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Belarus

BELARUS

LOCATION, SIZE, AND EXTENT
TOPOGRAPHY
CLIMATE
FLORA AND FAUNA
ENVIRONMENT
POPULATION
MIGRATION
ETHNIC GROUPS
LANGUAGES
RELIGIONS
TRANSPORTATION
HISTORY
GOVERNMENT
POLITICAL PARTIES
LOCAL GOVERNMENT
JUDICIAL SYSTEM
ARMED FORCES
INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION
ECONOMY
INCOME
LABOR
AGRICULTURE
ANIMAL HUSBANDRY
FISHING
FORESTRY
MINING
ENERGY AND POWER
INDUSTRY
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
DOMESTIC TRADE
FOREIGN TRADE
BALANCE OF PAYMENTS
BANKING AND SECURITIES
INSURANCE
PUBLIC FINANCE
TAXATION
CUSTOMS AND DUTIES
FOREIGN INVESTMENT
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
HEALTH
HOUSING
EDUCATION
LIBRARIES AND MUSEUMS
MEDIA
ORGANIZATIONS
TOURISM, TRAVEL, AND RECREATION
FAMOUS BELARUSSIANS
DEPENDENCIES
BIBLIOGRAPHY

Republic of Belarus

Respublika Belarus

CAPITAL: Minsk

FLAG: Two horizontal bands of red (top) and green, with the red band twice as wide as the green. At the hoist is a vertical band showing a traditional Belarussian ornamental pattern.

ANTHEM: Maladaya Belarus.

MONETARY UNIT: The Belarus ruble (br) circulates along with the Russian ruble (r). The government has a varying exchange rate for trade between Belarus and Russia. br1 = $0.00047 (or $1 = br2,140) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is in force.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Orthodox Christmas, 7 January; International Women's Day, 8 March; Labor Day, 1 May; Victory Day, 9 May; Independence Day, 27 July; Day of Commemoration, 2 November; Christmas, 25 December.

TIME: 2 pm = noon GMT.

LOCATION, SIZE, AND EXTENT

Belarus is a landlocked nation located in eastern Europe, between Poland and Russia. Comparatively the area occupied by Belarus is slightly smaller than the state of Kansas, with a total area of 207,600 sq km (80,154 sq mi). Belarus shares boundaries with Latvia on the n, Russia on the n and e, Ukraine on the s, Poland on the sw, and Lithuania on the nw. The boundary length of Belarus totals 3,098 km (1,925 mi).

The capital city of Belarus, Minsk, is located near the center of the country.

TOPOGRAPHY

The topography of Belarus is generally flat and contains much marshland. The Belarussian Ridge (Belorusskya Gryda) stretches across the center of the country from the southwest to the northeast. The highest elevation is at Dzerzhinskaya Gora, 346 m (1,135 ft).

CLIMATE

The country's climate is transitional between continental and maritime. July's mean temperature is 19°c (67°f). January's mean temperature is -5°c (23°f). Rainfall averages between 57 cm (22.5 in) and 61 cm (26.5 in) annually.

FLORA AND FAUNA

About 45% of the country is forest land. Pine trees are found throughout the north, but spruce, alder, ash, birch, and oak trees are also common. Some of the mammals in the forest include deer, brown bears, rabbits, and squirrels. The southern region is a swampy expanse. The marshes are home to ducks, frogs, turtles, archons, and muskrats.

ENVIRONMENT

As part of the legacy of the former Soviet Union, Belarus's main environmental problems are chemical and nuclear pollution. Belarus was the republic most affected by the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in April 1986. Northerly winds prevailed at the time of the accident; therefore, most of the fallout occurred over farmland in the southeastern section of the country (primarily in the Gomel and Mogilev oblasts). Most experts estimate that 2530% of Belarus's farmland was irradiated and should not be used for agricultural production or to collect wild berries and mushrooms, although it continues to be used for these and other purposes. Belarus has 88 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Bialowieza Forest. There are seven Ramsar wetland sites. In 2003, about 6.3% of the total land area was protected.

In addition, Belarus has significant air and water pollution from industrial sources. The most common pollutants are formaldehyde, carbon emissions, and petroleum-related chemicals. In 1992, Belarus was among the world's top 50 nations in industrial emissions of carbon dioxide, producing 102 million metric tons, or 9.89 metric tons per capita. In 1996, the total fell to 61.7 million metric tons. The soils also contain unsafe levels of lead, zinc, copper, and the agricultural chemical DDT. All urban and rural dwellers have access to safe drinking water.

As of 2002, Belarus had over 2,000 species of plants, 74 mammal species, and 194 bird species. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 6 types of mammals, 4 species of birds, and 8 other invertebrates. Endangered species include the European bison and the European mink.

POPULATION

The population of Belarus in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 9,776,000, which placed it at number 81 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 14% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 16% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 88 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be -0.6%, a rate, viewed by the government as too low, that reflects low fertility rates and high mortality rates, especially among adult men. The projected population for the year 2025 was 9,399,000. The population density was 47 per sq km (122 per sq mi).

The UN estimated that 72% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 0.09%. The capital city, Minsk, had a population of 1,705,000 in that year. The estimated population of other major cities included Homyel, 481,000; Mahilyow, 374,000; Hrodna, 317,366; and Brest (formerly Brest-Litovsk), 290,000.

Almost 25% of the population of Belarus was killed during World War II, and combined with the fatalities of the Soviet-era purges, the postwar population was one-third smaller than it had been in 1930. It was not until the 1970s that the population returned to prewar levels.

MIGRATION

With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, some two million Belarussians were among the various nationality groups who found themselves living outside their autonomous regions or native republics. Most of the Belarussians who have returned to Belarus fled other former Soviet republics because of fighting or ethnic tensions. From 1989 to 1995, 3,000 Belarussians returned from Azerbaijan and 3,000 Belarussians returned from Kyrgyzstan. From 1991 to 1995, 16,000 Belarussians returned from Kazakhstan and 10,000 Belarussians returned from Tajikistan. In 1999 Belarus had 131,200 internally displaced persons from the ecological effects of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, and 160,000 "returnees" (ethnic Belarussians who had returned to Belarus from other former republics).

A defining characteristics of migration between former Soviet republics is its irregular or transient quality and the existence of "shuttle" migrants. Some 2005 estimates suggest that there are 10 million irregular migrants in the region. The estimated net migration rate for Belarus in 2005 was 2.42 per 1000 population. The government views the immigration level as too high.

As of 2004, Belarus had an estimated 8,200 asylum seekers officially registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In 2004, about 2,100 Belarussians made asylum claims, the majority in Sweden.

ETHNIC GROUPS

In 2005, an estimated 81.2% of the total population was Belarussian. Russians made up about 11.4% of the populace; Poles, Ukrainians, and other groups combined to make up about 7.4% of the population.

LANGUAGES

Belarussian belongs to the eastern group of Slavic languages and is very similar to Russian. It did not become a separate language until the 15th century, when it was the official language of the grand duchy of Lithuania. It is written in the Cyrillic alphabet but has two letters not in Russian and a number of distinctive sounds. The vocabulary has borrowings from Polish, Lithuanian, German, Latin, and Turkic. Russian and other languages are also spoken.

RELIGIONS

As of 2005, the State Committee on Religious and National Affairs estimated that approximately 80% of the population were Belarussian Orthodox. About 1520% were Roman Catholics. Between 50,0000 and 90,000 people were Jewish. Other minority religions included the Greek Rite Catholic Church, the Belarus Autocephalous Orthodox Church, Seventh-Day Adventists, Calvinism, Lutheranism, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Apostolic Christian Church, and Islam.

Since the 1994 elections, the country's first president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who claims to be an "Orthodox atheist," has maintained a policy of favoring the Belarussian Orthodox Church (a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church) as the country's chief religion. A 2003 Concordat between the government and the Belarussian Orthodox Church (BOC) more firmly established the special relationship between the government and the BOC. The BOC works closely with the government in developing and implementing political policies, including those related to such departments as the ministries of education, defense, health, and labor. The president grants the Orthodox Church special financial aid that is not given to other denominations and has declared the preservation and development of Orthodox Christianity a "moral necessity."

The government's State Committee on Religious and National Affairs (SCRNA), established in 1997, categorizes religions and may deny any faith it designates as "nontraditional" permission to register. The traditional faiths are the BOC, the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Judaism, Sunni Islam, and Evangelical Lutheranism. In 2002, Lukashenka passed a new law on religion that prohibits all religious groups from importing or distributing religious materials without prior approval from the government. The new law prevents foreigners from leading any religious organizations and prohibits those organizations from establishing clerical training schools within the country. The new law also set a more complex registration system and prohibits the operations of any unregistered group.

TRANSPORTATION

About 5,512 km (3,417 mi) of broad and standard gauge railways traverse Belarus, connecting it to Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, and Latvia, as of 2004. Of that total, broad gauge accounts for 5,497 km (3,419 mi). Of the 93,055 km (57,880 mi) of highways in 2003, all were hard-surfaced. As of 2003, there were 1,557,800 passenger cars and 25,400 commercial vehicles registered for use.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) initiated a study of railways and roads in 1993 to help determine location advantages for future development in Belarus. The focus of the EBRD study also included the development of the trucking industry.

Because Belarus is landlocked, there are no ports or merchant fleet. Although, there are, as of 2003, some 2,500 km (1,555 mi) of navigable canals and rivers, but whose use is limited by their location near the country's perimeter, and by shallowness. In 1995, Belarus claimed to have retained 5% of the merchant fleet of the former Soviet Union. As of 2004, there were an estimated 133 airports in the country. As of 2005, a total of 44 had paved runways and there is also a single heliport. In 2003, scheduled airline traffic carried about 234,000 domestic and international passengers.

HISTORY

The Belarussians are the descendants of Slavic tribes that migrated into the region in the 9th century. They trace their distinct identity from the 13th century when the Mongols conquered Russia and parts of Ukraine. During this period, Belarus managed to maintain its identity as part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The union of the Grand Duchy with the Polish Kingdom in 1569, resulting in the emergence of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita), put the territory of Belarus under Polish rule. As a result of the partitions of Rzeczpospolita in 1772, 1793, and 1795 by Imperial Russia, Austria, and Prussia, Belarus fell to the Russian Empire.

In March 1918, at the time of the Soviet-German Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in which Moscow agreed to relinquish claim to a substantial amount of territory captured by Germany in exchange for peace, the Belarussian National Republic was formed with German military assistance. However, after the German government collapsed in November 1918 and German forces were withdrawn from the region, Bolshevik troops moved in and set up the Belarussian Soviet Socialist Republic in January 1919. In 1922 the Belarus SSR became one of 15 socialist republics to form the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Two years later, Belarus's borders were enlarged at the expense of Russia and Ukraine. Later, parts of eastern Poland were annexed to Belarus by Stalin under the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. However, Belarus was devastated by World War II.

During the decades of Soviet rule, Belarus underwent intense Russification, and its leaders generally complied with Soviet policy. However, after extensive nuclear contamination by the 1986 Chernobyl accident in neighboring Ukraine, Belarussian nationalists, acting from exile in Lithuania, organized the Belarussian People's Front. The nationalist upsurge of the period was intensified by the discovery of mass graves from the Stalinist purges of the 1930s at Kuroplaty and other locations. Although the Belarussian leadership still supported keeping the Soviet Union intact, Belarus's parliament declared Belarus a sovereign state within the USSR in July 1990. Shortly after the abortive August 1991 coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev, Belarus declared its independence on 26 August 1991.

Belarus's first president, Alyaksandr Lukashenko, was elected in July 1994, the same year the country adopted its first post-Communist constitution. Lukashenko has halted economic and political reform, and silenced or even jailed his critics using internal security forces. At the end of 1996, Belarus sent the last of its nuclear missiles back to Russia. Also in November 1996, Lukashenko won a plebiscite to expand his power as president, although most observers agreed that the election was not fair. On 28 November 1996, Lukashenko signed into law a new constitution containing provisions that gave him almost total control of all branches of government and extended his term by two years to 2001. A new bicameral National Assembly replaced the old Parliament. During 1996, Lukashenko suspended the registration of new enterprises, stopped privatization, and spurned World Bank assistance. Under the new constitution, the president has the right to hire and fire the heads of the Constitutional Court and the Central Bank, and he also has the right to dissolve parliament and veto its decisions. Most members of the international community criticized the plebiscite expanding Lukashenko's power, and do not recognize the 1996 constitution or the bicameral legislature that it established.

The constitutional changes implemented by the president sparked strong protests, including public demonstrations and opposition by the Constitutional Court and members of parliament, some of whom attempted to form their own assembly. However, all dissent was effectively suppressed, and Lukashenko remained in power. After boycotting the April 1999 local elections, his political opponents held an alternative presidential election in July. This was followed by a new crackdown that forced opposition leader Semyon Sharetsky into exile. From exile Sharetsky proclaimed himself the nation's legitimate ruler, but his action had little effect on the actual state of political affairs in the country. Another prominent political dissident, Voctor Gonchar, was reported missing in September 1999.

In April 1997, Lukashenko and Russia's President Yeltsin signed an initial charter for economic union that included a plan to adopt a common currency. However, over the following two years, implementation of the integration plan moved slowly, and in September 1999, Belarus took steps to peg the country's currency to the euro. Nevertheless, at the end of year, Belarus and Russia reaffirmed their intentions of forming an economic alliance. The leaders of both countries signed a new treaty in December 1999, and it was approved by both parliaments. In April 2000 Russia's new president, Vladimir Putin, reconfirmed his country's commitment to strengthening ties with Belarus.

Parliamentary elections held in 2001 were criticized by election observers as being neither free nor fair. Lukashenko and his administration manipulated the election process to make sure a minimum of opposition candidates were elected to parliament. Turnout in 13 constituencies was so low that a repeat of the voting was necessary (it was held in March 2001). On 9 September 2001, Lukashenko was reelected president in what Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers described as undemocratic elections. Lukashenko won 75.6% of the vote, with opposition candidate Vladimir Goncharik winning 15.4% and Liberal Democratic Party leader Syargey Gaydukevich winning 2.5%. The government reported 83.9% of eligible voters participated in the election.

In June 2002, Russian president Vladimir Putin refused to follow the path to integration that Belarus had proposed for the two nations, saying it would lead to the recreation of "something along the lines of the Soviet Union." While Lukashenko pledged not to relinquish Belarus's sovereignty in the union with Russia, Putin put forth a proposal for the "ultimate unification" of both countries. Putin envisioned a federation based on the Russian constitution, with the Russian ruble as the state's sole currency and the election of a president in 2004. A constitution for the union was approved in March 2003. In April 2003, the speaker of the Russian Duma indicated Armenia, Ukraine, and Moldova might be probable candidates for joining the Belarus-Russian union. Although Lukashenko's relations with Moscow continued to improve (Russia endorsed the 2001 elections and the 2004 referendum), as of 2006, little progress had been made in solving some of the problems related to the organization and structure of the Belarus-Russian union.

European policy has not been coherent or proactive in facing the human right violations in Belarus. In November 2002, 14 EU states imposed a travel ban on Lukashenko and several of his government ministers as a way of protesting Belarus's poor human rights record. However, Lukashenko continued to eliminate political opponents, attack independent press, and expand his powers. In February 2003, Lukashenko pledged support for Iraq in the prelude to war that began on 19 March, led by a US and UK coalition, to project an image of a strong and independent leader.

Among European countries Poland has been playing the most active role in promoting democratic changes and market transformation in Belarus, and supporting the country's national revival. However, the Polish government has not developed a strong or consistent policy of dealing with Lukashenko. The Belarussian Union of Poles (ZPB), an organization representing the 400,000 ethnic Poles living in Belarus, had its headquarters raided by police in July 2005, after Lukashenko accused the organization of plotting his overthrow. Poland recalled its ambassador after the incident, and relations between the two countries were strained as of early 2006.

On 16 December 2005 presidential elections were announced for 19 March 2006.

GOVERNMENT

In May 1993, a draft constitution was presented to the 12th session of parliament, which adopted 88 of the new constitution's 153 articles.

Until mid-1994, Belarus was the only former Soviet republic not to have a president. The chairman of the Supreme Soviet was considered the chief of state, but power remained in the hands of the Council of Ministers headed by a prime minister.

On 19 July 1994, elections for president were held in Belarus. Alyaksandr Lukashenko received 80.1% of the vote. He was elected on a platform of clearing out the ruling Communist establishment. Lukashenko, however, is not a democrat but a Communist populist, who appears to have no plans for implementing political or economic reform.

He has been cited by Human Rights Watch for numerous violations and, by Western standards, rules as a dictator.

In November 1996, Lukashenko won a plebiscite to expand his powers. He signed a new constitution into law giving the president power to dissolve parliament and authorized the formation of a new bicameral National Assembly with a 64-member upper house, the Council of the Republic, and a 110-member lower house, the House of Representatives. All legislators serve four-year terms. The president's term was also extended until 2001, the year when he was reelected. The October 2004 referendum, criticized by Western observers as fraudulent, revised the constitution to eliminate presidential term limits. Consequently, Lukashenko was eligible to run for a third term in September 2006. Parliamentary elections held at the same time resulted in the election of only pro-Lukashenko candidates, with many opposition candidates disqualified on technicalities.

POLITICAL PARTIES

The Communist Party was declared illegal after the abortive August 1991 coup attempt, but was relegalized in February 1993. With two other pro-Communist parties it merged into the People's Movement of Belarus in May 1993. On the whole, political parties have not gathered the momentum evident in other former Soviet republics. None of the parties has had a large public following.

The parties with the greatest representation in the 260-member unicameral Supreme Council elected in 1995 were the Communist Party (42 seats) and the Agrarian Party (33). Following the elections in October 2004, which were widely criticized internationally, all the seats were won by pro-Lukashenko candidates. The Supreme Council was disbanded under the terms of the 1996 constitution and replaced with a bicameral legislature, for which the first elections were held in January 1997.

The primary pro-government party is the Belarussian Popular Patriotic Union, which supports President Lukashenko and the proposed union with Russia. Other pro-government parties include the Agrarian Party (AP), the Belarussian Communist Party (KPB), the Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus, and the Social-Sports Party. The primary opposition party is the Belarussian Popular Front, whose chairman, Zyanon Paznyak, was in exile in the United States and whose other leaders were jailed at various times. The Popular Front was one of three parties that organized the alternative presidential elections held in 1999 to protest the extension of President Lukashenko's term to 2001. Other opposition parties are the Belarussian Social-Democrat Party Narodnaya Gromada (BSDP NG), the Belarussian Social-Democratic party Hromada, the United Civic party (UCP), the Party of Communists Belarussian (PKB), and the Women's Party "Nadezhda". The opposition Belarussian Party of Labor was liquidated in August 2004, but remains active.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

Belarus is divided into six provinces (oblasts) and one municipality. The oblasts are roughly parallel to counties in the United States. Each has a capital city, and the name of the oblast is typically derived from the name of this city. The names of the six oblasts are Brestskaya, Homyel'skaya, Hrodzyenskaya, Mahilyowskaya, Minskaya, and Vitsyebskaya. The municipality is Horad Minsk. Local Councils of Deputies are elected for four-year terms. A 1994 decree gave the president the right to appoint and dismiss senior local officials. The constitutional modifications passed in 1996 give the president increased powers over local government, including the power of nullifying rulings by local councils.

JUDICIAL SYSTEM

The courts system consists of district courts, regional courts, and the Supreme Court. Higher courts serve as appellate courts but also serve as courts of first instance. There are also economic courts, and a Supreme Economic Court. Trials are generally public unless closed on grounds of national security. Litigants have a right to counsel and, in cases of need, to appointment of counsel at state expense.

The president appoints all district level and military judges. The 1996 constitution gives the president the power to appoint 6 of the 12 members of the Constitutional Court, including the chief justice. The Council of the Republic appoints the other remaining 6 members of the Constitutional Court. The judiciary is not independent and is under the influence of the executive. Legislation concerning independence of the judiciary was passed in 1995, but the laws have not been implemented. The Constitutional Court was established in 1994, and adjudicates serious constitutional issues, but it has no power to enforce its decisions. Prosecutors are responsible to the Procurator General who is appointed by the Council of the Republic according to the 1996 constitution. The offices of prosecutors consist of district offices, regional, and republic level offices.

ARMED FORCES

The active armed forces of Belarus numbered 72,940 in 2005. The reserves consisted of 289,500 individuals who had military service within the last five years. The nation's military is organized into three services: an army; an air force; and an air defense force. The Army numbered 29,600 active personnel, and was supported by 1,586 main battle tanks, 1,588 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 916 armored personnel carriers, and 1,499 artillery pieces. The Air Force and Air Defense Force numbered a combined 18,170 active personnel. The Air Force had 210 combat capable aircraft, including 50 attack helicopters. The Air Defense Force operated 175 surface-to-air missile batteries. Belarus also had a paramilitary force of 110,000 personnel, which included 12,000 border guards, an 87,000-man militia, and 11,000 Ministry of Interior Troops. The militia and the border guards are also under the command of the Interior Ministry. In 2005 the defense budget totaled $251 million.

INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION

Belarus was admitted to the United Nations on 22 October 1945 and serves on several specialized agencies, such as IAEA, IMF, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, WHO, and the World Bank. It is an observer in the WTO. Belarus joined the OSCE on 30 January 1992. The country is part of the Commonwealth of Independent Nations (CIS) and the Central European Initiative. In 2000, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan established the Eurasian Economic Community.

The country has signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and has formal diplomatic ties with many nations. It is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (London Group) and the Nonaligned Movement. The country is also a member of the NATO Partnership for Peace. The United States recognized Belarus's sovereignty 25 December 1991. US diplomatic relations with Belarus were established two days later. Belarus has unresolved boundary disputes with Ukraine and Latvia.

In environmental cooperation, Belarus is part of the Basel Convention, the Conventions on Biological Diversity and Air Pollution, Ramsar, CITES, the London Convention, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, and the UN Conventions on Climate Change and Desertification.

ECONOMY

Belarus's economy has been geared toward industrial production, mostly in machinery and metallurgy with a significant military component, although trade and services account for an increasing share of economic activity. Forestry and agriculture, notably potatoes, grain, peat, and cattle, are also important. Belarus's economy is closely integrated with those of Eastern Europe and the other republics of the former Soviet Union, and the breakup of the Soviet Union was highly disruptive to it. The demand for military products was cut sharply, and supplies of imported energy and raw materials were curtailed.

Despite repeated calls by the IMF for economic reform in Belarus, the Lukashenko government remains committed to maintaining state control over most industries. Lukashenko's administration has also come under severe criticism for its monetary policies. Western analysts accuse the Belarussian government of printing more money to subsidize higher salaries, thereby fueling inflation.

In 1997, Belarus and Russia signed a treaty of union, to provide for close cooperation in foreign affairs and military and economic policies, including freedom of movement for citizens, property ownership, and participation in local elections. Each country will retain its sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and other aspects of statehood however. A constitution for the union was approved in 2003.

The business climate remains poor in Belarus: as of 2000, production had increased, but products were uncompetitive on the world market and many were placed in warehouses for storage. Losses from state-owned businesses are largely written off, which prevents those businesses from going bankrupt and keeps unemployment artificially low. Because Lukashenko controls all governmental power, there are no checks and balances or legal provisions for regulating business matters. However, as of 2003, Belarus had six free economic zones, which have attracted foreign investment, especially from Poland, Russia, and Germany, with the United States as the sixth-largest investor.

Economic expansion has been strong over the past years, with a boost of the GDP growth rate from 7.1% in 2003, to 11.0% in 2004; in 2005, the rate is expected to return to the 2003 level. This expansion was fueled by strong domestic demand, as a result of an increase in real wages, and due to a better and more stable macroeconomic situation. Inflation has been fairly high, but decreasingin 2004 it was 18.1%, and by 2005 it was expected to dwindle further to 13.0%. Unemployment is very low at 2%, but a large number of the working force is believed to be underemployed.

Despite having an economy that seems to be doing well on paper, most international analysts agree that as long as Lukashenko will continue to favor the obsolete industrial base, and as long as he will continue to pump subsidies into the agricultural sector (the peasants and the blue collar workers are his main constituency), Belarus will not achieve healthy and sustainable economic growth.

INCOME

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Belarus's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $77.8 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $7,600. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 7.8%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 11.5%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 9.3% of GDP, industry 31.6%, and services 59.1% in 2005.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $162 million or about $16 per capita and accounted for approximately 0.9% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $32 million or about $3 per capita and accounted for approximately 0.2% of the gross national income (GNI).

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Belarus totaled $10.42 billion or about $1,055 per capita based on a GDP of $17.6 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 3.0%. In 2001 it was estimated that approximately 36% of household consumption was spent on food, 15% on fuel, 7% on health care, and 10% on education. It was estimated that in 2003 about 27.1% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.

LABOR

The labor force as of end 2003 numbered 4.305 million workers. Of that total in that same year, an estimated 14% were engaged in agriculture, 51.3% in services, and 34.7% in industry. In 2004, the number of registered unemployed was officially put at 2%, but there was a large segment of the working population that was underemployed.

Although the constitution provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, these rights are not respected in practice. Union activity is discouraged, and almost impossible to conduct in most of the state-owned larger industries. Strikes are legally permitted but tight control by the regime over public demonstrations makes it difficult to strike or hold public rallies. The government has harassed and arrested union leaders, and broken up union-sponsored activities. In addition, workers who are fired for union or political activity are not required to be rehired by their employers.

Forced or compulsory labor by adults or children is prohibited. The statutory minimum employment age is 16, although a child of 14 can be employed if the parent or legal guardian gives written consent. In addition, minors under the age of 18 cannot work at hazardous jobs, or those which will adversely affect his or her education. Also they cannot work overtime on government holidays, or on the weekend. The workweek was set at 40 hours, with a 24-hour rest period per week. Safety and health standards in the workplace are often ignored. As of 2005, the minimum wage was us$55 a month, which does not provide a decent standard of living. However, average real wages were officially reported (as of end 2005) at around us$250 per month, although many receive additional income from the underground economy.

AGRICULTURE

Belarus had about 5,570,000 hectares (14,159,000 acres) of arable land (27.6% of the total) in 2002. Agriculture engaged about 14% of the economically active population in 2003 and accounted for 9.3% of GDP in 2005. Production levels (in 1,000 tons) for 2004 include: potatoes, 9,900; sugar beets, 3,088; barley, 2,070; rye, 1,480; wheat, 1,025; and oats, 765. In 2002, 64,200 and 13,800 tractors and combines, respectively, were in service.

ANIMAL HUSBANDRY

About 15% of the total land area is devoted to pastureland. In 2004, there were some 3,924,000 cattle, 3,287,000 pigs, 63,000 sheep, and 24,000,000 chickens. Of the 639,500 tons of meat produced in 2004, beef and veal accounted for 35%; poultry, 14%; pork, 50%, and other meats, 1%. Belarus produces more dairy products than any other former Soviet republic except Russia, with 5.2 million tons of milk, 77,400 tons of butter and ghee, and 80,800 tons of cheese produced in 2004. That year, egg production amounted to 163,300 tons; honey, 3,100 tons.

FISHING

As a landlocked nation, fishing is confined to the system of rivers (Pripyat, Byarezina, Nyoman, Zach Dvina, Sozh, Dnieper) that cross Belarus. The total catch in 2003 was 12,318 tons, with aquaculture accounting for 44% of that amount.

FORESTRY

About 45% of the total land area was covered by forests in 2000. Radioactive contamination of some forestland from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster has severely restricted output. In 2003, Belarus produced 7.5 million cu m (265 million cu ft) of roundwood, of which 1,518,000 cu m (53.6 million cu ft) were exported for a value of $35.7 million.

MINING

Potash was the one significant mineral resource possessed by Belarus, which ranked second in world output in 2000. During the 1980s, Belarus produced 5 million tons per year (calculated based on potassium oxide content), about 50% of the former Soviet Union's output. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, production fell to 1.95 million tons by 1993. A program was then undertaken to raise the quality of potash to world standards to increase exports. Total production in 2002 was 3.8 million tons, down from 4.55 million tons in 1999. Potash was mined in the Salihorsk region, by the Belaruskaliy production association. Accumulated waste from the industry has raised environmental concerns. Two plants produced 2.17 million tons of cement in 2002.

ENERGY AND POWER

Domestic electricity is produced by four thermal plants. Belarus also imports electricity generated by nuclear and hydroelectric plants. In 2004, a total of 30 billion kWh was generated, of which 24.841 billion kWh came from thermal sources and 0.028 billion kWh from hydropower. In the same year, consumption of electricity totaled 28.015 billion kWh. Total capacity in 2002 was 7.838 million kW.

Only a small portion of Belarus's energy requirement is met by local production. Belarus has been producing oil since 1964 and had 37 operational fields in 1995. As of 2002 Belarus had oil reserves estimated at 198 million barrels, but there was a lack of foreign investment to fund exploration. In 2002, around 36,500 barrels of oil were produced per day, along with a nominal amount of peat and natural gas. Peat is found throughout the country and is processed by 37 fuel briquetting plants. Natural gas production in 2002 totaled 6.71 billion cu ft. There are two major oil refineries: Mazyr and Navapolatsk. Although oil consumption has been cut roughly in half since the early 1990s, Belarus was still obliged to import 75% of its oil from Russia as of 2002. In December 2002, Belarus sold its 11% stake in Slavneft, a joint Belarus and Russian state-run oil company, to Russia.

Belarus is an important transit route for Russian oil and natural gas exports to Eastern Europe, via pipelines that can carry up to 1,030,000 barrels per day of oil and 22.7 billion cu m (800 billion cu ft) per year of natural gas. Roughly half of Russia's net oil exports travel through Belarus, and a trade agreement between the two countries exempts Russia from paying export duties on this oil. In March 1993, Poland and Russia entered into an agreement to build a 2,500-mile natural gas pipeline from Russia's northern Yamal Peninsula, through Belarus and Poland, to Germany. When completed by 2010, the planned capacity of the new pipeline will be more than 56.6 billion cu m (2 trillion cu ft) per year. To maintain stable supplies of oil and natural gas, Belarus has entered into a joint project with Russia, sponsored by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), to develop 60 million tons of oil from idle wells in Russia's Tymen region in exchange for guaranteed Russian oil supplies.

INDUSTRY

Belarus's industrial base is relatively well-developed and diversified compared to other newly independent states. Industry accounted for 31.6% of GDP in 2005. Belarus's main industries are engineering, machine tools, agricultural equipment, fertilizer, chemicals, defense-related products, prefabricated construction materials, motor vehicles, motorcycles, textiles, threads, and some consumer products, such as refrigerators, watches, televisions, and radios. The types of motor vehicles produced are off-highway dump trucks with up to 110-metric-ton load capacity, tractors, earth movers for construction and mining, and 25-metric-ton trucks for use in roadless and tundra areas.

While there had been an increase in industrial production as of 2002, a high volume of unsold industrial goods remain stocked in warehouses, due to high overhead costs that make Belarussian products uncompetitive on the world market. Belarus has taken few steps to privatize state-owned industries: it was estimated that around 10% of all Belarussian enterprises were privatized as of 2000.

By 2004, the participation of industry in the overall economic output had decreased to 36.4%, while its share in the labor fell to 34.7%; agriculture made up 11% of the GDP, and employed 14% of the labor force; services came in first with 52.6%, and 51.3% respectively. The industrial production growth was less than half of the GDP growth rate, at 4%, but it recovered in the first nine months of 2005 (10%), and was well above the same rate in Russia and Ukraine (4% and 3.2% respectively).

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

The Academy of Sciences of Belarus, founded in 1929 and head-quartered in Minsk, has departments of physics, mathematics, and informatics; physical and engineering problems of machine building and energetics; chemical and geological sciences, biological sciences, and medical-biological sciences; it also operates numerous research institutes.

The Belarussian State University, founded in 1921 at Minsk, has faculties of applied mathematics, biology, chemistry, geography, mechanics and mathematics, physics, and radiophysics and electronics. The Belarussian State Technological University, founded in 1930 at Minsk, has faculties of chemistry technology and engineering, forestry, and organic substances technology. In 198797, science and engineering students accounted for 48% of college and university enrollment.

The Belarussian State Scientific and Technical Library, located in Minsk, had more than 1.2 million volumes as of 1996. In 2002, total research and development (R&D) expenditures in Belarus amounted to $348.3 million, or 0.6% of GDP, of which 63.4% came from the government, 24.4% from business, 10.1% from foreign sources, and 2.2% from higher education. In that year, 1,870 researchers and 207 technicians per million people were actively engaged in R&D. In 2002, high technology exports totaled $212 million, or 4% of manufactured exports.

DOMESTIC TRADE

In 1992, retail prices rose more than 1,000%. The same year a parallel national currency (called the ruble) was introduced and declared the only legal tender for purchasing goods such as food, alcohol, and tobacco. In 1998, the inflation rate was 182%. Though the government had initiated some capitalist reforms from 1991 to 1994, President Alexander Lukashenko (elected 1994) has significantly slowed efforts toward privatization through a program of "market socialism." The government has administrative control of prices and currency exchange rates and has also reestablished certain management rights over private enterprises. As of early 2003, nearly 80% of industry was state-owned. Independent banks had also been renationalized.

FOREIGN TRADE

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Belarus exported about 40% of its industrial output to other Soviet republics and imported 90% of its primary energy and 70% of its raw materials from them. Belarus has remained exceedingly dependant on Russia for economic support; a proposed EU-style partnership between the two nations threatens its economic independence.

In 2000, Belarus exported machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, petroleum products, and manufactured goods. Imports included fuel, natural gas, industrial raw materials, textiles, and sugar. Belarus's major trading partners are Russia, Ukraine, Poland, and Germany. Imports and exports grew at an annual pace of over 61% in 1995.

Unlike Russia, Belarus did not manage to maintain a positive resource balance in 2004while exports grew to $11.5 billion (FOBFree on Board), they were surpassed by imports, at $13.6 billion. Russia continued to dominate Belarus's trade, receiving 47% of its exports, and sending 68.2% of its imports. Other important trading partners included the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, and Poland.

BALANCE OF PAYMENTS

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2001 the purchasing power parity of Belarus's exports was $7.5 billion, while imports totaled $8.1 billion, resulting in a trade deficit of $600 million.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2001 Belarus had exports of goods totaling $7.26 billion and imports

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 9,945.6 11,558.0 -1,612.4
Russia 4,879.9 7,601.9 -2,722.0
United Kingdom 938.3 79.3 859.0
Poland 434.2 348.5 85.7
Germany 421.2 820.7 -399.5
Netherlands 413.8 93.4 320.4
Latvia 344.3 44.3 300.0
Ukraine 343.5 362.1 -18.6
Lithuania 265.0 154.2 110.8
China 162.3 71.8 90.5
Italy-San Marino-Holy See 135.3 284.0 -148.7
() data not available or not significant.
Current Account -285.2
    Balance on goods -806.9
      Imports -8,063.1
      Exports 7,256.2
    Balance on services 410.4
    Balance on income -42.8
    Current transfers 154.1
Capital Account 56.3
Financial Account 247.1
    Direct investment abroad -0.3
        Direct investment in Belarus 95.8
    Portfolio investment assets 10.5
    Portfolio investment liabilities -45.4
    Financial derivatives
    Other investment assets -139.2
    Other investment liabilities 325.7
Net Errors and Omissions -99.6
Reserves and Related Items 81.4
() data not available or not significant.

totaling $8.06 billion. The services credit totaled $1.01 billion and debit $603 million.

Unlike any other country in the region, Belarus recently witnessed a trade recoil, with exports of goods and services decreasing from $11.6 billion in 2003, to $9.9 billion in 2004; imports went down from $12.3 billion in 2003, to $10.3 billion in 2004. The resource balance was consequently negative, but not alarming-$678 million in 2003, and -$441 million in 2004. The current account balance followed a similar path, improving from -$505 million in 2003, to -$271 million in 2004. Total reserves (including gold) were insignificant at $432 million, covering less than a month of imports in 2004.

BANKING AND SECURITIES

The National Bank of Belarus is the central bank of Belarus, charged with regulating the money supply, circulating currency, and regulating the commercial banks of the country. The currency unit is the ruble. There are no current figures on the level of foreign currency reserves, but it is widely assumed that these have dwindled to perilously low levels because of the need for the National Bank of Belarus to maintain the local currency at its over-valued exchange rate on the Minsk Interbank Currency Exchange (MICE). The central bank has also had to turn to the street market to replenish reserves; in August, 1996, it bought $25 million, paying effectively 10% more than it would have through MICE. Under Belarus's "currency corridor," the Belarussian ruble cannot fall below BR615,000: $1 at its twice-weekly auctions at the MICE. The street market accounts for 7080% of foreign exchange trading. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $640.0 million. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $1.8 billion. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 48%.

INSURANCE

No recent information about the insurance industry in Belarus is available.

PUBLIC FINANCE

Because it was formerly a part of the Soviet Union, Belarus has a well-established industrial base, but the transition from a centrally planned economy to a free market economy has not been easy. Privatization, although in progress, has been happening slowly, and foreign investment is discouraged by the "hostile" business climate.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Belarus's central government took in revenues of approximately $5.9 billion and had expenditures of $6.3 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$440 million. Total external debt was $4.662 billion.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2002, the most recent year for which it had data, central government revenues were br6,960.4 billion and expenditures were br7,089 billion. The value of revenues was us$4 million and expenditures us$4 million, based on an official exchange rate for 2002 of us$1 = br1,790.917 as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 20.9%; defense, 4.6%; public order and safety, 4.4%; economic affairs, 13.0%; health, 3.6%; recreation, culture, and religion, 1.4%; education, 4.1%; and social protection, 47.9%.

TAXATION

Belarus imposes a wide array of taxes on business and citizens. In 2005, the corporate income tax for resident companies was 24% and 30% for insurance companies and banks. Securities transactions are taxed at 40%. Companies with profits of over 5,000 times

Revenue and Grants 6,960.4 100.0%
    Tax revenue 3,711.9 53.3%
    Social contributions 2,845.6 40.9%
    Grants 16.1 0.2%
    Other revenue 386.8 5.6%
Expenditure 7,089 100.0%
    General public services 1,484.8 20.9%
    Defense 323.6 4.6%
    Public order and safety 311.8 4.4%
    Economic affairs 924.8 13.0%
    Environmental protection
    Housing and community amenities 1.3 0.0%
    Health 253.4 3.6%
    Recreational, culture, and religion 101.4 1.4%
    Education 293.5 4.1%
    Social protection 3,394.3 47.9%
() data not available or not significant.

the minimum wage are taxed an additional 15% under certain conditions. Joint ventures in which foreign participation is more than 30% are eligible for a three-year tax holiday.

The main indirect tax is the country's value-added tax (VAT) with a standard rate of 18%. A reduced rate of 10% is placed upon certain foodstuffs, agricultural products, repair services, hair-dressers, and laundries. Other consumption taxes include a 3% turnover tax and excise taxes ranging from 1075%. There are also taxes on the use of natural resources, including the Chernobyl nuclear plant. Individual income is taxed according to a progressive schedule of rates ranging from 12% (up from 4.7%) to 30%. There is a 64.8% employer payroll tax for social security and employment taxes. There are also direct taxes on property and land.

CUSTOMS AND DUTIES

A 1995 customs union with Russia allows goods to flow between the two countries duty-free. However, the union required Belarus to conform its customs rates to those of Russia, resulting in a tariff increase from 510% to 2040%. In 1995, Belarus also introduced a 20% import VAT (value-added tax) to be paid at the border on all incoming goods, except certain raw material used by local manufacturers.

FOREIGN INVESTMENT

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) financed several major infrastructure improvement and commercial projects. The World Bank was financing construction and telecommunication projects, but these were discontinued in 1996 by President Lukashenko. At the end of the decade, President Lukashenko's steadfast refusal to implement market reforms continued to keep foreign investment levels low. In May 2002, however, the government announced a new program aimed at raising the share of foreign investment in GDP from 19% to 2628%, with most investments coming from Russia. Several state-owned enterprises (SOEs), including oil refineries and chemical plants, were to be transformed into joint stock companies in preparation of selling 49.9% in blocks of 10%. Many restrictions are still tied to foreign investments and in June 2003, President Lukashenko announced that he had turned down proposals from foreign investors amounting to $10 billion because of unacceptable terms. The president stated that the government's goal was at least $1 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2003.

FDI inflow for Belarus reached $444 million in 1999, up from $352 million in 1997 and $203 million in 1998. However, the inflow was reduced to a trickle in 2000 ($90 million) and 2001 ($169 million). During the decade 1993 to 2003, according to the Belarus government, foreign investment totaled $4 billion, $1.7 billion in FDI and $2.5 billion in credits guaranteed by the government. All but a small proportion of foreign investment has come from Russia. Other sources include the Netherlands, Germany, and the United States (McDonald's, Coca Cola, and Ford). However, McDonald's and Coca Cola have both had problems with the government and the Ford plant is closed.

Investments have regained strength in 2004, but they were still relatively low to the GDP. What is worse, though, is the fact that only a small percentage of investments come from outside the countrydue to a relatively inauspicious business climate and continued state control of major national companies. For the most part, investments are fueled by a high domestic demand (such as financing of new housing), and only a small part went to productive assets.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

In the summer of 1995, the Belarussian president announced the policy of "market socialism," after a period of economic liberalization and privatization that had taken place from 199194. The government still controls key market sectors as the private sector only makes up 20% of the economy. Most of the heavy industry in Belarus remains state-owned. Belarus offers easy credit to spur economic growth, but this comes at the price of high inflation. To combat spiraling wages and prices, President Lukashenko imposed price controls. These policies have driven away foreign investment and left Belarus economically isolated.

Bad harvests in 1998 and 1999 and continued trade deficits worsened the climate of economic development. The government resorted to inflationary monetary policies, including the printing of money, to pay salaries and pensions. In 2000, the government tightened its monetary policies, but in 2002, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) criticized Belarus for its economic performance, and refused to resume loans to the country. (IMF loans were last offered in 1995.) The balance of payments situation remained weak from 200103, as the ruble rose against the US dollar and the Russian ruble. The current account deficit was $279 million or 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2003. There were plans in 2003 for monetary and currency union with Russia, which would require substantial macroeconomic reforms on the part of Belarus.

The country's good economic performance is expected to falter in the coming years due to the concerted effect of a series of factors. First of all, oil prices (which have boosted export returns) are expected to level off soon. An appreciation of the currency will work as a disincentive for exporters, while the growth of wages cannot exceed the growth in productivity for too long. Also, Belarus's most important trade partner, Russia, will probably curtail imports, as it is itself in an economically difficult position.

SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT

Old age, disability, and survivors are protected by a social insurance system updated in 1999. Sickness, maternity, work injury, family allowance, and unemployment benefits are covered by the system. Employers contribute between 1035% of payroll depending on the type of company. The government covers the cost of social pensions and subsidies as needed. Retirement is set at age 60 for men and age 55 for women. Workers' compensation laws were first instituted in 1939. Family allowances are available for families with one or more children.

The human rights record of Belarus has worsened in recent years, after President Lukashenka amended the constitution to extend his stay in office and handpick members of parliament. Reports of police brutality are widespread and prison conditions are poor. Arbitrary arrests and detention have been reported, as well as incidents of severe hazing in the military. As of 2004, political opponents and protests are met with a violent government response. The government abridges freedom of the press, speech, assembly, religion, and movement. Religious freedom and equality is provided for in the constitution, but religions other than Russian Orthodox are discriminated against. There were a number of right wing and skinhead groups active in 2004.

Domestic abuse and violence against women continued to be a significant problem in 2004. Although laws against rape exist, most women do not report the crime due to fear that the police will blame the victim. Spousal rape is not viewed as a crime. While there are no legal restrictions on women's participation in public life, social barriers are considerable, and women commonly experience discrimination when it comes to job opportunities. The law mandates equal pay for equal work, but few women reach senior management or government positions. Trafficking in women remains a serious problem.

HEALTH

The basic framework of the health care system has remained the same since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Health care is administered through a network of hospitals, polyclinics, tertiary care centers, and walkin clinics. As of 2004, there were an estimated 450 physicians, 1,234 nurses, 44 dentists, and 31 pharmacists per 100,000 people. In addition to hospitals and medical personnel, the medical infrastructure comprises pharmacies and other retail outlets from which people and institutions acquire medicines and other basic medical supplies. Health care expenditures were an estimated 5.6% of GDP.

The incident with the most wide-ranging effects on the health of the Belarussian population was the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in April 1986. An estimated 2.2 million Belarussians were directly affected by radioactive fallout. As a result of the disaster, the population is constantly subject to increased amounts of background radiation that weakens the immune systems of individuals in contaminated areas; many are said to suffer from "Chernobyl AIDS."

