Thursday, March 09, 2006

Economic Growth With Fear; In Belarus It's The Fear Stupid!

"In the West, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is often portrayed as a deeply unpopular dictator. The truth is a little more complex than that. According to a January poll by the Vilnius-based Gallup/Baltic Surveys, Lukashenka enjoys support of some 55 percent of Belarusians, thus being practically able to win the 19 March presidential election in a free and fair vote. So why do so many people in Belarus support Lukashenka, apparently of their own free will?

One of the possible answers lies in the country's economy, which has officially enjoyed robust growth in the past four years. For many Belarusians, Lukashenka's economic policies appear to outweigh his heavy hand in subduing political dissent and impinging on human rights and personal freedoms in the country.... And he has ensured that the overwhelming majority of Belarusians have jobs and get paid regularly, "even if not much." ...

According to official data, registered unemployment in Belarus stands currently at 1.5 percent. By contrast, in neighboring Poland, the jobless amount to around 20 percent of the population. The average monthly wage in Belarus in 2005 was $205, up from $150 in 2004; the average monthly pension in 2005 was $98, up from $63 the previous year. The country's gross domestic product (GDP) doubled in U.S. dollar terms between 2002 and 2005, growing respectively by 4.7 percent, 6.8 percent, 11 percent, and 9.2 percent year-on-year in the past four years....

Quite a few independent Belarusian economic experts predict that the current political stability in the country, which was coupled in recent years with palpable economic growth, is unsustainable in the longer term. They basically argue that Belarus's economy has already exhausted its government-backed potential for growth and without deep restructuring and foreign investments may soon enter a phase of stagnation or even decline, thus triggering wider public discontent.

Lukashenka himself seems to be aware of the possibility of such an unpleasant scenario looming. "We have already squeezed practically everything out of what we have inherited from the Soviet era and what we have built in recent years," he said in a television interview in January. "Practically all of our production sector is working at 100 percent capacity, apart from some small- and medium-sized enterprises."

Another serious problem that Belarus will have to inevitably deal with in the future is the country's dependence on -- or as some put it, "addiction to" -- cheap Russian oil and gas supplies, which can be seen as indirect subsidies by the Kremlin to Lukashenka's "socially oriented" economy and are estimated at $3 billion-$4 billion annually." ...

Jan Maksymiuk "Analysis: When Bread Is Dearer Than Freedom In Belarus" Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty March 1, 2006


BUDAPEST - "Nostalgia for the old regime in the former communist countries of eastern and central Europe is still strong, according to a poll conducted by researchers in Budapest and published yesterday. Nearly 25% of the population would like to return to communism, 28% favoured democracy and a third were indifferent to current political regimes, the survey by the Social Research Institute (TARKI) showed. The poll was conducted last year in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovenia, Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Russia, Hungary and Romania, all former members of the Soviet bloc. "The Czech Republic is the only country where a majority, 52%, preferred democracy while the Estonians were the second most favourable to a democratic regime with 37%," the TARKI report said. At the other end of the scale was Russia, where only 13% favoured democracy and 36% liked the old communist regime. Next to the Russians, communist nostalgia was strongest among Bulgarians (38%) and Slovaks (31%). At present, six of the 11 countries surveyed have turned their focus to the West, joining the European Union. Two more, Bulgaria and Romania, hope to join in 2007."

National Post March 9, 2006 via


For the culture of fear in Belarus, especially among younger educated people who would like to be free to travel and study in Europe, see:

Steven Lee Myers "Bringing Down Europe's Last Ex-Soviet Dictator" New York Times Magazine, February 26, 2006.

Minsk at Night on Independence Avenue.

Having weathered the failure of American and Western European economic and technical assistance during the Eastern European and Russian economic dislocation of the 1990s, and now having enjoyed four years of stability and strong economic growth, probably one-half of the 10 millions citizens of Belarus -- especially its younger people -- would like to shed their constant fear and become a part of the new democratic Europe -- but only a new democratic Europe based on statistical indicators of social development, as well as "economic" development.

Photo credit: With thanks.


Visit Belarus, a Beautiful 1000 Year Old European Nation!

Chernobyl 20th Year Anniversary, April 26, 2006:


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