Books on Belarus
Principal ethnic groups
Update No: 305 - (30/05/06)
The last of the KGB
The dictator of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenka, is an extraordinary man. He is a
brutalist in politics, he admires brutal methods for themselves.
There is no organisation that he admires more than the KGB.
Most people think that this was a creation of Stalin, his creature. It was in a
way. But it only came about after his death in 1954.
Before then it always had another name, the Cheka, the NKVD, the OGPU, etc. It
is of small consolation to the descendants of its victims that there is no more
infamous name in human history.
This is not the view, however, of the present leader of Belarus.
Belarus unveils monument to secret police
A monument to Soviet secret police founder Felix Dzerzhinsky was unveiled on May
26th in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, provoking protests from human rights
defenders and opposition politicians.
Dzerzhinsky, reviled by critics of the Soviet era, helped establish the first
Soviet secret service, called the Cheka, in 1917 under Bolshevik leader Vladimir
Lenin. The Cheka, a forerunner of the KGB, was responsible for mass arrests and
The towering 10-foot bronze figure, a copy of the statue of Dzerzhinsky that
pro-democracy crowds tore down in front of KGB headquarters in Moscow in 1991,
occupies a spot inside the grounds of the Military Academy. Dzerzhinksky was
known as 'Iron Felix." He was born in modern-day Belarus.
Belarusian President Lukashenka, an open admirer of the Soviet Union and a
pariah to the West because of his government's crackdown on dissent and the
media, has kept the Soviet-era acronym KGB for Belarus' security service.
Stepan Sukhorenko, head of the Belarus' KGB, attended the ceremony unveiling the
Oleg Gulak of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee rights group condemned the move
as "an insult to the memory of the millions of victims of the repressive
machine founded by Iron Felix."
The leader of the Social-Democratic Party, Nikolai Statkevich, insisted that
Dzerzhinsky was not "a figure of Belarusian history we should be proud
The head of the Belarusian border guard service, Gen. Alexander Pavlosvsky,
defended the decision to erect a statue of Dzerzhinsky next to the faculty for
frontier guard officers. "We shouldn't be afraid of our history and people
who gave birth to a new state, fought for it and were heroes," he said.
"Dzerzhinsky was not an odious figure, he is someone who merits
The battle of the vices
US Vice-President Dick Cheney is a formidable personality whom you either
like or detest. It is unlikely that anyone aware of his existence would simply
be indifferent to him.
Exactly the same, curiously enough, can be said of the president of Belarus,
himself very much a number two to the ruler in the Kremlin, once Yeltsin, now
Putin. A pair of outsize egos, both brandishing their respective, but quite
discrepant, indeed totally opposed, super-egos (it is after all the 150th
anniversary of the birth of Freud).
It is difficult to imagine two people less likely to agree on anything, let
alone get on. One espouses Democracy Western-style, the other 'People's
Democracy' Soviet-style. Each regards the other as a public menace of the first
order. There will be plenty of people around the world who will be of the view
that both are right!
Cheney issued a stinging denunciation of the Belarus populist or demagogue
(whichever you prefer) on May 5th, saying there was no place in Europe for what
he and others in Washington describe as "Europe's last dictatorship."
Cheney told leaders of post-communist nations meeting in the Baltic state of
Lithuania that President Lukashenka presided over an administration that
routinely resorted to vote-rigging, beatings and detentions.
"All of us are committed to democratic progress in Belarus. That nation has
suffered in major wars and experienced terrible losses and now its people are
denied basic freedoms by the last dictatorship in Europe," Cheney told the
conference. "The world knows what is happening in Belarus. Peaceful
demonstrators have been beaten, dissidents have vanished and a climate of fear
prevails under a government that subverts free elections. There is no place in a
Europe whole and free for a regime of this kind."
Both the United States and European Union have denounced Lukashenka's landslide
re-election in March as blatantly rigged and accuse his administration of
routinely cracking down on opponents and closing down independent media.
According to his own official tallies, Lukashenka won 83 per cent of the vote in
Belarus, an ex-Soviet state wedged between Russia and three new EU members which
suffered huge losses in World War Two and it was the country most affected by
the Chernobyl disaster. Main opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich was
credited with six percent of the vote.