The 1999 birthrate was 10 per 1,000 inhabitants, with 101,317 births. Life expectancy in 2005 was 68.72 years. In 1997, children one year of age were immunized at the following rates: tuberculosis, 98%; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 97%; polio, 98%; and measles, 98%. The infant mortality rate in 2005 was 13.37 per 1,000 live births. Maternal mortality was estimated at 28 per 100,000 live births in 1998. In 1999, there were 80 deaths from tuberculosis per 100,000 people.

The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.30 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 15,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 1,000 deaths from AIDS in 2003.

The National AIDS Center was established in 1990.

HOUSING

The lack of adequate, affordable housing continues to be a problem for Belarus, but certain advances have been made. After the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster, the government was forced to seal off 485 human settlement areas, displacing about 135,000 people. Over 65,000 apartments and homes have since been built to house these people. Since 1992, the government has been reforming housing laws to secure the constitutional right of citizens to acquire, build, reconstruct, or lease housing facilities.

In 1999, about 97% of the population were living in what was defined as conventional dwellings (primarily detached houses, separate or shared apartments or flats, and hostels). About 56% were living in separate flats. About 31% were in detached houses. Those living in flats had the greatest access to improved utilities, such as central heating, central piped hot water, and flush toilets. Nationwide, only about 68% of the population had flush toilets in the home (1999), and only 71% had piped water. About 26.5% of the total population were using stove heating. About 66% of the housing stock had been built in the period 196190.

EDUCATION

Education is compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 15. The primary school program covers four years of study and the basic education covers five years. General secondary programs are offered at gymnasiums (general studies), lyceums (affiliated with universities), and colleges (vocational studies); general secondary studies courses cover an additional two years. Students also have an option of attending a four-year technical school (technicum) or a three-year trade school instead of the general programs.

Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 94% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 85% of age-eligible students. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 16:1 in 2003. The ratio for secondary school was about 9:1. It is estimated that about 98.7% of all students complete their primary education. The academic year runs from September to July.

Education at public higher education institutes is free for students who pass the entrance competition. In 2005, there were 44 public higher education institutions, including 25 universities, 9 academies, 4 institutes, 5 colleges, and 1 technical school. There were also 13 private higher education institutions. Total enrollment at these institutions was about 545,800. The largest public institute is the Belarussian State University, which is located in Minsk and was founded in 1921. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 99.8%, with equal rates for men and women.

The official languages of education are Belarussian, which is written in the Cyrillic script, and Russian. The government is now putting more emphasis on replacing Russian with Belarussian. The Ministry of Education and the National Institute for Higher Education are the primary administrative bodies. As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 6% of GDP.

LIBRARIES AND MUSEUMS

As of 2002, the National Library in Minsk held 7.6 million volumes. The country also had an extensive public library system. Universities with significant library holdings include the Belarussian State Polytechnical Academy (over two million volumes), Belarussian State University (1.7 million volumes), and the Minsk Teacher Training Institute (1.2 million volumes). The presidential library holds 1.5 million volumes, and the Gomel Regional Library has 1.3 million volumes.

The country records 14,392 monuments and historic sites. The State Art Museum in Minsk houses the country's largest collection of fine arts. The Belarussian State Museum of the Great Patriotic War (World War II) in Minsk houses artifacts and memorials of the country's great travails during the war. There is a historical and archaeological museum in Grodno and a natural history museum in Belovezskaja Pusca.

MEDIA

The Ministry of Telecommunications controls all telecommunications through Beltelcom. In 2003, there were an estimated 311 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people; about 292,800 people were on a waiting list for telephone service installation. The same year, there were approximately 113 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

The government operates the only nationwide television and radio stations; however, there are several local stations. Some Russian, Polish, and Lithuanian stations are received in various parts of the country, but the government has blocked certain programming and has removed some channels from local cable access. In 2003, there were an estimated 199 radios and 362 television sets for every 1,000 people. About 77.2 of every 1,000 people were cable subscribers. In 2003, 141 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were four secure Internet servers in the country in 2004. All ISPs are controlled by the state.

The most widely read newspapers (with 2002 circulation figures) are Sovetskaya Belorussiya (Soviet Belorussia, 330,000); Narodnaya Hazeta (People's Newspaper, 259,597); Respublika (Republic, 130,000); Vechernii Minsk (Evening Minsk, 111,000); Svaboda ( 90,000); Zvyazda (Star, 90,000); and Belorusskaya Niva (Belarussian Cornfield, 80,000).

Most of the higher circulation papers are controlled by the state in some way. Though freedom of the press is granted in the 1996 constitution, the government continues to restrict this right through a virtual monopoly over forms of mass communication and its desire to limit media criticism of its actions. It controls the editorial content and policy of the largest circulation daily newspapers and of radio and television broadcasts and places severe restrictions on the editorial content of independent publications or broadcasts. Local radio and television stations are pressured to refrain from reporting on national issues. Government authorities reserve the right to ban and censor publications presenting critical reports on national issues. In 2004, the government suspended publication of 25 privately-owned newspapers.

ORGANIZATIONS

Belarus's important business and commercial organizations include the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Republic of Belarus. Important agricultural and industrial organizations include the Belarussian Peasants' Union, the Union of Entrepreneurs and Farmers, and the Union of Small Ventures. There are number of professional associations, particularly for members of medical professions.

The National Academy of Sciences and the Belarussian Physical Society promote public interest and education in science. The Belarussian Think Tanks is a public policy center involved in developing and promoting ideas to create democracy, market economy, and respect for human rights in Belarus.

Political interest youth organizations include the Belarussian Patriotic Youth Union and the Youth Front of Belarus (est. 1993). The Belarus Youth Information Center (YIC) was founded in 1994 to encourage and support youth involvement in science, culture, and education. The Belarussian Students Association is an affiliate member of the National Union of Students in Europe (ESIB). There is an organization of Girl Guides in the country, YMCA/YWCA, and a Junior Chamber Belarus. Several sports associations are active, representing such pastimes as baseball and softball, track and field, badminton, tennis, and air sports. The country sponsors a National Olympic Committee, a Paralympic Committee, and a Special Olympics chapter.

The International Association for Volunteer Effort serves to promote and provide a network for voluntary service organizations, including Lions Club International, which is active in the country. There is also a League of Youth Voluntary Service. There are active chapters of the Red Cross, Caritas and UNICEF.

TOURISM, TRAVEL, AND RECREATION

Scenery, architecture, and cultural museums and memorials are primary attractions in Belarus. The Belavaezhskaja Puscha Nature Reserve features a variety of wildlife and a nature museum. The city of Hrodna is home to the baroque Farny Cathedral, the Renaissance Bernadine church and monastery, and the History of Religion Museum, which is part of a renovated 18th-century palace. There are also two castles in the area, both housing museums. A valid passport and visa are required of all visitors. An HIV test is required for visits longer than 90 days.

In 2003, there were 63,779 tourist arrivals in Belarus, up from 61,033 in 2000. Tourism receipts totaled $339 million.

In 2005, the US Department of State estimated the cost of staying in Minsk at $187 per day.

FAMOUS BELARUSSIANS

Frantsky Sharyna, who lived in the first quarter of the 16th century, translated the Bible into Belarussian. Symeon of Polatsk was a 17th-century poet who wrote in Belarussian. Naksim Bahdanovich was an important 19th-century poet. Modern writers include Uladzimir Dubouka (19001976) and Yazep Pushcha, both poets. Kuzma Chorny and Kandrat Krapiva (18961991) were writers of fiction during the outpouring of Belarussian poetry and literature during the 1920s. Famous modern composers from Belarus included Dzmitry Lukas, Ryhor Pukst, and Yauhen Hlebau (19292000).

DEPENDENCIES

Belarus has no territories or colonies.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Aleksievich, Svetlana. Keth Gessen (trans.). Voices from Chernobyl. Normal, Ill.: Dalkey Archive, 2005.

Brawer, Moshe. Atlas of Russia and the Independent Republics. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.

Dean, Martin. Collaboration in the Holocaust: Crimes of the Local Police in Belorussia and Ukraine, 194144. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.

Korosteleva, Elena, Colin W. Lawson, and Rosalind J. Marsh (eds.). Contemporary Belarus: Between Democracy and Dictatorship. London, Eng.: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.

Mandel, David. Labour after Communism: Auto Workers and Their Unions in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. New York: Black Rose Books, 2004.

McElrath, Karen (ed.). HIV and AIDS: A Global View. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002.

White, Stephen, Elena Korosteleva, and John Löwenhardt (eds.). Postcommunist Belarus. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004.

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Belarus

Belarus

Basic Data

Official Country Name: Republic of Belarus
Region (Map name): Europe
Population: 10,350,194
Language(s): Byelorussian, Russian, other
Literacy rate: 98.0%
Area: 207,600 sq km
GDP: 29,950 (US$ millions)
Number of Television Stations: 47
Number of Television Sets: 2,520,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 243.5
Number of Cable Subscribers: 332,000
Cable Subscribers per 1,000: 33.2
Number of Satellite Subscribers: 60,000
Satellite Subscribers per 1,000: 5.8
Number of Radio Stations: 76
Number of Radio Receivers: 3,020,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 291.8
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 180,000
Internet Access per 1,000: 17.4

Background & General Characteristics

The Republic of Belarus is an independent state formed after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. It is a legal heir to a former Soviet Socialist Republic of Belarus. On July 27, 1990 the Supreme Soviet (Parliament) of the Republic adopted a declaration on national sovereignty. In 1991 this document received a constitutional status. Belarus is a founding member of the Organization of the United Nations. On June 26, 1945, it signed the Statutes of the UN. It is a founder of Commonwealth of Independent States and forms a Union with Russia.

Throughout the centuries the territory of contemporary Belarus was divided among different countries: Lithuania, Prussia, Poland. Different languages and religions left their marks on culture and literature of this region. Before World War II the republic had a considerable Jewish population that was annihilated in the Holocaust.

The main distinctive feature of the Republic is that its Slavic population speaks mostly Russian and not Belo Russian. In the eighteenth century the Catholic influence from Poland, in the nineteenth century Russian Imperial policy of assimilation and non-recognition of Belo Russian as a language, the division of the country between Poland and USSR in the interwar period, all created a unique situation when the majority of press and literature published in Belarus are in Russian language.

The link to the Soviet past is perhaps more visible in Belarus than in any other of the 14 former USSR republics. Belarus keeps a Soviet-era coat of arms, flag, and the music of the national anthem. The state security service continues to be called KGBELARUS (KGB). Significantly as of 2002, the names of the main Soviet era newspapers and magazines had not been changed. Their preeminent position in the market also had been kept intact. These particular features explain in part why undemocratic and authoritarian tendencies in Belarus after 1991 had a significant impact on the media.

As of 2001, Children under the age of 15 accounted for 20 percent of the population. The adult population was 58 percent and senior citizens over 60, some 21 percent. The population is mostly urban: 70 percent live in the cities and 30 percent in the rural areas. The literacy rate is high. In 2000, some 1,547 million studied in secondary schools while 95,000 had graduated. About 281,000 students attended courses in universities and colleges. At the same time 61 million books and brochures were published. Total stock of books in public libraries amounted to 77 million copies. There are 296 telephones per 1000 people. Belo Russians accounted for 81 percent of the population; Russians, 11 percent; Poles, 4 percent; Ukrainians, 2.4 percent; and Jews, .3 percent.

The major cities are Minsk (capital), with the population of 1.7 million; Gomel, .49 million; Vitebsk, .34 million; Mogilev, .36 million. The size of national economy was in 2002 some 3 percent of neighboring Russia. The pace of post-communist reforms in this country is slow. The transition to the market economy is not as fast as in neighboring countries. As of 2000, the total percent of the population who worked in foreign owned companies was only .4; those who worked in mixed joint ventures (national and foreign capital) numbered 1.3 percent. In the government sector of the economy, workers numbered 57 percent, and in privately owned businesses, they numbered about 42.5 percent.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the biggest political party continued to be the Communist. The Human Rights issues were advocated by the Khartiia 97 movement. The nationalistic movements, unlike in other post-Soviet republics, constituted the opposition. Belo Russian National Front, United Civil Party, and Narodnaia gromada (Social Democratic Party) were allowed to operate, but their access to the media was insignificant.

The first newspaper on the territory of contemporary Belarus is believed to have been Gazeta Grodzen'ska (1776). It was published in Polish in a two-page format. Starting in 1838 the official newspapers were published in Russian (since it was an official language of the Russian Empire): Vitebskie gubernskie novosti (Vitebsk Provincial News, also Grodno, Minsk, and Mogilev). In 1862-63 K. Kalinoiskii published an underground newspaper, Muzhytskaia prauda (Peasant Truth) in Belo Russian language. The first authorized printing house for Belo Russian language publications was opened in 1906, Nashe Delo (Our Cause). After the October 1917 socialist revolution led by Lenin, several republican and provincial newspapers were established. In 1924 (district), in 1938 (regional), and in 1954 (papers at both district and region levels).

The most distinctive feature of journalism and media in general is that it is practiced in Russian. That makes sense since in a century before the 1917 Bolshevik revolution only 13 out of 249 publications were in Belo Russian language. During the years of independence the number of magazines and periodicals rose sharply from 129 in 1990 (those in Belo Russian language accounted for 36) to 354 in 2001 (those in Belo Russian accounted for 111). However, the yearly number of printing copies went down from 54.1 million (33 million in Belo Russian) to 16 million (4 million in Belo Russian). The rise in the number of newspapers displayed a different tendency, a jump from 224 titles (135 in Belo Russsian) to 610 (202 in Belo Russian). Total single circulation went from 5.7 million copies to 11.4 (Belo Russian language dropped from 2.3 million to 1.8 million). Annual circulation in million of copies went down from 985 million in 1990 to 635 million in 2000 (in Belo Russian language from 312 to 216). The country is open to Russian language publication from the Russian Federation as well.

Some Russian Federation newspapers have local editions: Komsomol'skaia Pravda prints 220,000 copies on Friday and 30,000 on a regular day. The most circulated Russian newspaper, Argumenty I facty (Arguments and Facts) has a 160,000 daily circulation in Belarus and includes a special local supplement.

Belarus by European standards is a closed society. Only 48,000 tourists visited the country in 2000, mostly from neighboring Poland (13,000). At the same time 1.2 million Belo Russians traveled abroad outside CIS and Russia.

As of January 1, 1995 in the republic there were published 525 newspapers. The national newspapers that belong to the government and are subsidized from the national budget date their existence back to Soviet times: Zviazda (Star), Literatura I mastatstva (Literature and Art), Sovetskaia Belarus (Soviet Belarus, in Russian, available on-line), Chyrvonaia zmena (Red Relief), Respublika (Republic), Narodnaia gazeta (People's Newspaper, in Russian), Nastaunitskaia gazeta (Teacher's Newspaper). Regional newspapers are: Zaria (Dawn, Brest), Minskaia prauda (Minsk Truth), Magileuskaiaprauda (Mogilev Truth). The titles of most of these newspapers have not changed since the Soviet Era. This fact suggests the much larger and pervasive difficulties and challenges of transition from Communism to post-communist society in this former Soviet Republic.

In the capital six non-government newspapers of general interest are published. Only one of them, Narodnaia Volia, can be considered daily (five issues a week). The second place belongs to Belorusskaia delovaia gazeta (four times a week, available on-line). The rest are typical large format weeklies.

Theoretically diverse political parties, civil organizations and movements, artistic and professional groups, and private citizens, all have a right to publish their own printed media. More than 1,000 newspapers and magazines are registered in the country. In fact, 80 percent of them belong to private citizens or businesses. However, only few non-government papers have a circulation running in tens of thousands: Narodnaia Volia, 75,000; Belorusskaia Delovaia Gazeta and Belorusskaia Gazeta, 20,000. The vast majority of regional papers have a circulation from several hundred to two or three thousand copies. The circulation of government papers surpasses those of private at the ratio of ten to one. To this should be added a variety of official local newspapers and those published by the government ministries. Vo slavu Rodiny (For the Glory of the Motherland) is published by the Ministry of National Defense for the purpose of indoctrination work in the armed forces. The industrial factories and Soviet era kolkhozy and sovkhozy (collective and Soviet peasant farms) also publish their own tabloid size four-page newspapers called mnogotirazhka. Minsk Auto Factory (MAZ) has its own Avtozavodets paper.

All government papers are subsidized from the budget, either presidential or national, or from the special foundations held by industrial enterprises. Though the printing costs in the republic are high, the sales price is brought down by heavy subsidies. There are no problems with distribution for government paper. The local authorities mandate their subordinates and managers of the state firms and enterprises to subscribe to government papers, both national and regional. This is another Soviet-like feature of the press.

Language Issues

The paradox of the current situation in Belarus is the fact that the government represented by the president, prime minister, administration of the president, security service (KGB), and to a large degree by the president-controlled Parliament forces, all try to impose the Soviet era style of government and the Russian language as its main instrument while the opposition promotes the national Belarus language and culture and is oriented to Western European values. Therefore the government makes systematic efforts to subvert the national press, especially the local one.

As of 2002, this typical situation could be illustrated by Baranovichy, a town in the Brest region near the Polish border. According to a population census, 83 percent of the people in Baranovichy consider Belarussian their mother tongue and 40 percent use it in everyday communication. However, there are only 3 independent newspapers in this town of 170,000, and all of them are published in Russian. Belaruskaye Slova (Belarusian Word), the first Belarusian language independent newspaper in the town, was founded in 1991 at the beginning of the national revival period. But in 1994 it was economically strangled; the fine imposed on the publication for an article published in it amounted to its several annual budgets. After that, the ex-editor of the newspaper tried to restore the newspaper, but extremely tough conditions of registration along with absurd prices for printing and distribution made it impossible.

The Largest Newspapers by Circulation

As of the early 2000s, Sovetskaia Belarus (The Soviet Belarus) was published by the Administratsiia Prezidenta Respubliki Belarus' (the President's Office of Belarus). Founded in 1927, the daily paper, initially the mouthpiece of the local branch of Communist Party, had Format A2 and half a million copies. It was printed in Belorusskii Dom Pechati (Belo Russian House of Press), the main state owned printing facility in the Republic. Respublika (The Republic), with a circulation of 120,000, was published 250 days a year by the Soviet Ministrov (Council of Ministers) since 1991 in both Belo Russian and Russian. This paper was also printed in Belorusskii Dom Pechati. Begun in 1999, Soiuz (Union) was published by the Ispolnitel'nyi komitet I Parlamentskoe sobranie Soiuza Belarusi I Rossii (Executive Committee and Parliamentary Congress of Belarus and Russia), the main bodies of proposed union between Russia and Belarus. The publishers were Belorusskii dom pechati andRossiiskaia Gazeta (Russian Newspaper), the official organ of the Russian Government. The stated circulation was of 900,000 copies. Vechernii Minsk (Evening Minsk), format A2 evening newspaper was published in the capital. It produced 100,000 copies, and half of the newspaper was advertising and the rest mainly local news. First issued in August 1917 in Russian in Minsk, Zviazda (Star) is published five times a week. Starting in 1925, it was partly Russian, partly Belo Russian and after 1927 it was exclusively in Belo Russian. It is the official newspaper covering the activities of the Supreme Soviet and the Cabinet of Ministers. The monthly supplement, Chernobyl (which began in 1993) deals with issues linked to the nuclear power station disaster in neighboring Ukraine in 1986. Literatura I mastatstva (Literature and Art) is a weekly dealing with literature, theatre, music, and cinema.

The Belarus Orthodox Church has the most members of any church functioning in the Republic. It is part of the Russian Orthodox Church. While responding to major decisions taken by the Moscow Patriarchate, it still has certain independence in internal affairs. This lack of completely independent national status for the Orthodox Church (unlike in the neighboring Ukraine and elsewhere) also reflects the somewhat incomplete nature of Belarus independence. A religiously connected magazine, Minskie eparkhial'nye vedomosti is published four times a year (in format 4A with 250 pages). The official church newspaper Tserkovnoe slovo is published on an irregular basis. The activities of foreign religious organizations as well as representatives of Vatican are severely curtailed and monitored. They are often called "totalitarian sects" and their religious work labeled as "pernicious".

Economic Framework

Before the break up of the Soviet Union in December 1991 Belarus occupied 1 percent of the USSR national territory and accounted for 4 percent of its GDP. However, the very nature of command economy made the republic highly dependent for supplies on other parts of the country. After the proclamation of independence, hyperinflation ensued and production collapsed. Two-thirds of the capital left the country. Eighty percent of the enterprises were on the verge of bankruptcy. By the end of 1990s the economic collapse had stopped. As of 2002, according to the government data, 98 percent of the active adult population was employed in production industries. The same statistics source claimed gross domestic product (GDP) in the 1996-2000 period rose 36 percent; investment rose 13 percent; and industrial output increased 65 percent. Personal income rose 71 percent and commerce doubled. However, the published statistics in post-communist countries have to be viewed with some degree of healthy skepticism. The particular feature of Belarus is the slow pace of privatization and the absence of oligarchic structures (a mixture of former Communist Party, KGB, and government moguls that privatized huge parts of the national economy). The most important business activity is controlled, in fact, by the President's Administration Office. The government becomes in practice the main businessman in the Republic.

Distribution Networks

Most newspapers are published by Belorusskii Dom Pechati, the megaprinting house owned by the state and are also distributed by a government monopoly network, Belpochta (Belo Russian Mail). Belpochta sets different tariffs for government and non-government media. By illustration, the tariff set for the privately owned Belorusskaia Delovaia Gazeta for the second quarter of 2000 was five times higher than for the government paper, Respublica. Yet the format and size of these two newspapers is identical. Moreover, there are difficulties facing independent distributors. Pressures from the Association of Journalists forced Ministry of Business and Investment to issue a warning to stop discriminatory tariffs for non-government media. The Ministry of Communications, whose subsidiary is Belpochta, defended itself by stating that any medium is free to distribute its product in any possible way through government, cooperative, NGO organizations, or with the help of private citizens.

Press Laws

The Belarus Constitution, adopted by the thirteenth session of the Supreme Soviet on March 15, 1994, states in its Article 5 that "political parties and other social organizations have the right to use state media in the way it is established by the law." The same article prohibits the formation of the parties aimed at changing constitutional order; propaganda of war; and national, racial or religious hatred. Article 33 states: "Manipulation of Media by the State, social organizations and by average citizens, as well as censorship are not allowed." Article 34 provides for the soliciting and dissemination of information about the government activities, "political, economic and international life." In practice, however, the declaratory democratic pronouncements of the Constitution are de facto annulled by other Laws, Rules and Regulations.

The most significant political event regarding the press was the treatment of the figure of the President Aleksandr Lukashenko (Belarus 1954) who came to power in 1994 and managed to get reelected for a five-year term in 2001. The political climate imposed by Lukashenko's regime in the country is expressed by the "above the law" status of the president himself and to some degree it anticipated the pattern of Russian political development after the election of President Vladimir Putin in March 2000, which brought with it increased militarization, the appointment of security forces cadres to key government positions, and a curtailing of independent printed and electronic media.

According to the Constitution, the president is a head of state and de facto of the government, a "guarantor of the Constitution, of rights and freedoms of people and citizens, he personifies the unity of the nation and guarantees the realization of the main directions of internal and foreign policy." The provision for the "unity of the nation" and the demonstrated practice of power have been one of many causes of serious human rights violations and suppression of the press in the Republic. As some human rights organizations, the Council of Europe, European Parliament, Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe and others suggest this totalitarian concept of the "unity of the nation" is in practice a cover for the establishment of an authoritarian state in the heart of Europe.

Press Related Laws

Government Decree no. 144, adopted on February 26, 1996, stipulated that purchase of printing equipment could be carried out only by the permission of the Government Committee on the Press (now Ministry of Information). Without this permit no media could operate in the republic. No license was needed in the case of certain government agencies' publications and official blanks, wrapping paper, stickers, and rice tags. The rest of the publications in order to be printed need a government license. The publishing license could be obtained if the particular medium has on staff "professionals with University degrees, three years experience in the publishing business and those who have successfully passed a qualifying examination." Those without these requirements did not qualify.

The media were required to post the information about the publisher. The compulsory posting on bonds, however, did not exist, but the newspapers, especially the independent ones, had to be constantly ready to disclose all financial information to the government-controlled tax and revenue police. In fact the tax office in post-Soviet societies is one of the major instruments of government control over the media. The violation of copyright laws is prohibited as well the infringement of "thematic scope" and publishing in languages not authorized in the license.

Obligatory copies of certain publications are distributed widely, sent to the ministries, national libraries or book chambers. Poor printing quality is not allowed. The political control includes a ban on media use of information that is considered state secret "or any other secret especially protected by the law," any appeal towards "the violent change of existing government and social order, war propaganda, violence and cruelty, racial, national, religious supremacy or intolerance, pornography, as well as any publishing activity that contradicts the interests of the Republic or any other illegal activities." The government is entitled to suspend the license for up to 6 months and in case of a recurrent violation suspend the license altogether. ("Regulation on the Licensing and the Use of Licenses" issued by the Committee on the Press on May 21, 1997).

Article 16 of the Press and Media Law that regulates the Belarus media stipulates the following steps to be taken leading up to the closure of the media. First, the Ministry of Information or a local attorney makes a written warning when the media violate the laws. Two or more warnings during a twelve-month period can lead to the closure of the media. In the year 2000 more than 50 warnings were issued. Most of the warnings dealt with article 5 of the Press Law that bans any "dissemination of information made in the name of political parties, trade unions or any other social organizations that did not pass Government registration" in the Ministry of Justice.

Censorship

Though the Constitution bans the censorship, some agencies monitor the press and therefore exercise strict censorship. This government system includes the State Committee on the Press (Republican Government) that in the late 2001 was replaced with the Ministry of Information. There are regional executive committees (regional governments) that have Upravlenie po pechati (Department on the Press) (for example, in Brest, Vitebsk, Mogilev, Gomel) or Upravlenie obschestvenno politicheskoi informatsii (Department of Social and Political information, in Grodno) or Upravlenie informatsii (Department of information, in Minsk). Natsional'naia knizhnaia palata (National Book Chamber) monitors all printing activities in the Republic in terms of collecting and filing all printed materials.

Cases of Actual Censorship

Government vs. Narodnaia volia illustrates the point. On one occasion the most influential independent newspaper, Narodnaia Volia used the verb "expelled" in the context of the prominent Belo Russian writer, Vasil' Bykov, who lives in Germany. The Press Committee issued the official warning to the newspaper based on the interpretation of the word. It stated Bykov was not "expelled," but rather "for some time he had been living and working in Finland invited by the PEN-CluBelarus. Now he lives in Germany. He is not considered 'an expelled person' as claimed by Narodnaia Volia. " A warning of this type can foretell closure and is usually signed by the Minister of Press (Information) Suspension. In August 2001 the authorities confiscated 10 computers belonging to the same Narodnaia Volia. The official reason was the fact the computers were not registered as belonging to the editorial office rather than to private citizens namely, the journalists. Therefore they could not be used on editorial premises. The editorial staff was left with only four computers.

Government vs. Lambda also illustrates how censorship works. In March 2002 the only gay publication in the country, Forum Lambda, was closed down. The license was removed because according to the government the magazine that had "registered as scientific, popular, culturological edition, for more than a year had been published as an erotic one." In September of 2001 the magazine had received a first warning with the same text. It coincided with the official ban of a "Gay Parade 2001" in Minsk whose main organizer happened to be the magazine. The tax police immediately studied the publication's bookkeeping and tax receipts but did not find any irregularities.

The cases against government newspapers are hard to win. Helsinki Human Rights Group vs. the Government illustrates the point. After the 2001 Presidential election, a leading human rights association, The Bela Russian Helsinki Committee, demanded a "refutation of slanderous data disseminated" in the leading government newspaper Sovetskaya Belorussiya. The newspaper had claimed that the Helsinki Committee activities subverted the country's national security. The article in question was published in the newspaper's special issue, whose circulation was twice that of a regular one. Its main topic was candidate Alexander Lukashenko's election program. The special issue was produced in full color on eight pages and was distributed free of charge. The court first of all refused even to consider the sources for financing the issue. Then it declined to study the veracity of the information. For months after that news, the group tried hard to get this information publicly refuted. The human rights defenders addressed in vain the republican KGB, the Security Council (top national security body) and the Presidential Administration requesting these institutions to confirm or deny BHC's involvement in anti-state activities.

In April 2002, the Ministry of Information issued yet another official warning to Narodnaia Volia for "dissemination of baseless unsupported statements regarding the President of Belarus." It was a reply to an article, "Great Laundry" that claimed that the president's office had privatized the most lucrative part of national economy (arms trade) and the president wanted to launder those profits in Austria. The newspaper objected the reprimand because the news had been reprinted from the Web site of Radio Liberty.

The government tries to intimidate even the foreign journalists working and covering the country from abroad. In January 2002 the KGB of Belarus sent a letter to Russia's Secret Service FSB protesting against statements made by top Russian TV journalist Pavel Sheremet (Bela Russian by birth). KGB claimed public statements made by Sheremet damaged constitutional order in the country, were of anti-government nature, discredited Belo Russian leadership and as a result damaged relations between two countries. Russian authorities as a routine disregard these protests made by their closest political ally.

The censorship as an all-pervasive Soviet-style institution works as well at the local level, with municipal government publications, industrial enterprises and collective farms. For example, the director of the agricultural machinery plant, Gomsel'mash, issued an internal memo entitled "On the Relationship with Media," which ordered the editor of the factory's newspaper to review all types of documents (texts, speeches, articles, addresses, letters) that were being sent from the factory's official to the media. This document was announced to all 10,000 workers and they were specifically advised that any appearance in media had to be previously approved.

Judiciary and the Media

The criminal code was adopted by Palata predstavitelei (Chamber of Representatives of the Parliament) on June 2, 1999 and approved by the Soviet Respubliki on June 24, 1999. It includes six chapters (out of nine) that potentially infringe on the freedom of press and individual liberties. "Crimes against Peace, security of humankind and military crimes," (propaganda of war), "Crimes against Social Security and Population Health," "Crimes against Social Order and Social Morals," "Crimes against Information Security," "Crimes against State (gosudartsvo ) and order of execution of Government and management" (vlast' i upravleniie), and "Crimes against military service". (The remaining chapters are: "Crimes against Person" and "Crimes against ownership and way of conducting of economic activities.") It is one of the most repressive criminal codes in all of the post-Soviet world except perhaps some Central Asian countries.

Article 198 establishes that any impediment in any form of the lawful professional activities of journalists or forcing them to divulge or desist from dissemination of information (with violence or with the threat to use it) entails a fine or banning to occupy certain positions or imprisonment up to three years. Article 204 establishes a fine for the denial of an official to give to a citizen documents and materials concerning this citizen. Article 367, "Defamation regarding the President of the Republic of Belarus" (kleveta v otnoshenii prezidenta respubliki Belarus) applies to any public pronouncement, printed or publicly displayed work, or in the media that may draw a fine, correctional works up to two years, or imprisonment up to four years. Article 368, "Insult of the President" (oskorblenie prezidenta ), stipulates that a public insult would draw a fine or two years imprisonment. The treatment of the President became the central worry of the Bela Russian state and its police and law enforcement organs. Defilement of State symbols (coat of arms, flag and anthem) draws up to one year imprisonment. Other crimes include: State secrets, official secrets, "illegal production, acquisition or sale of means for illegal receipt of information."

State-Press Relations

Organization and Functions of Information Ministry

On June 14, 1996 the government Committee on the Press was instituted. On October 26, 2001 it was dismantled and a Ministry of Information formed in its place which is headed by a minister appointed by the president and managed by a seven-person board.

At the provincial level the Directorates of Information exist. They are attached to the provincial executive committees (local governments). According to the law the main tasks of the ministry include: "government regulation of the spreading of information," carrying out of the government policy towards media, control, economic measures in media and publishing business and distribution of books, coordination of policies with other states, and finally the "formation of the media culture."

The Ministry of Information has a monopoly right to license media and all publishing and printing activities in the territory of Belarus. It takes measures to prevent "abuse of media freedoms, free publishing and censorship" and it is in charge of publishing of the "socially important literature," textbooks, etc. It also makes decisions on forming, reorganizing and closing of media organizations. It forms correspondents bureaus abroad and takes care of the accreditations procedures for foreign correspondents (in conjunction with the External Affairs Ministry).

The Right to Criticize the Government (Theory and Practice)

The Constitution proclaims the freedom of the press. In practice, criticism of the president as the supreme authority of the nation often is a prelude to a crack-down. this applies to all media both printed and electronic. The opposition claims that since the top management of the Belo Russian Television and Radio Company is named by the president it is totally subordinated to him. Political opposition therefore is denied any access to the government owned media.

The agreement reached in October 1999 about a wider access of the political opposition to the Government media and the creation of equal opportunities to all forms of media ownership went largely ignored by the authorities. A case of local newspaper Pagonia and its editors illustrates the point. Nikolai Markevich and Pavel Mazeika were tried on charges of slander against President Lukashenko. If convicted, they might face up to five years in jail, under Belarus criminal laws. Both international and domestic media freedom watchdogs denounced the criminal libel prosecution of journalists as a gross violation of the freedom of expression standards.

Suspension and Confiscation of Newspapers

Newspaper Noviny published in Belo Russian has been popular in opposition circles. Reportedly the president of the country gave an order to the Security Council chief to file a case against the newspaper for an alleged "insulted honor and dignity" of the president and seek financial compensation. The claim was presented at the court and satisfied in the record short time. The amount of fine was so big that the newspaper was forced out of business. Half a year later it made an unsuccessful effort to come out under a different name.

In September 2000 several issues of the opposition newspaper Rabochii (Worker) published by the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions was confiscated. It had called citizens to boycott the October 15 parliamentary elections. Police and KGB confiscated 150,000 copies of the newspaper and arrested its editor-in-chief, the lawyer representing the newspaper and the director of the printing shop.

In the first four months of 2001 the printed media received 68 warnings from the Government Committee. The government lost only one trial brought against Brestskii kur'er. In the year 2000 only four trials were lost by the government.

State Control over the Press

Control is exercised in a simple but effective way, the financial one. The government owned newspapers receive heavy subsidies from the budget. It allows them to establish a symbolic subscription price (less than one U.S. dollar for three months, that is, one cent a day). At the same time the distribution through the government-controlled post office for a privately owned newspaper costs four to five times more than for the government one. The competition becomes difficult, if not impossible.

The average monthly salary in the country is US$35. Potential readers must choose to purchase the most economic media product. This explains the skyrocketing circulation of the main government paper, Sovetskaia Belarus (half a million copies). The government also monopolizes all remaining infrastructure dealing with the press. The printing, mailing, and selling of the press is regulated by the state. The result of this protectionist policy is that the circulation of independent press is ten times smaller than the newspapers and magazines sponsored by the government.

The authorities in the little town of Smorgon in early 2001 explicitly prohibited local government offices and businesses from subscribing to the non-government newspaper Novaia gazeta. Atypically, its circulation was five times larger than the local official paper. The post office was required to submit the lists of all government subscribers to independent paper in order to punish them.

Different branches of the government try to exercise its influence over the press. Sometimes their interests are conflicting and damaging the State. Ministry of the Interior (police) was reportedly refusing to give accreditation to the official government newspaper, Respublic. The newspaper in the past had criticized the Minister of the Interior, and it had reported cases of corruption and organized crime within the police force.

Attitude towards Foreign Media

In general the attitude towards foreign media is governed by the atmosphere of strained relations with the European Union, the Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the United States.

Accreditation procedures for foreign journalists

Foreign journalists are required to submit an application in order to get a professional accreditation in Belarus. It includes personal information, a name of the organization which is requesting the procedure, and valid journalism credentials. Based on this submission, the External Affairs Ministry grants or denies the accreditation.

The activities of foreign journalists and those national citizens working for them are governed by the government polozhenie (statute), "On Stay and professional activities in the territory of Republic of Belarus of offices and correspondents of foreign media registered in the Republic of Belarus." More specifically, the rules are listed in the Instruktsiia (Instructions) issued by the External Affairs ministry. There are two types of accreditation: permanent (up to one year) and temporary (up to two months).

Apart from the application, a short note on the history and status of foreign media should be supplied with relevant information, as well as resume on professional activity of a correspondent. The same procedure is required for technical personnel. The Ministry resolves the case in two months period. When the permit is granted the Consular Division of the Ministry sends a written authorization form allowing the Belo Russian Consulate in a given country to issue a year-long multiple entry professional visa (godovaia mnogokratnaia sluzhebnaia viza ). Once in the national territory, foreign journalist gets an Accreditation Card. Family members get a special card as well as professional visa. The temporary accreditation follows the same procedure. The only difference is the visa is granted in 20 working days after the application is received. The activities of foreign correspondents de jure are monitored by the Department of Relations with Media at the External Affairs ministry and de facto by the security service, KGBELARUS.

A common practice adopted by foreign media in Belarus is to hire local journalists and photo correspondents to cover events in the country. Doing so, however, creates additional pressure on the journalists who are local citizens and not covered by diplomatic immunity or other privileges accorded to the foreign nationals.

No diplomats, consular officials, representatives of foreign businesses, offices, or any organizations can be granted foreign correspondents accreditation. Certified national journalists can neither work for foreign media. Foreign journalists can form a professional journalistic association, can freely travel on the territory of the Republic except in case of "objects access to which is limited in accordance with the Republican legislation." In 1997 the visit of two Russian TV journalists to a forest near the Lithuanian border brought about their arrest and created an international scandal between Russia and Belarus. The Belarus authorities claimed the forest had military installations.

The Rules specifically stipulate that "rights and freedoms exercised by foreign correspondents should not damage interests of the Republic of Belarus, rights and legal interests of citizens." The specification of these obligations includes a requirement to check out the veracity of information, "present for publication objective information," not allow false or untrue assertions to be aired, to get permission for news on private life of the citizen from the citizen concerned, "while receiving information from citizens and officials notify them about the use of this information in audio, video, cinema and photo materials as well in the form of text." Rules also required journalists to carry a professional identification. Finally, a foreign journalist is required to "fulfill other obligations stipulated on journalists by the law and international treaties signed by the Republic of Belarus." The full responsibility falls upon the shoulders of foreign journalists in case they divulgate information considered state or "any other guarded by the law secret," or they are engaged in "the propaganda of war, social, national, religious, racial hatred, make calls to seize power, or violently change the constitutional order or infringement of the territorial integrity of the republic." If they stipulate the formation of "illegal social organizations, aid and make propaganda of their activities." Finally it is specifically prohibited to "attempt against the morality, honor and dignity of citizens and officials of the state, in particular dissemination of information viciously attempting against honor, dignity and business reputation (chest', dostoinstvo I delovaia reputatsiia ) of the President of the Republic of Belarus." "Other illegal activities" are mentioned without specification. This language and practice follow closely the repressive legislation and practice of Soviet era.

The reprisals envisioned by the Ministry include the following steps: a) the first warning; and b) the reduction of the time of stay in the Republic for foreign nationals or the expulsion from the republic. Foreign journalists can be denied accreditation in the following cases: a) violation of rules after the first warning and the "dissemination of facts not corresponding to the reality," and b) in cases envisioned by the international agreements on civil and political rights. If the foreign media employ unauthorized personnel it can be denied accreditation for six months. A special Committee of the Ministry of External Affairs deals with the accreditation of journalists.

On May 8, 2001, this committee officially warned Iurii Svirko, a local journalist working for the foreign media, about violations in the "rules of order" governing foreign journalists' work. The warning was reportedly made on behalf of the president's Security Service. The Service among other priorities monitors media coverage of the president. The decree mandating this was adopted in 1998 but was never made public.

In September 2001, the Belo Russian consulate in Bonn, Germany, refused to grant visas to six German journalists. They were invited by the Belo Russian office of UNESCO as part of a bilateral exchange program. The refusal was motivated by the fact that the journalists did not have an accreditation with the Ministry of External Affairs (MID Belorussii). In fact the journalists on exchange trips unlike those traveling on business do not need accreditation.

In January 2002, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its concern with a comment made by Russian National TV channel NTV journalist Pavel Selin on the detainment of Mikhail Leonov, general director of the Minsk Tractor Factory (MTF). The NTV correspondent said: "Products of the Minsk Tractor Factory are mainly exported to Russia. President Lukashenko is known to resist the mass penetration of Russian capital into the profitable branches of Belarus' industry. He is no less active in getting rid of those who are standing out for the strong economic relations with brotherly Russia." The head of the NTV bureau in Minsk was immediately summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Commenting on this event the head of the ministry's information service, said: "In our opinion, the comments made on the detainment of MTF director were an insult to the Republic of Belarus and distorted the real picture and the fight against embezzlements." According to the journalist, the Ministry's official said that the conversation had the status of an official warning. He added that if NTV did not change its attitude to covering events in Belarus, the accreditation in the country might be cancelled.

News Agencies

The government-owned Belo Russian Telegraph Agency (BELTA) was founded in January 1921. For 70 years it worked as a provincial subsidiary of the main Soviet News agency TASS. In 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union it became independent. It prepares daily 80 to 100 news items on mostly government approved information. It is mailed to and it is required publication material by the national and local newspapers, TV and radio stations. Some foreign subscribers, diplomatic missions, companies, and major Russian Internet companies are also among the subscribers. Photographs done by BELTA correspondents are sent to Poland, Germany, Rumania, and People's Republic of China. BELTA publishes a weekly information and analysis magazine Sem' dnei (Seven days) that has a circulation 100,000. Using its government status the news agency is actively involved in publishing business (books, posters, brochures, booklets). According to its official Web site, "it is ready to fulfill any printing order."

Another domestic news agency is BelaPAN. Created in 1991, it has a reputation for disseminating alternative source political, economic, and other information from Belarus. It is subject to all the restrictions imposed on media but can be considered semi-independent from the government not unlike the Interfaks agency in Russia. The company distributes its information to the subscribers and has its own correspondents in all regions of the country as well as in the neighboring states. It has an analytical service, advertisement agency, editorial office, and a sociological service, Zerkalo (Mirror). In 1999 it started publishing its own weekly Otdykhai (Have a Rest) geared at travel agencies and tourism.

Broadcast Media

Television

Belo Russian Television began in 1955. Only 4,500 people had TV-sets at that point. One channel broadcasted six hours a day. The signal reached a radius of 60 kilometers. In 2000 the First national channel broadcasted 17 hours a day in all the republic's territory. The programming included strict schedules of newscast, division of programs in three blocks (morning, afternoon, night), variety of programs, and took into consideration different categories of viewers and TV ratings.

Radio

Belo Russian Radio was inaugurated in November 1925. The broadcasts were aired in Belo Russian language with a signal range of 300 kilometers. At that time, broadcasts lasted only 30 minutes a day as compared to the early twenty-first century where it broadcasts 29 hours a day on two national channels. In June 1998 it started broadcasting into the neighboring areas of the Russian Federation and in Ukraine. Four hours a day it broadcasts abroad. The government radio station Stolitsa broadcasts 17 hours a day.

The same laws and regulations that govern the printed media apply to the Belarus Radio which is strictly controlled by the government in terms of the distribution of frequencies, equipment, and other facilities. It is considered a strategic media because the majority of the households has standard radio sets that are connected to so-called "radio lines," a practice dating back from the early Soviet times. This is especially true in the rural areas where it is common scene for the government station to be heard non-stop from the loudspeaker located at the main square.

After Belarus' independence many FM stations sprang up. The most listened to is FM station "Stolitsa" (The Capital) broadcasting almost 18 hours a day. It has what is called in the former Soviet Union, a "European" style of broadcasting that combines popular music and information segments. But it is a government property and forms part of TV and radio media holding. Radio "Belarus" also broadcasts four hours a day in Belarussian, Russian, English, and German languages.

The government claims the official radio is popular, accessible, offers a great amount of information, is fast and has a high content of coverage of problematic issues. But critics argue it is a spoken version of the government's printed propaganda.

SummaryBroadcast Media

The government policies regarding TV and radio broadcasts are even stricter than for printed media since no private enterprise is allowed in this type of media. Commenting during a yearly trip to the TV offices on October 12, 2001 President Lukashenko stated his criteria regarding the type of person who should lead the television company: "It would be a person, who carries out a government policy. Television is a serious force. It will never leave from out of control of the state and will never lack its support. The new head of TV without doubt will be President's man, the same way I am your man, and all of us are people of the Government."

Electronic News Media

The pioneer of the development of internet technology in Belarusas well as in the other parts of CIShas been the "Open Society" Institute, part of the George Soros Foundation. It distributed thousands of computers free of charge to civil society and non-government institutions in addition to subsidiaries of the official Academy of Sciences of Belarus. However, only in Belarus have drastic measures been taken by the security apparatus against its offices that were closed down in 1997 and its officials expelled. The mechanism used to evict "Open Society" represents a common pattern in dealing with independent media in both print and electronically.

