update No: 297 - (29/09/05)
Regime stays firm
President Alexander Lukashenka, who has been in power in Belarus since 1994 and
who recently changed the constitution so that he can run for election a third
time early next year, has done everything possible to squash any independent
expressions of opposition.
One method favoured by the regime is administrative. All organizations are
required to have a fixed legal address in order to be recognized by the
authorities. Increasingly, the authorities refuse to register the addresses.
In September, for example, the Reformed Evangelical Church, which has been in
Belarus for more than 400 years, was banned. Agata Wierzbowska-Miazga, an
analyst at the Centre for Eastern Studies in Warsaw, said the church "was
outlawed because the community had no legal address, nor could it have
registered one, because the authorities had previously evicted it from all of
its prayer houses." It now celebrates services in homes.
Web sites of independent political parties have been blocked and the opposition
is under even more pressure.
Mikola Statkevich, the veteran leader of the Social Democratic Party, who is
serving a three-year prison term for organizing a demonstration, was recently
accused of organizing from behind bars an illegal gathering after a dozen people
gathered in front of the prison to express support for him.
MP calls on EU to stand firm on Belarus
The Belarus regime is coming under strong pressure from its neighbours and the
West to change its ways. But it is proving obdurate.
Rasa Jukneviciene, an MP from the Homeland Union (Conservatives) in Lithuania,
has called on EU leaders to make up its mind on Belarus, arguing that any and
all delays in supporting the country's faltering democratic institutions may
have a negative long-term effect. "The most important question is whether
the European Union needs an independent and democratic Belarus,"
Jukneviciene told the Baltic News Service during an international seminar on
Belarus. "Elections in Afghanistan are currently freer than in
Belarus," she added. Recently Jukneviciene returned from Afghanistan.
She said the EU should lend much after more support for than just 138,000 euros
for Belarus' democratization.
Poland piles on the pressure too
The Polish government has been applying pressure by diplomatic means on Minsk,
which has responded by expelling several Polish diplomats for mixing with the
Belarus opposition. The opposition in Belarus has immense support from Poland,
one of the biggest of the eight former Soviet bloc nations that joined the
European Union in May 2004. Poland's entry to the EU was the end of its long
road started 25 years ago by Solidarity. Energized by the chance for the first
time to influence EU foreign policy, Poland has taken every opportunity to shake
Brussels into looking at its new eastern borders with Belarus and Ukraine and
its longer border with Russia in a new light.
This was evident in December during Ukraine's Orange Revolution when the
presidents of Poland and Lithuania went to Kiev to help mediate. Of course,
neither Russia nor Belarus likes what Poland is doing. Relations between Poland
and Russia and Poland and Belarus have deteriorated.
Fearing the contagion of Polish democracy into Belarus, Lukashenka has begun
repressing the Polish ethnic minority that makes up 4 percent of the country's
10 million people. In March, the Union of Poles in Belarus elected a new
leadership independent of the regime, and the authorities recently cracked down
on the movement, arresting several of its leaders.
Janusz Onyszkiewicz, Poland's former defence minister and vice president of the
European Parliament, said, "We want to Europeanise our foreign
"This was the case with Ukraine," he added. "We really hope it
will be the same with Belarus. The aim is to bring an end to this anomaly, the
dictatorship in Belarus. The EU cannot have a country like Belarus on its
EU diplomats in Brussels are still uncomfortable when they hear this kind of
talk. But the Poles are not prepared to remain quiet. They intend to muster
international support for monitoring next year's elections in Belarus and for
helping the opposition.
Young musicians lead the way
But it is not just via officials that people are making their views known.
The young in Belarus are taking inspiration from recent events in Poland and
Ukraine. Youth music can lead the way, some claim.
On a warm, balmy night in Warsaw recently, the Polish Radio Orchestra gave an
outdoor concert to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Solidarity trade union
movement. Under clear skies, the orchestra played works by Polish composers and
actors read verses by two of Poland's greatest 20th-century poets, Zbigniew
Herbert and Czeslaw Milosz.
Behind the orchestra was a big screen that showed video clips of the many
tumultuous episodes of Poland's uprisings against Soviet domination. And of
course, there was a long video showing the life of the late Polish-born pope,
John Paul II.
In an effort to make the concert inclusive of all generations and cultural
tastes, the organizers had invited Polish punk and rock bands. The audience,
packed with dignitaries and presidential candidates, gave the bands polite
But then something happened to change its response. N.R.M., a band from
neighbouring Belarus, took the stage. As the band went through its songs about
freedom and people's power, the audience's attention turned to the back of the
crowd. A young Belarussian had started to unravel the red and white flag of his
country and was waving it high in the air. When N.R.M. had finished, the
audience roared, some calling for freedom for Belarus.