Protests abound but are banned
Up to 10,000 protesters - unprecedented numbers in tightly-controlled
Belarus - staged rallies in Minsk for several days before they were dispersed by
police. More than 600 people were jailed for up to 15 days on public order
Milinkevich himself was sentenced to 15 days in jail in late April for leading a
protest against Lukashenka at which he pledged to turf the president out of
office within two years using civil disobedience. Several other leaders were
jailed with him.
Cheney said he had met opposition activists at the Vilnius meeting, but was
disappointed not to find Milinkevich among them. He said Washington was closely
monitoring events in Belarus.
The United States has long denounced Lukashenka, in office since 1994, with U.S.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice the first government figure to describe his
administration as the "last dictatorship in Europe."
The EU responded to the fraudulent election outcome by slapping a visa ban on
Lukashenka and 30 top officials. EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana told the
conference that Brussels viewed developments in Belarus as unacceptable.
"The European Union will continue to support the aspirations of the people
of Belarus," Solana said. "One day, I'm sure, they will see a
democratic breakthrough in their country."
Solana said that he "emphatically" repeated his earlier demands that
the opposition leaders be released in Belarus.
The odd man out
A strange paradox is that while Belarus is being ostracized by Western
governments, with President Alexander Lukashenka and over thirty senior
officials being banned from the EU and the US in the wake of his dubious
electoral victory in March, it is being courted by international financial
One reason is that - so far - its economy has been performing rather well, at
least on official statistics. There is reason to suppose, however, that the good
times could soon be over, and official statistics in such a regime are hardly
Like other former Soviet republics, Belarus suffered a massive collapse
after 1991, with output dropping by more than half thanks to "shock
therapy" reforms. But in 12 years of power Lukashenka has righted that, as
the following statistics show (all taken from the IMF's country report on
Belarus in June 2005).
He has presided over a continual increase in real wages for several years,
culminating in a 24% rise over the past 12 months. He has also cut VAT, brought
down inflation, halved the number of people in poverty in the past seven years,
and avoided social tensions by maintaining the fairest distribution of incomes
of any country in the region.
Residents, as well as Western visitors, report that many people are satisfied
with their living standards. Many have family or other ties to Russia, their
giant neighbour, and feel grateful for the stability, moderation and absence of
an oligarch-dominated economy that Belarus enjoys. Of course politically it is a
different story - one of intimidation, and abuse of civil and human rights.
In the circumstance what chance is there of a 'Denim Revolution' in Belarus
ever happening, the name being suggested for an equivalent to the 'Orange
Revolution' in Ukraine, the 'Rose Revolution' in Georgia or the 'Tulip
Revolution' in Kyrgyzstan?
It is highly suggestive that the latter three were named after natural
phenomena, while the former is after all a human product, denim, that happens to
be a staple product of the Belarussian economy.
There's the rub. Nobody is prepared to take Belarussian denim in bulk except the
Russians, as is true of virtually all that they sell them. It has always been
that way because of the soviet-style lack of quality in manufactured products.
This has contributed to Belarussian exports hitherto being virtually unsaleable
in free world markets.
The Belarussian economy is totally dependent on Moscow remaining benign in its
policy towards its former subjects, as it sees them. Russia previously sold
Belarus oil and gas at one fifth, or less, of world prices, much of which, after
it has satisfied its domestic needs, it then refines or whatever into another
form and sells on to world markets. That is unlikely to continue.
Moscow to pull the rug?
There is one severe problem for Lukashenka that is emerging in full clarity
after his election victory. The Kremlin was prepared to see him win, indeed
helped him by leaving Belarus out of the reckoning that other former satellite
states faced in energy prices. While gas to Ukraine and Georgia is only going to
be sold at near world market prices soon, it appeared that an exception was to
be made for Belarus, for a while longer at any rate.
Not so. Gazprom is demanding world price levels from Belarus too, unless it
hands over ownership of its transit firm for gas exports to Europe, Transneftgas,
to the Russian giant lock stock and barrel. If Minsk surrenders it meekly to
Moscow, it would lose its last leverage over its energy policy. It would forego
any chance of doing what the Ukrainians did in January when Gazprom shut off
supplies, namely to take over supplies meant for Western Europe.
Lukashenka was always at risk of Moscow turning against him. That is what seems
to have happened. Time will soon tell.