There are an estimated 180,000 users of the Internet in Belarus. Almost four-fifths of them live in the capital Minsk. Users can access information on the republic from independent sources not available in printed format (the semi-clandestine National Radical Party is publishing an internet newspaper "Molot" otherwise it would not be able to disseminate its information). Some other media both government and independentare also present in electronic format. For example, republican, local, and commercial information newspapers: "Belorusskaia delovaia gazeta," BELTA News Agency, "Sovetskaia Belorussia." "Vecherny Gomel" (regional business paper), "Press Reklama" (newspaper with free advertising), "Gomelskie Vedomosti," free-advertising newspaper "BEKO Plus, ""DJAM" newspaper (advertising and information), "Shans" newspaper from Gomel (advertising and information), "Smorgon News" (the independent newspaper of Smorgon including local news, free classifields, and a photo gallery) and "Optovick Belorussii".

Education & TRAINING

Belorusskaia Assotsiatsiia Zhurnalistov

(Belo Russian Association of Journalists), a professional group of 800 journalists, is a special interest lobby. The Association sponsors a Law Center for Media protection. The officers and experts of the Centre have acted as defense attorneys in trials against Belarusian journalists: the case of Svaboda newspaper, closed down by authorities in November 1997; the case of Pavel Sheremet and Dmitry Zavadski, Russian ORT TV network correspondents, convicted to suspended sentence in December 1997-January 1998; the cases of administrative prosecution against journalists covering peaceful mass protest actions. Russian Tsentr ekstremal'noi zhurnalistiki (Centre for Extreme Journalism) has its office in Belarus and monitors the violation of press freedoms.

The Journalistic education in Belarus is being carried out at the Journalism Faculty of Belarus State University in Minsk. The magazine Kul'tura movy zhurnalista (The Culture of Journalists' Language) has been published since 1982. The journalists formed the Union of Journalists of Belarus to represent the government-oriented media. Before its closure by the authorities and expulsion from the republic in 1997, George Soros' Open Society Institute, made a significant contribution to the civic education of journalists through generous grants and scholarships and seminars.

Summary

The situation with the press and other media in Belarus represents a paradox. According to some observers the country in the heart of Europe is perhaps the only vestige left of the totalitarian culture that governed half of Europe for a significant part of the twentieth century. According to Belarus government it is an island where post-communist chaos, mafia, oligarchs, and other vice could not take hold. Living in isolation from Europe but trying to form a joint country with Russia Belarus severely curtailed personal freedoms and freedom of the press in the name of so-called national unity.

The government involvement in the media is unparallel even with former Soviet republics (Moldavia, Ukraine, or neighboring Russia). The independent media have to be printed in Lithuania or Ukraine. At the same time the country watches Russian TV and reads Russian newspapers. Russian is the de facto media language of the Republic.

As of 2002, it seemed certain that pressure for the liberalization of the country would continue. Internet technologies, TV broadcasts from other countries, and the support of democratic governments around the world and NGO for a constitutional opposition eventually may lead to the democratization of the country.

Significant Dates

  • 1994: A new Constitution is adopted.
  • 1994: Aleksandr Lukashenko is elected president.
  • 1995: Iosif Seredich is removed by the president from the parliamentary official newspaper Narodnaia Gazeta and he starts publishing an independent Narodnaia Volia.
  • 1996: A Treaty on the Formation of Commonwealth of Belarus and Russia is signed.
  • 1997: A Union Treaty between Belarus and Russia is signed.
  • 1997: The Council of Ministers (Government) approves a document drafted by External Affairs Ministry. It is the main code that governs foreign journalists activities in the Republic.
  • 1997: Russian National TV journalists Pavel Sheremet and IuriiZavadskii are arrested in Belarus.
  • 1997: President Lukashenko cancels his visit to Russia. President Boris Eltsyn demands: "Let him free Sheremet first."
  • 1997: Sheremet and Zavadskii are freed.
  • 2000: The Russian TV cameraman Zavadkii is abducted at Minsk national airport at Belarus capital. His colleague Cheremet arrives at the airport and finds Zavadskii's car at the place where the cameraman usually parked it. Dmitrii disappears without a trace. The arrest of the former Belarus Army Special Unit "Almaz" officer Valery Ignatovich prompts speculations about government involvement in the case.
  • 2001: The authorities close down the independent newspaper Pagonia accusing it in libel against the president. It has published a limerick about Lukashenko. All equipment and all copies of the paper are confiscated. The editor replies that during the presidential campaign the newspaper has criticized all candidates.
  • 2001: The Supreme Court of Belarussia in its closed session studies the case of disappearance of the cameraman Zavadskii.
  • 2001: Iosif Seredich is charged with dissemination of information "denigrating the authorities."
  • 2001: Non-government media journalists hold unauthorized protest against government closure of local opposition newspaper Pagonia. Passersby are offered toilet paper with printed message: "Ideal Press According to the President."
  • 2000: Grodno local newspaper Pagonia is closed down indefinitely by the decision of the court. The 14 journalists protesting the closure picket and are arrested.

Bibliography

Belarus Entsyklapedychny davednik (Belarus. Encyclopedia). Minsk: Belaruskaia entsyklopedyia, 1995.

Kanstytutsyia respubliki Belarus (Constitution of Belarus Republic). Minsk: Polymia, 1994.

Knizhnoe delo. Pressa Belarusi (Book Publishing. Belarus Press). Minsk: Natsional'naia knizhnaia palata Belarusi, 1999.

Martselov, Stanislav. Na putiakh stroitel'stva sotsializma. Pechat' Belorussii. vol. 1926-37 gg. Minsk: Izdatel'stvo Belarus, 1972.

Pechat' Belorussii v period razvitogo sotsializma (Belarus Press in the Period of Developed Socialism). Minsk: Belarus, 1982.

Respublika Belarus' v tsifrakh. Kratkii statisticheskii sbornik (Republic of Belarus in Numbers. Short Statistical Book). Minsk: Ministertsvo statistiki I analiza Respubliki Belarus, 2001.

Ugolovnyi kodeks Respubliki Belarus (Criminal Code of Belarus). Minsk: Natsional'nyi Tsentr pravovoi informatsii Respubliki Belarus, 1999.

Leonid Maximenkov

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Belarus

Belarus

Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of Belarus
Region: Europe
Population: 10,366,719
Language(s): Byelorussian, Russian
Literacy Rate: 98%
Academic Year: September-May
Compulsory Schooling: 9 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 5.9%
Foreign Students in National Universities: 3,714
Libraries: 11,329
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 625,000
  Secondary: 1,064,700
  Higher: 328,746
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 98%
  Secondary: 93%
  Higher: 44%
Teachers: Higher: 40,300
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 20:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 96%
  Secondary: 95%
  Higher: 49%



History & Background


The Republic of Belarus (the former Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic) became an independent state in 1991, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Situated on the crossroads between Russia, the Baltic states, Poland, and Ukraine, Belarus has an important geopolitical location and covers a territory of 80,134 square miles (207,546 square kilometers) with a population exceeding 10 million. The capital and the biggest city is Minsk (1.7 million people). Of 118 ethnic groups living on its territory, the major ones are Belarusians (77.9 percent), Russians (13.2 percent), Poles (4.1 percent), and Ukrainians (2.9 percent).

Belarusians are Eastern Slavic people with a language similar to Russian. They use the Cyrillic alphabet invented by the Byzantine monk, scholar, and philosopher Cyril (827-869 A.D.) and his brother Methodius (826-885 A.D.). In the tenth to twelfth centuries, the territory of modern Belarus was part of Ancient Russia. The main method of instruction was teaching children how to read religious books copied in Turov, Vitebsk, Slutsk, Pinsk, and other major cities. One of the first Belarusian educators was the bishop Cyril Turovsky (c. 1130-1182), who wrote numerous precepts on moral values. In the thirteenth century, Belarus became part of Lithuania. In spite of the national and religious contradictions, which were tearing the Lithuanian Principality apart, literacy gradually spread among townspeople, artisans, and merchants.

After the establishment of the Polish-Lithuanian state, called Rzecz Pospolita (1569), the development of Belarusian culture was strongly affected by the Reformation. The followers of the Orthodox Church were, consequently, in an underprivileged position. The curricula of confessional Protestant schools included religious dogmata, church singing, languages (Belarusian, Latin, Greek, and sometimes Ancient Russian), rhetoric, poetry, dialectics, history, and mathematics. The emergence of printing shops resulted in the publication of textbooks, some of them in the Belarusian language.

Brotherhood schools established in 1590 in Mogilev, Brest, and other large cities had a tremendous impact on the development of Slavic culture. These schools were affiliated with Orthodox monasteries and admitted children from different social groups. The educational process was divided into two stages. In the first stage, reading, writing and church singing were taught. In the second stage, Old Slavic, Greek, grammar, rhetoric, poetics, foundations of mathematics, and philosophy were covered. Orthodoxy played an important part in the curriculum. All the organizational problems, including the length of study, were negotiated by the parents and the teacher in the presence of neighbors. The children who excelled in studies were granted honorable seats in the classroom. Corporal punishment was limited, and the schools even had elements of student self-government.

The period from the late 1700s to early 1800s saw the growth of Catholic and Uniate schools, which were often attached to monasteries. Such schools prevailed until the abolition of Unia in 1839. Most of the teaching in Catholic and Uniate schools was done in Polish. Between 1773 and 1794, general secular education developed under the influence of the Education Commission, which opened twenty schools with curricula centering on natural sciences. The first establishment of higher learning in Belarus was the Grodno Medical Academy (1775-1781).

In the 1790s, after the breakup of Rzecz Pospolita, Belarus was reunited with Russia. This resulted in the formation of 20 new Russian schools. The first teacher training seminary opened in Vitebsk in 1834. The opening of the Gory-Goretsk Agricultural School in 1840 marked the beginning of secondary professional education. The democratic trends and reforms of the 1860s fostered the development of cultural life in Belarus. By 1865 there were 567 educational institutions, including 12 secondary, 45 incomplete secondary, 21 theological, and over 400 elementary schools. The progressive public movement for the education of female students initiated the establishment of almost 30 schools for women. In response to the 1863-1864 Polish resurrection, the Russian government issued Temporary Rules, which intensified the policy of Russification in Belarusian schools. In 1867, the czarist government prohibited publishing in the Belarusian language, its use in the school curricula, and as a language of instruction. Because of insufficient financing parents had to collect their own money in order to build primary schools. For the most part, secondary schools were unaffordable for common people. In 1894 Belarus and Lithuania, which constituted one educational district, had only 16 secondary schools. The literacy rate in the age group from 9- to 49-years-old was only 32 percent.

The Russian Revolution of 1905-1907 sparked the struggle of the Belarusians for their cultural identity and creation of national schools. About 25 preschools emerged in Minsk, Vitebsk, Mogilev, Grodno, and Bobruisk. In 1906 the first illegal teachers' convention in Belarus called for the establishment of general compulsory schooling and the use of the mother tongue as a language of instruction. The same year the czarist government lifted the prohibition against publishing in Belarusian. Another convention, which assembled in Vilna in 1907, instituted the Belarusian Teachers' Union. Its activities, including the publication of a newspaper for teachers, promoted the reconstruction of public education on democratic principles, introduction of self-government,and the use of the Belarusian language in schools. By 1917, Belarus had 7,682 general education institutions, including 7,492 primary, 119 incomplete secondary, and 71 secondary schools with a total number of 489,000 students, mostly from well-to-do families. On the professional level, there were 15 secondary professional schools with nearly 1,500,000 students, 10 agricultural and 3 obstetrical schools, 8 teacher's seminaries, and three teacher training institutes. Higher education was virtually nonexistent. Although progress was evident when the Mogilev and Vitebsk pedagogical institutes were opened in 1918.

In 1919 Belarus became part of the Soviet Union. The Statute on Unified Labor School of the Russian Federation was applied to the Belarusian educational network. Its primary aim was to reshape the educational system on the basis of free compulsory schooling. Labor education was deemed the basis for "the Communist rebirth of society" and the medium for promoting proletarian values. Major efforts were directed against illiteracy. Most of the big schools used Belarusian as the language of instruction. The main type of school was the labor general or polytechnical school with seven years of instruction for students aged 8 to 15. In 1920, Narkompros (Peoples Commissariat of Education) organized a preschool department, which supervised 25 nursery schools and kindergartens, as well as 10 preschool children's homes. The search for innovation initiated the development of experimental communal schools and other nontraditional forms, which were strongly encouraged by Lenin and his wife Krupskaya. Programs of Communist ideology were introduced on all educational levels, from preschools to universities, as well as through the network of workers' clubs, libraries, and publications. Active propagation of the "foundations of Leninism" began in 1924. The policy of promoting workers to higher education (at the expense of other social groups), in order to train intellectuals loyal to the Soviet government, was materialized in the form of rabfaki (workers' faculties). The first one was opened in 1921 at the Belarusian University in Minsk. By 1935 there were 28 workers' faculties with 11,000 students. The revised university curricula included historical materialism, history of the proletarian revolution, economic policy of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and other indoctrination subjects. In 1932, it was claimed that Belarus had attained universal primary education. That same year the Soviet of People's Commissars of the Belarusian Republic made a decision about universal education for illiterate adults aged 15 to 45. By 1939 the literacy rate was 78.9 percent. In 1940 the system of professional education included 40 FZUs (primary factory schools), 6 railway schools, 58 technicums (secondary technical schools), and 15 institutions of higher learning.

During the period of Stalinist political terror, almost 4 million Belarusians were executed, imprisoned, deported, or otherwise forcibly relocated, among them were numerous representatives of the intellectual community. In Western Belarus, which was annexed by Poland in 1919, the situation with schooling was drastic. By the late 1930s, about 400 Belarusian schools had been closed and almost 70 percent of the population was illiterate. After the reunification of Belarus in 1939, a unified school system started functioning in Belarus. By 1941 there were about 12,000 primary and secondary schools with 1,700,000 students; 128 professional secondary schools; and 25 higher educational institutions with 56,500 students.

The Nazi troops, which occupied Belarus in 1941, destroyed 9,000 school buildings (60 percent) with all the equipment and 20 million textbooks. The forest schools located within the zones controlled by 1,108 guerrilla groups (Brest, Minsk, Vitebsk, and others) continued to work throughout the war. Professional technical schools were evacuated to the Urals and Western Siberia. After the liberation of Belarus in 1944, the school network was restored and developed further. By 1945-1946, some 24 higher educational institutions with 12,600 students had resumed their work. From 1946 to 1956 the number of students increased by 511,000 in secondary schools, 22,700 in specialized professional schools, and 35,900 in higher education.

The Twentieth Communist Party Congress condemned Stalinism and began radical reforms in all spheres of life, including the educational system. The new curricula aimed at forging close links between general education and productive labor. The period after 1959 was marked by the emergence of complex facilities, such as nursery school kindergarten. By 1976 the Republic had attained universal secondary education. In 1981 there were 3,716 preschools, 12,294 general education primary and secondary schools, 220 vocational technical schools, 135 secondary professional schools, and 32 higher educational institutions. The educational crisis of the 1980s made it evident that the system did not adequately meet national and regional requirements or create favorable conditions for the use of the Belarusian language. The innovations of the perestroika (reconstruction) period of the late 1980s and early 1990s resulted in the establishment of new types of schools, as well as bilingualism based on close relations between the Belarusian and Russian languages. The Law on Languages of the Belarus Republic (1990) and other changes followed the declaration of independence of Belarus in 1991 and contributed to the democratization and diversification of the educational system.


Constitutional & Legal Foundations


The legal foundations of the Belarusian educational system are in the Constitution adopted in 1994 and further revised in 1996. Article 49 guarantees every Belarusian citizen the right to a free general secondary education and vocational training. Secondary specialized and higher education can be obtained free of charge in state educational institutions on a competitive basis. The principles and functions of education are further defined in the laws: "On Education in the Republic of Belarus," "On Languages," "On National and Cultural Minorities," "On the Child's Rights," as well as a number of statutes and regulations.

According to Article 14 of the Law on Education, the system is composed of preprimary education, general secondary education, professional technical education, secondary specialized education, higher education, educational staff training, advanced training and retraining, and independent education. The Law spells out the main principles of the educational policy, which include:

  • the priority of human values
  • national and cultural basis of schooling
  • scholarly character achieved through improvement of the content of education
  • forms and methods of instruction
  • cooperation of research institutions with educational establishments
  • connection with social practice
  • continuity and structural coherence
  • secular character
  • compulsory basic (nine-year) schooling

One of the principles emphasized by the Law is the ecological orientation of education. This issue is of special importance because of the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, situated six miles from the southern border of Belarus. The disaster at Chernobyl occurred on April 26 to 28, 1986, and Belarus suffered 75 percent of the effects of the explosion. As a result, more than 20 percent of its land was contaminated by radiation, and more than 500,000 people had to be relocated. Schools in Belarus were expected to educate students about security and behavior under unfavorable ecological conditions. The law also prescribes educational establishments to take care of the children's health, especially in regard to those who live in the areas affected by the radiation.

The goals of education identified by the law are:

  • to promote the harmonious development of personality and realize its creative potential
  • to foster national identity and preserve and increase the intellectual wealth and national values of the Belarusian people and other ethnic groups of the republic
  • to develop the scientific, technical, and cultural activities in accordance with the needs of the republic
  • to develop a conscious attitude towards democracy as a form of administration and existence
  • to cultivate respect for the world order, based on the acknowledgement of political, economic, and social rights of all peoples

Educational SystemOverview

The educational system of Belarus combines the structure inherited from the Soviet Union with a new content developed as an independent state. Preprimary education, which includes nursery schools and kindergartens, is optional. Primary education (three or four years of instruction), basic secondary education (five years of instruction), and upper secondary education (two years of instruction) usually coexist within one school. Initial or secondary vocational education requires from one to four years of training. Higher education is represented by institutes, academies, and universities.

In 1998-1999, Belarus had 4,500 preschool facilities; 4,783 general education schools; 249 vocational schools; 151 specialized secondary; and 57 higher educational institutions. The total number of students exceeded 2,100,000. The number of teachers employed in the educational sphere approached 200,000. There were more than 100 advanced training and retraining institutions.

In 1990, when Belarus was still part of the Soviet Union, the law "On Languages in Belarus" proclaimed Belarusian the state language of the republic and stipulated the right to use Russian as the medium of international communication. After the declaration of independence in 1991, language became a political issue. The Belarusian government authorized a state program aimed at the development of Belarusian and other languages in the territory of the republic. The Constitution of 1994 (amended in 1996) gave equal status to the Belarusian and Russian languages. Article 6 of the Law on Education states that the choice of the language of instruction is voluntary. The study of Belarusian, Russian, and one foreign language is obligatory. The decision of administrative organs, as well as the request of citizens can initiate the establishment of programs with full or partial instruction in the language of a national minority.

In the 1990s, more than 3,500 schools (66.7 percent) were using Belarusian as the language of instruction. There were 140 schools with intensive study of Belarusian. In 1,600 schools the teaching was done in Russian, and 140 schools (mostly in the Grodno region) introduced Polish into their curricula.


Preprimary & Primary Education


According to the Law on Education (1991), the main aim of preprimary education is the stimulation of a child's natural desire to learn about the surrounding world. While the leading role belongs to the family, preschools are expected to contribute to children's moral and physical development, and provide them with access to the Belarusian language, culture, and folk traditions.


Yasli (nursery schools), which constitute the initial stage of preschool education, cater to the needs of infants from six months to three-years-old. Dzetsady (kindergartens) take care of children from three to six years of age and prepare them for entry to primary school. Traditional preschools include half-day (6 hours), full-day (12 hours), and 24-hour facilities. The law prescribes that state organs, enterprises, social organizations, and individuals give material, pedagogical, and psychological support to preschool institutions. In reality, in the 1990s the state financing of preprimary education was reduced, and the financial situation in preschools significantly deteriorated. The number of institutions decreased from 4,988 in 1992 (485,000 children) to 4,500 in 1997 (434,000 children), and this tendency continues.

The innovations of the post-perestroika period (the 1990s) initiated the establishment of preprimary institutions of new types: family-type and boarding-type preschools, facilities with short-term stay, flexible programs, and individual schedules. They are based on the best world experience and take into account the ideas of personality-oriented pedagogy. Vykhavatseli (teachers) for preschools are trained in 15 educational institutions: 3 pedagogical universities, 1 pedagogical institute, 3 colleges, and 8 pedagogical secondary schools situated in Borisov, Gomel, Grodno, Minsk, Mogilev, Brest, Vitebsk, and other cities.


Secondary Education


General secondary education is the main part of the system of continuous education in Belarus. It is represented on three levels:

  • primary school (first to fourth grade, six or seven to nine years of age)
  • basic secondary school (fifth to ninth grade, ten to fifteen years of age) leading to incomplete secondary education
  • upper secondary school (tenth and eleventh grade, sixteen to seventeen years of age), which leads to complete secondary education

The primary and secondary level institutions sometimes function separately (predominantly in rural areas); in the city they are usually combined within one school. The academic year begins on September 1 and continues through the end of May, and they have an examination session in the ninth and eleventh grades. School operates on a quarterly schedule, with four vacations: a week in November, two weeks in early January, a week at the end of March, and two and a half or three months in the summer. Students go to school five or six days a week. The daily number of classes varies from four in primary school to six in the senior grades. Lessons last 40 or 45 minutes, with shorts breaks between classes.

Almost all the schools are coeducational. On the primary level, children are divided into classes of twenty-five to thirty students, who study as a permanent group until the end of secondary school. The program opens with a relatively simple curriculum, with new subjects added every year. In the eleventh grade, there can be as many as 17 or even 20 subjects. The grades used for evaluation are numerical: five is excellent, four is good, three is satisfactory, and two is failure. Students who fail in two or more subjects are required to repeat the year's program. Successful completion of secondary school is the main route into higher education. In 1998-1999 the system of general secondary education in Belarus included 4,783 secondary schools with 1,650,000 students.

Primary education begins at six or seven years of age and encompasses the first three or four grades of the general education school. The reform of the 1980s, when Belarus was still part of the Soviet Union, attempted at the transition to universal four-year primary education starting with the age of six. The reform was premature and schools could not cater to the needs of all the six-yearolds. As a result, the modern Belarusian primary school allows for two options: children can start school at the age of seven and study three years (old system), or enter the first grade at the age of six and study four years with a lighter schedule and more attention given to games. The choice depends on the child's medical state and the parents' wish. The program of the first grade can be also covered in kindergarten. In the future, all primary schools are planning to adopt a four-year program.

The curricula include basics of the Belarusian and Russian languages (reading and writing), mathematics, nature study, initial knowledge about society, and national history and culture, all of which are taught by the same teacher. Other subjects are labor, music, and physical training. Great attention is given to the development of the child's individuality, personal hygiene, and a healthy way of living. Students also engage in extracurricular activities: school concerts and holiday parties, trips, excursions to museums, theaters, and libraries. In 1997-1999 the Ministry of Education, in conjunction with the National Education Institute, developed new curricula and textbooks for primary schools.

Basic secondary school (fifth to ninth grade) is compulsory and leads to incomplete secondary education, which can be continued on the upper secondary level (tenth and eleventh grade). The content of education and forms of control are based on the curricula developed according to the state requirements, as well as regional and national peculiarities. The Communist indoctrination programs, which was a significant part of the curricula during the Soviet times, have been replaced by more diversified courses that allow room for alternative points of view and personal opinions. Yet, the state control of education is strong and reveals itself in the requirements of the content of education, which are prescribed by the executive organs of the Republic. The state standards include an obligatory list of subjects and the minimum number of hours assigned for them. The major subjects are the Belarusian and Russian languages, literature, mathematics, sciences, Belarusian and world history, law, foundations of modern civilization, art, music, world culture, labor, and physical training. A foreign language (predominantly English, German, or French) is introduced in the fifth grade. Students get cumulative grades in every subject at the end of each quarter. After the ninth and eleventh grade they are required to take examinations. All students who successfully complete 11 years of study receive the Certificate of General Secondary Education. Those who get excellent marks for all the semesters of the tenth and eleventh grade, as well as the final exams, are awarded a gold medal. Students with no more than two good grades (all the others being excellent) receive a silver medal. The medals have a moral value, but they also give their owners privileges when they apply for entry to higher educational institutions. In 1998, gold medals were awarded to 6 percent and silver medals to 6.1 percent of secondary school graduates.

In addition to the traditional general education secondary schools, the 1990s saw the development of new types of institutionsgymnasiums and lyceums. Gymnasiums provide comprehensive humanitarian education, often centered on the study of foreign languages. They are expected to have a highly qualified teaching staff, use innovative textbooks, and to have modern methods of teaching. Lyceums offer professionally oriented education and are usually affiliated with higher educational or research institutions. In 1999 the Republic of Belarus had 73 gymnasiums (69,100 students) and 25 lyceums (13,600 students), which correspondingly made up 1.5 and 0.5 percent of all secondary daytime schools.

Due to the social and economic problems of the 1990s, the number of orphans and children left without proper parental care has significantly increased. In 1998 there were 27 ordinary and 22 family-type children's homes, 31 general secondary boarding schools, and 25 sanatorium-type institutions under the supervision of the Ministry of Education. The disturbing statistics of the same period showed that 10.9 percent of Belarusian children had problems with their psychic and physical development. These 21,500 students were accommodated at 80 boarding schools for mentally and physically handicapped children, 27 rehabilitation centers, and 707 special schools. There were 417 secondary school classes for students with learning disabilities. Two thousand children with health problems were tutored by visiting teachers at home.

The general secondary school reform of 1998 foresaw the development of culturally specific programs, restructuring of the curricula, and the introduction of new state standards and an innovative syllabi. One of the long-term goals was a gradual transition to 12-year secondary schooling, which would provide for a more even distribution of the study load across the curricula, and which would include 17 courses instead of 24 or 27. The new arrangement would also allow more time to students' individual needs, interests, and peculiarities, as well as a greater diversification of the educational process. An additional school year would help solve a number of demographic and social problems (e.g. insufficient, number of opportunities in the job market). Other innovative state programs dealt with the improvement of rural schools, intensification of the study of foreign languages, computerization of the education system, dissemination of 212 new textbooks, and other issues. An important step would be the development of a unified national test for admission to higher educational institutions. It would involve the creation of a national testing center, the development of assignments on all the subjects, entrance exams, and the replacement of separate exams by a universal test, which would be recognized by all higher educational institutions.

The Belarusian system of vocational training functions on two levels. The first level encompasses vocational technical schools (PTU) and apprenticeship programs for blue-collar jobs. Applicants may be accepted by PTU after 11 years of general secondary school and in this case take a year-long course to acquire a professional skill. Students with basic general education (nine grades) study three years to get both professional training and complete secondary education. The curriculum of PTU is distributed between theoretical (73 percent) and practical courses (27 percent). It includes general secondary, general professional, and special subjects, as well as electives and individual consultations.

Students are divided into groups of 12 to 25 people and are supervised by their main teacher called the "master of industrial training." Schools are usually attached to industrial enterprises, which provide students with onthe-job training. The modern tendency is to integrate several skills into the educational process in order to ensure the students' greater adaptability to the job market. In 1998, about 250 vocational technical schools with more than 130,700 students trained specialists in 400 professions. The number of PTU graduates totaled 54,400. There were 4,000 teachers and 7,363 masters of industrial education employed on the initial vocational level program.

The second level of vocational training is provided by technicums, colleges, and professional secondary schools called vuchylishcha. These institutions prepare middle-level technicians, assistants of higherqualification specialists, independent qualified workers performing tasks that require both practical skills and theoretical knowledge, as well as specialists of nonproduction areas (librarians, obstetricians, nurses, preschool and primary school teachers). In 1999 this network comprised 151 state and 6 non-state secondary professional institutions, which provided training in 154 specialties. There were 16 professional technical colleges for students with physical disabilities, with training in 14 different specialties.

The course of study at the secondary professional level lasts from three to four years and is concluded by qualification exams and the defense of a diploma project. A number of former professional schools have been transformed into colleges. Professional schools are usually affiliated with higher educational institutions and work in close contact with them. Consequently, this arrangement can lead to a bachelor's degree at a college. Another option is for the college students to continue their studies at a higher educational institution, with the courses previously taken counting towards the university degree. Educational institutions are expected to reveal and develop the students' interests and abilities and to give them vocational guidance and advanced professional training. Integrated continuous education is provided by a study complexes' lyceum (college or higher educational institution) with a coordinated curricula. Faculty from higher educational institutions often lecture at colleges, assist instructors with curricula development and methodological work, participate in qualification exams, and prepare study materials. Partnerships of this kind prove to be highly effective.

Innovations in the system of vocational training are primarily defined by new trends in society. Educators have to review the inventory of professions with regard to the market demand; change the content of education by diversifying the curricula; give the students an opportunity to express their individuality and creativity; and introduce new subjects in response to the changing times. Schools must work in close contact with prospective employers, enterprises, and businesses.


Higher Education


The Belarusian system of higher education consists of universities, academies, and institutes. It comprises 42 state and 15 non-state higher educational institutions (VNU) with a total of 243,700 thousand students. Universities and academies offer graduate and post-graduate programs and are engaged in fundamental research. Whereas universities offer education in a wide variety of areas, academies have a narrower specialization (e.g., medical or management academies). Institutes are also highly specialized and usually have no post-graduate programs. They can function as separate entities or as part of a university. Higher educational institutions offer full-time (day) and part-time (night and correspondence) programs.

The degree that has been traditionally conferred by Belarusian higher educational institutions is Certified Specialist. It usually requires five years of training, success in final state examinations, and defense of a thesis. The study at medical institutions lasts longer and has a different set of requirements. The need to integrate into the world educational community has stimulated the introduction of two other degrees: Bachelor's, after four years of training, and Master's, after six years of instruction. The advanced scholarly degrees include Kandydat navuk (literally "Candidate of Sciences") and Doktar navuk (Doctor of Sciences). The degree of Kandydat is approximately equivalent to a Ph.D. and requires at least three years of post-graduate study, success in qualification examinations, and the defense of a dissertation. The Doktar's degree is highly prestigious and can be obtained after many years of teaching and independent research. A three-year sabbatical called daktarantura leads to the defense of a second dissertation of high theoretical and practical value. The defense is preceded by the publication of several dozen articles and at least one monograph. In 1999, about 54 percent of all faculty members in Belarus had advanced scholarly degrees. The total number of post-graduate students exceeded 2,500.

Teachers of higher educational institutions are promoted to faculty positions through the process of competition. Applicants submit documents, which are expected to prove their professional competence and ability to engage in scholarly research. All the papers are reviewed by a special commission, which conducts an interview with the candidate. Since there is no tenure, all the faculty members have to go through this process every five years. The faculty positions are: Assistant, Senior Lecturer, Datsent (which usually requires a Kandydat's degree), and Professor (usually with a Doktar's degree). The scholarly ranks of Datsent and Professor are conferred to faculty members who have worked in the corresponding position for at least a year and have a number of post-defense publications.

A higher educational institution is headed by the Rector, elected by the Academic Council, which makes major decisions about educational policy, curricula, and staffing. The institution is divided into faculties, headed by Deans. All faculty members are organized according to their specialty into departments called kafedry.

Applicants to higher educational institutions must have completed secondary education. The admissions are highly selective: on the average, in 1996 there were 250 applications per 100 spots in full-time programs. Since some specialties are much more popular than others, the competition in the departments can be very intense. The prospective students have to take three to five entrance examinations. The obligatory subjects for all applicants are the Belarusian language and literature or the Russian language and literature. Other subjects, which have to be connected with the future specialty, are set up by the institution on the basis of the list, developed by the Ministry of Education, which includes: a foreign language, history of Belarus, new world history, humankind and society, geography, physics, information science, mathematics, chemistry, biology, art, music, technical drawing, and other subjects. The applicants who score the highest are admitted to free studies and are even paid a small monthly stipend. Those who have a gold or a silver medal take only one exam and are admitted if they get an excellent grade. Previously, higher education was free for all students. Now a certain percentage of students at state universities (those who passed the examinations but did not win the competition) pay tuition fees.

All the enrolled students are divided into permanent groups of 25 to 30 people. They stay together as a group throughout the period of their studies, which allows them to develop close friendships. The schedule is made for the whole group. The structure of the curricula largely depends on standards developed on the state level. This is done in order to ensure the quality of education in the whole Republic. The main categories included in the curricula are general, general professional, and specialized subjects. The share of electives is comparatively small. The academic year begins on September 1 and is divided into semesters.

Students are graded both for their current work and examinations taken at the end of each semester. The grades used for evaluation are "excellent, good, satisfactory, and unsatisfactory." In case of a failure, students are allowed to retake the examination three times, the last time before a panel of professors. If they fail, they are expelled from the university. Excellent students receive an increase to their stipend. The course of study culminates in a state profile exam and/or defense of a thesis. Students who graduate with honors are awarded a "red certificate."

Under the new socioeconomic conditions, higher education is increasingly charged with the task of restructuring the curricula, diversifying the educational process, and adapting it to the requirements of the market economy. The enrollment figures are steadily growing, mostly because of the emergence of private institutions, as well as paid programs within existing universities. The most popular and competitive programs are in management, economics, law, and foreign languages. The new specialties offered by higher educational institutions include:

  • classical languages and literature
  • Japanese and Chinese
  • commercial activity in commodity and service markets
  • standardization and certification
  • printing industry technology

Among the most important tasks in higher education are:

  • the preparation of a new law on higher education
  • development of educational standards that would establish universal requirements for institutions of different types and provide a basis for their accreditation
  • a gradual switch to multilevel higher education
  • the integration of universities into the world educational community

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

The Belarusian educational system is administered by the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus (legislative function), the Council of Ministers (executive function), the Ministry of Education, and the local administrative organs. The state organs define the educational policy; formulate the requirements to educational institutions; authorize the order of their establishment, reorganization, and liquidation; allocate resources for their financing, and approve the curricula. In their turn, local organs are responsible for the development of education within the range of their control. They define the numbers and structure of personnel training, allocate funds and establish tax benefits for the educational institutions in their territory, and pay special attention to the national peculiarities of the region under their jurisdiction. Educational institutions are independent in their decisions about the organization of the educational process and their financial activities, as long as they observe the laws and respect the students' and teachers' rights.

Belarusian education is financed from state and non-state sources. The primary sources of financing are the state and local budgets. According to the law, the state funds must constitute at least 10 percent of the national revenue. Other sources include the profit from paid educational services, research activities, contract sums for personnel training, and contributions of enterprises, organizations, and individuals. In 1996 the respective share of state and non-state financing of education was 80 and 20 percent.

When Belarus was part of the Soviet Union, education in all kinds of institutions was free of charge. The new economic situation of the 1990s brought about the establishment of private institutions, as well as the development of paid programs within state institutions. In 1999, about 83.0 percent of students were studying at the expense of the state budget, whereas 16.7 percent were paying tuition fees. There were 15 non-state institutions with a total of 36.5 thousand students.


Nonformal Education

According to Article 17 of the Law on Education, state organs, enterprises and public organizations are encouraged to establish extra school cultural, aesthetic, scientific, technical, and sports facilities, in order to satisfy the individual requirements of children and youth. In 1996 Belarus had 3,318 different nonformal educational facilities. They provide an elaborate arrangement of instructional and recreational activities through a network of children centers (former Young Pioneer palaces), ecological, technical, and computer teenage clubs, part-time music, art, and sport schools, as well as centers of folk art and crafts. Independent education for adults is carried out through "people's universities," which organize a variety of courses on different subjects; national cultural centers; evening courses on foreign languages, accounting, and finance; and sports clubs, which are gaining more popularity. An important educational role belongs to libraries, information centers, social organizations, publishing houses, and mass media.


Teaching Profession

The Law on Education guarantees teachers adequate working conditions, protection of their honor and dignity, and salaries at least 1.5 times higher than average wages in industry. In the 1990s, though, the state of educational institutions was steadily deteriorating because of inadequate financing. Teachers' salaries were humiliatingly low, with long delays in their payment. In spite of all the difficulties, teachers still constitute one of the most enthusiastic and selfless groups of the Belarusian population.

Teachers are trained at professional secondary schools (vuchilishcha ), teacher training institutes and universities, as well as classical universities and other higher educational institutions. In 1999 secondary schools were staffed by teachers of different ranks: 80 percent with higher education, 16 percent with specialized secondary, 3 percent with incomplete higher and 1 percent with general secondary education. Out of 17,100 faculty members of higher educational institutions, 54 percent had advanced post-graduate degrees (Kandydat and Doktar ). Educators are concerned that the teaching profession on the preprimary, primary, and secondary levels has become a predominantly female profession. In 1999 there were 2,672 women and only 67 men teaching in primary schools. In higher educational institutions the figures are more evenly distributed between men and women (correspondingly 58.7 and 41.3 percent).

Every five years primary and secondary school teachers have to go through the process of attestation. As a result, they are assigned a category, which reflects the level of their professional efficiency and influences their salary. University teachers are promoted to faculty positions on a competitive basis. The upgrading of qualification is attained through faculties and institutes of advanced training, methodological seminars, and professional development courses, spirantura and dactarantura.

The research Institute of Pedagogy of the Ministry of Education, organized in 1928, is engaged in fundamental study of the history and theory of education, methods of teaching, as well as the development of state programs, curricula, and textbooks. Educational research is also conducted by the National Institute of Education, university departments of pedagogy and psychology, specialized research institutes, and laboratories. The Pedagogical Society founded in 1972 has a number of regional and city councils. Other organizations include the Teachers' Union, Council of School Directors, and the Association of Educational Researchers.


Summary

Belarus' independence, the transitions to a market economy, and the quest for democratization have initiated important changes in Belarusian education. It was restructured and most of the educational institutions were subordinated to the Ministry of Education instead of to numerous ministries and agencies. Family and special education were included in the educational system. Courses indoctrinating Communist ideology were eliminated from the curricula. The content of education became more diverse, with more attention given to each student. The reform, which will continue until 2010, aims at providing equal educational opportunities for all citizens; reviving national and regional cultural peculiarities and reflecting them in the curricula; developing the legal basis of education; and working out new mechanisms of financing the educational system.

In order to integrate its educational system into the world community, Belarus is actively cooperating with Russia, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), and a number of European countries. In 1999 Belarus and Russia signed a treaty on a two-state union envisioning their greater political and economic integration. The same year they adopted a joint programThe Formation and Development of a Unified Educational Community of the Belarusian-Russian Union. It is centered on a number of projects aimed at the preservation of the historical and cultural unity of the two states. The major ones are the coordination of educational standards and normative bases of the licensing; attestation and accreditation of educational institutions; the elaboration of a textbook on the history of Eastern Slavs for secondary schools; the unfolding of distance education programs; as well as the establishment of the department of Slavic Philology at Mogilev State University and the school of Slavic Studies at Smolensk State Pedagogical University. The CIS Council for Educational Cooperation was set up to ensure coordinated efforts directed towards the creation of a joint educational community, development of a mechanism of mutual equivalency of educational degrees and ranks, and generating a joint information system. In order to participate in European projects, the Republic of Belarus joined the European Cultural Convention. It also cooperates with UNESCO, the Council of Europe, TEMPUS/TACIS, the British Council, German Service of Academic Exchanges, and numerous United States organizations and agencies. Hopefully, all these efforts will stimulate an unprecedented expansion and diversification of the Belarusian educational system.


Bibliography

Arlova, H.P. Belaruskaya narodnaya pedahohika (Belarusian National Pedagogy). Minsk: Narodnaya Asveta, 1993.

Belarus at the Crossroads. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1999.

Drozd, L.N. Razvitiye srednei obshcheobrazovatel'noi shkoly v Belorussii 1917-1941 (The Development of Secondary General Education School in Byelorussia in 1917-1941). Minsk, 1986.

Ermak, V.I. Vysshie uchebnye zavedeniia Respubliki Belarus': Spravochnik abiturienta. 2000 (Higher Educational Establishments of the Republic of Belarus: Applicant's Handbook 2000). Minsk: TetraSistems, 2000.

Laptsionak, A.S., and V.A. Saleeu, eds. Natsyianal'naia samasviadomasts' i vykhavanne moladzi (National Independence and the Upbringing of Young People). Minsk: Natsyianal'nyi institut adukatsyi, 1996.

Latyshina, D.I. Istoriya pedagogiki. Vospitaniye I obrazovaniye v Rossii, X-nachalo XX veka. (The History of Pedagogy. Upbringing and Education in Russia, 10th-early 20th centuries). Moscow: Forum, 1998.

Obshcheye obrazovatel'noye prostranstvo-real'naya tsel' integratsii (Universal Educational Community-a Real Goal of Integration), 21 January 2001. Available from http://www.minedu.unibel.by/sb/2000/sb1/4.html.

Snapkouskaia, S.V. Adukatsyinaia palityka i shkola na Belarusi u kantsy XIX-pachatku XX stst. (Educational Policy and School in Belarus in the late 19th-early 20th century). Minsk: Natsional'nyi in-t obrazovaniia Respubliki Belarus, 1998.

Sotsial'no-ekonomicheskie i organizatsionnye problemy obrazovaniia na etape ego transformatsii (Socioeconomic and Organizational Problems of Education at the Stage of its Transformation). Minsk: Natsional'nyi institut obrazovaniia Respubliki Belarus, 1998.

Struktura natsional'noi sistemy obrazovaniya Respubliki Belarus (Structure of the National Educational System of the Republic of Belarus), 28 January 2001. Available from http//cacedu.unibel.by/Education/BY.htm.

The System of Education in the Republic of Belarus: Basic Indicators and Tendencies of Development (Materials for National Report of the Republic of Belarus to UNESCO International Bureau of Education), 25 January 2001. Available from http://cacedu.unobel.by/Education/u2.htm.


Olga Leontovich

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Belarus

BELARUS

Republic of Belarus

Respublika Byelarus

COUNTRY OVERVIEW

LOCATION AND SIZE.

Belarus is a landlocked state in Eastern Europe bordering Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia to the west; Ukraine to the south; and Russia to the east and north. It has a total border of 3,100 kilometers (1,900 miles), with almost one-third of its border (960 kilometers, or 600 miles) touching Russia. Slightly smaller than the state of Kansas, Belarus covers an area of 208,000 square kilometers (80,000 square miles). Belarus is divided into 6 oblastsi (provinces). The cities of Minsk, Gomel, Brest, Vitsyebsk, Grodno, and Mogilev are the capital cities of these oblastsi.

Belarus is the smallest of 3 Slavic republics (with Russia and Ukraine) that were once part of the Soviet Union. These Slavic republics, along with 12 other regions, gained their independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

POPULATION.

The population of Belarus was estimated at 10.4 million in July 2000, with almost 75 percent living in urban areas. The population of the city of Minsk alone was estimated at 1.67 million in July 2000. The number of people living in Belarus peaked in 1993 and has been declining at an average annual rate of 0.5 percent. It is estimated that by 2015 the population will fall to 9.8 million. The negative population growth rate is partly due to a falling life expectancy (68 years; 62 years for males and 74 for females), a low fertility rate, and emigration . Belarusians are marrying at an older age and having fewer children. Low fertility combined with increased emigration has resulted in an older population. In 1960, for example, 32 percent of the population was considered "young" and 14 percent was considered "old." The corresponding figures for 1996 were 23 percent and 21 percent.

Ethnic Belarusians make up more than 77 percent of the country's population. Russians, many of whom were migrants to Belarus while it was still part of the Soviet Union (1917-91), form the second largest ethnic group (13 percent). The remainder of the population are Poles (4 percent), Ukrainians (3 percent), and Jews (1 percent), with a small number of Latvians, Lithuanians, and Tartars (0.1 percent). Before World War II, Jews constituted the second largest ethnic group in the country.

Belarusians emigrate from their country for economic, military, political, and religious reasons. Some estimates put the number of Belarusians living abroad at between 3 to 3.5 million. The United States is one of the principal countries of Belarusian emigration. Since 1946, more than 500,000 Belarusians have emigrated to the United States, many fleeing a country devastated by World War II (1939-45).

Both Belarusian and Russian are official languages. The Belarusian language is an East Slavic language, closely related to Russian and Ukrainian. Like many of the Slavic languages, Belarusian uses the Cyrillic alphabet. Most Belarusians who profess a religion adhere to the Eastern Orthodox Church. There is, however, a sizable minority of Roman Catholics, and the Eastern-rite (Uniate) church is experiencing a revival after centuries of persecution under Eastern Orthodox-dominated Tsarist Russia and atheistic (not subscribing to any religion) Soviet rule.

OVERVIEW OF ECONOMY

The breakup of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) in 1991 had a negative impact on Belarus. Although the majority of the former Soviet republics quickly shifted their economies toward the free market system, Belarus was among the slowest to open up its economy. International financial institutions, such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) assisted the country with credits and special economic development projects. Although their efforts resulted in some positive outcomes, they also increased Belarus's international debt. Whereas in 1991 the country was practically debt-free, in 2000 Belarus owed nearly US$800 million to foreign banks and government bodies.