The sense of this solidarity with Poland's eastern neighbours continued when
Greenjolly, a Ukrainian band whose songs rallied support for President Viktor
Yushchenko's election campaign in December, came on stage. The audience
immediately stood up, starting to clap and join in the singing. Many knew the
Nine months after Ukraine's Orange Revolution and a quarter of a century after
Solidarity helped change the map of Europe, Belarussians said their time for
freedom would soon come. "Outsiders cannot force change, nor do we want
them to do so," Pavlov Pete, a member of N.R.M., said after the concert.
"We need their support. But we have to do it ourselves."
Pete, 38, and the other band members said it was impossible to underestimate
Solidarity. For them, the movement remains a powerful symbol for opposition
movements and independent civil organizations in Belarus. "The Poles did it
themselves," Pete said. "We can too."
But using music to rock Belarus toward change is an awesome challenge. Lawon
Wolski, a poet and musician who is one of N.R.M.'s founding members, said the
band was prevented from playing on state-controlled radio and television and
from performing publicly. (Private stations are few and censored). Sometimes the
band changes its name so as to be heard on the state channels. Otherwise, it
plays in private homes.
Curiously, the authorities in Belarus have not prevented N.R.M. and other bands
from travelling to Lithuania or Poland, where independent groups can freely
meet. "For the authorities back home, we are safer playing outside than
inside the country," Pete said. "They don't seem to care what we sing
outside Belarus as long as our music is not heard inside the country."
In the former Czechoslovakia, the Communist Party had long tried to suppress the
Plastic People of the Universe, a group of musicians who defied the ban by
playing in woods, fields and barns. But the more the group's members were
arrested on trumped-up charges, the more support they won from a younger
generation desperate to break the party's monopoly over cultural life.
But rocking for change in Belarus is a much more different venture than what the
Plastic People of the Universe were trying to do. "It's a matter of time
before Belarus changes," Pete said. "Maybe one day the state radio
will play our songs."
Minsk to purchase new combat aircraft after 2010
Belarus will start purchasing new combat aircraft after 2010, a senior Air force
officer said recently, New Europe reported.
Major-General, Mikhail Levitsky, the deputy commander of the Air Force and Air
Defence, told journalists: "Modern aircraft have a service life of 25-30
years. After 2010, we shall start purchasing new warplanes. We are currently
thinking about purchasing Russian-made aircraft and helicopters that can be
modernised." Levitsky said it would be practical for Belarus to flu
multi-functional Su-30 (Flanker) fighters.
"This is a reliable plane capable of providing air support and delivering
strikes against various targets and troops and transport facilities deep in the
enemy's defences," the general said. "It is two to three times more
efficient in terms of combat power and combat use compared with Su-24M (NATO
reporting name Fencer-D) and Su-25 (Frogfoot) planes." The Belarussian Air
Force will operate Russian-made I1-76 (Candid) medium-range military transport
aircraft until 2015," Levitsky added.
"After that, Belarus will purchase new modified transport planes in line
with its state rearmament programme." Belarus intends to purchase I1-76MF
planes instead of I1-76MD military transport aircraft. The I1-76MF has an
extended cargo hold and increased fuel efficiency.
The aircraft is outfitted with a navigation system, which meets the requirements
of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, Levitsky said. Belarus also
intends to purchase An-74 (Coaler) military transport planes to replace An-26
The An-74 can carry five times more than the An-26. The Belarussian Air Force
and Air Defence are also considering buying Russian-made Mi-28N multi-purpose
WSR to buy Nenetsko-Belarussky
Sweden's West Siberian Resources (WSR) signed an agreement to acquire 100 per
cent of OOO Nenetsko-Belarussky Oil Company, which owns exploration licences for
sections close to the Srene-Kharyaga field, with potential reserves estimated at
116 million barrels, Interfax News Agency reported.
According to a WSR report, the deal cost US$5.2m, including existing debt of
US$4.59m. Earlier the company agreed to acquire 100 per cent of OOO Nikoil,
which owns 99.729 per cent of OAO Pechoraneft. This company owns a licence to
explore and produce at the Srene-Kharyaga field in Timan-Pechora oil province.
According to the report, WSR has already paid US$5m as an advance.
Siemens lands Belarus telco deal
Germany's Siemens is to supply high-speed GPRS (General Packet Radio Service)
equipment for the large Belarussian operator SOOO Mobile TeleSystems, Interfax
News Agency reported recently.
As a result of the project, MTS subscribers in Belarus will receive full
high-speed access to the internet, remote access to corporate networks, and the
possibility of using mobile phones to transmit large volumes of information -
video and musical recordings in real time. Belarussian-Russian joint limited
company (SOOO) Mobile TeleSystems has provided GSM-900/1800 standard services in
Belarus since June 27th, 2002. The company was founded by Beltelecom 51% and OAO
Mobile TeleSystems - 49%. It currently has 1,700 active subscribers.