Belarus threatens Europe and USA with "adequate measures in return"
The Belarussian Foreign Ministry has stated that official Minsk may reply
with adequate measures to the EU, which banned entry into its territory for
three dozens of Belarussian officials, including the country's President
"The Foreign Ministry states once again: to reply to people's choice with
bans means to reject the right of Belarussian citizens to live in their own
country in their own way, and not in a foreign one. Republic Belarus is
compelled to take adequate measures against the EU and the USA. In accordance
with international practice, they will concern analogous categories of
persons," official Minsk is quoted by Lenta.ru as stating.
The following have been put onto the black-list of the European Parliament:
Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenka, leadership of presidential
administration - Gennady Nevyglas, Anatoly Rubinov, Natalya Petkevich, Oleg
Proleskovsky, Educational Minister Alexander Radkov, Information Minister
Vladimir Rusakevich, Justice Minister Viktor Golovanov, Belarussian MPs Vladimir
Konoplyov, Nikolai Cherginets, Sergey Kostyan, BRSM Secretary Mikhail Orda,
Belarussian CEC Secretary Nikolai Lozovik, General Prosecutor Pyotr Miklashevich,
KGB Chief Stepan Sukhorenko, court representatives, etc.
It is notable who is not on the list - the premier, vice-premiers and his chief
economic ministers. That is why the following visit could take place.
Belarus and EBRD discuss new country's strategy for 2006-2008
A Belarussian delegation headed by acting First Vice-Premier Vladimir
Semashko visited London in April to take part in a joint consultation session of
the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Business as usual.
As a correspondent was informed at the Belarussian Foreign Ministry, the rising
effectiveness of International Development Banks in countries with middle level
of incomes was planned to be discussed. "The Belarussian delegation will
conduct talks with the leadership of the EBRD and World Bank, discuss the
development of the project of the new country's strategy of the EBRD for Belarus
in 2006-2008," the Foreign Ministry stressed.
Also, the Belarussian delegation were to inform representatives of international
financial structures about plans and perspectives of social economic development
of Belarus in 2006-2008. Open views exchange concerning Belarussian assessment
of state and perspectives of cooperation with Western stockholders of the EBRD
and the World Bank will take place.
Russia delivers S-300 air defence systems to Belarus
Russia delivered the first batch of S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to
Belarus recently, Belarussian Defence Minister, Leonid Maltsev, said , New
Maltsev told a news conference that S-300 missiles systems were defensive
weapons, and the deployment of the systems was an internal affairs deal between
Belarus and Russia. The minister also denied western media claims that Belarus
planned to re-export the systems to Iran. "The report was nonsense. Under
the framework of the Joint Air Defence Group of the Union State, Belarus has no
rights to transfer the systems to others." he said. Russian Defence
Minister, Sergei Ivanov, during a working visit to Minsk, said defence
ministries of the two nations should coordinate their activities more closely
and their cooperation was an important factor safeguarding the regional
security. Russia and Belarus signed an agreement last year on the delivery of
the anti-aircraft missile systems.
Gazprom to switch to market principles in 2007
Gazprom is to adopt a market-oriented approach to its relations with Belarus
starting from 2007, Alexei Miller, CEO of the Russian gas giant, told Channel
One television's Voskresnoye Vremya news programme, Interfax News Agency
"Today Gazprom is switching to understandable and transparent market
principles in its dealings with all former Soviet republics. They are governed
by trends in world prices for hydrocarbons. What we are speaking about is that a
price-setting mechanism for Russian gas sold on the Belarussian market will be
guided by market principles and the experience of the world's gas
business," Miller said. "We started negotiations in due time to avoid
any unpleasant New Year surprises. Our talks will continue at the end of
April," he said. Asked whether the gas deal with Ukraine could be reviewed,
a possibility voiced by a number of Ukrainian politicians, Gazprom's CE said:
"You know, such shortsighted statements can be explained during the
election campaign, for instance by speculation in the interests of various
political forces. But they are totally inexplicable in an actual economic
situation and could destabilise relations," he said. "I am sure that
nobody in Ukraine wants a repeat of (this year's) situation, where gas
deliveries to Ukrainian consumers were halted due to the absence of contracts
and agreements. The rise in the price Ukraine has to pay for Russian gas to
Europe's level of US$230 per 1,000 cubic metres has already taken place,"