Agriculture and industry are the largest sectors of Belarus's economy, making up 13 percent and 34 percent of GDP in 2000, respectively. Wheat, rye, oats, potatoes, flax, hemp, and sugar beets are the primary agricultural products. Dairy and beef cows, pigs, and chickens are also raised. The main industrial items produced in Belarus are tractors, trucks, earth movers, metal-cutting machine tools, agricultural equipment, motorcycles, chemicals, fertilizer, textiles, and some consumer goods . Peat, the country's most valuable mineral resource, is used for fuel and fertilizer and in the chemical industry. Belarus also has significant deposits of clay, sand, chalk, dolomite, phosphor, and rock and potassium salt. Forests cover one-third of the country's territory and the lumber industry is economically important as a result. Having only small reserves of petroleum and natural gas of its own, Belarus imports most of its oil and gas, mainly from neighboring Russia. It also imports large quantities of grain. The main export items are machinery and household items.

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident that took place on 26 April 1986 in Ukraine released massive amounts of radiation, contaminating large amounts of agricultural land in Belarus. An estimated 150,000 inhabitants had to move, and many people needed medical help. Chernobyl caused the government to take more than 23 percent of the country's agricultural land and 20 percent of forest land out of production. Economic output declined for several years after the accident, but revived somewhat in the late 1990s. The economic revival was due to several factors, including improved production techniques, better relations with foreign countries, and the introduction of privatization .

Under the socialist system of the Soviet Union, Belarus's economy was merely part of the national economy of the Soviet Union. After winning independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Belarus moved very slowly on free market reforms, keeping its basic economic reliance on Russia. Some reforms were implemented between 1991 and 1994, but they did not last long enough to make an impression. When Alexander Grigorjevich Lukashenka became president in 1994, many of these free market economic reforms were reversed. The government reintroduced price controls (an enforced price on an item) on at least 26 basic goods and services. Currency exchange regulations were re-imposed, and privatization was halted. The government subsidized businesses and farms. About half of all enterprises remained in state hands in 2000. Structural reform has been slower than in most other Commonwealth of Independent States (the CIS is made up of 12 republics of the former Soviet Union, not including the 3 Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia).

Russia remains Belarus's main trading partner, accounting for more than 50 percent of Belarus's foreign trade. Belarus has made several attempts at economic and political re-integration with Russia. Belarus seeks to use the Russian ruble as its currency by 2005, and hopes to see a common Russia-Belarus currency by 2008. Other major trading partners are Ukraine, Poland, and Germany.

POLITICS, GOVERNMENT, AND TAXATION

There are 3 governmental branches in Belarus: the executive, including the president, prime minister, and council of ministers; the legislative, consisting of parliament; and the judicial, or the Supreme Court. Belarus has a president as the head of the state, who serves a 5-year term. The president appoints the prime minister, who is the head of the government. A bicameral (2-house) parliament consists of the 64-seat Council of the Republic and the 110-seat Chamber of Representatives. Judicial power in Belarus is in the hands of courts. The Constitutional Court exercises control over constitutionality (determination of legal validity based on the constitution) of acts and decrees. Administratively, the country is divided into 6 oblasts (administrative divisions). Local administration and decision making are carried out primarily by the Soviets of Deputies. There are several registered political parties: the Belarusian Popular Front, Party of Popular Accord, Union of Belarusian Entrepreneurs, Belarusian Party of Communists, Belarus Peasant Party, Belarusian Socialist Party, Social Democrat Party, Agrarian Party of Belarus, and United Democratic Party of Belarus.

President Lukashenka consolidated his power through a highly controversial election held in 1994. Based on the results of this vote, the Constitutional Court lost its independence, and the democratically elected parliament was abolished and replaced by presidential appointees. President Lukashenka used his increased power to suppress the freedoms of speech, press, association, and assembly. He also eliminated the system of checks and balances over the executive branch. In 1996 Lukashenka extended his term, which should have ended in 1999, to 2001.

Taxes are the primary source of government revenue. The taxation system of Belarus includes national and local taxes as well as other types of taxes and duties . National taxes are collected throughout the country and transferred to the national budget and extra-budgetary state funds. Local taxes are levied only within respective administrative and territorial units and transferred to local budgets. Belarus signed international agreements on avoiding double taxation with a number of countries. The country took steps to liberalize taxation and customs regulations, granting some benefits to investors in the 1990s. Belarusian laws allow foreign entities to make direct private investments in the Belarusian economy through the creation of joint ventures with as much as 100 percent participation of foreign capital.

From 1993 to 1999, investments in Belarus totaled US$697 million, a low figure compared to other former Soviet countries. The bulk of foreign investment came from Gazprom (Russia's state-owned gas company). The Yamal pipeline project funded by Gazprom will export natural gas to Western Europe via Belarus. Western investors in Belarus include the Coca-Cola company, which has been building a US$50 million plant in the capital city of Minsk, and Ford Motor Company, which holds a 51 percent stake in a truck assembly plant outside of Minsk.

INFRASTRUCTURE, POWER, AND COMMUNICATIONS

Belarus has an extensive though aging infrastructure , which is badly in need of investment for repair and maintenance. A network of over 5,488 kilometers (3,409 miles) of railways and 52,131 kilometers (32,380 miles) of primary and secondary roads serve the country. About 11 percent of all roads are unpaved. The railways are used to transport both people and goods, and are in moderate use by international transit linking Western and Eastern Europe. Furthermore, the country has a large and widely used canal and river system, with 1 port at Mazyr. Nearly 5 percent of the former Soviet Union's fleet of ships are

Communications
Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Belarus 174 296 314 N/A 1 1.9 N/A 0.77 50
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Russia 105 418 420 78.5 5 0.4 40.6 13.06 2,700
Ukraine 54 884 490 15.7 2 0.0 13.8 4.56 200
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium (http://www.isc.org) and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

in Belarus. There are 118 large and small airports, few of which meet international standards. Only 36 airports have paved runways.

Belarus remains highly dependent on imported energy and has made little progress toward diversifying its exports and entering new markets. Many energy consumers, such as households, businesses, and even government offices, have not been able to pay their utility bills. Energy debt, mostly for natural gas, stood at more than US$250 million in May 2000. The government attempted to pay its debts by bartering and through agreements directly with Russia and Lithuania. Even though the large majority of electricity and fuel is imported, there is some domestic production of energy. In 2000 Belarus produced 25 billion kilowatts (kWh) of electric power, 1.8 million tons of gasoline, 3,500 tons of diesel fuel, and 5.6 million tons of industrial fuel oil.

Telecommunications services in Belarus are inadequate for both public and business use. Hundreds of thousands of applications from household telephones remain unsatisfied. Some investment on international connections and businesses has taken place, much of it in Minsk. There were 296 radios per 1,000 people in 1997, and 314 televisions per 1,000 people in 1998. A domestic cellular telephone system operated in Minsk, but only 1 person out of 1,000 owned a cellular phone in 1998. By 2000, the country had 9 Internet service providers. However, the number of personal computers in the country was very low.

ECONOMIC SECTORS

More than half of the economy of Belarus is owned and operated by the state. The government's insistence on maintaining a centrally planned socialist economy and encouraging private and foreign investment has not been successful. Belarus's economic progress has fallen behind neighboring countries, many of which have adopted free market economic practices. Yet Belarus has a high capacity for progress. It has a relatively educated and skilled labor force (4.44 million in 1999) and it is situated in a strategic location of Europe. Industrial production (34 percent of GDP) dominated the economy in 1999, employing 28.9 percent of the workforce, but services employed almost half of the total workforce.

The lack of a free market system and human rights violations, such as the arrest of peaceful political activists and the control of radio and television stations, has discouraged substantial amounts of foreign investment. The country is short of foreign exchange reserves and has a relatively high inflation rate (more than 150 percent per year for 1998 and 1999). By March 2000, Belarus had not reached many of the economic goals through which it could receive additional International Monetary Fund aid. The government has been looking toward Russia for increased economic cooperation, such as increased trade, foreign investment, and an eventual unified currency.

AGRICULTURE

Agriculture accounted for 23 percent of the country's 1998 GDP and employed nearly 650,000 people, or more than 17 percent of the labor force in 1999. The majority of agriculture is conducted on state-owned lands and farms. Private farms, however, are much more efficient than state farms. Private farms produce an estimated 40 percent of agricultural output, even though they constitute a mere 15 percent of all agricultural lands. The primary food crops produced by Belarusian agriculture are barley, corn, potatoes, sugar beets, and wheat. Meat products include beef, veal, chicken, lamb, and pork. The most profitable agricultural exports in 2000 were butter, alcoholic beverages, condensed milk, beef, and cheese. The total value of agricultural exports in 2000 was US$377 million, while the value of agricultural imports was US$911 million.

Independence for Belarus, as in many of the former Soviet republics, brought economic hardships and food shortages. Between 1990 and 1998, total agricultural production was reduced by 29 percent, and in collective and state farms, production was reduced by 44 percent. Production of grains and pulses in 1998 was 69 percent of that of 1990, potatoes 88 percent, meat 57 percent, and milk 70 percent. Animal husbandry also saw a reduction: the average yield of milk per cow in government farms fell by 23 percent from 1990 to 1998. The nutritional value of the average daily ration shrank by 14 percent during that period. Due to the poor economic situation, the per capita annual consumption of meat decreased by 14 kg (19 percent), milk by 59 kg (19 percent), and eggs by 57 units (18 percent).

Production of grains in 1998 was 4,475,000 tons. This provided less than half of the minimal grain requirements for the country. Grain yields fell by 31 percent during the period of 1990-98. Land sown to grain also fell by 4 percent. As a result of the grain shortage, Belarus was forced to purchase and import grain from abroad. Russia was a major source of grain imports for Belarus, making up 44 percent of all grain imports in 1998. Imports of grain from Ukraine constituted another 30 percent of the whole. Ukraine was also a major provider of corn to Belarus. To encourage the domestic production of wheat, the government offered an artificially high price for wheat to farmers.

Belarus requires no less than 350,000 tons of sugar per year, but the capacity of internal sugar factories is only 150,000 tons per year. Since internal sugar beet production covers only about 44 percent of the country's needs, the rest is provided by imports. Belarus purchases the majority of its sugar from the Ukraine. During 1998 a total of 476,000 tons of sugar was both produced and imported, leading to an accumulation of sugar reserves and to the export of excess sugar to other CIS countries, mainly Russia. The sugar beet growing areas are located in the Brest, Grodno, and Minsk oblasts, where the 4 main sugar factories are located. The crop takes only 0.7 percent of total farmland in the country. In accordance with state sugar program, the development of the sugar industry aims to increase sugar beet production, increase the production capacity of the 4 sugar factories, and reduce energy and raw material expenses.

Vegetable oil is produced locally and sold to Russia, and it is imported from the Ukraine. Production capacities of the fat and oil industry meet the domestic market demand for vegetable oil, margarine, mayonnaise, and soap, as well as allow for the export of some finished products. The fields devoted to rape (a type of herb with oily seeds used to make canola oil) were increased from 88,000 hectares in 1998 to 150,000 hectares in 2000. The total sowing area under oilseeds was still 16 percent less than what it was in 1990. In order to solve the problem of domestic vegetable oil needs, to expand the growth of oilseeds and to increase the efficiency of oilseed production, the government supplied farms with quality seeds, mineral fertilizers, pesticides, and specialized harvesting machinery. Furthermore, it strengthened the material and technical base for seed processing and drying. An increase of the domestic production of vegetable oil was also induced by the rapid rise of the price for imported oils and oilseeds. In 1998 the price of vegetable oil was US$1,161 per ton as compared to US$823 per ton in 1995. The largest volume of vegetable oil export was recorded in 1998 at 11,300 tons.

INDUSTRY

Industry plays a leading role in the economy of Belarus, responsible for 34 percent of its GDP. It includes more than 100 sectors and 2,000 enterprises, many of which are fully self-supporting, and employs nearly 1 million people (26 percent of the Belarusian labor force). Before the breakup of the Soviet Union, much of Belarus's industry was geared toward making military machinery. After independence, the country faced the challenges of changing from military to peacetime production, modernizing factories, and cleaning up industrial pollution left by old factories.

MANUFACTURING.

The main industrial products include metal cutting tools, trucks, earth movers, motorcycles, bicycles, television sets, radios, refrigerators, and chemical fibers. In addition, tires, timber, paper, board, textiles, and clothing are produced. Agricultural machinery is one of the specialties of Belarusian industry. Basic agricultural machinery produced in Belarus includes tractors, harvesters, fertilizers, and equipment for livestock-raising farms. Engineering and metalworking plants account for as much as 25 percent of the industrial output. The automotive industry specializes in the production of heavy-duty trucks. The Minsk tractor plant produces tractors, tractor engines, and spare parts. In 2000 alone, 26,500 tractors were produced. The electrical engineering industry produces alternating current motors, power transformers, electric bulbs, and cable products. In addition, computer-aided control systems, clocks, watches, cameras, and electrical measuring and process monitoring instruments are produced. Furthermore, road building machines, building and reclamation machines, roller bearings, passenger elevators, gas cookers, and equipment for the food industry are also produced. In 2000, exported manufactured goods included 7,800 trucks, 26,100 tractors, 3,200 metal-cutting machine tools, 505,100 refrigerators, 161,000 television sets, and 120,000 bicycles.

CHEMICAL AND PETROCHEMICALS.

The chemical and petrochemical industries are well-developed. There are large complexes for the production of mineral fertilizers, tires, artificial fibers, and filament. In 2000 they produced 502,000 tons of nitrogen fertilizers, 2.8 million tons of potash fertilizers, 51.7 million tons of phosphate fertilizers, 209,000 tons of artificial fiber and filament, and 1.3 million tires for motor vehicles and farm machinery. The state dominates the chemical and petrochemical sector of industry, owning 73 percent of production. In 2000, 1 million tires, 2.6 million tons of potash fertilizers, and 161,400 tons of artificial fiber and filament were exported.

SERVICES

TOURISM.

Belarus has fewer visits by tourists than its neighbors, but the numbers are increasing. In 1997, a reported 250,000 tourists visited Belarus, an increase of 36 percent from 1994. Tourists spent US$25 million in 1997. There are several reasons behind the low number of visitors to Belarus. There are few historic assets on which to build a tourist industry. Many of the country's historic buildings were destroyed during World War II. Minsk was completely flattened and is now characterized by grim Stalinist architecture (Stalin was the former dictator of the USSR) and high-rise buildings. In addition, as opposed to most Eastern European and Baltic countries that have dropped visa (government approval to enter a country) requirements for most visitors, Belarus requires visas for most tourists. The potential for increased tourism in Belarus is still favorable because it is considered a good candidate for ecotourism . Ecotourism could generate urgently needed revenue, create jobs, and help conserve the natural environment. The Ministry of Sports and Tourism and Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection have looked into establishing national parks and protected territories and monuments to stimulate an increase in tourism.

FINANCIAL SERVICES.

After independence in 1991, the Gosbank (state bank) of the USSR was converted into the National Bank of Belarus (NBB). The specialized Soviet banks, including Sherbank, Agroprombank, Promstroibank, and Vnesheconombank, were turned into commercial banks offering corresponding specialized services. By mid-2000, Belagroprombank and Belarusbank together accounted for 51 percent of all Belarusian banking sector assets. There are 22 locally owned and joint venture banks. The largest joint venture bank was the Russian Mossbusinessbank. By mid-2000, the banking system of the republic, with a total of 28 banks, held an estimated BR1.5 trillion worth of assets (approximately US$1.6 billion). As a percentage of GDP, this made Belarus one of the lowest among the CIS countries. Assets in local currency accounted for 43 percent of total banking assets. Among the problems with the banking sector was a relatively high rate of lending to government enterprises (constituting 47 percent of all lending), considered to be economically unwise.

INTERNATIONAL TRADE

Foreign trade turnover totaled US$12.5 billion in 2000, nearly the same as the previous year, but down 20 percent from 1998. Exports accounted for an estimated US$5.95 billion and imports US$6.55 billion. Some 60 percent of Belarus's international trade and 85 percent of its trade with the CIS were with Russia, making that country its main trading partner. Half of the trade with Russia

Trade (expressed in millions of US$): Belarus
exports Imports
1994 2510 3066
1995 4706 5562
1996 5652 6938
1997 7300 8688
1998 7070 8548
1999 5922 6664
SOURCE: United Nations. Monthly Bulletin of Statistics (September 2000).

was in the form of barter deals. After the Russian financial crisis of August 1998, however, Belarusian exports to Russia shrank by about 17 percent and imports from Russia fell by 19 percent. Other CIS trading partners of Belarus were the Ukraine (11 percent of CIS trade), Kazakhstan (1.4 percent of CIS trade), and Moldova and Uzbekistan (1 percent each of CIS trade).

Main exports include vehicles (16 percent of total value of exports), machinery (13 percent), chemicals (13 percent), textiles (12 percent), and metal-ware (9 percent). In 1990, special priority was given to the development of bilateral links with various Russian regions. Exports to Russia in 1999 were 7 times higher than to any other country. Agricultural exports to Russia were primarily meat (12 percent of total), dairy products (21 percent), and eggs (7 percent). Nearly 90 percent of Belarusian meat and dairy exports went to Russia, in addition to 50 percent of potato, fruit, and vegetable exports. Exports to non-CIS countries decreased from 30 percent in early 1990 to less than 12 percent in 2000. Food and agricultural exports have increased, while machinery exports have decreased. Agricultural goods made up 8.2 percent of total trade in 2000 compared to 6.6 percent in 1996. Exports of meat products increased by 40 percent from 1996 to 2000, dairy products by 60 percent, eggs by more than 250 percent, and margarine by 440 percent.

Principal imports are energy (25 percent of total imports), machinery and equipment (16 percent), metals (13 percent), and food (11 percent). The main share (more than 50 percent) of food and agricultural imports comes from non-CIS countries. Another 25 to 30 percent of such products are imported from Russia. In 1997 the volume of agricultural imports was the highest it had been in years, at US$1.12 billion, and the average annual import of agricultural commodities during 1996-2000 was equivalent to US$929.3 million. The import structure changed after 1991 with some traditionally exported items such as meat, animal fats, and margarine being imported from abroad.

Belarus has had a trade deficit since 1995. The trade balance with Russia, however, has traditionally been positive. Exports to Russia exceeded imports by more than 200 percent in 2000. In the same year, the trade deficit with non-CIS countries amounted to US$433 million. During the 1996-2000 period, goods supplied by non-CIS countries were cheaper than items imported from Russia, except dairy products and grain. Vegetables, fruits, vegetable oil, margarine, and pasta imported from non-CIS countries were more than 200 percent cheaper; tea and candies were over 500 percent cheaper; meat products were 50 percent cheaper; fish was 30 percent cheaper; and sugar was 40 percent less expensive.

MONEY

Annual inflation in Belarus, as measured by changes in consumer price inflation, or CPI, has been very high during the 1990s. It stood at 294 percent by the end of 1999. There were several reasons behind the inflationary pressure on the economy. The 1998 Russian monetary crisis had a negative effect on the Belarusian ruble due to the dependence of the Belarusian economy on Russia. Government subsidies to several sectors of the economy (such as agriculture and housing) supported bad lending practices, poor weather conditions caused low agricultural production, and the government's periodic expansion of the money supply caused a devaluation of the Belarusian ruble.

In February 1993 Belarus set up the Inter-Bank Currency Exchange which is the main trading forum of the legal currency market. Trades are performed in 4 main currencies: the U.S. dollar, the German mark, the Russian ruble, and the Ukrainian grivna. The Russian financial crisis of 1998 forced the Belarusian ruble to depreciate against the Russian ruble and the U.S. dollar. In April 2000 the exchange rate stood at BR435 to US$1. The depreciation of the Belarusian currency continued to accelerate in the following months, reaching a whopping BR1,247 to US$1 by mid-February 2001.

Exchange rates: Belarus
Belarusian rubles per US$1
2000 1,180
Dec 1999 730,000
Jan 1999 139,000
1998 46,080
1997 25,964
1996 15,500
Note: On January 1, 2000, the national currency was redenominated at onenew ruble to 2,000 old rubles.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].
GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Belarus N/A N/A N/A 2,761 2,198
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Russia 2,555 3,654 3,463 3,668 2,138
Ukraine N/A N/A N/A 1,979 837
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.

POVERTY AND WEALTH

For most Belarusians, independence compromised their economic and physical welfare. Environmental problems, the loss of life savings, and the continued effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster undermined the health of the population. Compared to other East European and former Soviet republic nations, the income of Belarusians lagged behind. The GDP per capita of Belarus declined from US$2,761 in 1990 to US$2,198 in 1998, while per capita GDP in Russia and Poland increased by over US$1,000 during the decade (based on the 1995 exchange rate).

Though many of the former Soviet republics and East European countries worked to change from socialist, centrally planned economies to free market economies, Belarus was not anxious to follow that route; as a consequence, the economy was left behind the other former Soviet states.

The life expectancy of Belarusians, which in the mid-1970s stood at 71.5 years, was estimated at 68.0 years in 2000. The mortality rate increased from 10.7 in 1990 to 13.0 in 1998. Men had a life expectancy of only 61.8 years, while women were expected to live 74.5 years. Approximately 22 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Belarus
Lowest 10% 5.1
Lowest 20% 11.4
Second 20% 15.2
Third 20% 18.2
Fourth 20% 21.9
Highest 20% 33.3
Highest 10% 20.0
Survey year: 1998
Note: This information refers to expenditure shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita expenditure.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].
Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All Food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Belarus 36 7 15 7 10 11 14
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
Russia 28 11 16 7 15 8 16
Ukraine 34 5 16 6 4 14 22
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
aExcludes energy used for transport.
bIncludes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

WORKING CONDITIONS

The official unemployment rate in the country was reported at 2.1 percent in 2000. However, the reporting of the unemployment rate in former Soviet republics is generally considered inaccurate. Many people are officially employed at state-owned enterprises, and are reported as such, yet in reality are unemployed or working part-time in the informal sector of the economy, selling agricultural produce in the local market or working at other small businesses.

In 2000, the Belarusian economy had 4.5 million workers, 60 percent of whom were reportedly employed in state-owned enterprises. This number may be higher, since the so-called Joint Stock companies, which were formerly state-owned and employed more than 270,000 people in 2000, were still functioning with government assistance. Less than 400,000 people, or only about 9 percent of the workforce, worked in private businesses.

A rural-urban age gap has also emerged. Many of the young job-seekers migrate to larger urban areas. This has led to a high concentration of older people in the rural areas. Older people make up as much as 35 percent of the population of rural villages. The combination of negative rural population growth, an aging society, and the state-run economy, with the emigration of many of the professionals to western countries, has led to an unhappy environment for the Belarusian worker.

COUNTRY HISTORY AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

1919. A Soviet regime is established in Belarus.

1922. Belarus becomes a member of the USSR.

1923. The forced mass collectivization of agricultural lands begins.

1944. After 4 years of occupation by Nazi Germany, Minsk is recaptured by the Soviet Army.

1986. The Chernobyl nuclear power station accident in Ukraine leaks radiation into Belarus.

1990. Belarus declares state sovereignty from the USSR.

1991. Belarus declares independence. Belarus, along with Russia and Ukraine, forms the CIS.

1994. Russia and Belarus announce a monetary union, which is abandoned by Russia a year later. Alexander Lukashenka is elected as the first president of independent Belarus.

1995. Belarus joins NATO's Partnership for Peace Program.

1995. Russia and Belarus allow the free movement of certain goods across their border.

1996. The last nuclear weapon left over from the Soviet-era is removed from Belarusian territory.

1997. Russia and Belarus sign the Act of Union, which envisions the union of the 2 countries.

FUTURE TRENDS

The parliamentary election of October 2000 showed that President Lukashenka would keep his grip on the country by making sure that his opponents remained out of power. This continued to damage the legitimacy of his administration. President Lukashenka is expected to continue to dominate the political scene in the future, and he is almost assured of re-election. The opposition will remain weak, owing to consistent pressure from the administration and a lack of media access. However, the suppression of the opposition before the presidential election would damage relations with Western countries and international lending agencies.

The Belarusian leadership has had limited vision when attempting to tackle the country's economic problems. While its neighbors to the west (Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia) have long endorsed free market programs of economic reform, with overwhelming success, Belarus has stubbornly stood by a plan of economic union with Russia at a time when Russia has been facing economic uncertainty and political instability. Some polls have indicated that a large segment of the Belarusian population believes in the supremacy of the state and continues to expect a communist -like state to look after their well-being. The hard grip of the former communists on power, and an aging society with an unsure attitude towards market reforms, are likely to contribute to the maintenance of the status quo in Belarus, with continuing economic hardship and political repression.

DEPENDENCIES

Belarus has no territories or colonies.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

CountryWatch.com. Country Review: Belarus, 2001.<http://www.countrywatch.com/files/016/cw_country.asp?vCOUNTRY=016>. Accessed April 2001.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Belarus, Moldova,

2000-2001. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2000.

History of Belarus (Great Litva). <http://jurix.jura.uni-sb.de/~serko/history/history.html>. Accessed February 2001.

International Monetary Fund. Republic of Belarus: Recent

Economic Developments and Selected Issues. Washington, DC: International Monetary Fund, 2000.

Lubachko, Igor S. Belarusia Under Soviet Rule, 1917-1957,

Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1972.

Marples, David R. Belarus: A Denationalized Nation. Australia:

Hardwood Academic Publishers, 1999.

The National Academy of Sciences of Belarus. <http://www.ac.by/publications/index.html>. Accessed February 2001.

Stroev, Igor, Leonid Blyakhman, and Mikhail Krotov. Economics of the CIS Countries on the Threshold of the New Millennium. St. Petersburg: Nauka, 1999. <http://www.ll.georgetown.edu/cat/newbooks/jun002.html#B>. Accessed February 2001.

United Nations Development Program. The Republic of Belarus,

1996. <http://www.undp.org/missions/belarus/eng_pg01.htm#ECO>. Accessed April 2001.

United Nations Development Program. Human Development

Report 2000. New York: UNDP, 2000.

Vakar, Nicholas P. Belarusia: The Making of a Nation: A Case

Study, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1956.

World Bank. Country Brief: Belarus, 2000. <http://lnweb18.worldbank.org/ECA/eca.nsf/66f872d4c0533345852567d100130887/22342855499fcbe9852567ef0053408b?OpenDocument>. Accessed February 2001.

Payam Foroughi

Raissa Muhutdinova-Foroughi

CAPITAL:

Minsk.

MONETARY UNIT:

The Belarusian ruble (BR) became the official currency in May 1992. New bank notes introduced in 2000 include 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1,000 and 5,000 ruble notes. The currency contains no coins. As of February 2001, BR1,244 equaled US$1.

CHIEF EXPORTS:

Machinery, transport equipment, chemicals, metals, textiles, foodstuffs.

CHIEF IMPORTS:

Fuel, natural gas, industrial raw materials, cotton fiber, sugar, foodstuffs.

GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT:

US$55.2 billion (1999 est.).

BALANCE OF TRADE:

Exports: US$5.95 billion (2000). Imports: US$6.55 billion (2000).

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Belarus

BELARUS

Republic of Belarus

Major Cities:
Minsk

Other Cities:
Brest, Gomel, Grodno, Mogilëv, Vitebsk

EDITOR'S NOTE

This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated May 1997. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at http://travel.state.gov/ for the most recent information available on travel to this country.

INTRODUCTION

Settled originally by East Slavs in the 6th to 8th centuries, the Republic of Belarus is a historic borderland between western and eastern Europe. Because of its location, Belarus endured and occupation by numerous regional powers over the centuries, such as Poland, Lithuania, and Russia. The former Soviet republic suffered its greatest destruction during World War II, when it bore the brunt of the Nazi occupation. One in four Belarusians was killed. Then in 1986, the republic encountered a modern-day foe, when 70 percent of the nuclear fallout from the disaster at Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power plant landed on Belarusian territory, contaminating one-fifth of its area.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union, Belarus declared independence on August 25, 1991. The United States recognized the Republic of Belarus on December 25, 1991.

MAJOR CITY

Minsk

Minsk, the capital of Belarus and the administrative capital of the Commonwealth of Independent States, is one of the "hero cities" of the Great Patriotic War (World War II). Situated halfway between Warsaw and Moscow and between Vilnius and Kiev, Minsk was almost completely destroyed during the fighting. It was rebuilt in pure Soviet style and has wide streets and large parks. In the past three decades, the population of Minsk has more than tripled to reach 1.9 million people.

Skorina Avenue (formerly Lenin Avenue) and Masherova Avenue are the primary thoroughfares dividing the city. Although few historic buildings remain, the 17th century Russian Orthodox cathedral of the Bernadine Convent is undergoing renovation, and the " Trinity Embankment," along the Svislach River has been reconstructed in the 1 7th and 1 8th century styles.

Food

The availability of food is constantly improving, but the selection is never wide nor consistent. Shipping certain consumables, such as spices, food items associated with ethnic cuisines, and items necessary for special diets, is recommended.

There are stores in Minsk that best can be described as hybrids that fall somewhere between the local gastronoms and small Western-style supermarkets. Goods for sale mainly are imported and are displayed on open shelves from which customers make their own selections, and customers pay for everything at one time at checkout counters. A few of these shops operate around the clock. As well, more and more gastronoms stock imported foodstuffs and beverages. Shoppers usually can find canned goods, cheeses, pasta, juices, some fruits and vegetables, processed and cured meats, cleaning supplies, toiletries, packaged foods, soft drinks, snacks, liquor, sweets, and other goods at random. Food also can be ordered from a department store based in Helsinki. Deliveries are made weekly.

A large farmer's market is open all year in Minsk, and its merchants sell fresh fruits and vegetables in season and imported items at higher prices all year.

Kitchen supplies such as trash bags, foil and plastic wraps, reclosable storage bags, ice trays, and egg cartons are not readily available.

Clothing

Clothing requirements in Minsk are relatively informal.

Western clothing styles and brands are beginning to be available in Belarus; several popular clothing and shoe manufacturers have opened retail outlets in Minsk. It is also possible to find a small selection of imported clothing in local department stores. Prices for such merchandise tend to be two or three times higher than in the West, and the choices are very limited.

Although Minsk is one of the cleaner former Soviet cities, it is still pretty grimy, and clothes are easily soiled. Easily cleaned garments in dark colors are preferable. A supply of warm winter clothing is necessary. This should include rain gear, warm hats, scarves, gloves, socks, and sturdy boots with nonslip soles.

Summers are usually mild, but temperatures can rise above 90°F. Spring and the short autumn are characterized by rain. Winter comes early, spring late.

Supplies and Services

Supplies: Personal toiletries, cosmetics, and feminine hygiene products are available in local stores, though the availability is never guaranteed and the quality is not necessarily up to American standards.

Although a German pharmacy has opened in Minsk, a very limited selection of contact lens solutions is available through local contact lens clinics.

Paper goods, such as toilet paper and disposable diapers, are available locally, but supplies can never be guaranteed. Other paper products such as wrapping paper, stationery, or greeting cards are not sold locally. Also, most local stores do not supply bags for your purchases. Local people carry their purchases home in large plastic or canvas bags. These bags are inexpensive and widely available.

Basic art supplies for children, such as markers and paints, are available locally. Fabric and yarns are available, but the selection and quality are not always good. Western sporting goods are beginning to make an appearance, but the prices are prohibitive. Film and photo developing is available locally, and the service is quick and basically reliable for about the same price as in the U.S.

There are several firms specializing in computer sales and repair, from which it is possible to purchase basic computer supplies and software.

Western tobacco and alcohol products are sold locally; prices are approaching or exceeding Western levels. Other entertainment supplies such as music cassettes and compact disks are available, but the quality and adherence to copyright law is never guaranteed. Some videos are sold, but they are on the East European system, Secam-D/K. They do not play in Western VCRs.

There is not a great selection of pet food and supplies, but adequate products usually can be found.

Basic Services: There are several beauty shops, which are satisfactory and inexpensive, that give both men's and women's haircuts. Some hair products are available locally,.

Tailoring, dressmaking, and shoe repair are available, but not to Western standards. Fabrics and other materials are available, but the selection is limited.

Several garages that repair foreign-made automobiles have opened in Minsk, but spare parts for Western automobiles still are hard to come by.

Religious Activities

There are a variety of religious societies in Belarus. Among them are Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Evangelical Baptist, Seventh-Day Adventist, Jewish, Muslim, Baha'i, and Krishna congregations. Roman Catholic services are conducted in Polish and Russian.

A nondenominational Christian fellowship that holds services in English meets each Sunday.

Education

The private, nonprofit Minsk International School, operated by Quality Schools International, opened in September 1993. The school holds classes in a Belarusian kindergarten about a block from the embassy. Instruction is offered in English for students in kindergarten through 7th grade.

For additional information, write:

Minsk International School c/o
American Embassy Minsk,
Belarus or call
011-375-172-34-65-37

Mr. James E. Gilson, President
Quality Schools International
Box 2002
15

Sana'a, Yemen or call 067-1-234-437

Special Educational Opportunities

Russian and Belarusian language tutors are readily available. Arts and sports instruction (in Russian) is available through local government-sponsored institutions.

French and German government cultural facilities with language training are being established.

Sports

A tennis complex in the city is available for use, and the a nearby recreation area is a popular cross-country skiing location. There also are several swimming pools, weight-lifting facilities, and an ice skating rink.

Minsk has many parks and jogging trails. Soccer is very popular, as is volleyball. Belarusians are avid chess players, and organized championships occur year-round.

On the outskirts of Minsk are several former Soviet Olympic training centers, including the winter sports center at Raubichi and the equestrian center at Ratomka.

The Minsk Yacht Club, catering to sailing and wind-surfing enthusiasts, is situated on the shores of the huge Minsk reservoir known as the Minsk Sea. Fishermen, campers, hikers, and nature-lovers will enjoy Belarus' many lakes and forests. Hunting and fishing are regulated and require licenses.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

Most attractions within an hour of Minsk are historical structures, museums, and war memorials. These include the World War II Khatyn Memorial; the city of Zaslavl, site of a 13thcentury Catholic church; or the 15th-century Mir Castle.

Belarus has a relatively good system of roads, and it is possible to travel to any corner of the country in three or four hours. Vilnius, Lithuania, is a two-to three-hour drive north, Warsaw and Kiev are eight hours away by car, and Moscow is a full day's drive.

Crimea, on the Black Sea in southern Ukraine, is the closest warm-weather destination.

Entertainment

Minsk offers a wide variety of live entertainment, including concerts, theater, opera, and ballet. The opera and ballet are excellent and have wide repertoires. A puppet theater and an experimental theater require a good command of Russian to be enjoyed. The indoor circus arena hosts many traveling troupes. Tickets are very affordable.

New restaurants open every month in Minsk, though there is not great variety in cuisines. As of August 1995, restaurant patrons could dine in Western style at a steak house and establishments featuring Spanish and Italian cooking. Service and menu selection are not up to Western standards, and prices tend to be very high. There is no "fast food" in Minsk, but several pizza restaurants and a cafe with some Arab-style dishes have opened in late 1994.

Travelers should subscribe to favorite periodicals and bring plenty of books to post. Western newspapers are rarely received in Minsk on a timely basis.

Social Activities

Travelers tend to socialize informally, sharing meals and going out to restaurants and Minsk's three nightclubs.

The international community in Minsk is small but growing rapidly. There is an English-language theater group that stages semiannual musical productions.

Organized opportunities for meeting host-country nationals are limited, and Russian language skills are necessary for contact beyond the diplomatic community.

Special Information

The southeastern corner of Belarus is officially a "no man's land" because of contamination from the Chernobyl incident. The residents of that area were relocated, but main roads through the area remain open for travel through it.

People traveling to Belarus by car may encounter long delays at the Belarusian-Polish border or the Polish-German border.

OTHER CITIES

On the right bank of the Bug River in southwest Belarus, less than two miles from the Polish border, BREST is an important railroad junction. Its population is 294,000. Brest was taken by the Germans during World War I and was the site for the signing of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty between Germany and Russia in 1918. During World War II, the city once again came under German occupation from 1941 until 1944, when it was retaken by the Soviets.

GOMEL , a city with a population of jabout 504,000, is located in southeast Belarus. First accounts of the city date from 1142. Gomel has been a cultural and historical center since the Middle Ages. The city was controlled alternatively by Poland and Russia until 1772, when it finally became Russian. A rail and water transportation center, Gomel trades in flax, wool, and lumber.

Located in a western corner of Belarus between the Polish and Lithuanian borders, GRODNO , at various times during its history, has been under Lithuanian, Polish, and Russian rule. During the 14th century the city was the capital of Lithuania; in 1795 it was the seat of the Polish Sejm which ratified the third partition of Poland, at which time Grodno became Russian. The city was occupied by German forces during both World Wars. Today, this city of 295,000 is an industrial and agricultural center.

MOGILËV was founded in the 13th century and is located on the banks of the Dnieper River, 112 miles east of Minsk. Its current population is 356,000. Through its history, the city was controlled by Russia, Poland, and Sweden. It was partly destroyed by Peter the Great in 1708. In 1772 Mogilëv was annexed to Russia from Poland. Between August of 1941 and June of 1944, Mogilëv was occupied by German forces.

VITEBSK , 140 miles northeast of Minsk, is on the Western Dvina River. This city of 360,000 is an important industrial center that produces machine tools, furniture, and radios. Vitebsk was first mentioned in historical chronicles in 1021 and was the trading center of an independent principality for about two centuries. It came under Lithuanian rule in 1320 and then under Poland in the 16th century. After the First Partition of Poland in 1772, Vitebsk became a Russian city. Occupied by the Germans between August, 1941 and June, 1944, Vitebsk was heavily damaged during this period.

COUNTRY PROFILE

Geography and Climate

Historically known as Byelorussia (White Russia), Belarus occupies 80,154 square miles (207,600 sq. km.), bounded on the north and east by Russia, on the south by Ukraine, on the west by Poland, and on the northwest by Lithuania and Latvia. The country is roughly the size of Great Britain or the U. S. state of Kansas.

Approximately one-third of the land area is forested, and 13 percent is uninhabitable marshland. The majority of the landscape is flat farmland, drained by the Dnieper, the Western Dvina, the Pripyat, and the Nieman rivers. Of the 10,000 lakes in the country, the largest is Lake Naroch in the northwestern part of the country, just east of Vilnius, Lithuania. The Bialavezhia Forest, on the Polish border north of Brest, is a nature preserve and popular tourist attraction.

Nuclear fallout from the 1986 disaster at Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power plant, just seven and a half miles (12 km) from the southeast border of Belarus, contaminated 23 percent of its farmland. Implementation of Belarusian laws regarding resettlement and medical care for the people and decontamination of the territories most affected by radiation has been difficult due to lack of adequate financing. However, in December 1993, the U.N. General Assembly, led by the efforts of the U.S., Japan, and Canada, adopted a resolution to study and attempt to minimize the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster.

At an altitude of 656 ft. (200 m.) above sea level, Belarus has a mild continental climate, with an average temperature in winter of 20°F (-6°C) and in summer of 62°F (17°C). Annual precipitation averages 22-28 inches. Belarus is on the 53rd latitude, the same as Hamburg, Germany; Dublin, Ireland; and Edmonton, Canada.

Population

The population of Belarus is 10.4 million, of whom 81 percent are Belarusian, 11 percent Russian, 4 percent Polish, 3 percent Ukrainian, and 1 percent Jewish.

Approximately 68 percent of the population lives in urban areas, concentrated primarily in Minsk, the capital, and the other major cities along the route from Warsaw to Moscow. Life expectancy is 62 years for men, 75 for women.

There is no state religion, though the majority of Belarusians are Orthodox Christians. Roman Catholics make up about 15 percent of the population, and 16 other religious sects are registered in Belarus.

The Belarusian Constitution, adopted in 1994, established Belarusian as the official language of the republic, and many public-place and street names were changed from Russian to Belarusian. Broadcast and print news media use Belarusian as does the government for official documents; however, Russian, still considered the language of communication, continues to be used widely. Belarusian is closely related to Russian and Polish. It is written using the Cyrillic alphabet, with two letters different from the Russian alphabet.

In May 1995, during parliamentary elections, referendums were passed that granted Russian equal status with Belarusian as the official language of Belarus and replaced the republic's post-independence coat of arms (a knight on horseback in a field of red) and red and white flag with ones nearly identical to Belarus's Soviet emblem and flag. Although the modified Soviet-era flag flies above government buildings, the knight-on-horseback emblem is still much in evidence elsewhere.

Public Institutions

Belarus is a presidential republic, with a three-tiered structure of power: executive, legislative, and judicial.

The first constitution of the newly independent republic of Belarus was adopted on March 15, 1994, and its first popularly elected president, Alexander Lukashenko, won his seat on July 10, 1994 and was reelected in 2001. The president selects a cabinet of ministers, headed by a prime minister, currently Gennady Novitsky.

The Parliament (Supreme Council) of the Republic of Belarus acts as the highest legislative body, and local governments are administered by Councils of Deputies, led by mayors.

In the judicial branch, a procurator general oversees the Constitutional Court of the Republic and a series of subordinate local procurators and courts.

There are a wide variety of political parties, but party designations are meaningless under current political conditions.

There are more than 600 nonpolitical public unions and associations, among them industrial trade unions, philanthropic foundations, sports and recreations groups, and associations for the disabled.

Arts, Science and Education

The Belarusian cultural presence is exemplified by the well-known Belarusian ballet; the artwork of Marc Chagall; the 16th century printing and translations of the scholar Francisk Skorina; handicrafts including carvings, straw weavings, and embroidered linens; and the popular traditions of folk music and literature.

Countless folklore groups perform Belarusian music and dances, and every year the Union of Belarusian Writers sponsors literary festivals. The poet Yakub Kolas is honored all over Belarus.

The Belarusian Bolshoi Theater of Opera and Ballet was founded in 1933, and the best-known composers include Yuri Semenyako and Evgeni Glebov.

Famous Belarusian scientists include Kazimir Semenovich, inventor of the multistage missile; Yakub Narkevich-Yedka, inventor of electrography and wireless transmission of electric signals; Sofia Kovalevskaya, a mathematician; and Pavel Sukhoi, an aircraft designer. The Academy of Sciences, which was opened in 1929, unites 46 research, design, and technology divisions and is the forum for the republic's highest-level research and scholarly activities.

Belarus has many state-run institutions of higher learning, with about half in the capital city of Minsk. Belarus State University and the Minsk Institute of Foreign Languages are among the most prestigious. After independence, several non-state universities, oriented toward such fields as the humanities and business, were established.

Children begin school at age six and continue through the 10th and 11th forms, at age 17.

Commerce and Industry

During the Soviet period, Belarus was the assembly line of the USSR, importing raw materials and exporting manufactured goods. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Belarus no longer has access to subsidized raw materials or energy products, and its as yet unreconstructed economy is floundering. Energy-inefficient factories make Belarusian manufactured goods, particularly heavy machinery, non-competitive on world markets. The defense industry, which played a significant role in the Belarusian economy, continues to experience difficulty converting to the production of civilian goods. However, with its highly qualified workforce, strategic location in the center of Europe, and well-established infrastructure, Belarus has good potential for economic growth.

Belarus is heavily energy-dependent, importing most of its oil and natural gas from Russia. As 2000, the republic was carrying a debt of approximately $1 billion. The country's few natural resources include peat reserves, iron ore deposits, coal reserves and timber. The textile industry, also dependent on imported raw materials, includes flax, cotton, and wool processing and weaving, and the manufacture of linen, cotton, silk, and wool fabrics and products.

Belarus's agricultural sector remains largely unreformed, with state-owned and collective farms still in the majority. Private plots, however, produce most of the vegetables for sale in markets. The primary agricultural products in Belarus are potatoes, cereal grains, sugar beets, flax, and vegetables. The republic completely satisfies its needs in (and is, in fact, a net exporter of) meat, dairy products, eggs, and potatoes.

Belarus's main trade relationships are with countries of the former Soviet Union, mainly with Russia. A customs union with Russia was signed in January 1995. Germany, Poland, the U.S., and Austria are Belarus's primary Western partners. Many joint ventures had been registered in Belarus, mostly with partners from Poland, Germany, and the U.S.; investors from these countries also account for the majority of wholly foreign-owned enterprises in Belarus.

Transportation

Local

Public transportation in the post city of Minsk is inexpensive and reliable, though usually extremely overcrowded. The metro and buses run from early morning until after midnight. Monthly passes, which provide access to all forms of public transportation, may be purchased.

Taxis are generally easy to find, either at the many taxi stands or by calling one of two companies. They are inexpensive by Western standards, though not always very clean or well maintained. Fares are calculated by multiplying the price indicated in Soviet rubles on the meter by an inflation factor. Tipping taxi drivers is not customary, and if one takes a private taxi as opposed to a state taxi, a "tip" is certainly included in the fare.

Regional

As in the U.S., Belarusians drive on the right side of the road. Belarusian driving regulations and traffic signals are somewhat different than those in the U.S.; American drivers should be aware of these differences. Signage is like that used in Europe, but road signs and traffic signals often are located in unexpected places. Belarusian drivers tend to be more aggressive than is customary in the U.S. and often disregard the rules of the road. American drivers should be prepared to be pulled over often by the traffic police (GAI). Because of car thieves' preference for foreign vehicles, the traffic police are very conscientious about stopping foreign cars to verify their ownership.

Minsk has two airports. One is within the city limits and mostly serves domestic flights. The other is about a forty-minute drive from Minsk and serves international flights. The primary international airlines are Lufthansa, Swiss Air, Austrian Airlines, Estonian Airlines, and Lot (Polish). El Al recently initiated service to Minsk. Belavia is the Belarusian branch of Aeroflot and also serves international passengers, primarily to other cities in the former Soviet Union, though it has twice weekly flights to Shannon, Ireland.

Because Minsk lies on the direct route between Warsaw and Moscow, daily trains serve such major cities as Berlin, Kiev, Koln, Moscow, Odessa, Paris, Prague, Riga, St. Petersburg, Warsaw, and Vilnius and are often the fastest and easiest way to travel outside Belarus. To ensure their safety and comfort, Western passengers are advised to reserve entire full first-class compartments, even when traveling alone. By Western standards, fares (even in first-class) are relatively low, though foreigners must pay more than local people.

Communications

Telephone and Telegraph

Belarusian telephone service is often slow and not very reliable. Much of the telephone system has not been updated since it was installed after World War II. Touch-tone service may not be available in all areas.

Radio and TV

Local television offers channels in Russian and Belarusian, and European Satellite television service, which during certain parts of the day includes NBC Super Channel and CNN, is available for a fee. There is a commercial channel that shows some Western films in English with Russian dubbing.

Newspapers, Magazines, Books, and Technical

Journals

Several daily newspapers, printed in Russian or Belarusian, are published in Belarus. No foreign newspapers are readily available, and even newspapers from Russia are difficult to find. A bi-weekly eight-page tabloid, the Minsk Economic News, is published in English.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

Medical care in Belarus is below U.S. standards.

Community Health

The accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant affected Belarus more than any other Soviet republic. Northwesterly winds carried radioactive particles from the destroyed reactor, located just 12 km south of the Belarusian border, across Belarus and beyond. In the days immediately following the disaster, gamma radiation in Minsk exceeded safe levels by a factor of 25. However, after a decade, radiation levels in Minsk have returned to normal. A significant portion of Belarus's territory remains heavily contaminated (maps available in local bookstores show the location of the contaminated areas), and certain regions in the south of the country were evacuated; it is, however, safe to travel through the contaminated areas. In general, individuals are advised to avoid eating wild mushrooms and berries (which absorb and retain radiation longer than other vegetation) and to refrain from drinking locally produced milk.

Minsk was rebuilt entirely after World War II, and therefore has the newest fresh water and sewer infrastructure of any capital city of the former Soviet Union. Rivers and streams, however, are considered unsafe for bathing and swimming due to sewage and agricultural run off. The post provides tap water purifiers for residences.

Compared to other Eastern European cities, Minsk has little pollution, but levels are rising due to the increasing number of privately owned cars. Although municipal authorities are operating on very tight budgets, efforts are made to keep the streets clean, and there is regular trash pick up in most residential areas. Cockroaches are common in summer.

Preventive Measures

Tap water is not safe to drink, because of possible bacterial contamination and dirt in the pipes. Boiling the water for five minutes and then filtering it is recommended. Many Americans prefer to buy bottled water.

Meat and milk are of dubious quality. Food handling is not up to American standards. All meat should be washed and cooked thoroughly. Boxed UHT milk can be purchased in local stores.

While Belarus is relatively disease-free, there have been reports of TB and hepatitis. Cholera, diphtheria, malaria, and TB cases are on the rise in neighboring countries. No immunizations are required, but Hepatitis-B and Immune Globulin are recommended. As well, routine vaccinations such as measles, tetanus, and diphtheria should be updated. A fluoride supplement also is recommended.

NOTES TO TRAVELERS

There are no local entry or departure fees at the Minsk airport. There is no restriction on the amount of money that can be imported or exported in Belarus, but amounts in excess of $500 must be declared.

Export of art must be approved by customs inspectors. People buying art always should obtain an itemized receipt at the time of purchase or importation.

Single-entry visas may be obtained from the Belarusian Embassy in Washington, D.C. (1619 New Hampshire Avenue NW, 20009, 202/986-1606). Multiple-entry visas can be obtained only at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Minsk and will be issued upon arrival.

There is no quarantine requirement for pets coming into Belarus, but dogs and cats must have all rabies shots up to date within thirty days of departure. An international health certificate is required and must be obtained within ten days of the pet's arrival in Belarus.

Veterinary care is limited but available. Pet food and supplies, such as cat litter, are not readily available. Employees should carry enough pet food to last until air freight arrives.

Pets may be transported on Lufthansa Airlines for a fee.

Western-style boarding kennels are not available.

The Belarusian ruble is the official currency in the Republic of Belarus. Inflation is high in Belarus, but it has been artificially stabilized since January 1995. Belarus redenominated its currency in January 2000, with one new ruble equivalent to 2,000 old rubles. At the end of 2000, the exchange rate was 1,180 rubles per U.S. dollar. Virtually all transactions are in cash, though a few large stores and restaurants accept VISA cards. Money changing booths, which accept German marks or dollars, are located in all big stores and on most major streets. Traveler's checks are not widely accepted.

The metric system of weights and measures is used in Belarus.

LOCAL HOLIDAYS

Jan. 1New Year's Day

Jan. 7Christmas Day (Orthodox)

Mar. 8All Women's Day

Mar/Apr.Easter (Catholic)

Apr/MayEaster (Orthodox)

Apr/MayRadunitsa* (9th day after Orthodox Easter)

May 1Labor Day

May 9Victory Day

July 27Independence Day

Dec. 25Christmas Day (Catholic)

*variable

RECOMMENDED READING

These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

Adamovich, Anthony. Opposition to Sovietization in Belorussian Literature, 1917-195. Munich: 1958.

Auslund, Anders. Economic Transformation in Russia. St. Martin's Press: 1994.

Batalden, Stephen K. and Sandra L. The Newly Independent States of Eurasia: Handbook of Former Soviet Republics. Onyx Press: 1993. Belarus: USIA Health Profile. USAID Health Information System, Arlington: 1992.

Byelorussian SSR; Culture, Literature, Art. Soviet Government publication. Minsk: 1977.

Chew, Allen F. An Atlas of Russian History: Eleven Centuries of Changing Borders. Yale University: 1970.

Clem, Ralph S. "Belorusians" The Nationalities Question in the Soviet Union. Graham Smith, ed. Longman, New York: 1990.

Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror: A Reassessment. Oxford University Press, New York: 1990.

Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook 1993. Detroit, MI: Gale Research Inc., 1993.

Czekanowska, Anna. Polish Folk-Music: Slavonic Heritage, Polish Tradition, Contemporary Trends. Cambridge Studies in Ethnomusicology: 1992.

Davies, Norman and Antony Polonsky, eds. Jews in Eastern Poland and the USSR, 1939-1946. Macmillan: 1991.

Dawisha, Karen and Bruce Parrott. Russia and the New States of Eurasia. Cambridge University Press: 1994.

Diuk, Nadia and Adrian Karatnyckys. The Hidden Nations: The People Challenge the Soviet Union. Wm. Morrow and Co.: 1990.

Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States 1992. London: Europa Publications (distributed in U.S. by Gale Research Inc.), 1992.

Exchange Arrangements and Export Restrictions Annual Report 1993. International Monetary Fund, Washington: 1993.

Feshbach, Murray and Alfred Friendly, Jr. Ecocide in the USSR: Health and Nature under Siege. Basic Books: 1992.

Gasparov, Boris. Slavic Cultures in the Middle Ages. University of California Press: 1993.

Gross, Jan T. Revolution from Abroad. Princeton University Press: 1988.

Hurwicz, Abraham A. Aspects of Contemporary Belorussia. Human Relations Area Files, Inc., New Haven: 1955.

Iwanow, Mikolaj. "The Byelorussians of Eastern Poland under Soviet Occupation, 1939-1941. "The Soviet Takeover of the Polish Eastern Provinces, 1939-1941.

Keith Sword, ed. St. Martin's Press: 1991. Kieniewicz, Stefan, ed. History of Poland. Polish Scientific Publishers, Warsaw: 1968.

Kipel, Vitaut. Byelorussian Statehood: Reader and Bibliography. Byelorussian Institute of Arts and Sciences, New York: 1988.

Kupala, Janka. The Heritage: Selected Poetry of Janka Kupala. New York: 1955.

Larrabee, Stephen. East European Security After the Cold War. Rand: 1993.

Letter to a Russian Friend: A Samizdat Publication from Soviet Byelorussia. Association of Byelorussians in Great Britain: 1979.

Loftus, John. The Belarus Secret: The Nazi Connection in America. Paragon House: 1988.

Lubachko, Ivan. Belorussia under Soviet Rule 1917-1957.

Michener, James A. Poland. Ballantine Books: 1993.

Mihalisko, Kathleen. "Political-Economic Assessments: Belarus. "The Former Soviet Union in Transifion. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington: 1993.

Nahaylo, Bohdan and Victor Swoboda. Sovief Disunion. The Free Press: 1990.

New American Embassy Posts Medical Handbook 1992. Department of State, Washington: 1 992.

Odling-Smee, John, ed. Belarus: Economic Review. International Monetary Fund, Washington: 1993.

Panov, Boris. In the Main Line of Advance: The Route of Nazi Troops in Byelorussia. Novosti Press Agency: 1974.

Picarda, Guy. Minsk, A Historical Guide. London: 1993.

Pinchuk, Ben Zion. Shtetl Jews under Soviet Rule: Eastern Poland on the Eve of the Holocaust. B. Blackwell: 1991.

Reports on the USSR. Issues from1988 to 1991.

Ruble, Blair A., ed. A Scholars' Guide to Humanities and Social Sciences in the Soviet Successor States. INION and the Russian Academy of Sciences: 1993.

Shimanskii, Mikhail. Byelorussia. Novosti Press Agency: 1986.

Simon, Gerhard. Nationalism and Policy Toward Nationalities in the Soviet Union. Westview Press: 1991.

Smith, Graham. The Nationalities Question in the Soviet Union. Longman, New York: 1990.

Stashkevich, Nikolai. The October-Revolutionin Byelorussia.Minsk: 1979.

Tec, Nechama. Defiance: 7he Bielski Partisans. Oxford University Press: 1993.

U.S. Government, Central Intelligence Agency. The World Fact-book 1992. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1992.

Urban, Michael. An Algebra of Soviet Power: Elite Circulation in the Belorussian Republic, 1966-1986. Cambridge University Press: 1989.

Vakar, Nicholas. Belorussia: The Making of a Nation. Harvard University Press: 1956.

Wexler, P. Purism and Language: A Study of Modern Ukrainian and Belorussian Nationalism, 1940-1967. Bloomington: 1974.

Zaprudnik, Jan. Belarus: At a Crossroads in History. Westview Press, Boulder: 1993.

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Belarus

Belarus or Byelarus (both: byĕ´lərōōs´), formerly Belorussia, officially Republic of Belarus, republic (2005 pop. 9,799,000), c.80,150 sq mi (207,600 sq km), E central Europe. It is sometimes called White Russia. Belarus borders on Poland in the west, on Lithuania and Latvia in the north, on Russia in the east, and on Ukraine in the south. Minsk is the capital and largest city.

Land and People

Much of Belarus is a hilly lowland, drained by the Dnieper, Western Dvina, and Neman rivers. The climate is moderate humid continental, with warm summers and cold winters. More than one third of the land is covered with peat and other swampy soils, notably in the Pripyat Marshes in the south. In addition to the capital, other important cities are Gomel (in Belarusian, Homyel), Vitebsk (Vitsyebsk), Mogilev (Mahilyow), Bobruysk (Babruysk), Grodno (Horodna), and Brest. Some 80% of the population are Belarusians; Russians, Poles, and Ukrainians are the republic's largest minorities. Since the breakup the USSR, Belarus has experienced a slow decline in population. About 80% of the population belongs to the Orthodox church, and there are Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim minorities. Religious groups that have won converts more recently have suffered official discouragement and persecution since independence, a policy that was enacted into law in 2002. Both Belarusian and Russian are official languages, but Russian is more widely used.

Economy

Since winning independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Belarus has moved slowly on privatization and other market reforms, emphasizing instead close economic relations with Russia. About 80% of all industry remains in state hands, and foreign investment has been hindered by a climate hostile to private businesses. The banks, which had been privatized after independence, were renationalized after President Lukashenko took office in 1994. Economic output, which declined for several years, revived somewhat in the late 1990s, but the economy remained dependent on Russian subsidies. By 2011, however, the increased cost of imported fuel had undermined the economy, leading to a steep fall in the value of the Belarusian ruble, an inability to purchase imports, and enormous government debt.

Peat, the country's most valuable mineral resource, is used for fuel and fertilizer and in the chemical industry. Belarus also has deposits of granite, dolomite, chalk, sand, clay, and rock and potassium salt. Forests cover about a third of the land, and lumbering is an important occupation. Potatoes, flax, hemp, sugar beets, rye, oats, and wheat are the chief agricultural products. Dairy and beef cattle, pigs, and chickens are raised. Belarus has only small reserves of petroleum and natural gas and imports most of its oil and gas from Russia. The main branches of industry produce tractors and trucks, earth movers for use in construction and mining, metal-cutting machine tools, motorcycles, chemicals, fertilizer, textiles, and consumer goods. Russia is by far the most important trading partner; others include the Netherlands, Ukraine, and Germany.

Government

Belarus is governed under the constitution of 1994 as amended. The president, who is the head of state, is popularly elected for a five-year term; there are no term limits. The prime minister, who is the head of government, is appointed by the president. The legislature, or National Assembly, is divided into the upper Council of the Republic and the lower Chamber of Representatives. Of the 64 members of the Council of the Republic, 56 are elected by regional councils and eight are appointed by the president. The 110 members of the Chamber of Representatives are popularly elected. All legislators serve four-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into six provinces, or oblasts, and one municipality.

History

Early History through the Soviet Era

The region now constituting Belarus was colonized by East Slavic tribes from the 5th to the 8th cent. It fell (9th cent.) under the sway of Kievan Rus and was later (12th cent.) subdivided into several Belarusian principalities forming part of the Kievan state. Kiev's destruction by the Mongols in the 13th cent. facilitated the conquest (early 14th cent.) of Belarus by the dukes of Lithuania. The region became part of the grand duchy of Lithuania, which in 1569 was merged with Poland. The large Jewish population (later decimated by the Germans during World War II) settled in Belarus in the 14th cent. The region flourished under Lithuanian rule; but after the Polish-Lithuanian union Belarus lost its relative importance, and its ruling classes became thoroughly Polonized.

Through the Polish partitions of 1772, 1793, and 1795, all Belarus passed to the Russian Empire. It suffered greatly during the wars (16th–18th cent.) between Poland and Russia and in the Napoleonic invasion of 1812 (during which it was laid waste by retreating Russian forces). Great poverty under Russian rule, notably among the Jews, led to mass emigration to the United States in the 19th cent. A battlefield in World War I and in the Soviet-Polish War of 1919–20, Belarus experienced great devastation.

In Mar., 1918, the Belarusian National Rada in Minsk proclaimed the region an independent republic; but in Jan., 1919, the Soviet government proclaimed a Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic at Smolensk, and soon the Red Army occupied all of Belarus. In 1921, the Treaty of Riga, which ended the Soviet-Polish War, awarded W Belarus to Poland. The eastern and larger part formed the Belorussian SSR when the USSR was formally established in 1922.

In Sept., 1939, the Soviet army overran E Poland and incorporated W Belarus into the Belorussian SSR. Occupied (1941–44) by the Germans during World War II, Belorussia was one of the most devastated areas of the USSR. Its large Jewish population (dating from the 14th cent.) was decimated, and many non-Jews were systematically murdered as well. As much as half the region's population died or was displaced during the war. In 1945 its western border was adjusted slightly in favor of Poland, but the 1939 frontier remained essentially unchanged. The country has had a separate seat in the United Nations since 1945.

The massive nuclear accident (Apr. 26, 1986) at the Chernobyl power plant, across the border in Ukraine, had a devastating effect on Belarus; as a result of the radiation release, agriculture in a large part of the country was destroyed, and many villages were abandoned. Resettlement and medical costs were huge and long-term.

Post-Soviet Belarus

The Republic of Belarus declared its independence from the USSR on Aug. 25, 1991. The reform-minded Stanislav Shushkevich became head of state and, along with Russia and Ukraine, Belarus was one of the original signatories to the treaty establishing the Commonwealth of Independent States. In early 1994 former Communists in the parliament voted to replace Shushkevich with Mechislav Grib, a former national police official; Aleksandr Lukashenko was elected to the post in July, 1994. Parliamentary elections were held during 1995, and most seats were filled by former Communists.

In 1996, Russia and Belarus signed an agreement to form a "union state" that, without completely merging the two governments, would strengthen economic, cultural, and political ties. Additional treaties signed in 1997, 1998, and 1999 included the development of common customs and taxation, a single currency, a joint defense policy, and other items designed to integrate the two nations, but progress toward real integration has been slow, as Russia as insisted on gradual implementation of the union and Belarus has proved reluctant to cede any real power to its much larger neighbor. In Sept., 2003, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine signed an agreement to create a common economic space, but the customs union establishment was delayed until July, 2010, and Ukraine was not a party to the 2009 accord that established the customs union. An agreement to establish the Eurasian Economic Union, to increase economic coordination and integration, was signed by Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia in May, 2014.

A referendum held in 1996 increased Lukashenko's power at the expense of parliament and extended his presidential term by two years (to 2001). A new parliament subsequently was formed from handpicked members of the old. Lukashenko's government has been criticized for human-rights abuses, including being responsible for the disappearance of its political opponents. Parliamentary elections held in 2000, which were boycotted by the small democratic opposition, preserved Lukashenko's hold on power. Lukashenko himself was reelected in 2001, in a contest that most observers regarded as neither free nor fair.

A referendum in 2004 removed the two-term limit on the presidency, but independent observers and polls indicated that the results were fraudulent. Elections for parliament, in which no opposition candidate won a seat, were held at the same time and were similarly flawed. Following the so-called Orange Revolution (Oct.–Dec., 2004) in Ukraine, where demonstrations ultimately forced the governing party from power, the Belarusian government increased its efforts to silence its opponents. In 2005 relations became particularly tense with Poland, which Lukashenko accused of plotting with Belarus's Polish minority to overthrow him.

Lukashenko was reelected by a lopsided margin in Mar., 2006. The tightly controlled campaign and subsequent voting were criticized by the European Union, the United States, and others but commended by the Commonwealth of Independent States. Following the campaign, opponents mounted a number of protests against the president that, though not large, nonetheless were more sustained than previous demonstrations. Many opposition leaders were arrested and jailed, including the 2006 opposition presidential candidate Aleksander Kozulin.

Relations with Russia became strained late in 2006 when the Russia-owned energy giant Gazprom insisted Belarus pay more (though still less than market rates) for natural gas; Russia also insisted that Belarus pay the full duty on Russian crude oil (which Belarus processed and exported). Belarus responded to these price increases by imposing a transit tax on Russian oil exported through pipelines in Belarus, but Russia refused to pay. Russia subsequently halted the transport of oil through Belarus, accusing it of siphoning off oil as payment for the transit tax, and after threats of retaliation from Russia, Belarus agreed to revoke the tax.

In Aug., 2007, Gazprom threatened to reduce gas supplies to Belarus because of overdue payments, and in subsequent years there were signs of strain in relations with Russia, most notably after Belarus did not recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent after Russia did (2008). In the parliamentary elections of Sept., 2008, which were denounced as rigged by the opposition and criticized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, no opposition candidate won a seat.

Relations between Belarus and Russia were again strained in Jan., 2010, this time over the amount of oil Russia would sell to Belarus at a discount. Russia refused to sell Belarus more discounted oil than it required to meet its own needs; Belarus had been earning export income by refining additional discounted oil and selling it on the international market. Russia did agree to an increase in transit fees paid for oil piped through Belarus to other countries, but the changes aggravated Belarus's economic problems. A dispute over payments due Gazprom led to a brief reduction in Russian gas shipments to Belarus in June, 2010, and relations with Russia remained periodically testy.

The Dec., 2010, presidential election was a repeat of the previous won in most respects, with Lukashenko winning some 80% of the vote amid charges of fraud. Protest demonstrations in the capital after the results were announced were broken up with force by riot police, and a number of opposition candidates, activists, and journalists were arrested then and in subsequent weeks. The election and the government moves against the opposition were denounced by European (OSCE) observers. In Apr., 2011, a subway bombing in Minsk killed 15 and injured some 200. Two men were later convicted (Nov., 2011) of the attack, but at the time many inside and outside Belarus speculated that government might be behind the attack in an attempt to distract citizens from the country's increasing economic problems. Belarus sold Gazprom its share of the gas pipeline company Beltranshaz in Nov., 2011, in exchange for temporarily reduced natural-gas prices and a $10 billion loan.

The parliamentary elections of Sept., 2012, were boycotted by the two main opposition parties, and supporters of Lukashenko swept all the seats. Western observers again criticized the elections as undemocratic; domestic critics also accused the government of vote fraud and inflating the turnout, with was reported as being nearly 75%.

Bibliography

See N. Vakar, Belorussia: The Making of a Nation (1956); I. S. Lubachko, Belorussia Under Soviet Rule, 1917–1957 (1972); Collet's Holdings, Belorussian SSR: Facts and Figures (1984).

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Belarus

Belarus

Official name: Republic of Belarus

Area: 207,600 square kilometers (80,154 square miles)

Highest point on mainland : Dzerzhinskaya Mountain (346 meters / 1,135 feet)

Lowest point on land: Neman River (90 meters / 295 feet)

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 2 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 640 kilometers (400 miles) from southwest to northeast; 490 kilometers (310 miles) from north to south

Land boundaries : 3,098 kilometers (1,925 miles) total boundary length; Latvia, 141 kilometers (88 miles); Lithuania, 502 kilometers (312 miles); Poland, 605 kilometers (376 miles); Russia, 959 kilometers (596 miles); Ukraine, 891 kilometers (554 miles)

Coastline: None

Territorial sea limits: None

1 LOCATION AND SIZE

The Republic of Belarus is a landlocked country (does not have access to the sea) in east-central Europe, about 260 kilometers (161 miles) southeast of the Baltic Sea coastline. With a total area of 207,600 square kilometers (80,154 square miles), it is slightly smaller than the state of Texas.

2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES

Belarus claims no territories or dependencies.

3 CLIMATE

The Belarusian climate is considered transitional between continental and maritime. Cool temperatures and high humidity predominate, with a moderating influence from the nearby Baltic Sea. Winter temperatures at times have dropped below -40°C (-40°F) in the north. Summer lasts up to 150 days, while winter ranges from 105 to 145 days. Precipitation ranges between 57 and 61 centimeters (22.5 and 26.5 inches) in an average year; the central region generally receives the highest amount. The popular claim in Belarus that it either rains or snows every two days is fairly accurate.

Season Months Average Temperature: °Celsius (°Fahrenheit)
Summer May to August 19°C (67°F)
Winter December to March -5°C (23°F)

4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS

Although its topography is chiefly flat to hilly, Belarus does have five distinct geographic regions. In the north is the Polotsk Lowland, an area of lakes, hills, and forests. The Neman Lowland in the northwest is similar. The Belorussian Ridge and smaller uplands separate these lowlands from each other and from the rest of the country. Plains and grasslands lie in the east and central part of the country. The Polesye Marshes dominate the south region, a vast swampy area that extends into Ukraine. Belarus has no natural geographic borders.

5 OCEANS AND SEAS

Belarus is landlocked and has no coast.

6 INLAND LAKES

Belarus has over four thousand lakes. Lakes Drisvyaty and Osveyskoye are near the northern border. The largest is Lake Naroch (Narach), covering 80 square kilometers (50 square miles) in the northwest.

7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS

At 2,290 kilometers (1,420 miles), the Dnieper is the longest river in Belarus. It is the third-longest river in Europe; only the Volga and Danube Rivers are longer. Its main tributaries are the Berezina in the central region and the Pripyat in the south. The Pripyat and its tributaries are surrounded by the Polesye (or Pripyat) Marshes. The Bug River flows north along part of the border with Poland. The major rivers in the north of the country are the Western Dvina and the Neman Rivers.

8 DESERTS

Belarus has no desert area.

9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN

Aside from the highland of the Belorussian Ridge, most of the country is relatively flat (average elevation 162 meters/100 feet) and well watered. About 25 percent of Belarus is covered in peat bogs and marshes. The Pole-sye Marshes are poorly drained lowlands around the Pripyat River, with low hills that dominate the southern part of Belarus and northern Ukraine. Roughly 485 kilometers (300 miles) across from east to west and 225 kilometers (140 miles) from north to south, they represent the largest wetland in Europe.

Near the border with Poland, the Belavezhskaja Pushcha Nature Reserve protects the largest area of ancient forest in Europe, home to a free-ranging herd of European bison. There are large stands of birch trees across the country.

DID YOU KNOW?

Roughly 23 percent of Belarus's territory was contaminated by radioactivity when a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in neighboring Ukraine exploded on April 26, 1986. The area affected was home to more than two million people.

10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES

Although its terrain is generally level, the Belorussian Ridge, a region of highlands, runs across the center of the country from the southwest to the northeast. The highest elevation is Dzerzhinskaya Mountain (Dzyarzhynskaya Hara; 346 meters/1,135 feet).

11 CANYONS AND CAVES

Belarus has no notable canyons or caves.

12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS

There are no notable plateaus on Belarus.

13 MAN-MADE FEATURES

The Dnieper-Bug Canal connects the Bug River to the Pripyat-Dnieper system. Canals also link both the Western Dvina and the Neman with the Dnieper, helping to make it one of the main waterways linking the Black and the Baltic Seas.

14 FURTHER READING

Books

Zaprudnik, Jan. Belarus: At a Crossroads in History. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993.

Periodicals

Glover, Jeffrey. "Outlook for Belarus." Review and Outlook for the Former Soviet Union. Washington: PlanEcon, August 1995, pp. 89-104.

"In the Slav Shadowlands." Economist, 335, no. 7915, May 20, 1995, pp. 47-49.

Web Sites

Interesting WWW Sites in and around Belarus. http://www.ac.by/country/ (accessed May 2, 2003).

Virtual Guide to Belarus. http://www.belarusguide.com/main/index.html (accessed May 2, 2003).

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Belarus

Belarus

area:

207,600sq km (80,154sq mi)

population:

10,045,000

capital (population):

Minsk (1,680,000)

government:

Multiparty republic

ethnic groups:

Belarussian 80%, Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, Jewish

languages:

Belarussian, Russian (both official)

religions:

Christianity (mainly Belarussian Orthodox, with Roman Catholics in the w and Evangelicals in the sw)

currency:

Belarussian rouble = 100 kopecks

Republic in ne Europe. Belarus (Belorussia), formerly part of the Soviet Union, is a landlocked country in e Europe. The land is low-lying and mostly flat. In s Belarus are the Pripet Marshes, Europe's largest area of marsh and peat bog. A hilly region extends from ne to sw through the center of Belarus and includes its highest point, at 346m (1135ft), near the capital Minsk.

Climate and Vegetation

Belarus' climate is affected by the Baltic Sea and by continental conditions to the e. Winters are cold and summers warm. The average annual rainfall is c.550–700mm (22–28in). Forests cover about a third of Belarus. The colder n has trees such as alder, birch, and pine. Ash and oak grow in the warmer s. Farmland and pasture have replaced most of the original forest.

History and Politics

Slavic people settled in Belarus c.1500 years ago. In the 9th century, the area became part of the first East Slavic state of Kievan Rus. In 1240, Mongol armies overran the area and Belarus was subsumed into the empire of the Golden Horde. In the 14th century, Belarus became part of Lithuania. The Livonian War (1558–63) between Lithuania and Muscovy forced the union of Lithuania and Poland. By the Partitions of Poland (1772, 1793, 1795), Russia gained all of modern Belarus. In the Napoleonic Wars, Belarus was razed by the retreating Russian army in 1812. Belarus was again devastated by conflict in World War I.

In 1918, Belarus unilaterally declared independence from Russia. In 1919, it was declared a socialist republic of the Soviet Union. In the Treaty of Riga (1921), western Belorussia was handed to Poland, while the eastern part became a founder republic of the Soviet Union (1922). In 1939, western Belorussia was captured by the Red Army. During World War II, Belarus was once more a battlefield for major European powers and a quarter of its population perished. The Nazis murdered most of the Jewish population.

In 1991, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Belarus declared independence and was a founder member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Minsk is the administrative centre of the CIS. Alexander Lukashenka became president in 1994 elections. Lukashenka gained a second term in 2001 elections. In 1996, despite opposition from nationalists, Belarus committed itself to economic union with Russia.

Economy

Belarus is an upper-middle-income economy (2000 GDP per capita, US$7500). Like several former republics of the Soviet Union, it faced problems in the transition to a market-based economy. Under communism, many manufacturing industries, such as agricultural equipment, relied on raw materials from the Soviet Union. Agriculture, especially meat and dairy farming, is important. In 1998 Belarus agreed to share Russia's currency and taxation system.

Political map

Physical map

Websites

http://www.belarus.net/presiden/general.htm; http://belarusguide.com

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Belarus

BELARUS

BELARUS. From the decline of Kievan Rus' to the mid-fourteenth century, the Belarusian principalities were gradually taken over by Lithuanian princes. Initially, the Belarusian elites, who for a long time had shared with their Ukrainian counterparts a common Ruthenian identity, were an influential political and cultural force within the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Lithuanian princes often converted to Orthodoxy, accepted the Ruthenian language as the official language of their realm, and allowed many norms of the Rus' Law to function in their state. The Union of Lublin (1569) between the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which created a Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, left the Belarusian territories within the borders of a semiautonomous Lithuania. It also brought Polish political and cultural influences into the region and opened it to Jewish emigration.

The advent of the Reformation, and especially the struggles over the church union adopted at the Brest Council of 1596 between Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, spearheaded Ruthenian religious and cultural revival in the region. The new intellectual challenges also helped Belarusian elites develop a sense of distinct identity vis-à-vis their Polish and Lithuanian counterparts. The outbreak of the Russian-Polish war in 1654 turned Belarus into a battleground between the Muscovite, Polish-Lithuanian, and Ukrainian Cossack armies. According to the Russian-Polish treaties of 1667 and 1686, the commonwealth maintained its control over all of Belarusian territories except for the Smolensk region, which passed over to Muscovite jurisdiction. In the eighteenth century, growing Polish cultural influences as well as the advance of Roman Catholicism and the Uniate Church helped to widen cultural differences between the inhabitants of Belarus and Russia. The partitions of Poland in 17721795 resulted in the incorporation of all Belarusian territories into the Russian Empire.

See also Andrusovo, Truce of ; Lithuania, Grand Duchy of, to 1569 ; Lithuanian Literature and Language ; Poland-Lithuania, Commonwealth of, 15691795 ; Poland to 1569 ; Ukraine .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Gudziak, Borys A. Crisis and Reform: The Kyivan Metropolitanate, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and the Genesis of the Union of Brest. Cambridge, Mass., 1998.

Halecki, Oskar. From Florence to Brest (14391596). 2nd ed. Hamden, Conn., 1968.

Kaminski, Andrzej Sulima. Republic vs. Autocracy: Poland- Lithuania and Russia, 16861697. Cambridge, Mass., 1993.

Pelenski, Jaroslaw. The Contest for the Legacy of Kievan Rus'. Boulder, Colo., and New York, 1998.

Stone, Daniel. The Polish-Lithuanian State, 13861795. Seattle, 2001.

Zaprudnik, Jan. Belarus: At a Crossroads in History. Boulder, Colo., 1993.

Serhii Plokhy

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Belarus

Belarus

Culture Name

Belarusian

Alternative Names

Republic of Belarus, Respublika Belarus; before 1991, the country was known as the Belorussian (also spelled Byelorussian) Soviet Socialist Republic. Sometimes called White Russia or alternatively White Ruthenia, especially in relation to the pre-1918 history of the region. Culture name also known as Belarussian.

Orientation

Identification. The name Belarus probably derives from the Middle Ages geographic designation of the area as "White Russia." Historians and linguists argue about its etymology, but it was possibly used as a folk name referring to northern territories. Some historic sources also mention Red and Black Rus in addition to White Rus. Such labeling probably predates the times when the Kievan Kingdom came into existence. Historic sources mention Belarus during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries as a geographic name; it later gained specific political meaning, including nation-state identification.

Although Belarusians are the dominant ethnic group in the country, the culture includes people of various ethnicities such as Lithuanians, Poles, Ukrainians, Russians, Jews, and Tartars. The richness and blend of the culture reflects the complexity of ethnic interactions that have been taking place in this region for hundreds of years.

Location and Geography. Belarus is bounded by Poland and Lithuania on the west, Latvia in the northwest, Russia in the northeast and east, and Ukraine in the south. Belarus is a large plain about the size of Kansas, with a total area of 80,200 square miles (207,600 square kilometers).

The country is in the western portion of the East European Plains within the basins of the Dnepr, West Dvina, and Neman Rivers. The basins are connected, forming a system of natural waterways that link the Baltic and Black Seas. Much of the country is lowland with gently rolling hills; forests cover one-third of the land and their peat marshes are a valuable natural resource.

Modern Belarus is fairly evenly populated, with the exceptions of the marshes along the southern boundary with Ukraine. The capital, Minsk, is the largest and one of the oldest cities in the region and is centrally located.

Belarus has a moderate continental climate that is influenced by the Baltic Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The summers are cool with some warm days, and winters are cold, while the average annual precipitation ranges 21.5 inches (546 mm) to 27.3 inches (693 mm). Average temperature ranges are from 63.5 degrees Fahrenheit (17.5 degrees Celsius) in July to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 degrees Celsius) in January.

Demography. The population of Belarus was estimated to be 10,366,719 in 2000. The major ethnic groups in 2000 were Belarusians (77.9 percent), Russians (13.2 percent), Poles (4.16 percent), Ukrainians (2.9 percent), Jews (1.1 percent), Tartars, and Lithuanians (less than 1 percent). The demographic distribution remained consistent for centuries, but changed profoundly during the course of the twentieth century, especially due to the murder of Jews and Poles during the Holocaust and the influx of ethnic Russians.

The population density was estimated at 127 inhabitants per square mile in 2000. Women make up 53 percent of the population, and men the remaining 47 percent. Approximately 69 percent of the population is urban. The biggest city is Minsk, with around 1.7 million residents.

Linguistic Affiliation. The official language is Belarusian, but Russian is also widely spoken. Furthermore, each ethnic minorityPolish, Ukrainian, and Lithuanianalso speaks its own language. Most Belarusians speak two or three languages, usually including Belarusian and Russian. About 98 percent of adult Belarusians are literate.

The Belarusian language belongs to the family of Slavic languages and is very close to Russian and Ukrainian. All the three languages use the Cyrillic alphabet, with minor modifications in Ukrainian and Belarusian. Until the early twentieth century, the Belarusian language stood out as a symbol of ethnic distinction. In the communist era, Russian became dominant. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, however, Belarusian is again being spoken and taught in schools as the national language.

"Lacinka" is the name of the Latin-script in Belarusian writing. It originated in the mid-sixteenth century as an aftermath of influence from Poland. Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and the expansion of the Western style of education were among the major factors leading to the considerable changes in the archaic Belarusian written language.

Symbolism. The state symbols of Belarus changed repeatedly throughout the twentieth century. In 1918 the Belarusian People's Republic took "The Pursuit" emblem (a horseman in motion, carrying a sword and shield) and the whiteredwhite flag as the state symbols. In 1919 the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic approved another state emblem: a hammer and sickle in the rays of the rising sun, surrounded by a garland of wheat. In 1956 the new Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR) approved a flag. It consisted of an upper red stripe and a lower green one. Additionally, there was a white Belarusian folk ornament on the red field. In 1991 the Republic of Belarus acquired the status of an independent sovereign state and "The Pursuit" emblem again became the state symbol and the white redwhite striped flag again became the state flag.

After the referendum in 1995, the state emblem of the Republic of Belarus was changed to an image of the republic's geographic outline in golden sunrays over the globe, with a five-pointed red star above. The image is framed by a garland of wheat, clover, and flax flowers. The golden inscription below reads "Republic of Belarus." The Belarusian national flag, which was accepted in 1995, looks like the 1956 design: two horizontal stripes (red and green) and a vertical element of white folk-design lace presented against the red background. The new state anthem has lyrics and music that reflect the everlasting aspiration of the Belarusian people for freedom and independence, and proclaims their commitment to ideals of humanism, goodness, and justice.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Around the end of the ninth and the beginning of the tenth centuries, the Kievan Rus kingdom formed. Its two administrative provinces, the Polock and the Turov Principalities, covered the area of today's Belarus. For several centuries the Belarusian territories were strongly influenced by the Byzantine culture, including Orthodox Christianity, stone architecture, and literature. After the destruction of the Kievan Rus in the mid-thirteenth century by the Mongols the two Belarusian principalities were incorporated into the Great Lithuanian Duchy. A century later the Duchy formed a union with the Polish Kingdom. This new administrative and political situation brought a strong Western European influence to the region, including the Roman Catholic religion. A large Jewish population also settled in Belarus in the fourteenth century.

The Polish-Lithuanian Union created a strong political, economic, and military power in Eastern Europe. In 1569 the Great Lithuanian Duchy and the Polish Kingdom fused into a multiethnic federal state, one of the wealthiest and mightiest in Europe of the time, called the Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita ). The state enjoyed a powerful position in Europe for two centuries.

Following the partitions of the Commonwealth in 1772, 1793, and 1795 by Russia, Prussia, and Austria, respectively, the Belarusian territories became a part of the Russian empire. Great poverty under Russian rule, particularly among Jews, led to mass emigration to the United States in the nineteenth century. The second half of the nineteenth century witnessed the rapid development of capitalism in Belarus.

Beginning in the late 1880s, Marxist ideas proliferated in Belarus, and the 19051907 revolution produced the Belarusian national liberation movement. The nationalist newspaper Nasha Niva ("Our Land") was first published around this time. The most significant event in this national awakening process took place in April 1917, when the Congress of the Belarusian National Organizations took place. Its delegates claimed autonomy for Belarus. However, after the October Socialist Revolution in Petrograd succeeded, the Bolsheviks seized power in Belarus. In December 1917, they dissolved the all-Belarusian Congress in Minsk. Regardless of Soviet occupation, the all-Belarusian Congress and the representatives of the political parties declared the Belarusian People's Republic the first independent Belarusian state on 25 March 1918. Ten months later, the Bolsheviks proclaimed the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR). The new nation-state was formally incorporated into the Soviet Union (USSR), and remained part of that union until 1991.

On 27 July 1991, the Supreme Soviet of the BSSR adopted the Declaration on State Sovereignty. In August 1991, the Supreme Soviet of the BSSR suspended the Communist Party of Belarus and renamed the country the Republic of Belarus. In December 1991, the USSR dissolved and Belarus became a cofounder of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

In March 1994, Belarus adopted a new constitution, creating a presidency and reconstructing the 260-seat Parliament. On 10 July 1994, Alyaksandr Lukashenka was elected as the first President of Belarus. In 1997, the Treaty on the Union of Belarus and Russia was signed.

National Identity. National identity is symbolically linked to two significant moments in the Belarusian history. The national holiday is officially celebrated on 3 July, commemorating the day Soviet troops entered Minsk in 1944, liberating the city from Nazi forces. For some Bellarussians, 25 March is celebrated as an unofficial Independence Day. The date commemorates the short time period when Belarus broke free from the Bolshevik Russia in March 1918, only to be reoccupied in December 1918.

Ethnic Relations. Throughout the centuries, Belarusian lands were home to an ethnically and religiously diverse society. Muslims, Jews, Orthodox Christians, Roman and Greek Catholic Christians, and Protestants lived together without any major confrontations; Belarusians, Poles, Russians, Jews, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, and Roma (Gypsies) also lived in peace in Belarus. Although the twentieth century brought many challenges to this peaceful coexistence, Belarus is in many senses a culture of tolerance. The current population is primarily Belarusian but also includes Russians, Poles, Ukrainians, and Jews. All ethnic groups enjoy equal status, and there is no evidence of hate or ethnically-biased crimes.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Belarus is predominantly rural with several large cities. Urban centers such as Minsk have been important in the development of Eastern European architecture since the eleventh century. Important religious monuments include the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Polotsk (begun in 1044), and churches such as Saint Euphrocine-Saviour Church in Polotsk, the Annunciation Church in Vitebsk, the Saint Boris and Gleb Church in Grodno (all built in the twelfth century). Many military fortifications and facilities were built between the thirteenth and the seventeenth centuries, in both Gothic and Renaissance styles. Many castles dating from the Middle Ages and Renaissance still stand, and in some cases the original wooden architecture has survived. Baroque churches were built in the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, and at the end of the eighteenth century classicism began to dominate local architecture. Russian architects participated in town planning in the late nineteenthearly twentieth centuries, and towns were intensively built up. The architecture of twentieth century was characterized by both modernism and constructivism (such as the National Library of Belarus, built 193032).

Belarus is a farming country. Twenty-nine percent of the farm land is devoted to arable land; 15 percent to permanent pastures; 1 percent to permanent crops; 34 percent to forests and woodland; and 21 percent to other uses.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Belarusian eating habits are not very different from those of people in other Eastern European cultures. They usually have three main daily meals, and staples include red meat and potatoes. Belarusians are also very fond of spending their free time in the woods searching for the many types of mushrooms that are used in soups and other dishes.

Favorite Belarusian dishes include borscht,a soup made with beets that is served hot with sour cream; filet àla Minsk and Minsk cutlet; potato dishes with mushrooms; and pickled berries. Mochanka is a thick soup mixed with lard accompanied by hot pancakes. There is also a large selection of international and Russian specialities available. A favorite drink is black tea, and coffee is generally available with meals and in cafés, although standards vary. Soft drinks, fruit juices, and mineral waters are widely available.

Ethnographic studies confirm that most Belarusians in the beginning of the twentieth century subsisted on a rather poor diet. No significant change can be noticed since the inception of the Soviet rules after the Bolshevik Revolution and the picture of a family eating from a common bowl has been changing slowly. After World War II, due to industrialization and economic changes, the eating habits have changed, but not profoundly.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Food customs often involve women and point out their role in society. For instance, setting a food table was customarily a woman's job. Men would not engage in such activity. An interesting food custom is related to matchmaking, which was always associated with drinking vodka and having food. First the matchmaker would visit a house of a potential bride and offer drinks and food. If the suitor was accepted, he would appear with the matchmaker at the woman's house with vodka and the woman's parents would provide food. Interestingly, the ceremony could be repeated several times until the couple would be officially engaged. If the engagement were broken, whoever broke the engagement would have to repay the other side for all expenses.

After a funeral, the mourners gather together for a meal.

Basic Economy. The official currency is the rouble (R) (also known as the zaichik ) divided into 100 kopecks. Belarus is an industrial state with developed and diversified agriculture. The main industries include electric power, timber, metallurgy, chemicals and petrochemicals, pulp and paper, building materials, medical, printing, machine-building, microbiology, textiles, and food industries.

The agricultural products are dairy and beef products, pork, poultry, potatoes, and flax. Agricultural production is highly industrialized and is based on the use of modern technology such as tractors, machine tools, trucks, equipment for animal husbandry and livestock feeding, and chemical fertilizers. Agricultural lands make up more than 46 percent of Belarus's territory, and agriculture accounts for about 20 percent of the national income. State-run farms are main producers of agrarian goods. Privately-owned farms are in the state of development.

The nuclear accident at the Chernobyl (Ukraine) power plant in 1986 had a devastating effect on Belarusian agricultural industry. As a result of the radiation, agriculture in a large part of the country was destroyed, and many villages were abandoned.

Since gaining its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Belarus has moved relatively slowly on privatization and other market reforms, emphasizing instead close economic relations with Russia. About 80 percent of all industry remains in state hands, and foreign investment has been hindered by a political climate not always friendly towards business. Economic output, which had been declining for several years, revived somewhat in the late 1990s. Privatization of enterprises controlled by the central government virtually ceased in 1996, and the Belarusian economy was in crisis. The volume of production in all branches of industries has decreased. The Russian financial crisis that began in autumn 1998 severely affected Belarus's Soviet-style planned economy. Belarus is almost completely dependent on Russia, which buys 70 percent of its exports. Belarus has seen little structural reform since 1995, when President Lukashenka launched the country on the path of "market socialism." Belarus's trade deficit has grown steadily since then, from 8 percent of total trade turnover in 1995 to 14 percent in the first quarter of 1997, despite the government's efforts to promote exports and limit imports. Lukashenka also re-imposed administrative control over prices and the national currency's exchange rate, and expanded the state's right to intervene arbitrarily in the management of private enterprise. Given Belarus's limited fiscal reserve, continued growth in the trade deficit will increase vulnerability to economic crisis.

Land Tenure and Property. Prior to the partition of the Commonwealth by the end of the eighteenth century, all land belonged to the local gentry and petty noblemen (predominantly Polish or Polonized Belarusians). Before 1861, when peasants were freed, only small parcels of land were in the hands of Belarusian farmers. Peasants had to work three days a week or one hundred fifty six days a year for the noblemen. Some landlords preferred cash to labor. The landlords also hired peasants (those who did not own land) as paid labor. In the beginning of the twentieth century small stretches of land were owned by the state (about 5 percent), some land was communal (about 34 percent), and the majority was in private hands (60 percent). By 1917 the state, church, and gentry owned 9.3 percent while the individual farmers held 90.7 percent of all arable land. Farms were grouped in small hamlets rather than villages (two to ten households). With each generation the family lots got smaller. Some farmers rented additional land from the noblemen or wealthy farmers. After the Bolshevik Revolution of the 1917, all land belonged to the state and large state-owned collective farms. This situation persisted at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Major Industries. The vast Belarusian forests support a large lumber industry, contributing about one-third of the gross national product (GNP). Among the most developed branches of industry are automobile and tractor building, agricultural machinery, production of machine tools and bearings, electronics, oil extraction and processing, production of synthetic fibers and mineral fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, production of construction materials, textiles, and food industries. Much of the national industry is focused on ready-made products for export.

Trade. The country's main trading partners are the other CIS states. Among the primary products traded are buckwheat, chalk, chloride, clay, limestone, peat, potassium, quartz sand, rye, sodium chloride, sugar beets, timber, tobacco, wheat, farm machinery, fertilizers, glass, machine tools, synthetic fibers, and textiles. In 1999 Belarus exported $6 billion (U.S.) worth of goods. Among the most significant export partners are Russia (66 percent of export), Ukraine, Poland, Germany, and Lithuania.

Belarus imports such commodities as oil, natural gas, coal, ferrous metal, lumber, chemicals chemical semi-products, cement, cotton, silk, cars, buses, household appliances, paper, grain, sugar, fish. In 1999 Belarus spent approximately $6.4 billion (U.S.) on goods imported primarily from Russia (54 percent), Ukraine, Germany, Poland, and Lithuania.

Political Life

Government. The Republic of Belarus is united democratic, legal state. It is divided into six administrative regions: five provinces (voblastsi, singular - voblasts' ; the administrative center name follows in parentheses): Brestskaya (Brest), Homyel'skaya (Homyel'), Hrodzyenskaya (Hrodna), Mahilyowskaya (Mahilyow), and Vitsyebskaya (Vitsyebsk), and one municipality (horad ), Minsk. The basic law is the Constitution of 1994 (with variations and additions), amended by a referendum in 1996. The chief of state, the President, is elected by the population for a five year term. The legislative body, the National Assembly, is composed of the House of Representatives (one-hundred-ten deputies, elected by the population) and Council of Republic (sixty-four members, fifty six elected by domestic councils of deputies, eight appointed by the president). Members of the National Assembly serve four-year terms. A Ministerial Council, headed by the prime minister, is appointed by the President with the consent of the House of Representatives. Local government is managed by local Councils with executive and administrative power. The supreme judicial organ is the Supreme Court, which interprets the constitution.

Leadership and Political Officials. Critics and opposition members denounce the increasingly oppressive political atmosphere and human rights violations in Belarus under the Soviet-style authoritarianism of President Alyaksandr Lukashenko. In 1999, the year President Lukashenko was to step down, he held what was internationally considered to be a rigged national referendum. The referendum changed the constitution and allowed Lukashenk to cancel the elections and remain president.

Military Activity. Belarus has a sizable army, with approximately 98,400 active duty personnel. Military branches include the army (51 percent of personnel) and the air force (27 percent). The remaining 22 percent is divided among the air defense force, interior ministry troops, and border guards. As a landlocked country, Belarus does not have a navy. Military service is mandatory for males over eighteen years of age. Belarusian military expenditure amounts to approximately $156 million (U.S., in 1998), which is 1.2 percent of the gross domestic product and 1.8 percent of the GNP.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

There are several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Belarus. One of them is The Belarus Project, which supports judges, lawyers, human rights advocates, and journalists in making their case before international audiences and intergovernmental bodies regarding President Lukashenka's violations of human rights and the rule of law in Belarus. Much effort goes toward bringing Belarusian civic leaders to the U.S. State Department and to the United Nations to tell their own stories of the situation in Belarus. This also gives them the opportunity to meet with their international colleagues and with human rights organizations and other NGOs that may be helpful to their cause at home.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Modern Belarus is a part of the industrialized world. But certain cultural traits, which are observable today, might be traced back to the past. During the last fifty years some changes can be noticed in terms of traditional labor patterns. Today men and women do the same jobs and they might even be compensated equal wages. But ethnographic sources confirm a strong division of labor by gender existing in the beginning of the twentieth century and some of those patterns can still be recognized today. They relate to eating and childrearing patterns. One of them is the obligation of setting the dinner table, which is exclusively a woman's job. It is usually a mother or wife who is responsible for the arrangements. A man would not interfere with this obligation; it may even be considered degrading for a man to perform this task. Also, children under fourteen years old traditionally were under mothers' care and fathers would not interfere.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Gender roles in Belarus remain very traditional. Men are considered the more powerful gender and as breadwinners, while women are required to take care of the children and household. This traditional structure is slowly changing, and women are beginning to gain more recognition and power. The gay movement is also slowly entering the region, although with some opposition.

Men occupy all top positions in various spheres of the economy and politics. After some gains, a considerable decline in the professional and social status of women has been observed recently. Belarusian women are the least protected social group on the job market, and their unemployment rate is around 65 percent. Part of the gender inequality problem is that Belarusian women do not identify their rights and interests as specifically women's issues. Many Belarusians do not see social injustice in the low status of women, and so do not protest the situation.

The first appearance of feminist initiatives came in 1991, when the Belarusian Committee of Soviet Women was transformed into the Union of Women in Belarus. Other independent women's organizations followed, such as the League of Women in Belarus, the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, and the Women's Christian-Democratic Movement. From 1993 to 1996, the Ministry of Justice of Belarus registered other organizations that, in addition to the protection of women's rights, were designed to achieve other goals like promotion of the development of culture, the revival of national traditions, and environmental protection. These groups have appeared within the structures of trade unions in order to resolve problems of both working and unemployed women.

In the late 1990s, a number of women's organizations were formed that were tightly linked with certain political structures. For example, the Belarusian feminist movement "For the Renaissance of the Fatherland" united women of social-democratic orientation, while the "League of Women-Electors" were mainly members of the United Civil Party; a women's organization was set up within the Liberal-Democratic Party, called Women's Liberal Association. In 2000, there were more than twenty women's organizations registered by the Ministry of Justice in Belarus.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Traditionally, marriage was a matter of mutual consent between the young, but the custom also required the consent of the families involved. Daughters enjoyed considerable freedom and had many opportunities to meet young men. Several times a year there were public gatherings in a larger village or town. The young couple had to live with the husband's family and often marriage was a compromise. Both the bride and the groom were expected to contribute something to the marriage and the farm, and most often it was just labor. The most sought qualities of a woman were for her to be a good field worker and housekeeper. Personal beauty and wealth were of secondary importance. Belarusians required high moral qualities from their spouses and virginity of the bride, and occasionally also the groom, was a prerequisite for marriage. The wedding was celebrated in both houses and expenses were shared. Divorce was also by mutual consent.

Domestic Unit. Until modern times households based on extended kinship relations (zadruga joint families) were popular. The traditional zadruga household includes the father and all his sons living on one piece of land. Each married son would have his own hut, but the land, animals, and equipment was owned by the entire family. The family also worked and ate together. Private ownership was limited to personal belonging. Such extended family may have included as many as fifty members united under the authority of one senior. Interestingly, the family's head was not always the natural father or grandfather and the extended family often included distant relatives or even strangers who may have been adopted as family members. Labor invested in the farm rather than blood relations regulated the kin membership. A stranger could have become a family member temporarily or for a lifetime and in some situation could have acquired a status of the head of the extended household.

Usually, the father would assume the position of the family's head and after his death any of his sons (usually the oldest), or his brother, or even a stranger, could take up his position in the family. There was no official title of the position, although several folk terms exist. The kinship also regulated profit sharing. If an adult member had been separated from the kin and had not contributed labor, he would not participate in profit sharing. A son who was absent and did not contribute to the welfare of the kin would not get the same share as other family members including those who were not blood related. Some remains of this kin structure persisted until the Soviet times.

The senior of the kin always directed the work of the men, while his wife took care of the women's activities. The father held the legal title to the property, but he was limited in the possibilities to sell or trade the family assets for as long as there were legal heirs. The custom was designed to protect the children and their rights to own property. When the property was sold, minors, after reaching the legal age, could have claimed the sold property as theirs. There are records that on several occasions courts ruled in their favor.

Inheritence. With certain exceptions for unmarried daughters, men and women were equal to family property. Whatever they brought in to the marriage remained theirs forever. Only the common investments were considered as family holdings. After the death of the spouse, the property went back to their legal heirs or was returned to the home of their origin. All money that a woman made from selling her garden products was her property and the family had no right over such assets. Also, a daughter's earnings outside a farm, although handed over to the family, were her private property. The wife was not responsible for her husband's debts, but the husband was for his wife's. Belarusian married women enjoyed relative equality in decision-making and economic share. But daughters had no share in the family estates, and brothers were under the obligation to marry off their sisters. When there were only daughters in the family, they inherited the whole estate, and the husband of the eldest one was under obligation to take care of the younger until they married.

Socialization

Child Rearing and Education. Child rearing and education are controlled by the state. Mothers can take paid maternity leaves and paid sick-days when their children are ill. Schooling is free and primary and secondary schooling is mandatory. The state runs affordable kindergartens. More than 10 percent of the population continue their education in several universities around the country. Literacy level is very high; 98 percent of the population age fifteen and over can read and write.

Higher Education. There were fifty-five higher educational institutions in Belarus at the end of the twentieth century, including thirteen private schools. The largest state institutions are the Belarusian University; the University of Informatics and Radio-electronics; the Economic, Technological, Agricultural Technological, and Pedagogical Universities; the Polytechnic Academy; the Academy of Arts; the Academy of Music; the Academy of Physical Training and Sports; the Academy of Agriculture; the Brest, Gomel, Grodno, Vitebsk, Mogilev, and Minsk Linguistic Universities; the Vitebsk Technological University; and medical institutes in Gomel, Grodno, Vitebsk, and Minsk. There were 292 scientific establishments in Belarus, employing 26,000 scientists. The main scientific center is the National Academy of Sciences.

Etiquette

"Sardechna zaprashayem!" is the traditional expression used when welcoming guests, who are usually presented with bread and salt. Shaking hands is the common form of greeting. Hospitality is part of the Belarusian tradition; people are welcoming and friendly; and gifts are given to friends and business associates.

Religion

Religious Beliefs. Christianity is the dominant faith. Byzantine Christianity was introduced to Belarus with the rise of the Kievan kingdom in the tenth century. With the incorporation of the Belarusian territories into the Great Lithuanian Duchy and later into the Polish-dominated Commonwealth, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism flourished in Belarus. At the end of the sixteenth century, the struggle between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches produced the Orthodox Uniate Church, governed by the Vatican. The Orthodox Church dominated following the Russian defeat of uprisings in 1863 and 1864.

In 2000, Russian Orthodoxy claimed the most Belarusian believers (80 percent), followed by Roman Catholicism. The Christian community in Belarus is currently very diverse and includes several communities of Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Evangelists, Calvinists, and Lutherans, as well as Roman Catholics Orthodox practitioners, and Uniates. The most prevalent Protestant groups are Evangelic Christians and Christians of Evangelic Faith.

There are now about 44,000 Muslims, including people from the former Soviet republics and about 1,500 Arab students, in Belarus. The country has four mosques (in Ivye, Novogrudok [Navahradak], Slonim, and Smilovichi) and a fifth one at Vidzy in the Braslav district of the Vitebsk region will soon be designated.

Most of the Jews fled the region before World War II, were exterminated during that war, or emigrated after it ended. At the end of the eighteenth century, about 7 percent of Belarus's population was Jewish. At the beginning of the twentieth century, there were 704 synagogues; in 1995, only fifteen of them remained.

The number of Jews in Belarus can be estimated from the current number of members of the Union of Religious Jewish Congregations of the Republic of Belarus. This organization had at least 20,000 members in 2000 and has twelve regional offices. It effectively represents virtually the entire observant community and the Jewish community at large. It supplies humanitarian and medical aid and is affiliated with World Jewish Relief in the United Kingdom and B'nai B'rith in the States. The Main Synagogue of Minsk has daily morning and evening services.

Since the inception of Christianity into the region, the practitioners of Eastern Orthodoxy always outnumbered the followers of other religions. Regardless the times of religious freedom, there were also times of religious intolerance and persecutions. Religious rivalry between Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity amplified after 1839, when the Unite Church was abolished. All major political powers inflicted their policies against certain religions but the Poles and Soviets imposed the most drastic measures. Religious practices were seriously limited during the Soviet area or even outlawed. For instance, Jewish religion and culture, which has strong roots in Belarus, were discriminated under the Soviet rule. Most synagogues have been closed and the teaching of Hebrew and Judaism forbidden. Nevertheless, many Jews practiced their religious activities in secret. Since the Soviet era, the Eastern Orthodox Church in Belarus was a structural part of the Russian Orthodox Church. In February of 1992 the Belarusian Exarchate of the Moscow Patriarchate was created, but Moscow still heavily influences the Belarusian Church. Since 1989 the Vatican has been sending Catholic priests from Poland to work in Belarus.

Rituals and Holy Places. Among the most important religious holidays are Easter, Christmas, and days of remembrance. Russian Orthodox Easter is celebrated sometime between late March and early May, and the difference between Orthodox Easter and Catholic Easter may be up to six weeks. Roman Catholic Easter varies according to a lunar calendar. Russian Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on 5 January, and Roman Catholics celebrate on 25 December. Russian Orthodox practitioners observe Radaunitsa, a remembrance day, on 28 April, and Roman Catholics celebrate All Souls Day (Dsiady ) on 2 November.

There are several places in Belarus that are related to various saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church, including Polock, Sluck, Brest, and Turov. The holiest place of the Russian Orthodox Church is the Garbarka Hill, in eastern Poland.

Medicine and Health Care

Hospital treatment and some other medical and dental treatment is normally provided without fee. Belarus has several large, diverse healthcare facilities, both hospitals and outpatient institutions. Specialized medicine is expanding and improving in the country, although students learn medicine in four medical institutes (in Minsk, Vitebsk, Grodno, Gomel), while eighteen medical schools prepare other medical personnel extensive epidemics of diphtheria have been reported in recent years.

Life expectancy at birth is 62 years for men and 74 years for women, with a population average of 68 years.

Secular Celebrations

Secular celebrations include the following national holidays: 1 January is New Year's Day; 8 March is International Women's Day, honoring the contribution of women to society; 1 May is Labor Day, celebrating the significance and the contribution of the working class and including a parade of citizens; Victory Day, celebrated 9 May, commemorates the victory over Nazi Germany in 1945. Independence Day is celebrated on 3 July and signifies the liberation of Minsk from the Nazi troops during WWII. The October Revolution Holiday, commemorating victory of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, is celebrated on 7 November.

The Arts and Humanities

Literature. The origins of Belarusian literature may be traced to the times of The Kievan Rus. Its formative period was during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and culminated in the sixteenth century when Francisk Skaryna, a publisher, humanist, scientist, and writer, published the first bookthe Biblein Belarusian.

Modern Belarusian literature originated in the nineteenth century, with a sense of national identity. V. Dunin-Marcinkevich, a poet and playwright, was the most dominant figure of the times. He developed literary forms new to Belarus (such as the idyll, ballad, and comedy), and significantly influenced the formation of the literature, dramatic art, and spiritual culture of Belarusians.

Belarusian literature flourished in the twentieth century; key figures were Yakub Kolas and Yanka Kupala, both poets, novelists, playwrights, critics, publicists, public figures, and founders of the modern Belarusian literature and language.

Graphic Arts. Painting first developed in Belarus in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, under influence of Byzantine art. Few works of that period remain, but fresco paintings like those in the Polotsk Sofia Cathedral have been preserved. In the sixteenth century, a fresco painting school was formed in Belarus. Works from the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries were stylistically connected with the painting of Poland and Western Europe; portraiture was popular.

"The Vitebsk School" played a major role in developing the Belarusian national art in the early twentieth century. The best internationally known member of the School was Marc Chagall, who was born near Vitebsk. He emigrated in 1922 and subsequently lived in France, Mexico, and the United States. Often his works depict scenes of his native Vitebsk, and Jewish life in a Belarusian town.

After the October Revolution of 1917, Socialist Realism became popular, with emphasis on historical and domestic subjects. Beginning in the 1940s, artists focused on battle scenes, particularly of the Great Patriotic War. In the 1980s and 1990s, Belarusian painting followed western trends and addressed intellectual and philosophical topics, relying on symbolic meanings and metaphors.

Since the 1980s, decorative and applied arts have been revived. Ceramics, glass, batik, and especially tapestry are popular. Folk art, like weaving from straw, is gaining prominence as well.

Performance Arts. Belarusian music shows strong folk and religious influences. During the nineteenth century the collection, publication, and study of Belarusian ethnic songs was begun. Folk influences still inspire many Belarusian composers, and there are many folk music festivals and competitions held annually. Many amateur ensembles of national song and dance, folklore groups, and ensembles of the folklore-scenic form take part in those cultural events.

Belarus has the National Academic Opera and Ballet Theater, as well as the State Musical Comedy Theater and State Symphonic Concert Orchestra. Belarusian opera and ballet are well known and admired internationally. Performing arts centers are found in big cities like Minsk, which has a thriving cultural scene with opera, ballet, theaters, puppet theater, and a circus. Brest also has a renowned puppet theater. Rock music in the Belarusian language first developed in the 1990s.

The Belarusian theater originated from folk traditions from various religious and secular holidays, and from family and domestic rites. One of the longest lasting traditions is puppet theater; it has played a major role in shaping national theatrical traditions. During the eighteenth century, several aristocratic families sponsored their own theaters, and in the twentieth century many new theaters emerged. Today the most famous are the State Theater of Musical Comedy, the Gorkiy State Theater, and the Theater-studio of the Film Actor in Minsk.

Belarusian cinematography tends to focus on heroic and romantic genres, as well as the psychology of characters. Belarusian directors are particularly known for their animated films. There is also an all female film studio in Belarus, Tatyana.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

All scientific activity is state-funded and organized through academic institutions, universities, or the institutes of the National Academy of Sciences. Belarus has a well-developed scientific community: the National Academy of Sciences, the Belarusian State University, and scientific and research institutes conduct investigations in the fields of quantum electronics, solid-state physics, genetics, chemistry, powder metallurgy, and other research fields.

Traditionally, academic emphasis has been on historical disciplines like archaeology, ethnology, ethnography, history, and art history, but the social sciences like sociology, psychology, and political science are gaining popularity.

Bibliography

Belarus (Now and Then), 1993.

Dawisha, Karen. Democratic Changes and Authoritarian Reactions in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, 1997.

Ethnography of Belarus, 1989.

Garnett, Sherman W., ed. Belarus at the Crossroad, 2000.

Kelly, Robert C., ed. Belarus, Country Review 1999/2000, 2000.

Levy, Patricia. Belarus, 1998.

Marples, David. Belarus: From Soviet Rule to the Nuclear Catastrophe, 1996.

. Belarus: Denationalized Nation, 1999.

Novik, Uladzimir. Belarus: A new country in Eastern Europe, 1994.

Vakar, Nicholas P. Belorussia. The Making of a Nation, 1956.

Zaprudnik, Jan. Belarus: At a Crossroads in History, 1993.

. Historical Dictionary of Belarus, 1998.

Ludomir Lozny

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Belarus

Belarus

BELARUSANS 139

The people of Belarus are called Belarusans (sometimes spelled Belarussians). Over three-fourths of the population are native Belarusans; Russians represent 13 percent; Poles, 4 percent; Ukrainians, 3 percent; and Jews, 1 percent. For more information, see the chapters on Russia and Poland (Volume 7) and Ukraine (Volume 9).

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Belarus

Belarusabstruse, abuse, adduce, Ballets Russes, Belarus, Bruce, burnous, caboose, charlotte russe, conduce, deduce, deuce, diffuse, douce, educe, excuse, goose, induce, introduce, juice, Larousse, loose, luce, misuse, moose, mousse, noose, obtuse, Palouse, papoose, produce, profuse, puce, recluse, reduce, Rousse, seduce, sluice, Sousse, spruce, traduce, truce, use, vamoose, Zeus •cayuse • calaboose • mongoose •Aarhus • verjuice • couscous •footloose • ventouse • refuse •Odysseus • Idomeneus • hypotenuse •Syracuse

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Belarus

BELARUS

BELARUS , C.I.S. republic. For the region's earlier history, see *Belorussia.

Developments from the 1970s

In 1979 Belorussia's Jewish population amounted to 135,400 and in 1989 to 112,000 (with 39,100 in Minsk, 31,800 in Gomel province, and 18,400 in Mogilev province). Nearly 70,000 emigrated in the 1989–93 period, mainly to Israel and the United States, and the Jewish population was further reduced through emigration to 27,798 in 1999 and 24,300 in 2002. The main umbrella organization coordinating all Jewish activities in the country was the Belarus Union of Jewish Organizations and Communities, operating in 20 cities, most of them with synagogues and Jewish schools. Minsk had a Jewish People's University operating as an evening school and affiliated with the Belarus State University. In 1994 a Center for Jewish National Culture was opened in Minsk, as was a Center for the History of the Jews of Belarus in Vitebsk. In all, over 100 Jewish organizations were in operation throughout the country.

One Jew was elected to the republic's Supreme Soviet in 1990. Antisemitism within the Belorussian national movement militated against its receiving support from Jewish organizations. Antisemitic propaganda was rife in such publications as Politicheskii sobesednik, Slavianskie vedomosti, Sem'dnei, My I vremia, and Prognoz. The year 1991 saw the desecration of the Jewish cemetery in Borisov and in 1994 cemeteries were desecrated in Gomel, Mogilev, and Haradok, Vitebsk region. Antisemitic incidents continued to occur sporadically throughout the decade. Right-wing organized antisemitic activities in Belarus came mainly from pan-Slavic organizations which advocated a close union with Russia and were supported by their counterparts there. Such organizations included "Slaviane" (The Slavs), "Bratsva Slavian" (Brotherhood of Slavs), "Slavianskii Sobor – Belaia Rus" (Slavic Council – White Russia), On Independence Day in 1994 about 1,000 extremist nationalists marched through Minsk bearing slogans such as 'Belarus only for the Belorussians."

The monthly Jewish newspaper Aviv began to appear in 1992 and by 1993 there were five Jewish periodicals appearing in Belarus. In 1992 Rabbi Yitzḥak Volpin came from New York to occupy the long vacant pulpit in the Minsk synagogue. In the spring of the same year Belarus established diplomatic relations with Israel.

bibliography:

U. Schmelz and S. DellaPergola, in: ajyb, 1995, 478; S. DellaPergola, "World Jewish Population 2002," ibid. (2002), 623ff.; Supplement to the Monthly Bulletin of Statistics, 2 (1995); Y. Florsheim, in: Jews in Eastern Europe, 1:26 (1995), 25–33; M. Beizer and I. Klimenko, in Jews in Eastern Europe, 1 (24) 1995, 25–33; Anti-Semitism Worldwide (1994), Tel Aviv University, 132–134. website: www.worldjewishcongress.org; www.fjc.ru.

[Daniel Romanowski and

Michael Beizer]

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Belarus

Belarus

PROFILE
HISTORICAL HIGHLIGHTS
GOVERNMENT
POLITICAL CONDITIONS
ECONOMY
DEFENSE AND MILITARY ISSUES
FOREIGN RELATIONS
U.S.-BELARUSIAN RELATIONS
TRAVEL

Compiled from the August 2007 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:

Republic of Belarus

PROFILE

Geography

Area: 207,600 sq. km. (80,100 sq. mi.); slightly smaller than Kansas.

Cities: Capital—Minsk.

Terrain: Landlocked, low-lying with thick forests, flat marshes and fields.

Climate: Cold winters, cool and moist summers, transitional between continental and maritime.

People

Nationality: Noun—Belarusian(s). Adjective—Belarusian.

Population: (end of 2005) 9,750,500 (men 4,555,300; women 5,195,200). Urban 72.4%; rural 27.6%. Population decline: (2005) -49,600.

Ethnic groups: Belarusian (81.2%), Russian (11.4%), Polish (3.9%), Ukrainian (2.4%), Jewish (0.3%), other (0.8%).

Religions: 2004 est.) Eastern Orthodox 80%, Catholic 14%, Protestant 2%, other (including Autocephalous Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, and Krishna) 4%.

Languages: Belarusian and Russian (official).

Education: Literacy—98%.

Health: Infant mortality rate (2005)—6.4/1,000. Life expectancy (2004)—69 years (men 63.2 years, women 75 years).

Work force: (4.4 million) Industry-26.7%; agriculture and forestry-10.6%; construction—7.9%; transportation, communications—7.6%; trade, catering—12.2%; education—10.7%; other—24.3%.

Government

Type: Republic.

Constitution: March 30, 1994; revision by unrecognized national referendum of November 24, 1996, gave presidency greatly expanded powers and became effective November 27, 1996.

Independence: 1991 (from Soviet Union).

Government branches: Executive—president (head of state), prime minister (head of government), Council of Ministers (cabinet). Legislative—bicameral: the House of Representatives (110 deputies) and the Council of the Republic (64 deputies). Judicial—Supreme Court; Constitutional Court.

Political subdivisions: Six oblasts (regions) and one municipality.

Political parties: Belarus has 17 registered political parties, including: Agrarian Party (AP); Belarusian Communist Party (KPB); Green Party; Belarusian Social and Sports Party; Belarusian Patriotic Movement (BPR); Belarusian Popular Front (BNF); Belarusian Social-Democrat Party (BSDP); Social-Democratic Hramada Party; Belarusia Socialist Party; United Civic Party (UCP); Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus (LDBP); Party of Communists Belarusian (PKB); Party of Popular Accord; Republican Party of Labor and Justice (RPPS); Social Democratic Party of Popular Accord (PPA); Women's Party Nadezhda. Several of these parties exist in name only. Other, unregistered parties are also active, such as: Belarusian Party of Labor, Christian Conservative Party, and Party of Freedom and Progress.

Suffrage: Universal at age 18.

Economy

GDP: (2006 est.) $36.99 billion (2006

IMF estimate).

GDP growth rate: (2007 est.) 5.5%.

Per caita GDP: (2006) $3700.

Natural resources: Forest land, peat deposits, potash, small amounts of oil and natural gas.

Agriculture: Products—grain, potatoes, vegetables, flax, beef, milk.

Industry: Types—machinery and transport equipment, chemical products, fabrics, and consumer goods.

Trade: (2005) Exports—$16.0 billion (refined petroleum, machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, foodstuffs, metals, and textiles). Major markets—Russia, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Great Britain, Ukraine, and Lithuania. Imports—$16.7 billion (mineral products, machinery and equipment, metals, crude oil and natural gas, chemicals, foodstuffs). Major suppliers—Russia, Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Italy, Lithuania.

Exchange rate: (April 2007) 2,145 BYR (Belarusian rubles)=U.S. $1.

HISTORICAL HIGHLIGHTS

While archeological evidence points to settlement in today's Belarus at least 10,000 years ago, recorded history begins with settlement by Baltic and Slavic tribes in the early centuries A.D. With distinctive features by the ninth century, the emerging Belarusian state was then absorbed by Kievan Rus’ in the 9th century. Belarus was later an integral part of what was called Litva, which included today's Belarus as well as today's Lithuania. Belarus was the birthplace of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Belarusian was the state language of the Grand Duchy until 1697, in part owing to the strong flowering of Belarusian culture during the Renaissance through the works of leading Belarusian humanists such as Frantzisk Skaryna. Belarus was the site of the Union of Brest in 1597, which created the Greek Catholic Church, for long the majority church in Belarus until suppressed by the Russian empire, and the birthplace of Thaddeus Kosciuszko, who played a key role in the American Revolution. Occupied by the Russian empire from the end of the 18th century until 1918, Belarus declared its short-lived National Republic on March 25, 1918, only to be forcibly absorbed by the Bolsheviks into what became the Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.). Suffering devastating population losses under Soviet leader Josif Stalin and the German Nazi occupation, including mass executions of the Jewish population, Belarus was retaken by the Soviets in 1944. It declared its sovereignty on July 27, 1990, and independence from the Soviet Union on August 25, 1991. It has been run by the authoritarian Alexander Lukash-enko since 1994.

GOVERNMENT

The constitution provides for a popularly elected president who serves a 5-year term. The bicameral parliament consists of the 64-seat Council of the Republic and the 110-seat Chamber of Representatives. The Council of the Republic is the house of territorial representation. Eight members of the Council are appointed directly by the president of the Republic of Belarus, while local regional councils elect the rest. The deputies to the House of Representatives are elected directly by the voters. The president appoints the prime minister, who is the head of government.

POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Since his election in July 1994 as the country's first President, Alexander Lukashenko has consolidated power steadily in the executive branch through authoritarian means. He used a non-democratic November 1996 referendum to amend the 1994 constitution in order to broaden his powers and illegally extend his term in office; and he began to count his 5-year term in 1996, thereby adding 2 years to his first term in office. In 2004, he engineered a fraudulent referendum that removed term limits on the presidency, and in 2006 took advantage of this provision to “win” another term in an undemocratic election.

In October 2000, parliamentary elections occurred for the first time since the disputed referendum of 1996. According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), these elections failed to meet international democratic standards. Based on the unrecognized 1996 constitution, Lukashenko announced presidential elections in 2001. International monitors noted sweeping human rights violations and undemocratic practices throughout the election period, including massive vote-counting fraud. These irregularities led the OSCE/ODIHR to find that these elections also failed to meet Belarus’ OSCE commitments for democratic elections. March 2003 local elections and October 2004 parliamentary elections also failed to meet international standards of freedom and fairness. In 2004, Lukash-enko called a referendum on removing presidential term limits. According to official results, the referendum passed by a wide margin, and Lukashenko allies won across-the-board victories in simultaneous parliamentary elections. OSCE/ODIHR observers declared that the parliamentary elections fell far short of international standards, citing abuses in the campaign period and the vote counting. The referendum was also conducted with little regard for democratic principles. Independent exit polling showed results far different from those officially announced.

The March 19, 2006 presidential election marked another low point in the government's treatment of its own citizens. OSCE/ODIHR observers noted that the election failed to meet international standards, and was characterized by a disregard for the basic rights of freedom of assembly, association, and expression, as well as by a climate of insecurity and fear and a highly problematic vote count. Authorities detained many opposition supporters and civic activists during the campaign, charging some with offenses that could lead to long prison sentences. The regime limited the free flow of information by controlling nearly all media outlets and arresting many opposition activists for passing out legal campaign materials. The government detained hundreds in connection with demonstrations in the week following the election, stormed a demonstrators’ tent camp in Minsk, and used force against demonstrators. One opposition presidential candidate, Aleksandr Kozulin, was beaten and detained repeatedly by authorities, ultimately sentenced to five and a half years in prison for “hooliganism.” Kozulin held a 54-day hunger strike in protest of the rule of Lukashenko, only ending the protest after the

United States brought up his plight in the UN Security Council in December 2006. Many aides and supporters of Aleksandr Milinkevich, the presidential candidate of a coalition representing most opposition forces, also suffered from detentions, beatings, harassment, and prosecution. The regime's harassment and arrests of opposition politicians and youth leaders continued in the first half of 2007.

Although government restrictions on basic freedoms spiked in connection with elections, they continued even in non-election periods. Efforts to further infringe upon press freedoms included the continued use of libel laws, restrictions on foreign funding, pressure on businesses not to advertise with independent media, limitations on access to newsprint and printing presses, prohibiting access to state distribution networks, censorship, restrictions on the import of media-related materials, temporary and permanent suspension of independent and opposition periodicals, confiscation in quantity of printed publications, and detention of those distributing such material. In December 2004, the government adopted new legislation establishing criminal penalties for “discrediting Belarus” and organizing activities of an unregistered non-governmental organization (NGO). The government has continued to make use of its monopoly on television broadcasting to present biased news coverage and to minimize the presentation of opposing points of view. All Internet service providers in Belarus operate through a state-controlled portal. Despite constitutional provisions, a 1998 government decree limited citizens’ rights to express their own opinions. The 1994 and 1996 constitutions both provide for freedom of peaceful assembly; however, the regime severely restricts this right in practice. Demonstrations require an application at least 15 days in advance of the event. The local government must respond positively or negatively at least 5 days prior to the event. Applications by opposition groups are usually rejected. Following many unsanctioned demonstrations, police and other security officials detain, harass, and beat demonstration participants.

The constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the authorities restrict this right in practice. Although Article 16 of the 1996 amended constitution that resulted from the illegal referendum reaffirms the equality of religions and denominations before the law, it also contains restrictive language stipulating that cooperation between the state and religious organizations “is regulated with regard for their influence on the formation of spiritual, cultural, and country traditions of the Belarusian people.”

In October 2002, the parliament approved a new law on religion, despite protests from international and domestic human rights organizations as well as Orthodox religious groups not affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church. The law contains a number of very restrictive elements that make it extremely difficult to register any church the government considers to be nontraditional. In practice all religions except for Orthodox face some level of official interference in their activities.

According to the constitution, citizens are free to travel within the country and to live and work where they wish; however, the authorities sometimes restrict these rights in practice. The authorities issue internal passports to all adults, which serve as primary identity documents and are required to travel, obtain permanent housing, and for hotel registration. Citizens can only work in regions where they are registered to live, and re-registering can be difficult in Minsk.

The constitution provides for the right of workers—except state security and military personnel—to voluntarily form and join independent unions and to carry out actions in defense of workers’ rights, including the right to strike. In practice, however, these rights are limited. The Belarusian Free Trade Union (FTUB) was established in 1991 and registered in 1992. Following the 1995 Minsk metro workers strike, the President suspended its activities. In 1996 FTUB leaders formed a new umbrella organization, the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Union (BCDTU), which encompasses four leading independent trade unions and is reported to have about 15,000 members. In late 2003, the BCDTU became a member of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).

In May 2001, a complaint was lodged with the International Labor Organization (ILO) by several trade union organizations alleging the government was attempting to destroy the independent unions. A trade union campaign was carried out to raise international awareness and put pressure on the Belarus Government. Late in 2001, the regime attempted to further restrict the unions by refusing to turn over dues paid by members. Once it became clear that the unions and the FTUB were adjusting to this change, the government in June of 2002 embarked on a takeover of the FTUB and several of its branch unions. The FTUB subsequently became an arm of the government, and the election of Leonid Kozik to the position of Chairman of the FTUB has been challenged by the ILO.

On November 2003, the ILO approved the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry to investigate alleged serious violations of workers’ rights in the country. That same month the Ministry of the Economy informed the ILO that all activities related to its technical assistance project to labor unions must cease, because the registration of the project was denied. In 2004, the ILO presented the government with a list of 12 recommendations to improve its treatment of independent unions. A January 2006 ILO mission found the government had not implemented any of these recommendations. As a result, in June 2007, the European Union (EU) suspended Belarus’ trading preferences under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). The United States had suspended GSP preferences in 2000 due to Belarus’ failure to take steps that would allow the right of association and collective bargaining.

In March 2004 the government began forcing state employees (some 80% of Belarusian workers) to sign short-term work contracts. Although contracts may be concluded for a period of 5 years, most expire after one year—essentially granting the government the opportunity to annually fire anyone in its employ. Many members of independent unions, political parties, and civil society groups have lost their jobs when their contracts were not renewed.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 2/1/2008

The spellings of names of Belarusian officials reflect widely recognized Russian spellings.

Pres.: Aleksandr LUKASHENKO

Prime Min.: Sergey SIDORSKIY

First Dep. Prime Min.: Vladimir SEMASHKO

Dep. Prime Min.: Ivan BAMBIZA

Dep. Prime Min.: Viktor BURYA

Dep. Prime Min.: Andrey KOBYAKOV

Dep. Prime Min.: Aleksandr KOSINETS

Min. of Agriculture & Food: Leonid RUSAK

Min. of Architecture & Construction: Aleksandr SELEZENEV

Min. of Communications & Information Technology: Nikolay PANTELEY

Min. of Culture: Vladimir MATVEYCHUK

Min. of Defense: Leonid MALTSEV

Min. of Economics: Nikolay ZAYCHENKO

Min. of Education: Aleksandr RADKOV

Min. of Emergency Situations: Enver BARYEV

Min. of Finance: Nikolay KORBUT

Min. of Foreign Affairs: Sergey MARTYNOV

Min. of Forestry: Petr SEMASHKO

Min. of Energy: Aleksandr OZERETS

Min. of Health: Vasiliy ZHARKO

Min. of Housing & Municipal Services:Vladimir BELOKHVOSTOV

Min. of Industry: Anatoliy RUSETSKIY

Min. of Information: Vladimir RUSAKEVICH

Min. of Interior: Vladimir NAUMOV

Min. of Justice: Viktor GOLOVANOV

Min. of Labor & Social Security: Vladimir POTUPCHIK

Min. of Natural Resources & Environmental Protection: Leontiy KHORUZHIK

Min. of Sports & Tourism: Aleksandr GRIGOROV

Min. of Statistics & Analysis: Vladimir ZINOVSKIY

Min. of Taxes & Duties: Anna DEYKO

Min. of Trade: Aleksandr IVANKOV

Min. of Transport & Communication: Vladimir SOSNOVSKIY

Chief, Presidential Admin.: Gennadiy NEVYGLAS, Maj. Gen.

Chmn., Committee for State Security: Yuriy ZHADOBIN

Prosecutor Gen.: Petr MIKLASHEVICH

State Sec., Security Council: Viktor SHEYMAN

Chmn., National Bank: Petr PROKOPOVICH

Ambassador to the US: Mikhail KHVOSTOV

Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Andrey DAPKYUNAS

Belarus’ embassy in the U.S. is at 1619 New Hampshire Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20009; tel: 202-986-1606; fax: 202-986-1805; website: http://www.belarusembassy.org

ECONOMY

As part of the former Soviet Union, Belarus had a relatively well-developed industrial base; it retained this industrial base following the breakup of the U.S.S.R. The country also has a broad agricultural base and a high education level. Among the former republics of the Soviet Union, it had one of the highest standards of living. But Belarusians now face the difficult challenge of moving from a state-run economy with high priority on military production and heavy industry to a civilian, free-market system. After an initial outburst of capitalist reform from 1991-94, including privatization of state enterprises, creation of institutions of private property, and development of entrepreneurship, Belarus under Lukashenko has greatly slowed, and in many cases reversed, its pace of privatization and other market reforms, emphasizing the need for a ‘socially oriented market economy.” About 80% of all industry remains in state hands, and foreign investment has been hindered by a climate hostile to business. The banks, which had been privatized after independence, were renationalized under Lukashenko. The government continued to nationalize companies in 2005, using the “Golden Share” mechanism—which allows government control in all companies with foreign investment—and other administrative means.

Economic output, which declined for several years, revived somewhat in the late 1990s, but the economy has remained dependent on heavily discounted oil and natural gas from Russia. Belarus has historically re-exported the oil and oil products at world market prices, using the profits to subsidize state enterprises. Price controls on industrial and consumer staples have also constituted a major feature of the Belarusian economy. Inflationary monetary practices, including indiscriminate monetary growth, have been regularly used to finance real sector growth and to cover the payment of salaries and pensions.

In December 2006, Belarus and Russian gas giant Gazprom signed a deal which will eventually end Russia's subsidies of Belarusian gas. Under the deal, Gazprom raised prices for Belarus gas deliveries in 2007 to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters—a significant rise from the subsidized previous price of $46, but still far less than the price paid by EU member states. The price for Russian gas will continue to increase incrementally until it equals the price paid by EU members in 2011. Additionally, Gazprom will gradually acquire a 50% stake in Beltransgaz, the Belarusian gas pipeline firm. In January 2007, Russia followed up with a steep duty on oil deliveries, which caused a significant drop in revenue from exports of oil products and Russian-sourced crude oil. The increase in gas prices and simultaneous moves by Moscow to reduce the profitability of refining Russian oil in Belarus for re-export disrupted plans to upgrade industries ranging from oil refining to cement production.

Peat, the country's most valuable mineral resource, is used for fuel and fertilizer and in the chemical industry. Belarus also has deposits of clay, sand, chalk, dolomite, phosphorite, and rock and potassium salt. Forests cover about a third of the land, and lumbering is an important occupation. Potatoes, flax, hemp, sugar beets, rye, oats, and wheat are the chief agricultural products. Dairy and beef cattle, pigs, and chickens are raised. Belarus has only small reserves of petroleum and natural gas and imports most of its oil and gas from Russia. The main branches of industry produce tractors and trucks, earthmovers for use in construction and mining, metal-cutting machine tools, agricultural equipment, motorcycles, chemicals, fertilizer, textiles, and consumer goods. The chief trading partners are Russia, Germany, Ukraine, and Poland.

The massive April 26, 1986 nuclear accident at the Chernobyl power plant, across the border in Ukraine, had a devastating effect on Belarus; as a result of the radiation release, agriculture in a large part of the country was destroyed, and many villages were abandoned. Resettlement and medical costs were substantial and long-term. Many living in Chernobyl afflicted zones have infrequent access to medical treatment due to remoteness, inadequate equipment, and substantial costs. Although the Belarusian Government claims otherwise, many radiation monitoring stations, especially in rural areas, are either ill-equipped, poorly staffed, and/or no longer in operation. Resettlement of those in affected areas remains incomplete.

Due to the economic and political climate, little new foreign investment has occurred in recent years. In 2002, two major companies, the Swedish furniture firm Ikea and Russian beer producer Baltika, ended operations in Belarus due to unrealized government commitments or unwelcome interference. Ford Motors did the same in 1999. In July 2007, Lukash-enko threatened to take unspecified actions against American businesses in Belarus.

Growth in 2005 was reportedly robust, but peculiarities in official Belarusian statistics complicate analysis. Officially, inflation moderated to 8% in 2005, though hidden inflation remains a problem. Salaries are being increased by government directive, fueling some increased consumption but also making Belarusian firms less competitive. Close to 40% of enterprises and a majority of collective farms currently operate at a loss, a level that has persisted since 2002. The government made progress in reining in its fiscal policies, largely due to constraints imposed by financial difficulties caused by the earlier economic slowdown. Belarus continues to be heavily dependent on Russia, with the potential for greater economic dependency in a long-proposed EU-style union between the two states. Prospects for an eventual union remain weak, however, largely due to the apparent lack of interest on the part of the leadership of both countries.

The World Bank's 2002-2004 country assistance strategy for Belarus focused on areas such as targeted social assistance to help open up Belarusian society, AIDS/HIV and tuberculosis prevention, environmental protection, Chernobyl-related damage, and small and medium enterprise development.

The World Bank's most recent project in Belarus began with its June 2001 approval of a $22.6 million loan to finance repairs in over 450 schools, hospitals, and homes for orphans, the elderly, and the disabled throughout Belarus. In 2004, Belarus rejected a World Bank loan to help fight AIDS and tuberculosis. International Monetary Fund (IMF) cooperation is currently limited to policy and technical consultations.

Environmental Issues

Belarus has established ministries of energy, forestry, land reclamation, and water resources and state committees to deal with ecology and safety procedures in the nuclear power industry. The most serious environmental issue in Belarus results from the accident in 1986 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. About 70% of the nuclear fallout from the plant landed on Belarusian territory, and about 20% of the land remains contaminated. But government restrictions on residence and use of contaminated land are not strictly enforced, and the government announced plans in 2004 to increase agricultural production in the contaminated regions. The government receives U.S. assistance in its efforts to deal with the consequences of the radiation. Belarus also faces growing air, land, and water pollution levels from potash mining in the south of the country.

DEFENSE AND MILITARY ISSUES

The United States continues to support Belarus’ adherence to arms control agreements and treaties into which it has previously entered, including the Open Skies Treaty which Belarus ratified in 2001. Cooperation in all such agreements has been exemplary.

Humanitarian aid continues to be the primary engagement between the U.S. military and Belarus. In early 2004, the United States European Command announced the allocation of $200,000 for the continued renovation of the Gomel Emergency Treatment Hospital. The hospital had already received more than $600,000 in humanitarian assistance, which included funds for the renovation and establishment of its blood transfusion center in 2001.

In addition, in May 2004, the U.S. military donated $95,000 for the renovation of the Turov regional hospital. These programs, coupled with the continuous flow of Humanitarian Excess Property from U.S. Cold War stocks, define the U.S. military's humanitarian assistance program.

Direct military to military cooperation continues to be minimal. Belarus currently has no International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, and bilateral exercises and cooperation are nonexistent. There is a great desire on the Belarusian side to re-establish such cooperation and contacts, but it has not been possible due to the political situation. The only program that is still functional within this category is the attendance of Belarusian military officers in George C. Marshall Center programs.

Belarus is currently cooperating with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, through the Partnership for Peace Trust Fund, to destroy a total of 700,000 conventional landmines. Belarus also has a stockpile of over 3 million non-conventional anti-personnel mines, which it has pledged to destroy by March 2008. In addition, there are numerous World War II-vintage minefields, which are still in place and kill or injure several Belarusians every year. The Ministry of Defense is experiencing success in the area of military reform. Planned changes include combining the Air and Air Defense Forces, downsizing the force structure about 30% from 83,000 to 60,000, transitioning from a conscript to a contract force, and modernizing the command and control structure by creating a Ground Forces Command between the Ministry of Defense and the units in the field. Implementation of these reforms will take an unspecified amount of time. There have been numerous reports of Belarusian sales or delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies to states of concern, including state sponsors of terrorism. In April and September 2004, the United States imposed sanctions on a Belarusian entity, Belvnesh-promservice, pursuant to the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000 for the transfer to Iran of items on a multilateral export control list or items having the potential of making a material contribution to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or cruise or ballistic missile systems.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

Under an arrangement with the former U.S.S.R., Belarus was an original member of the United Nations. It also is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS—a group of 12 former Soviet republics) and its customs union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) Partnership for Peace, the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank.

Following the recognition of Belarus as an independent state in December 1991 by the European Community, EU-Belarus relations initially experienced a steady progression. The signature of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) in 1995 signaled a commitment to political, economic, and trade cooperation. Significant assistance was provided to Belarus within the framework of the TACIS technical assistance program and also through various aid programs and loans. However, progress in EU-Belarus relations stalled in 1996 after serious setbacks to the development of democracy. The EU did not recognize the 1996 constitution, which replaced the 1994 constitution. Neither the PCA nor its trade-related elements were implemented, and Belarus was not invited to join the EU's Neighborhood Policy. Belarusian membership in the Council of Europe was not supported; bilateral relations at the ministerial level were suspended; and EU technical assistance programs were frozen. In 1998, relations were further worsened when President Lukashenko evicted several western ambassadors from their homes in the Drozdy area of Minsk. In 2004, the Council of Europe adopted a report written by special rapporteur Christos Pourgourides calling on Belarusian authorities to suspend various high-level officials in conducting a thorough investigation of the cases of several prominent Belarusian political figures who have disappeared and remain unaccounted for. In parallel with the U.S., the EU spoke out strongly about the government's conduct of the 2006 election, noting that additional restrictive measures would be imposed against those officials responsible for abuses. After the election, the U.S. and EU imposed travel restrictions and financial sanctions against those responsible for abuses. The EU also launched a two-year, 2 million Euro project to support Belarusian access to independent information, also in complement to U.S. assistance programs. In June 2007, the EU announced the withdrawal of GSP trade preferences for Belarus, following an assessment by the International Labor Organization that Belarus had not acted to ensure the protection of labor rights and freedom of association.

Acknowledging the lack of progress in relation to bilateral relations and the internal situation following the position adopted in 1997, the EU adopted a benchmark approach in 1999, whereby relations would be gradually improved upon fulfillment of the four benchmarks set by the OSCE. In 2000, some moderately positive developments toward the implementation of recommendations made by the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) were observed but were not sufficient in the realm of access to fair and free elections. The Belarusian Government, objecting to the OSCE AMG's activities, forced its shutdown by failing to renew visas or extend accreditation of professional staff. The Belarus Government agreed to a successor OSCE presence after 14 EU member countries and the U.S. imposed visa restrictions on the travel of high-ranking Belarusian officials. The OSCE Office in Minsk formally came into existence on January 1, 2003 with a mandate to “assist the Belarusian Government in further promoting institution-building, in further consolidating the Rule of Law and in developing relations with civil society, in accordance with OSCE principles and commitments.”

Russia is the largest partner for Belarus in the economic and political fields. In terms of trade, over one-third of Belarusian exports go to Russia, although this reflects a decline in 2005 from previous levels, resulting from a January 2005 restructuring of the value-added tax (VAT) in bilateral trade. Due to the structure of Belarusian industry, Belarus relies heavily on other CIS countries and Russia in particular both for export markets and for the supply of raw materials, subsidized energy, and components. The 2007 steep increase in the price of natural gas and higher tariffs on Russian-sourced oil and oil products have contributed to a crisis in the Belarusian economy, forcing the regime to cut popular subsidies and request a stabilization loan from Russia. The introduction of free trade between Russia and Belarus in mid-1995 led to a spectacular growth in bilateral trade.

The framework for the Russia-Belarusian Union was set out in the Treaty on the Formation of a Community of Russia and Belarus (1996), the Treaty on Russia-Belarus Union, the Union Charter (1997), and the Treaty of the Formation of a Union State (1999). The integration treaties contain commitments to monetary union, equal rights, single citizenship, and a common foreign and defense policy. They also have established a range of institutions modeled after the EU. After protracted disputes and setbacks, the two countries’ customs duties were unified as of March 2001. Belarus has made progress in monetary stabilization in the context of ongoing negotiation with the Russian Central Bank on monetary union. However, Belarus has repeatedly pushed back the date for implementing monetary union. It was reported in 2005 that a bilateral working group had developed a draft union constitutional act, to be ratified by a referendum held in both countries, but no dates for the referendum have been proposed. A dispute with Russia in late 2006 and early 2007 over gas prices and oil import duties raised further doubts about the future of the union.

U.S.-BELARUSIAN RELATIONS

The United States recognized Belarusian independence on December 25, 1991. After the two countries established diplomatic relations, the U.S. Embassy in Minsk was officially opened on January 31, 1992. Ambassador David H. Swartz, the first Ambassador to Belarus, officially assumed post on August 25, 1992—the first anniversary of Belarusian independence—and departed post on completion of his term in late January 1994. On November 7, 1994, Ambassador Kenneth S. Yalowitz assumed post. He was succeeded by Ambassador Daniel V. Speckhard, who served from August 1997 to August 2000, spending one year recalled to Washington because of a dispute between the government and Western embassies over the confiscation of diplomatic residences. Michael G. Kozak served as U.S. Ambassador from October 2000 to August 2003. George A. Krol served as U.S. Ambassador from September 2003 to July 2006. Karen Brevard Stewart replaced Ambassador Krol as U.S. Ambassador and arrived in Belarus on September 18, 2006.

The two countries exchanged top-level official visits in the early years of independence. Stanislav Shush-kevich, the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Belarus, met with President Clinton in Washington in July 1992, and President Clinton visited Belarus in January 1994. After this high point in relations, however, bilateral relations cooled following the election of President Alexander Lukashenko in July 1994.

In September 1995 three hot air balloons participating in the Coupe Gordon Bennett race entered Belarusian air space. Despite the fact that race organizers informed the Belarusian Government about the race in May and that flight plans had been filed, the Belarusian air force shot down one balloon, killing two American citizens, and forced the other two to land. The crews of the other two balloons were fined for entering Belarus without a visa and released. Belarus to date has not apologized or offered compensation for these killings.

In November 1996, the Lukashenko regime conducted an internationally unrecognized constitutional referendum, which resulted in the dissolution of Belarus’ legitimate parliament and the centralization of power in the executive branch. In that same year, the Belarusian authorities provoked a diplomatic crisis by demanding and, in contravention of international law, eventually confiscating diplomatic residences in the Drozdy housing compound, including the U.S. Ambassador's residence. This action led the United States and other countries to withdraw their ambassadors from Belarus until the Belarusian authorities provided compensation and guarantees to respect international law. In addition, Lukashenko used his newly centralized power to repress human rights throughout the country, including persecuting members of the illegally disbanded Belarusian parliament (13th Supreme Soviet) and former members of his own government.

As a result of these events and tendencies, in 1997, the United States announced its decision to pursue a “selective engagement”policy with the Government of Belarus. This policy included downgrading government-to-government contacts to the level of Assistant Secretary and below, and restricting U.S. Government assistance to the Belarusian Government—with some exceptions including humanitarian assistance and exchange programs with state-run educational institutions. At the same time, the U.S. greatly expanded contacts with Belarusian civil society to promote democratization in Belarus.

Since 1997, despite growing U.S. engagement with Belarusian society, official bilateral relations have remained at a low level. In 2003, the United States, in tandem with the European Union, proposed a step-by-step, gradual approach to improve bilateral relations: the United States would respond positively to genuine efforts by Belarusian authorities to improve Belarus’ human rights and electoral practices. Belarusian authorities failed to take such steps to warrant a positive response.

In October 2004, the U.S. Congress passed, and the President signed, the Belarus Democracy Act, designed to promote democratization. In signing the act, President Bush noted that the authorities were turning Belarus into “a regime of repression in the heart of Europe,” and set out the U.S. policy of working “with our allies and partners to assist those seeking to return Belarus to its rightful place among the Euro-Atlantic community of democracies.” Together with the EU, the U.S. has imposed targeted sanctions against Belarusian officials implicated in human rights abuses and election fraud, including travel restrictions and targeted financial sanctions imposed in 2006 after the deeply flawed presidential election. To underscore U.S. support for the Belarusian people's democratic aspirations, the President and Secretary of State met with a number of Belarusian activists in 2005 and 2006. U.S. assistance supports democratic political forces, civil society, exchanges, education and independent media, including external broadcasting, to help those promoting democracy and providing access to independent information in Belarus. On January 12, 2007, President Bush signed the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act, which calls for targeted sanctions against Belarusian officials and continued assistance for democracy building activities. In June 2007 in Prague, Czech Republic, President Bush met with former presidential candidate Aleksandr Milinkevich and Olga Kozulina, the daughter of political prisoner Aleksandr Kozulin.

U.S.-Belarusian Economic Relations

The U.S. Government continues to support the development of the private sector in Belarus and its transition to a free market economy. With the advent of the Lukashenko regime, Belarusian authorities have pursued a generally hostile policy toward the private sector and have refused to initiate the basic economic reforms necessary to create a market-based economy. Most of the Belarusian economy remains in government hands. The government, in particular the presidential administration, exercises control over most enterprises in all sectors of the economy. In addition to driving away many major foreign investors—largely through establishment of a “Golden Share” requirement, which allows government control in all companies with foreign investment—Belarus’ centralization and command approach to the economy has left only a trickle of U.S. Government and international assistance programs in this field.

In February 1993, a bilateral trade treaty guaranteeing reciprocal most-favored-nation status entered into force. In January 1994, the U.S. and Belarus signed a bilateral investment treaty, which has been ratified by Belarus but has not been ratified by the U.S. Senate. In addition, due to continuing repression of labor rights in Belarus, the U.S. removed Belarus from the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) in 2000.

The United States has encouraged Belarus to conclude and adhere to agreements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on macroeconomic stabilization and related reform measures, as well as to undertake increased privatization and to create a favorable climate for business and investment. Although there has been some American direct private investment in Belarus, its development has been relatively slow. An Overseas Private Investment Corporation agreement was signed in June 1992 but has been suspended since 1995 because Belarus did not fulfill its obligations under the agreement. Belarus is eligible for Export-Import Bank short-term financing insurance for U.S. investments, but because of the adverse business climate, no projects have been initiated. The IMF granted standby credit in September 1995, but Belarus fell off the program and did not receive the second tranche of funding, which had been scheduled for regular intervals throughout 1996. Since that time, Belarus has had an ongoing discussion to relaunch IMF-backed reforms, concluding an IMF Staff-Monitored Program (SMP) in 2001, which ended in September 2001 with relatively disappointing results. In early 2004, Belarus halted negotiations on a follow-on stand-by arrangement due to disagreements with the IMF on macroeconomic policy and claiming that it did not require IMF funding. Because of the unpredictable and at times hostile environment for investors, the U.S. Government currently does not encourage U.S. companies to invest in Belarus. Belarus’ continuing problems with an opaque, arbitrary legal system, a confiscatory tax regime, cumbersome licensing system, price controls, and lack of an independent judiciary create a business environment not conducive to prosperous, profitable investment. In fact, several U.S. investors in Belarus have left, including the Ford Motor Company.

U.S. Assistance to Belarus

U.S. Government assistance programs in Belarus support and encourage civil society development, access to independent information, pro-democracy forces, and the emergence of democracy in a very difficult and challenging environment. Most assistance is in the form of training and exchanges, as well as small grants and capacity-building for local non-governmental organizations. The U.S. also supports external radio broadcasting into Belarus. Because the Belarusian authorities have not embraced market reforms, the U.S. is able to program only modest activities in support of private entrepreneurs.

The U.S. provides some health program funding and supports international organizations’ efforts in Belarus to combat the growing problem of trafficking in persons. With very limited exceptions, including humanitarian assistance and exchange programs involving state-run educational institutions, bilateral assistance is not channeled through the Government of Belarus.

From FY 1992 through FY 1995, the U.S. Government provided more than $455 million in assistance to Belarus, and transferred over $233 million in U.S. Defense Department excess and privately donated humanitarian commodities. Assistance is provided to Belarus under the Freedom for Russia and Emerging Eurasian Democracies and Open Markets (FREEDOM) Support Act (FSA) enacted in October 1992. U.S. Government assistance to Belarus peaked in 1994 at a level of approximately $76 million (consisting of more than $16 million in FREEDOM Support Act funds and some $60 million in funds from various U.S. Government agencies). However, U.S. assistance levels dropped sharply due to the lack of progress in democratic and economic reform after the coming to power of Alexander Lukashenko in mid-1994.

Belarus was previously a recipient of assistance under the U.S. Defense Department's Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program, whose objective is to reduce the threat posed to the United States by weapons of mass destruction remaining on the territory of the former Soviet Union, by promoting denuclearization and demilitarization, and preventing weapons proliferation. However, in February 1997, due to the Belarusian Government's poor record on human rights, President Clinton de-certified Belarus, rendering the country ineligible for further CTR assistance and placing restrictions on other security-related assistance as well. The United States and Belarus signed a government-to-government umbrella agreement on CTR assistance in 1992, seven agency-to-agency CTR implementing agreements, and one memorandum of understanding and cooperation; the umbrella agreement was extended for one year in October 1997, but has now expired.

For more detailed information on U.S. Government assistance to Belarus, please see the annual reports to Congress on U.S. Government Assistance to and Cooperative Activities with Eurasia, which are available in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs section on the State Department's website. A fact sheet on FY 2005 U.S. Assistance to Belarus can be found at http://www.state.gov/p/eur/rls/fs/49300.htm. Information is also available on the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) website at the address: http://www.usaid.gov.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

Last Updated: 2/19/2008

MINSK (E) 46, Starovilenskaya St., Minsk Belarus 220002, APO/FPO PSC 78 Box B Minsk, APO/AE 09723, (375) (17) 210-1283, Fax (375) (17) 234-7853, Workweek: M-F / 0830–1730, Website: http://belarus.usembassy.gov.

DCM OMS:Carol Jackson
AMB OMS:Nancy Walraven
FM:Mark Schroeppel
MGT:Kirby Nelson
POL ECO:Crishok, Louis
AMB:Karen B. Stewart
CON:Sara Michel
DCM:Jonathan Moore
PAO:William James
GSO:Neil McGurty
RSO:Christine Putz
AFSA:Nathan Lane
AGR:(Res In Moscow)
AID:Chuck Howell
CLO:Vacant
DAO:Ltc. Keith Detwiler - Army
DEA:(Res In Vienna)
FAA:(Res In Brussels)
FMO:Kevin Morgan
ICASS:Chair Chuck Howell
IMO:Vacant
IRS:Susan Stanley (Res. In Frankfurt)
ISO:Jeff Athy
LEGATT:(Res In Kiev)
State ICASS:Nathan Lane

TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet

December 7, 2007

Country Description: Belarus became an independent republic on August 25, 1991, after the breakup of the Soviet Union. In November 1996, a constitutional referendum, not recognized by the international community, centralized power in the executive branch (president), headed by Aleksandr Lukashenka. Economic and political reform in Belarus has stalled or is being reversed under his authoritarian government. The Belarusian Government's human rights record remains very poor. President Lukashenka gained a third five-year term as president in March 2006, in an election that international observers judged to be seriously flawed. Democratic nations, including the U.S. and EU, condemned the subsequent governmental crackdown on peaceful protests in Minsk, and imposed visa restrictions and other sanctions on senior officials. Both Belarusian and Russian are official languages, and Russian is widely spoken throughout the country, particularly in the cities. Tourist facilities are not highly developed, but food and lodging in the capital and some regional centers are adequate.

Entry Requirements: A passport and visa are required. Travelers must obtain a visa in order to visit or transit through Belarus. Travelers who do not have a visa cannot register at hotels. U.S. citizens visiting or residing in Belarus are required to register with the local office of visas and registration (OVIR) within three business days after arrival. Failure to register can result in fines and difficulties when departing. U.S. citizens staying in hotels are automatically registered at check-in. Visa validity dates are strictly enforced; travelers should request visas of sufficient length to allow for changes in arrival and departure plans, and should carefully review the beginning and ending dates of their visas before traveling.

A valid exit visa is necessary to depart Belarus. Generally, the visa issued by a Belarusian Embassy or Consulate is valid for both entry and exit. Photocopies of visas may be helpful in the event of loss, but note that a copy of a visa will not be sufficient for entry or departure, as Belarusian border officials always require original travel documents. Travelers who overstay their visa's validity—even for one day—will be prevented from leaving until they have been granted an extension by OVIR. United States citizens without valid visas face delays in leaving Belarus and may have trouble finding adequate accommodation. By Belarusian law, travelers with an expired visa may not check in at any hotel or other lodging establishment.

U.S. citizens traveling through Belarus to other countries are strongly advised that there is a transit visa requirement for entering and leaving Belarus. Transit visas are required even for travelers transiting on direct overnight trains with no stops or transfers on Belarusian territory. Transit visas should be obtained prior to any journey that requires travel through Belarus. Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Russian visas are no substitute for this transit visa. Most travel agencies, including those in Russia and CSI countries, as well as train ticket sales personnel, are often not aware of this visa requirement and may not seek a transit visa for a traveler unless instructed by the traveler to do so.

U.S. citizens attempting to transit Belarus without a valid Belarusian transit visa have been denied entry into the country and forcibly removed from trains. In some instances, local border and train authorities have threatened passengers who did not possess a valid transit visa with jail or extorted “fines.” American citizens are advised not to pay any border or train officials for transit visas or “transit visa fines” these officials are not authorized to issue such visas. Americans finding themselves in Belarus without transit visas, if confronted by border or train personnel, should request to be put in contact with consular officials at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk.

U.S. citizens traveling to Belarus via Russia are reminded that they must possess a Russian transit visa in addition to their Belarusian visa. Russian Embassies outside of the United States, including the Russian Embassy in Belarus, generally do not issue transit or tourist visas to Americans. Russian transit visas are not normally obtainable at Russian airports. On February 4, 2006, changes to the 1993 Law on the Legal Status of Foreign Citizens and Stateless Persons in the Republic of Belarus entered into force. The legislation introduces three new categories of legal presence in Belarus. Foreign citizens may be granted permission for a temporary stay (up to 90 days within a chronological year), temporary residence (up to one year), or permanent residence.

Belarusian Embassies and Consulates will issue visas for temporary stays. A temporary stay visa will allow the bearer to be present physically in Belarus for a maximum of 90 days within the 365-day period for which the visa is issued. Once an individual has spent 90 days in Belarus, at one time or through a combination of visits, he or she will not be eligible to receive another visa until the original 365-day period has passed.

Individuals who receive a visa for a temporary stay, but wish to remain in Belarus for longer than 90 days, will need to apply for temporary or permanent residence with the Ministry of Interior. Individuals must make the application in Belarus and within the 90 days allotted for a temporary stay. Permission for temporary residence can be granted to students, spouses or close relatives of Belarusian citizens, or for “work, business, or other activities.” Travelers may contact the Consular Section at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk for information about application procedures for temporary or permanent residence.

The legislation also introduces a migration card that will be filled out by foreign citizens upon entry into Belarus. Foreign citizens will be required to retain this card and present it to the border authorities when exiting Belarus.

Foreign citizens without a valid Belarusian visa, migration card, or proper registration with OVIR as a temporary visitor or resident can be subject to sanctions up to and including deportation under the provisions of a new Code of Administrative Violations that entered into force on March 1, 2007. Depending upon the circumstances, deportees also can be banned from returning to Belarus for a period from one to ten years.

Foreign citizens visiting and transiting Belarus also should be prepared to demonstrate sufficient financial means to support their stay. For individuals staying in Belarus for less than one month, this amount is equal to approximately $15/day/person. For those staying for longer than one month, the requirements call for $375/month/person. Belarusian officials may request this proof of funds at the time of visa application, at the border, or during registration. According to the Ministry of Interior, cash, credit cards, paid hotel reservations, or a letter from an inviting party pledging full financial support are sufficient means to demonstrate financial wherewithal.

Belarus requires all foreign nationals (other than accredited diplomats) entering the country to purchase medical insurance at the port-of-entry, regardless of any other insurance they might have. Costs for this insurance will vary according to the length of stay. (Subject to change, current information puts costs at approximately $1 for a one or two day stay, $15 for a stay of up to 31 days, and $85 for a stay of one year.)

A presidential decree adopted in June 2005 requires citizens of foreign countries to pay a one-time fee when entering/exiting Belarus. This entry/exit tax currently amounts to approximately $3 per person. Travelers should receive a receipt and produce this document at the request of Border Control Officers at border crossing points. Diplomats and their family members, as well as members of official delegations and representatives of international organizations, are exempt from the duty

Travelers entering Belarus by air with more than 50 kilograms of luggage (110 pounds) will be charged 2Euros per kilogram in excess of that limit. The fee must be paid in dollars or Euros. Travelers should declare all electrical and electronic equipment or devices upon entry; failure to do so will require the traveler to pay up to 30 percent customs duty on these items upon departure. Travelers should complete two customs declarations at the time of entry and should retain one copy and produce it at the time of exit in order to prove that items were not acquired while in Belarus. In accordance with current customs regulations, foreigners may enter Belarus with up to $10,000 and exit the country with up to $3,000 without submitting a written declaration. Please see the Belarusian State Customs Committee web site for additional information at http://www.gtk.gov.by/en.

Travelers who enter and then leave Belarus in a private vehicle at two different points are often required to pay a “green tax,” or ecology tax, which is levied by the regional authorities.

The Belarusian Government sometimes enforces a requirement for special permits to travel in “protected border zones.” The Government of Belarus has not provided information defining the parameters of those zones. Travelers should be alert for warning signs, road barriers, and/or border guard posts, and are advised not to cross into such areas without permission.

Foreign missionaries may not engage in religious activities outside the institutions that invited them unless they have a religious worker visa. One-year validity, multiple-entry, “spiritual activities” visas, which are required of foreign missionaries, can be difficult to get, even for faiths that are registered with the government and have a long history in the country. Approval often involves a difficult bureaucratic process.

A law signed in October 2002 required all religious groups and organizations, including recognized "traditional" religions such as Russian Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Judaism, Sunni Islam and Lutheranism, to re-register; many such organizations have done so. Unregistered religious groups may not legally gather for religious purposes. Many unregistered groups continue to meet, however, leaving them vulnerable to selective implementation of the law by authorities. The law also stipulates that only Belarusian citizens can head religious organizations in Belarus. In recent years, authorities have harassed, warned, fined, and briefly detained members of some unregistered and so-called “non-traditional” faiths for engaging in unsanctioned worship or proselytism. In recent months, the U.S. Embassy has been informed of several incidents in which American citizens were subject to administrative fines, visa cancellations, and voluntary departure from Belarus, allegedly for informal religious activities considered as being in contravention with the stated purpose of their visas. The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends that any U.S. citizen who chooses to attend a religious service of an unregistered religious group do so only after consulting with members of the group about the risk of harassment or possible arrest by local law enforcement authorities. U.S. citizens are also urged to contact the U.S. Embassy should they encounter any problems with authorities due to their participation in such services or events.

After August 15, 2002, naturalized U.S. citizens originally from Belarus do not automatically lose Belarusian citizenship upon naturalization. Such individuals retain Belarusian citizenship unless they take specific steps to renounce it. The Belarusian authorities will allow naturalized U.S. citizens from Belarus without a valid Belarusian passport to enter the country on a “certificate of return” issued by Belarusian Embassies and Consulates abroad, but please note that a valid Belarusian passport will be required to leave the country. It can take two to four weeks to receive a new Belarusian passport. For additional information please consult with the Embassy of Belarus at www.belarusembassy.org. Belarusian citizens, including dual nationals, are subject to Belarusian laws requiring service in Belarus’ armed forces, as well as other laws pertaining to passports and nationality. American-Belarusian dual nationals of military age who do not wish to serve in the Belarusian armed forces should contact the Belarus Embassy in Washington, D.C. to learn more about an exemption or deferment from Belarusian military service before going to Belarus. Without this exemption or deferment document, they may not be able to leave Belarus without completing military service, or may be subject to criminal penalties for failure to serve.

Children born to Belarusian parent(s) before August 15, 2002, even if born in the United States and in possession of a U.S. passport, may not be issued a Belarusian visa for travel to Belarus. The Belarusian government considers these children to be Belarusian citizens until age 16, when they may choose to accept or reject that claim to citizenship. Instead of a visa, a “certificate of return” is issued that will allow the child to enter Belarus. It is imperative that parents of such children understand that, in order to leave the country, the child will be required to have a Belarusian passport if he/she does not already have one. It can take anywhere from two weeks to a month to complete the application procedures and receive a new Belarusian passport. (Note: if the parent left on a series PP passport, given to Belarusians who reside abroad and have cancelled their local registration, then Belarus would not require the child to reject his/her claim to citizenship). After 2002, when one parent is Belarusian and the other parent is a foreigner, the parents must by mutual consent agree to Belarusian citizenship for the child, regardless of place of birth. If the parents cannot reach consensus, Belarus would only force Belarusian citizenship on a child in cases where the child would be left stateless.

Visit the Embassy of Belarus web site at http://www.belarusembassy.org/ for the most current visa information, or contact the Embassy of Belarus at 1619 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20009, tel: 202-986-1606, fax: 202-986-1805, [email protected] belarusembassy.org.

Safety and Security: Both organized and spontaneous demonstrations occur in Belarus. Localized street disturbances relating to political events occur most frequently in Minsk or larger cities. In some instances, authorities may use force to disperse protesters; bystanders, including foreign nationals, may face the possibility of arrest, beating, or detention. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can sometimes become confrontational and escalate into violence. For this reason, it is recommended that American citizens avoid all demonstrations and protest gatherings.

Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities. These sites are not always clearly marked and application of these restrictions is subject to interpretation.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's web site, where the current Worldwide Caution Travel Alert, Middle East and North Africa Travel Alert, Travel Warnings and other Travel Alerts can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.

Crime: Belarus has a moderate incidence of street crime. Though violent crime against foreigners is rare, criminals have been known to use force if met with resistance from victims. Common street crimes, such as muggings and pickpocketings, occur most frequently near public transportation venues, near hotels frequented by foreigners, and/or at night in poorly lit areas.

American citizens and other foreigners in Belarus have also been the victims of car theft, car vandalism, and hotel and residential break-ins. Foreigners visiting nightclubs and discos should pay particular attention to their surroundings, as criminal elements may rob unsuspecting patrons after surreptitiously drugging their drinks. Travelers should keep a copy of their passport in a separate location from their original.

Information for Victims of Crime: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the U.S. Embassy in Minsk. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Minsk for assistance. The Embassy staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Medical Facilities and Health Information: Medical care in Belarus is limited. There is a severe shortage of basic medical supplies, including anesthetics, vaccines and antibiotics. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Travelers are encouraged to ensure that they bring an adequate supply of prescription medications in the event that there are delays in departing Belarus. Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Belarus. For further information, please consult the CDC's Travel Notice on TB at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC's web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel.

For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Belarus is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

American citizens on short-term visits to Belarus (up to 90 days) are permitted to drive with a valid U.S. state license. U.S. citizens should, therefore, always carry their passports with them to prove date of entry into the country in the event that police stop them. If residing in Belarus for more than 90 days, one should apply for a Belarusian driver's license. Drivers will be required to successfully complete a two-part test in Russian; the first part is a computer-based multiple-choice test on local driving rules, and the second part is a driving test. To receive a local driver's license, drivers will also need to complete a medical exam at a special medical clinic, which will include a general physical, a chest x-ray, and an eye exam.

Radar traps and road construction sites, both often unlit at night, are widespread. Except for a stretch of the main east-west highway, where the speed limit is 100 km/h (60 mph), the maximum speed limit on divided highways or main roads outside village, town or city limits is 90 km/h (55 mph). Speed limits in cities are 60 km/h unless marked and will usually range between 40 km/h and 70 km/h, with frequent radar traps. Visible and hidden dangers exist, including potholes, unlit or poorly lit streets, inattentive and dark-clothed pedestrians walking on unlit roads, drivers and pedestrians under the influence of alcohol, and disregard for traffic rules. Driving in winter is especially dangerous because of ice and snow. Driving with caution is urged at all times. Radio-dispatched taxi services are generally reliable, arrive promptly once called and usually offer the lowest fare. Most radio-dispatched taxis are metered, although fares can vary greatly and are considerably higher in the late evening and overnight hours. The use of informal taxis or “gypsy cabs” is not recommended.

Minsk has a clean, safe, and efficient subway system that easily reaches most of the city center. Service is stopped briefly during the early morning hours, but otherwise runs regularly throughout the day. Ticket prices are extremely low by western standards. Though their routes are extensive, buses and trolleys lack heating or cooling capabilities and are usually crowded.

Travelers on all public transportation should be wary of pickpockets and other petty crime. For travelers interested in car rental, only one major western rental agency currently operates in Minsk. In general, rental car networks in Belarus are not well developed.

Travelers may experience significant delays (of several hours) in crossing the border by road into neighboring countries. Visit the web site of the Republic of Belarus National Tourism Agency at http://belarustourism.by.

Aviation Safety Oversight: As there is no direct commercial air service between the United States and Belarus, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Belarus’ Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's web site at http://www.faa.gov.

Special Circumstances: Traveler's checks are not widely accepted in Belarus. Most hotels accept either American Express or Visa credit cards. In addition, one hotel in Minsk, “Planeta,” provides cash from Visa credit cards during business hours. Travelers face arrest if they attempt to buy items with currency other than Belarusian rubles. Authorized currency exchange centers are widely available throughout major cities.

ATMs are also available for use, and it has become easier to use credit cards and debit cards in Belarus, especially in Minsk; however, this does not mean that it is safer to do so. There have been reports of instances in which U.S. citizens have had their card numbers “skimmed” and the money in their debit accounts stolen or their credit cards fraudulently charged. (“Skimming” is the theft of credit card information by an employee of a legitimate merchant or bank, manually copying down numbers or using a magnetic stripe reader.) In addition to skimming, the risk of physical theft of credit or debit cards also exists. To prevent such theft, the Embassy recommends that travelers keep close track of their personal belongings and only carry what is needed when out. If travelers choose to use credit cards, they should regularly check their account status to ensure its integrity.

Persons seeking to marry in Belarus should consult the information located on the Embassy web site at http://minsk.usembassy.gov.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Belarusian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belarus are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Children's Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website at http://travel.state.gov/family.

Registration and Embassy Locations: Americans living or traveling in Belarus are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department's travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Belarus. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located in Minsk at 46 Starovilen-skaya Ulitsa; telephone (375) 17-210-12-83 or after hours (375) 17-226-16-01, fax (375) 17-234-78-53 or (375) 17-217-71-60 (consular section). The Consular Section may also be reached by email at [email protected] gov.

International Adoption

February 2006

The information in this section has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.

Disclaimer: The information in this flyer relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is based on public sources and current understanding. Questions involving foreign and U.S. immigration laws and legal interpretation should be addressed respectively to qualified foreign or U.S. legal counsel.

Please Note: The Government of Belarus has not completed any U.S. adoptions of Belarusian children since October 2004. Although the Government of Belarus changed its adoption procedures in 2005, inter-country adoptions involving U.S. families have yet to proceed. Thus, the information in this flyer relates to how the process should work, according to Belarusian law, if and when the Government of Belarus again begins allowing U.S. adoptions.

The very small number of immigrant visas that the U.S. Government was able to issue to Belarusian orphans in Fiscal Year 2005 reflects adoptions approved in Belarus before the Belarusian government stopped processing adoptions. The Department of State encourages U.S. citizens contemplating adopting from Belarus to monitor closely the Important Notices page of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs web site for the most recent information on Belarusian adoptions.

The government of Belarus stresses that American citizens interested in adopting a child in Belarus should not travel to that country until the stipulated adoption procedures have been completed. Belarus requires post placement reports on Belarusian orphans for the first five years after an adoption.

Patterns of Immigration: Please review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.

Belarusian National Adoption Center
Ms. Natalia Pospelova, Director
Platonova Str. 22, 11 th Floor
Minsk, BELARUS
Tel: 375—17-232-6701
Fax: 375—17-231-0617

Eligibility Requirements for Adoptive Parents: A prospective parent may be married, single, divorced, or widowed. A prospective parent must be at least 16 years older than the adoptive child. Single parents are permitted to adopt a child of either sex.

Residential Requirements: There are no residency requirements for Belarusian adoptions.

Time Frame: The adoption process in Belarus from start to finish generally takes 18 months.

Adoption Agencies and Attorneys: Although foreign adoption agencies are permitted to facilitate adoptions in Belarus, the actual adoption procedures are handled exclusively through Belarusian government bodies, while the foreign agency is restricted to a purely liaison role. Please review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family for a list of agencies.

Adoption Fees: Adoptive parents can expect to pay $18,000 to $25,000 to complete an adoption in Belarus.

Adoption Procedures: Interested American citizens should find and work with a licensed adoption agency or provider that employs representatives or facilitators in Belarus. Because prospective parents are advised that they should not travel to Belarus until a suitable child has been selected for them, a representative in Belarus is absolutely essential in order to work through the adoption process. Applicants must send their completed application, together with Russian language translations of all documents, to the consular section of the Belarusian Embassy in Washington, D.C. After verifying and notarizing the documents, the Embassy transmits them to the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Minsk.

The consular department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Minsk checks to see that the application has been verified and properly notarized and then passes the application to the Ministry of Education in Minsk (Ministerstvo Narodnovo Obrazovaniya, or MNO). The MNO reviews the application and decides whether or not to allow the process of selecting a child for the applicant(s) to go forward. Once it has been established that there is no possibility of a child's adoption by a Belarusian family, the National Adoption Center (NAC) gains the consent of the child's guardian or orphanage director, the district (municipal) department of education, and the regional (oblast) department of education within a respective regional executive council and then initiates putting the child's name on the List of Children for International Adoption.

Identifying Foreign Prospective Adoptive Parents: Each child's case is then considered individually when the child is matched with foreign adoptive parents and the NAC forwards his/her case to the Council on International Adoption for its consideration. If the Council approves the adoption of the child to the prospective parents, the case is sent back to the NAC. The NAC will prepare the case for the Minister of Education's decision. If the Minister of Education personally approves it, the adoption case is forwarded to a regional court or the Minsk City Court (for Minsk children);

Foreign prospective adoptive parents are notified of the prospective match after it is approved by the Minister of Education. Belarusian authorities will also inform the prospective adoptive parents when their court hearing date has been set.

At this time point in the process, the prospective parents should contact the U.S. Embassy in Belarus. The U.S. Embassy is responsible for investigating whether the child meets the definition of “orphan” in the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act. This usually consists of an interview with the parents and adopted child as well as a review of the child's medical records and other documents. When the prospective parents arrive in Belarus, they will meet the child in the presence of a representative of the local guardianship and custody authority and then go to the appropriate regional court or to the Minsk City Court. The respective court then considers the case and rules for or against the adoption of the Belarusian child to foreign adoptive parents.

Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.

Post-Adoption Reporting Requirements: Belarusian law requires that adoptive parents register their child with the Belarusian consular office that covers the child's new place of residence. Parents should do this as soon as possible after they and the child have entered the United States. Belarusian law also requires that the appropriate social services agency in the child's new country of residence visit the child at least once a year for the first five years following the adoption and provide a report to the Government of Belarus. Parents of Belarusian adopted children may, however, choose to provide to the Belarusian embassy or consular office their own annual reports on the children's well being. Such reports serve to reassure the Government of Belarus that the United States and its citizens adequately care for and protect Belarusian adopted children.

Belarusian Citizenship: Under Belarusian law, children adopted from Belarus remain citizens of Belarus at least until their 16th birthdays, notwithstanding the children's acquisition of a new citizenship in their new country. When the child turns 16, the adoptive parents may apply to the Belarusian embassy in Washington to have the child's Belarusian citizenship terminated. Parents with more detailed questions concerning this process should contact the Belarusian embassy.

Embassy of the Republic of Belarus
1619 New Hampshire Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20009
Tel: (202) 986-1606
fax: (202) 986-1805
Email: [email protected]
http://www.belarusembassy.org

Belarus also has a Consulate in New York at its UN Mission.

U.S. Immigration Requirements: Prospective adopting parents are strongly encouraged to consult USCIS publication M-249, The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adoptive Children, as well as the Department of State publication, International Adoptions.

U.S. Embassy Belarus
Consular Section, U.S. Embassy
46 Starovilenskaya St.
220002 Minsk, Belarus
Tel: 375-17-210-1283

Additional Information: Specific questions about adoption in Belarus may be addressed to the U.S. Embassy in Belarus. General questions regarding international adoption may be addressed to the Office of Children's Issues, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/CI, SA-29, 4th Floor, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818, toll-free Tel: 1-888-407-4747.

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Belarus

BELARUS

Compiled from the August 2005 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:
Republic of Belarus


PROFILE

Geography

Area:

207,600 sq. km. (80,100 sq. mi.); slightly smaller than Kansas.

Cities:

Capital—Minsk.

Terrain:

Landlocked, low-lying with thick forests, flat marshes and fields.

Climate:

Cold winters, cool and moist summers, transitional between continental and maritime.

People

Nationality:

Noun—Belarussian(s). Adjective—Belarussian.

Population (end of 2003):

9,849,000. Men 4,610,000; women 5,239,000. Urban 71.5%; rural 28.5%.

Population decline (2003):

− 54,700.

Ethnic groups:

Belarussian (81.2%), Russian (11.4%), Polish, Ukrainian, other (7.4%).

Religions (1997 est.):

Eastern Orthodox 80%, other (including Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Protestant, Autocephalous Orthodox, Jewish, and Muslim) 20%.

Language:

Belarussian and Russian (official).

Education:

Literacy—98%.

Health:

Infant mortality rate (2003)—7.7/1,000. Life expectancy (2002)—67.9 years.

Work force (4.4 million):

Industry—26.2%; agriculture and forestry—11.1%; construction—7.1%; transportation, communications—8.1%; trade, catering—13.7%; health services, sports, social services—7.6%; education—11%; other—15.2%.

Government

Type:

Republic.

Constitution:

March 30, 1994; revision by unrecognized national referendum of November 24, 1996, gave presidency greatly expanded powers and became effective November 27, 1996.

Independence:

1991 (from Soviet Union).

Branches:

Executive—president (head of state), prime minister (head of government), Council of Ministers (cabinet). Legislative—bicameral: the House of Representatives (110 deputies) and the Council of the Republic (64 deputies). Judicial—Supreme Court; Constitutional Court.

Administrative subdivisions:

Six voblasts (regions) and one municipality.

Political parties:

Belarus has 17 registered political parties, including: Agrarian Party (AP); Belarussian Communist Party (KPB); Green Party; Belarussian Social and Sports Party; Belarussian Patriotic Movement (BPR); Belarussian Popular Front (BNF); Belarussian Social-Democrat Party (BSDP); Social-Democratic Hramada Party; Belarussian Socialist Party; United Civic Party (UCP); Liberal Democratic Party (LDBP); Party of Communists Belarussian (PKB); Party of Popular Accord; Republican Party of Labor and Justice (RPPS); Social Democratic Party of Popular Accord (PPA); Women's Party Nadezhda. Several of these parties exist in name only. Other, unregistered parties are also active, such as: Christian Conservative Party and Party of Freedom and Progress.

Suffrage:

Universal at age 18.

Economy

GDP (2003 est.):

$17.5 billion.

GDP growth rate (2003):

6.8%.

Per capita GDP (2003):

$1,765.

Natural resources:

Forest land, peat deposits, small amounts of oil and natural gas.

Agriculture:

Products—grain, potatoes, vegetables, flax, beef, milk.

Industry:

Types—machinery and transport equipment, chemical products, fabrics, and consumer goods.

Trade (2003):

Exports—$10.0 billion (machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, foodstuffs, metals, and textiles). Major markets—Russia, Latvia, Great Britain, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania. Imports—$11.5 billion (mineral products, machinery and equipment, metals, chemicals, foodstuffs). Major suppliers—Russia, Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Italy, Lithuania.

Exchange rate (June 2004):

2,157.76 BYR (Belarussian rubles)=U.S. $1.


HISTORICAL HIGHLIGHTS

While archeological evidence points to settlement in today's Belarus at least 10,000 years ago, recorded history begins with settlement by Baltic and Slavic tribes in the early centuries A.D. With distinctive features by the ninth century, the emerging Belarussian state was then absorbed by Kievan Rus' in the 9th century. Belarus was later an integral part of what was called Litva, which included today's Belarus as well as today's Lithuania. Belarus was the birthplace of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Belarussian was the state language of the Grand Duchy until 1697, in part owing to the strong flowering of Belarussian culture during the Renaissance through the works of leading Belarussian humanists such as Frantzisk Skaryna. Belarus was the site of the Union of Brest in 1597, which created the Greek Catholic Church, for long the majority church in Belarus until suppressed by the Russian empire, and the birthplace of Thaddeus Kosciuszko, who played a key role in the American Revolution. Occupied by the Russian empire from the end of the 18th century until 1918, Belarus declared its short-lived National Republic on March 25, 1918, only to be forcibly absorbed by the Bolsheviks into what became the Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.). Suffering massive population losses under Soviet leader Josif Stalin and the German Nazi occupation, Belarus was retaken by the Soviets in 1944. It declared its sovereignty on July 27, 1990, and independence from the Soviet Union on August 25, 1991. It has been run by the authoritarian Alexander Lukashenko since 1994.


GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Since his election in July 1994 to a 5-year term as the country's first President, Alexander Lukashenko has consolidated power steadily in the executive branch through authoritarian means. He used a non-democratic November 1996 referendum to amend the 1994 constitution in order to broaden his powers and illegally extend his term in office; and he began to count his 5-year term in 1996, thereby adding 2 years to his first term in office. The new constitution has a popularly elected president who serves a 5-year term. The bicameral parliament consists of the 64-seat Council of the Republic and the 110-seat Chamber of Representatives. The Council of the Republic is the house of territorial representation. Eight members of the Council are appointed directly by the president of the Republic of Belarus, while local regional councils elect the rest. The deputies to the House of Representatives are elected directly by the voters. The president appoints the prime minister, who is the head of government.

In October 2000, parliamentary elections occurred for the first time since the disputed referendum of 1996. According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), these elections failed to meet international standards for democratic elections. In particular the elections fell far short of meeting the minimum commitments for free, fair, equal, accountable, and transparent elections. Following on from the flawed parliamentary elections, and based on the unrecognized 1996 constitution, Lukashenko announced early in 2001 that presidential elections would be held. International monitors noted sweeping human rights violations and non-democratic practices throughout the election period, including massive vote-counting fraud. These irregularities led the OSCE/ODIHR to find that these elections also failed to meet Belarus' OSCE commitments for democratic elections. March 2003 local elections also failed to meet international standards of freedom and fairness.

Lukashenko called a referendum in October 2004 on constitutional changes to remove term limits for the presidency and allow him to run again in 2006. According to official results, the referendum passed by a wide margin, and Lukashenko allies won across-the-board victories in simultaneous parliamentary elections. OSCE/ODIHR observers declared that the parliamentary elections fell far short of international standards, citing abuses in the campaign period and the vote counting. The referendum was also conducted with little regard for democratic principles. Independent exit polling showed results far different from those officially announced.

Government restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, peaceful assembly, and religions continued in 2004 and 2005. Efforts to further infringe upon press freedoms included the continued use of libel laws, limitations on foreign funding, pressure on businesses not to advertise with independent media, limitations on access to newsprint and printing presses, censorship, restrictions on the import of media-related materials, temporary suspension of independent and opposition periodicals, and detention of those distributing such material. The government continued to make use of its monopoly on television broadcasting to present biased news coverage and to minimize the presentation of opposing points of view. On September 9, 2003 President Lukashenko called upon mass media to be used as an instrument for promoting a pro-government state ideology. Additionally, although several Internet service providers have emerged in Belarus, they are all state-controlled. Despite constitutional provisions, a 1998 government decree limited citizens' rights to express their own opinions. The 1994 and 1996 constitutions both provide for freedom of peaceful assembly; however, the regime severely restricts this right in practice.

Demonstrations require an application at least 15 days in advance of the event. The local government must respond positively or negatively at least 5 days prior to the event. Following many unsanctioned demonstrations, police and other security officials detain, harass, and beat demonstration participants.

The constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the authorities restrict this right in practice. Although Article 16 of the 1996 amended constitution that resulted from the illegal referendum reaffirms the equality of religions and denominations before the law, it also contains restrictive language that stipulated that cooperation between the state and religious organizations "is regulated with regard for their influence on the formation of spiritual, cultural, and country traditions of the Belarussian people."

On October 22, 2002, the parliament approved a new law on religion, despite protests from international and domestic human rights organizations as well as Orthodox religious groups not affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church. The law contains a number of very restrictive elements.

According to the constitution, citizens are free to travel within the country and to live and work where they wish; however, the authorities sometimes restrict these rights in practice. The authorities issue internal passports to all adults, which serve as primary identity documents and are required to travel, obtain permanent housing, and for hotel registration.

The constitution provides for the right of workers—except state security and military personnel—to voluntarily form and join independent unions and to carry out actions in defense of workers' rights, including the right to strike. In practice, however, these rights are limited. The Belarussian Free Trade Union (BFTU) was established in 1991 and registered in 1992. Following the 1995 Minsk metro workers strike, the President suspended its activities. In 1996 BFTU leaders formed a new umbrella organization, the Belarussian Congress of Democratic Trade Union (BCDTU), which encompasses four leading independent trade unions and is reported to have about 15,000 members. In late 2003, the BCDTU became a member of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).

In May 2001, a complaint was lodged with the International Labor Organization (ILO) by several trade union organizations. A trade union campaign was carried out to raise international awareness and put pressure on the Belarus Government. Late in 2001, the regime attempted to further restrict the unions by refusing to turn over dues paid by members. Once it became clear that the unions and the BFTU were adjusting to this change, the government in June of 2002 embarked on a takeover of the BFTU and several of its branch unions. The BFTU subsequently became an arm of the government, and the election of Leonid Kozik to the position of Chairman of the BFTU has been challenged by the ILO.

In 2003, the authorities took numerous measures to suppress independent trade unions and continued to interfere in the work of the BFTU, especially regarding activities of independent, affiliated unions. In May, the trade unions at nine state enterprises merged to form the Belarussian Union of Industry Workers (BUIW), which subsequently became a member of Kozik's BFTU. The authorities and directors of state enterprises placed significant pressure on workers to join the BUIW. Independent union activists called the BUIW a pro-government, "yellow union" established to quell resistance to BFTU's pro-government agenda and undermine reformist grassroots unions. In June 2003, the International Labor Organization's (ILO) Standards Committee included the country in its special paragraph on trade union violations for a second consecutive year and urged the government to address the ILO recommendations to eliminate government interference in unions. On November 19, the ILO approved the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry to investigate alleged serious violations of workers' rights in the country. On November 11, the Ministry of the Economy informed the ILO that all activities related to its technical assistance project to labor unions must cease, because the registration of the project was denied.

In March 2004 the government began forcing state employees (some 80% of Belarussian workers) to sign short-term work contracts. Although contracts may be concluded for a period of 5 years, most expire after one year—essentially allowing the government to fire anyone annually. Although the contracts are new, several members of independent unions have already lost their jobs when their contracts were not renewed.

The State Department's report on human rights practices in Belarus is located at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2004/41671.htm.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 12/27/2005

President: Aleksandr LUKASHENKO
Prime Minister: Sergei SIDORSKY
First Dep. Prime Min.: Vladimir SEMASHKO
Dep. Prime Min.: Ivan BAMBIZA
Dep. Prime Min.: Aleksandr KASINETS
Dep. Prime Min.: Andrei KOBYAKOV
Dep. Prime Min.: Anatoliy TYUTYNOV
Min. of Agriculture & Food: Vasil DVARANINOVICH
Min. of Architecture & Construction: Gennadiy KURACHKIN
Min. of Communications: Vladimir GONCHARENKO
Min. of Culture: Vladimir MATVEYCHUK
Min. of Defense: Leonid MALTSEV
Min. of Economy: Mikalay ZAYCHANKA
Min. of Education: Aleksandr RADZKOW
Min. of Emergency Situations: Enver BARIEV
Min. of Finance: Nikolay KORBUT
Min. of Foreign Affairs: Sergei MARTYNOV
Min. of Forestry: Valentin ZORIN
Min. of Fuel & Energy: Eduard TOVPENETS
Min. of Health: Viktor RUDENKA
Min. of Housing & Municipal Services: Vladimir BELAKHVOSTOV
Min. of Industry: Anatoly RUSETSKY
Min. of Information: Vladimir RUSAKEVICH
Min. of Interior: Vladimir NAUMOV
Min. of Justice: Viktor GOLOVANOV
Min. of Labor & Social Security: Antanina MORAVA
Min. of Natural Resources & Environmental Protection: Leontiy KHOROVZHIK
Min. of Sports & Tourism: Yury SIVAKOV
Min. of Statistics & Analysis: Vladimir ZINOWSKI
Min. of Taxes & Duties: Anna DEIKO
Min. of Trade: Aleksandr KULICHKOV
Min. of Transport & Communication: Vladimir SASNOVSKY
Chief, Presidential Administration:
Chmn., State Committee for Security (BKGB): Stepan SUKHORENKO
Prosecutor General: Pyotr MIKLASHEVICH
State Sec., Security Council: Gennadiy NYAVIGLAS, Maj. Gen.
Chmn., National Bank: Petr PROKOPOVICH
Ambassador to the US: Mikhail KHVOSTOV
Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Andrey DAPKYUNAS

Belarus' embassy in the U.S. is at 1619 New Hampshire Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20009; tel: 202-986-1606; fax: 202-986-1805; website: http://www.belarusembassy.org


ECONOMY

As part of the former Soviet Union, Belarus had a relatively well-developed industrial base; it retained this industrial base following the breakup of the U.S.S.R. The country also has a broad agricultural base and a high education level. Among the former republics of the Soviet Union, it had one of the highest standards of living. But Belarussians now face the difficult challenge of moving from a state-run economy with high priority on military production and heavy industry to a civilian, free-market system.

After an initial outburst of capitalist reform from 1991-94, including privatization of state enterprises, creation of institutions of private property, and entrepreneurship, Belarus under Lukashenko has greatly slowed its pace of privatization and other market reforms, emphasizing the need for a "socially oriented market economy." About 80% of all industry remains in state hands, and foreign investment has been hindered by a climate hostile to business. The banks, which had been privatized after independence, were renationalized under Lukashenko.

Economic output, which declined for several years, revived somewhat in the late 1990s, but the economy remains dependent on Russian subsidies. Until 2000, subsidies to state enterprises and price controls on industrial and consumer staples constituted a major feature of the Belarussian economy. Inflationary monetary practices, including the printing of money, also have been regularly used to finance real sector growth and to cover the payment of salaries and pensions.

Peat, the country's most valuable mineral resource, is used for fuel and fertilizer and in the chemical industry. Belarus also has deposits of clay, sand, chalk, dolomite, phosphorite, and rock and potassium salt. Forests cover about a third of the land, and lumbering is an important occupation. Potatoes, flax, hemp, sugar beets, rye, oats, and wheat are the chief agricultural products. Dairy and beef cattle, pigs, and chickens are raised. Belarus has only small reserves of petroleum and natural gas and imports most of its oil and gas from Russia. The main branches of industry produce tractors and trucks, earthmovers for use in construction and mining, metal-cutting machine tools, agricultural equipment, motorcycles, chemicals, fertilizer, textiles, and consumer goods. The chief trading partners are Russia, Germany, Ukraine, and Poland.

The massive April 26, 1986 nuclear accident at the Chernobyl power plant, across the border in Ukraine, had a devastating effect on Belarus; as a result of the radiation release, agriculture in a large part of the country was destroyed, and many villages were abandoned. Resettlement and medical costs were substantial and long-term.

In 2000, Belarus managed to unify its currency exchange rates, tightened its monetary policy, and partially liberalized the foreign currency market. These developments led to the conclusion of a staff-monitored program in cooperation with the IMF, addressing, among other topics, price and wage liberalization, a widening of privatization, fiscal reform, the adoption of international accounting standards in the banking sector, and the repeal of several egregious laws and decrees to improve the investment climate. The program was conducted between April and September 2001, with relatively disappointing results.

Due to the economic and political climate, little new foreign investment occurred in 2003. In 2002, two major companies, the Swedish furniture firm Ikea and Russian beer producer Baltika, ended operations in Belarus due to unrealized government commitments or unwelcome interference. The government itself faced increasing fiscal difficulties as arrears rose in wages and pensions, and in tax payments.

Growth in 2003 and early 2004 was reportedly robust, but peculiarities in official Belarussian statistics complicate analysis. Inflation remained highest in the region despite a modest decline to 18% in early 2004. Over 40% of enterprises and a majority of collective farms currently operate at a loss, a level that has persisted since 2002. The government made progress in reining in its fiscal policies, largely due to constraints imposed by financial difficulties caused by the earlier economic slowdown. Belarus continues to be heavily dependent on Russia, with the potential for greater economic dependency looming in the proposed European Union (EU)-style union between the two states. Prospects for an eventual union appear diminished, however, largely due to the apparent lack of interest on the part of Belarus.

The World Bank's 2002-2004 country assistance strategy for Belarus focused on areas such as targeted social assistance to help open up Belarussian society, AIDS/HIV and tuberculosis prevention, environmental protection, Chernobyl-related damage, and small and medium enterprise development. The World Bank's most recent project in Belarus began with its June 2001 approval of a $22.6 million loan to finance repairs in over 450 schools, hospitals, and homes for orphans, the elderly, and the disabled throughout Belarus. In 2004, Belarus rejected a World Bank loan to help fight AIDS and tuberculosis. IMF cooperation is currently limited to policy and technical consultations.

Environmental Issues

Belarus has established ministries of energy, forestry, land reclamation, and water resources and state committees to deal with ecology and safety procedures in the nuclear power industry. The most serious environmental issue in Belarus results from the accident in 1986 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. About 70% of the nuclear fallout from the plant landed on Belarussian territory, and about 20% of the land remains contaminated. But government restrictions on residence and use of contaminated land are not strictly enforced, and the government announced plans in 2004 to increase agricultural production in the contaminated regions. The government receives U.S. assistance in its efforts to deal with the consequences of the radiation.


DEFENSE AND MILITARY ISSUES

The United States continues to support Belarus' adherence to arms control agreements and treaties into which it has previously entered. Added to this list is Belarus' recent ratification of the Open Skies Treaty. Cooperation in all such agreements has been exemplary.

Humanitarian aid continues to be the primary engagement between the U.S. military and Belarus. In early 2004, the United States European Command announced the allocation of $200,000 for the continued renovation of the Gomel Emergency Treatment Hospital. The hospital had already received more than $600,000 in humanitarian assistance, which included funds for the renovation and establishment of its blood transfusion center in 2001. In addition, in May 2004, the U.S. military donated $95,000 for the renovation of the Turov regional hospital. These programs, coupled with the continuous flow of Humanitarian Excess Property from U.S. Cold War stocks, define the humanitarian assistance program.

Direct military to military cooperation continues to be minimal. Belarus currently has no International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, and bilateral exercises and cooperation are nonexistent. There is a great desire on the Belarussian side to re-establish such cooperation and contacts, but it has not been possible due to the political situation. The only program that is still functional within this category is the attendance of Belarussian military officers in George C. Marshall Center programs.

Potential areas of cooperation can be seen in the area of mine disposal, demining, and small arms destruction. Belarus possesses an unstable inventory of about 4.2 million anti-personnel mines, which require proper disposal. Officials have been working with foreign governments to acquire financial and technical support for these efforts but have met with little tangible success. In addition to this, there are numerous World War II-vintage minefields, which are still in place and kill or injure several Belarussians every year. The Belarussian Government would quickly accept assistance in either of these areas.

The Minister of Defense is experiencing success in the area of military reform. Planned changes include combining the Air and Air Defense Forces, downsizing the force structure about 30% from 83,000 to 60,000, transitioning from a conscript to a contract force, and modernizing the command and control structure by creating a Ground Forces Command between the Ministry of Defense and the units in the field. Implementation of these reforms will take an unspecified amount of time.

The area of greatest concern continues to be links between Belarus and states of concern through the sale of arms to, equipment services to, and the training of personnel from these states. Included in this category (but not limited to these examples) are the sales of weapons to Libya and Syria, along with reported weapons transfers, upgrades of equipment (S-300 system), and air defense training of service members of the former Iraqi regime.


FOREIGN RELATIONS

Under an arrangement with the former U.S.S.R., Belarus was an original member of the United Nations. It also is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS—a group of 12 former Soviet republics) and its customs union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) Partnership for Peace, the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank.

Following the recognition of Belarus as an independent state in December 1991 by the European Community, EU-Belarus relations initially experienced a steady progression. The signature of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) in 1995 signaled a commitment to political, economic, and trade cooperation. Significant assistance was provided to Belarus within the framework of the TACIS technical assistance program and also through various aid programs and loans. However, progress in EU-Belarus relations stalled in 1996 after serious setbacks to the development of democracy and the Drozdy conflict. The EU did not recognize the 1996 constitution, which replaced the 1994 constitution. The EU Council of Ministers decided against Belarus in 1997: The PCA was not concluded, nor was its trade-related part; Belarussian membership in the Council of Europe was not supported; bilateral relations at the ministerial level were suspended; and EU technical assistance programs were frozen. In 2004, the Council of Europe adopted a report written by special reporter Christos Pourgourides calling on Belarussian authorities to suspend various high-level officials in conducting a thorough investigation of the cases of several prominent Belarussian political figures who have disappeared and remain unaccounted for.

Acknowledging the lack of progress in relation to bilateral relations and the internal situation following the position adopted in 1997, the EU adopted a benchmark approach in 1999, whereby relations would be gradually improved upon fulfillment of the four benchmarks set by the OSCE. In 2000, some moderately positive developments toward the implementation of recommendations made by the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) were observed but were not sufficient in the realm of access to fair and free elections. The Belarussian Government, objecting to the OSCE AMG's activities, forced its shutdown by failing to renew visas or extend accreditation of professional staff. The Belarus Government agreed to a successor OSCE presence after 14 EU member countries and the U.S. imposed visa restrictions on the travel of high-ranking Belarussian officials. The OSCE Office in Minsk formally came into existence on January 1, 2003 with a mandate to "assist the Belarussian Government in further promoting institution-building, in further consolidating the Rule of Law and in developing relations with civil society, in accordance with OSCE principles and commitments".

Russia is the largest partner for Belarus in the economic and political fields. In terms of trade, two-thirds of Belarussian exports go to Russia. Due to the structure of Belarussian industry, Belarus relies heavily on other CIS countries and Russia in particular both for export markets and for the supply of raw materials, energy, and components. The introduction of free trade between Russia and Belarus in mid-1995 led to a spectacular growth in bilateral trade, which was only temporarily reversed in the wake of the financial crisis of 1998. The framework for the Russia-Belarussian Union was set out in the Treaty On the Formation of a Community of Russia and Belarus (1996), the Treaty on Russia-Belarus Union, the Union Charter (1997), and the Treaty of the Formation of a Union State (1999). The integration treaties contain commitments to monetary union, equal rights, single citizenship, and a common foreign and defense policy. They also have established a range of institutions modeled after the EU. After protracted disputes and setbacks, the two countries' customs duties were unified as of March 2001. Belarus has made progress in monetary stabilization in the context of ongoing negotiation with the Russian Central Bank on monetary union. In early 2003, a bilateral working group was developing a draft union constitution to be ratified by a referendum held in both countries. Belarus and Russia had also reaffirmed their intention to achieve currency unification by 2005. However, differences over tax policy, customs codes, foreign trade, and constitutional issues make union appear increasingly unlikely. In July 2004, Lukashenko claimed that currency union would have to wait until at least 2008.


U.S.-BELARUSSIAN RELATIONS

The United States recognized Belarussian independence on December 25, 1991. After the two countries established diplomatic relations, the U.S. Embassy in Minsk was officially opened on January 31, 1992. Ambassador David H. Swartz, the first Ambassador to Belarus, officially assumed post on August 25, 1992—the first anniversary of Belarussian independence—and departed post on completion of his term in late January 1994. On November 7, 1994, Ambassador Kenneth S. Yalowitz assumed post. He was succeeded by Ambassador Daniel V. Speckhard, who served from August 1997 to August 2000, spending one year recalled to Washington because of a dispute between the government and Western embassies over the confiscation of diplomatic residences. Michael G. Kozak served as U.S. Ambassador from October 2000 to August 2003. George A. Krol replaced Ambassador Kozak as U.S. Ambassador and arrived in Belarus on September 4, 2003.

The two countries have exchanged top-level official visits. Stanislav Shushkevich, the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Belarus, met with President Clinton in Washington in July 1992, and President Clinton visited Belarus on January 15, 1994. After this high point in relations, however, bilateral relations cooled following the election of President Alexander Lukashenko in July 1994.

On September 12, 1995 three hot air balloons participating in the Coupe Gordon Bennett race entered Belarussian air space. Despite the fact that race organizers informed the Belarussian Government about the race in May and that flight plans had been filed, the Belarussian air force shot down one balloon, killing two American citizens, and forced the other two to land. The crews of the other two balloons were fined for entering Belarus without a visa and released. Belarus to date has not apologized or offered compensation for these killings.

In November 1996, the Lukashenko regime conducted an internationally unrecognized constitutional referendum, which resulted in the dissolution of Belarus' legitimate parliament and the centralization of power in the executive branch. In that same year, the Belarussian authorities provoked a diplomatic crisis by demanding and, in contravention of international law, eventually confiscating diplomatic residences in the Drozdy housing compound, including the U.S. Ambassador's residence. This action led the United States and other countries to withdraw their ambassadors from Belarus until the Belarussian authorities provided compensation and guarantees to respect international law. In addition, Lukashenko used his newly centralized power to repress human rights throughout the country, including persecuting members of the illegally disbanded Belarussian parliament (13th Supreme Soviet) and former members of his own government.

As a result of these events and tendencies, in 1997, the United States announced its decision to pursue a "selective engagement" policy with the Government of Belarus. This policy included downgrading government-to-government contacts to the level of Assistant Secretary and below, and restricting U.S. Government assistance to the Belarussian Government—with the exception of humanitarian assistance and exchange programs with state-run educational institutions. At the same time, the U.S. greatly expanded contacts with Belarussian civil society to promote democratization in Belarus.

Since 1997, despite growing U.S. engagement with Belarussian society, official bilateral relations have remained at a low level. The "selective engagement" policy has remained in effect. No meetings at the ministerial level or above have occurred. In 2003, the United States, in tandem with the European Union, proposed a step-by-step, gradual approach to improve bilateral relations: the United States would respond positively to genuine efforts by Belarussian authorities to improve Belarus' human rights and electoral practices. Belarussian authorities have yet to take such steps to warrant a positive response. In 2004, both the United States and European Union imposed travel restrictions on Belarussian officials implicated in politically motivated disappearances and in election-related abuses. In October 2004, the U.S. Congress passed, and the President signed, the Belarus Democracy Act, designed to promote democratization.

U.S.-Belarussian Economic Relations

The U.S. Government continues to support the development of the private sector in Belarus and its transition to a free market economy. With the advent of the Lukashenko regime, Belarussian authorities have pursued a generally hostile policy toward the private sector and have refused to initiate the basic economic reforms necessary to create a market-based economy. Most of the Belarussian economy remains in government hands. The government, in particular the presidential administration, exercises control over most enterprises in all sectors of the economy. In addition to driving away many major foreign investors—largely through establishment of a "Golden Share" requirement, which allows government control in all companies with foreign investment—Belarus' centralization and command approach to the economy has left only a trickle of U.S. Government and international assistance programs in this field.

In February 1993, a bilateral trade treaty guaranteeing reciprocal most-favored-nation status entered into force. In January 1994, the U.S. and Belarus signed a bilateral investment treaty, which has been ratified by Belarus but has not been ratified by the U.S. Senate. In addition, due to continuing repression of labor rights in Belarus, the U.S. removed Belarus from the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) in 2000.

The United States has encouraged Belarus to conclude and adhere to agreements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the program of macroeconomic stabilization and related reform measures, as well as to undertake increased privatization and to create a favorable climate for business and investment. Although there has been some American direct private investment in Belarus, its development has been relatively slow given the uncertain pace of reform. An Overseas Private Investment Corporation agreement was signed in June 1992 but has been suspended since 1995 because Belarus did not fulfill its obligations under the agreement. Belarus is eligible for Export-Import Bank short-term financing insurance for U.S. investments, but because of the adverse business climate, no projects have been initiated. The IMF granted standby credit in September 1995, but Belarus has fallen off the program and did not receive the second tranche of funding, which had been scheduled for regular intervals throughout 1996. Since that time, Belarus has had an ongoing discussion to relaunch IMF-backed reforms, concluding an IMF Staff-Monitored Program (SMP) in 2001, which ended in September 2001 with relatively disappointing results. In early 2004, Belarus halted negotiations on a follow-on stand-by arrangement due to disagreements with the IMF on macroeconomic policy and claiming that it did not require IMF funding.

Because of the unpredictable and at times hostile environment for investors, the U.S. Government currently does not encourage U.S. companies to invest in Belarus. Belarus' continuing problems with an opaque, arbitrary legal system, a confiscatory tax regime, cumbersome licensing system, price controls, and lack of an independent judiciary create a business environment not conducive to prosperous, profitable investment. In fact, several U.S. investors in Belarus have left, including the Ford Motor Company.

U.S. Assistance to Belarus

Since 1992, the U.S. Government has provided an estimated $597.07 million in assistance to Belarus, including $194.05 million in U.S. Defense Department excess and privately donated humanitarian commodities. U.S. Government assistance to Belarus peaked in 1994 at a level of approximately $76 million (consisting of more than $16 million in FREEDOM Support Act funds and some $60 million in funds from various U.S. Government agencies). However, U.S. assistance levels dropped sharply due to the lack of progress in democratic and economic reform after the coming to power of Alexander Lukashenko in mid-1994. An over view of annual assistance levels is provided below:

Annual U.S. Assistance (including DoD excess and privately donated humanitarian commodities through 2003)

FY 1994—$101.5 million
FY 1995—$86.1 million
FY 1996—$69.2 million
FY 1997—$22.8 million
FY 1998—$17.2 million
FY 1999—$29.4 million
FY 2000—$24.3 million
FY 2001—$30.7 million
FY 2002—$28.07 million
FY 2003—$9.05 million not including DoD excess and privately donated humanitarian commodities
FY 2004—$10.14 million
FY 2005—$11.8 million

U.S. Government assistance to Belarus continues to be subject to the policy of selective engagement with the Government of Belarus, under which little bilateral assistance is channeled through the Government of Belarus, except for humanitarian assistance and exchange programs involving state-run educational institutions. Most U.S. Government assistance is targeted to supporting Belarus' non-governmental organizations (NGOs), particularly those working to promote the development of civil society and the free flow of information. The U.S. also supports international organizations' efforts in Belarus to combat the growing problem of trafficking in persons.

Training and exchange programs

Since FY 1993, U.S. Government-funded exchange programs have brought more than 2,510 Belarussian citizens to the United States for short-term professional or long-term academic training, including some 200 in FY 2003 alone. These programs give reform-minded Belarussians an opportunity to develop their skills and establish contacts with U.S. counterparts. In FY 2003, 50 Belarussian students participated in the Future Leaders Exchange program, attending U.S. high schools and living with American families for one academic year.

Cross border training programs

U.S. Government-funded cross-border programs provide training to Belarussians in neighboring countries, giving the Belarussians an opportunity to see first-hand the results of successful post-communist democratic and economic reforms.

Democracy fund small grants program

The U.S. Embassy's Democracy Commission awards small grants to Belarussian NGOs in support of a wide range of democracy-building activities, including civic participation, independent print and electronic media, independent trade unions, legal aid organizations, youth and women's groups and human rights groups. Although Democracy Commission grants are limited in size—individual grants do not exceed $24,000, with most falling between $5,000 and $15,000—they have proven to be a very effective vehicle for supporting pro-reform segments of Belarussian society at the grassroots level.

Support for the National Endowment for Democracy

The U.S. Government provides supplementary funding to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in support of small grants to Belarussian NGOs and independent media outlets.

Political process programs

With funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) conduct in country training focusing on party and coalition-building, domestic election monitoring, and strengthening political skills for democratically oriented organizations, party leaders, and activists.

Independent print media

Until it was closed by the Belarussian government in August 2003, the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) offered technical and legal assistance to Belarus' independent media.

Rule of law programs

With funding from USAID, the American Bar Association's USAID-funded Central and Eastern European Law Initiative (ABA/CEELI) is strengthening law-related NGOs and educating average Belarussian citizens about their rights under Belarussian law. ABA/CEELI has been working with lawyers from 22 legal advice centers run by independent trade unions and NGOs to improve the quality and increase the availability of free legal advice to the population.

NGO development programs

With funding from USAID, the Counterpart Alliance for Partnership (CAP) seeks to promote civil society development in Belarus by providing assistance to Belarussian NGOs, with a focus on legal aid and education to strengthen the capacity of its Belarussian NGO partners to protect their own rights.

Support for Belarussian entrepreneurs

Although the lack of economic reform in Belarus has precluded a broader program of USAID-funded economic development assistance, USAID has sought to help Belarussian entrepreneurs to organize and defend their rights.

Western NIS Enterprise Fund (WNISEF)

WNISEF runs a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) credit and capital investment program in Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus. However, because of the restrictive environment for private SMEs in Belarus, WNISEF has had no active credit and investment projects in Belarus for the past several years.

U.S. Department of State—Operation Provide Hope

Since 1992, the United States has provided more than $200 million in humanitarian assistance to the most needy citizens in Belarus, and the U.S. Department of State has sponsored 35 medical airlifts.

Security programs

Belarus was previously a recipient of assistance under the U.S. Defense Department's Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program, whose objective is to reduce the threat posed to the United States by weapons of mass destruction remaining on the territory of the former Soviet Union, by promoting denuclearization and demilitarization and preventing weapons proliferation. However, in February 1997, due to the Belarussian Government's poor record on human rights, President Clinton decertified Belarus, rendering the country ineligible for further assistance. This resulted in the reallocation to other countries of unobligated CTR assistance funds originally intended for Belarus, as well as restrictions on other security-related assistance to Belarus. The United States and Belarus signed a government-to-government umbrella agreement on CTR assistance in 1992, seven agency-to-agency CTR implementing agreements, and one memorandum of understanding and cooperation; the umbrella agreement was extended for one year in October 1997, but has now expired.

For more detailed information on U.S. Government-funded assistance programs, please see the Annual Reports on U.S. Government Assistance to Eurasia, which are available online at the following addresses:

The FY 2000-2003 annual reports are available at http://www.state.gov/p/eur/rls/rpt/ The FY 1994-99 annual reports are available at http://www.state.gov/www/regions/nis/nis_assist_index.html.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

MINSK (E) Address: 46, Starovilenskaya St., Minsk Belarus 220002; APO/FPO: PSC 78 Box B Minsk, APO AE 09723; Phone: (375) (17) 210-1283; Fax: (375) (17) 234-7853; Work week: M-F / 0830 - 1730; Website: wwww.usembassy.minsk.by

AMB:George A. Krol
AMB OMS:Pat Youmans
DCM:Connie Phlipot
DCM OMS:Carol Jackson
POL:Marc Nordberg
CON:Sharon Umber
MGT:Benjamin Dille
AFSA:Thomas Tanner
AGR:Allan Mustard (Res in Moscow)
AID:VACANT TILL FALL 05
CLO:Perlita D. Mastel
DAO:John Pilloni - Army
DEA:Tom Slovenkay (Res in Vienna)
ECO:Marc Nordberg
FAA:Dennis Cooper (res in Brussels)
FMO:Robert Miller
GSO:William Stevens
ICASS Chair:Vacant
IMO:Harry Chamberlain
IRS:Margaret J. Lullo (Res in Berlin)
ISO:Robert Pennell
ISSO:Harry Chamberlain
LEGATT:John Boles (Res in Kiev)
PAO:Dian McDonald
RSO:Anthony Tortora
State ICASS:Robert Miller
Last Updated: 2/15/2005

TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet

August 31, 2005

Country Description:

Belarus became an independent republic on August 25, 1991, after the breakup of the Soviet Union. In November 1996, a constitutional referendum, not recognized by the international community, centralized power in the executive branch (president), headed by Alexander Lukashenko. Economic and political reform in Belarus has stalled or is being reversed under his authoritarian government. The Government's human rights record remains very poor and has worsened in some instances. Both Belarussian and Russian are official languages, and Russian is widely spoken throughout the country, particularly in the cities. Tourist facilities are not highly developed, but food and lodging in the capital and some regional centers are adequate.

Entry/Exit Requirements:

A passport and visa are required. A visa must be obtained before entering Belarus. Travelers who do not have a visa cannot register at hotels. U.S. citizens residing in Belarus are required to register with the local office of visas and registration (OVIR) within three working days after arrival. Failure to do so can result in fines and visits from local law enforcement authorities. U.S. citizens staying in hotels are automatically registered at check-in. Visa validity dates are strictly enforced; travelers should request sufficient time to allow for delays in arrival and departure.

Travelers entering Belarus by air with more than 50 kilograms of luggage (110 pounds) will be charged Euro 2 per kilogram in excess of that limit. The fee must be paid in dollars or Euros. Travelers should declare all electrical and electronic equipment or devices upon entry; failure to do so will require the traveler to pay up to 30 percent customs duty on these items upon departure. Travelers should complete two customs declarations at the time of entry and should retain one copy and produce it at the time of exit in order to prove that items were not acquired while in Belarus.

Foreign missionaries may not engage in religious activities outside the institutions that invited them unless they have a religious worker visa. One-year validity, multiple-entry, "spiritual activities" visas, which are required of foreign missionaries, can be difficult to get, even for faiths that are registered with the government and have a long history in the country. Approval often involves a difficult bureaucratic process.

A law signed in October 2002, required all religious groups and organizations, including recognized "traditional" religions such as Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Orthodox Judaism, Sunni Islam and the Lutheran Church, to re-register and many such organizations chose to do so. Unregistered religious groups may not legally gather for religious purposes. Many groups continue to meet, however, leaving them vulnerable to selective implementation of the law by authorities. The law also stipulates that only Belarussian citizens can head religious organizations in Belarus. Within the past year, authorities have harassed, warned, fined, and briefly detained members of some unregistered and so called "nontraditional" faiths for engaging in unsanctioned worship or proselytism. The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends that any U.S. citizen who chooses to attend a religious service of an unregistered religious group do so only after consulting with members of the group about the risk of harassment or possible arrest by local law enforcement authorities. U.S. citizens are also urged to contact the U.S. Embassy should they encounter any problems with authorities due to their participation in such services or events.

Belarus requires all foreign nationals (other than accredited diplomats) entering the country to purchase medical insurance at the port-of-entry regardless of any other insurance they might have. Costs for this insurance will vary according to the length of stay. (Subject to change, current information puts costs at $1.00 for a one- or two-day stay, $15.00 for a stay up to 30-31 days, and $85.00 for a stay of one year.)

A presidential decree adopted in June 2005 requires citizens of foreign countries to pay a one-time fee when entering/exiting Belarus. The entry/exit tax currently amounts to approximately $3.00 per person. Travelers should receive a receipt and produce this document at the request of Border Control Officers at border crossing points. Diplomats and their family members, as well as members of official delegations and representatives of international organizations, are exempt from the duty.

U.S. citizens traveling through Belarus to other countries are strongly reminded that there is a transit visa requirement for entering and leaving Belarus. Transit visas should be obtained prior to any journey that requires travel through Belarus. Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Russian visas are no substitute for this transit visa. Most travel agencies, including those in Russia and CIS countries as well as train ticket sales personnel, are often not aware of this visa requirement and may not seek a transit visa for a traveler unless instructed by the traveler to do so. U.S. citizens traveling to Belarus via Russia are reminded that they must possess a Russian transit visa in addition to their Belarussian visa. The Russian Embassy generally does not issue transit or tourist visas to Americans in Belarus.

U.S. citizens attempting to transit Belarus without a valid Belarussian transit visa have been denied entry into the country and forcibly removed from trains. In some instances, local border and train authorities have threatened passengers who did not possess a valid transit visa with jail or extorted "fines." American citizens are advised not to pay any border or train officials for transit visas or "transit visa fines" as these officials are not authorized to issue such visas. Americans finding themselves in Belarus without transit visas should, if confronted by border or train personnel, demand to be put in contact with consular officials at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk. Travelers who enter and then leave Belarus in a private vehicle at two different points are often required to pay a "green" tax, or ecology tax, which is levied by the regional authorities.

In addition to the above, the Belarussian government sometimes enforces a requirement for special permits to travel in "protected border zones." The Government of Belarus has not provided information defining the parameters of those zones. Travelers should be alert for warning signs, road barriers, and/or border guard posts, and are advised not to cross into such areas without permission.

Children born to two Belarussian parent(s), even if born in the United States and in possession of a U.S. passport, may not be issued a Belarussian visa for travel to Belarus because the Belarussian government considers these children to be Belarussian citizens until age 16, when they may choose to accept or reject that claim to citizenship. Instead of a visa, a "certificate of return" is issued that will allow the child to enter Belarus. It is imperative that parents of such children understand that, in order to leave the country, the child will be required to have a Belarussian passport if he/she does not already have one. It can take anywhere from two weeks to a month to complete the application procedures and receive a new Belarussian passport. (Note: If the parent left on a series PP passport, given to Belarussians who reside abroad and have cancelled their local registration, which most do not do, then Belarus would not require the child to reject his/her claim to citizenship. For those children born after August 15, 2002 to one Belarussian and one foreign parent, the parents must by mutual consent agree to Belarussian citizenship for the child, regardless of place of birth. If the parents cannot reach consensus, Belarus would only force Belarussian citizenship on a child in cases where the child would be left stateless.

For the most current visa information, contact the Embassy of Belarus at 1619 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20009, tel. 202-986-1606, fax: 202-986-1805, email: [email protected], or visit the Embassy web site at http://www.belarusembassy.org/.

Safety and Security:

Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities. These sites are not always clearly marked and application of these restrictions is subject to interpretation.

Both organized and spontaneous demonstrations can and do occur. Localized street disturbances relating to political events occur most frequently in Minsk or larger cities. Authorities may use force in those instances, and bystanders, including foreign nationals, may face the possibility of arrest, beating, or detention. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can sometimes become confrontational and escalate into violence. For this reason, it is recommended that American citizens avoid demonstrations and protest gatherings and exercise caution when near such gatherings.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov where the current Travel Warnings and Public Announcements, including the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Crime:

Belarus has a moderate rate of crime; though violent crime against foreigners is rare, criminals have been known to use force if met with resistance from victims. Common street crimes, such as muggings and pickpocketings, occur most frequently near public transportation venues, near hotels frequented by foreigners, and/or at night in poorly lit areas.

American citizens and other foreigners have also been the victims of car theft, car vandalism, and hotel and residential break-ins. Foreigners visiting nightclubs and discos should pay particular attention to their surroundings, as criminal elements may rob unsuspecting patrons after drugging their drinks. Travelers should keep a copy of their passport in a separate location from their original.

Information for Victims of Crime:

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Medical Facilities and Health Information:

Medical care in Belarus is limited. There is a severe shortage of basic medical supplies, including anesthetics, vaccines and antibiotics. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYITRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

Medical Insurance:

The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions:

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Belarus is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Individual U.S. state drivers' licenses are not recognized in Belarus unless accompanied by an international drivers' license. When U.S. state licenses are used in conjunction with an international drivers' license, U.S. citizens may drive in Belarus for up to three months. U.S. citizens should, therefore, always carry with them their passports to prove date of entry into the country in the event that police stop them. After residing in Belarus for three months, one may apply for a local driver's license. Drivers will be required to successfully complete a two-part test in Russian. The first part is a computer based multiple choice test on local driving rules. The second part of the test is a driving test. To receive a local driver's license, drivers will also need to complete a medical exam at a special medical clinic, which will include a general physical, a chest x-ray, and an eye exam.

Radar traps, often unlit at night, are widespread. Except for a stretch of the main east-west superhighway, where the speed limit is 100 km/h (60 mph), the maximum speed limit on divided highways or main roads out side village, town or city limits is 90 km/h (55 mph). Speed limits in cities are 60 km/h unless marked and will usually range between 40 km/h and 70 km/h, with frequent radar traps. Visible and hidden dangers exist, including potholes, unlit or poorly lit streets, inattentive and dark clothed pedestrians walking on unlit roads, drivers and pedestrians under the influence of alcohol, and disregard for traffic rules. Driving in winter is especially dangerous because of ice and snow. Driving with caution is urged at all times.

Radio dispatched taxi services are generally reliable, arrive promptly once called and usually offer the lowest fare. Most radio-dispatched taxis are metered, although fares can vary greatly and are considerably higher in the late evening and overnight hours. Unmetered taxis and private autos are also available; however, using such taxis is not recommended, as they are often more expensive for foreigners and less safe. In the event a traveler must use such a taxi, he or she should not travel alone and should agree to the price of the trip before getting into the vehicle.

Minsk has a clean, safe, and efficient subway system that easily reaches most of the city's core. Service is stopped briefly during the early morning hours, but otherwise runs regularly throughout the day. Ticket prices are extremely low by western standards. Though their routes are extensive, buses and trolleys lack heating or cooling capabilities and are usually crowded.

Travelers on all public transportation should be wary of pickpockets and other petty crime. For travelers interested in car rental, only one major western rental agency currently operates in Minsk. In general, rental car networks in Belarus are not well developed.

Travelers may experience significant delays (of several hours) in crossing the border by road into neighboring countries. Visit the website of the Republic of Belarus National Tourism Agency at http://www.touragency.by/.

Aviation Safety Oversight:

As there is no direct commercial air service between the United States and Belarus, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Belarus' Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with ICAO international aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

Special Circumstances:

Traveler's checks are not widely accepted in Belarus. Most hotels accept either American Express or Visa credit cards. In addition, one hotel in Minsk, "The Planeta," provides cash from Visa credit cards during business hours. Travelers face arrest if they attempt to buy items with currency other than Belarussian rubles. Authorized currency exchange centers are widely available throughout major cities. ATMs are also available for use. Travelers should be aware that there is a high incidence of credit card fraud in Belarus. If they choose to use credit cards, they should regularly check their account status to ensure its integrity.

Persons seeking to marry in Belarus should consult the information located on the embassy website at http://www.usembassy.minsk.by/. U.S. citizens who also have the nationality of Belarus may remain subject to the laws of Belarus and incur corresponding responsibilities and obligations.

Criminal Penalties:

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Belarus' laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belarus are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Children's Issues:

For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website at http://www.travel.state.gov/family/family_1732.html.

Registration/Embassy Location:

Americans living or traveling in Belarus are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department's travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Belarus. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located in Minsk at 46 Starovilenskaya Ulitsa; telephone (375) 172-10-12-83 or after hours (375) 172-26-16-01, fax (375) 172-34-78-53 or (375) 172-17-71-60 (consular section). The Consular Section may also be reached by email at [email protected]

International Adoption

August 9, 2005

The information below has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family

Disclaimer:

The information in this flyer relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is based on public sources and our current understanding. Questions involving foreign and U.S. immigration laws and legal interpretation should be addressed respectively to qualified foreign or U.S. legal counsel.

Please Note:

Because of recent changes in Government of Belarus policies and procedures on adoption, the Department encourages readers of this flyer to consult our Important Notices page for recent developments in Belarussian adoptions. The government of Belarus stresses that American citizens interested in adopting a child in Belarus should not travel to that country until the stipulated adoption procedures have been completed.

The U.S. Embassy in Minsk conducts the I-604 orphan investigation. The U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, Poland adjudicates the immigrant visa petitions for Belarussian citizens, including adopted orphans. Adopted children from Belarus require visas to enter Poland, in order to go to the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw for the immigrant visa interview. Please see the Web site for the U.S. Embassy in Poland at http://www.usinfo.pl/consular/iv/adoptions.htm#Third-country%20Visas for additional information.

Patterns of Immigration of Adopted Orphans to the U.S.:

Recent U.S. immigrant visa statistics reflect the following pattern for visa issuance to orphans

Fiscal Year: Number of Immigrant Visas Issued

FY 2004: 202
FY 2003: 191
FY 2002: 169
FY 2001: 129
FY 2000: 46

Adoption Authority in Belarus:

Belarussian National Adoption Center
Mrs. Olga Karaban, Director
Platonova Str. 22, 11th Floor
Minsk, BELARUS
Tel: 375 – 17-232-6701
Fax: 375 – 17-231-0617

Eligibility Requirements for Adoptive Parents:

A prospective parent may be single, divorced or widowed. A prospective parent must be at least 16 years older than the adoptive child. Single parents are permitted to adopt a child of either sex.

Residential Requirements:

There are no residency requirements for Belarussian adoptions.

Time Frame:

The adoption process in Belarus from start to finish generally takes 18 months.

Adoption Agencies and Attorneys:

Belarus does not allow private adoption agencies. Adoptions are governed by the National Adoption Center, the Ministry of Education, and local city councils.

Adoption Fees in Belarus:

Adoptive parents can expect to pay $18,000 to $25,000 to complete an adoption in Belarus.

Adoption Procedures:

All adoptions of children in Belarus must go through the Belarussian National Adoption Center.

Belarus Embassy and Consulates in the United States:

Embassy of the Republic of Belarus 1619 New Hampshire Avenue, NW Washington, D.C. 20009
Tel: (202) 986-1606
fax: (202) 986-1805
Email: [email protected]
http://www.belarusembassy.org/

Belarus also has a Consulate in New York at its UN Mission.

U.S. Immigration Requirements:

Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at travel.state.gov/family

U.S. Embassy in Belarus:

Consular Section, U.S. Embassy
46 Starovilenskaya St.
220002 Minsk, Belarus
Tel: 375-17-210-1283

The U.S. Embassy in Minsk also conducts the I-604 orphan investigation. Adoptive parents should notify the Embassy two weeks in advance in order to schedule an interview. To schedule an interview, email your name, the number of children you are adopting, and the date you would like an interview to [email protected] The Embassy will send you an email to confirm your appointment or offer you alternative dates.

Additional Information:

Specific questions about adoption in Belarus may be addressed to the U.S. Embassy in Belarus. General questions regarding international adoption may be addressed to the Office of Children's Issues, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/CI, SA-29, 4th Floor, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818, toll-free Tel: 1-888-404-4747.

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Belarus

Belarus

1 Location and Size

2 Topography

3 Climate

4 Plants and Animals

5 Environment

6 Population

7 Migration

8 Ethnic Groups

9 Languages

10 Religions

11 Transportation

12 History

13 Government

14 Political Parties

15 Judicial System

16 Armed Forces

17 Economy

18 Income

19 Industry

20 Labor

21 Agriculture

22 Domesticated Animals

23 Fishing

24 Forestry

25 Mining

26 Foreign Trade

27 Energy and Power

28 Social Development

29 Health

30 Housing

31 Education

32 Media

33 Tourism and Recreation

34 Famous Belarusans

35 Bibliography

Republic of Belarus
Respublika Belarus

CAPITAL: Minsk

FLAG: Two horizontal bands of red (top) and green, with the red band twice as wide as the green. At the hoist is a vertical band showing a traditional Belarussian ornamental pattern.

ANTHEM: Maladaya Belarus.

MONETARY UNIT: The Belarus ruble (br) circulates along with the Russian ruble (r). The government has a varying exchange rate for trade between Belarus and Russia. br1 = $0.00047 (or $1 = br2,140) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is in force.

HOLIDAYS: New Year’s Day, 1 January; Orthodox Christmas, 7 January; International Women’s Day, 8 March; Labor Day, 1 May; Victory Day, 9 May; Independence Day, 27 July; Day of Commemoration, 2 November; Christmas, 25 December.

TIME: 2 pm = noon GMT.

1 Location and Size

Belarus is a landlocked nation located in eastern Europe, between Poland and Russia. Comparatively, the area occupied by Belarus is slightly smaller than the state of Kansas, with a total area of 207,600 square kilometers (80,154 square miles). Belarus shares boundaries with Latvia, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, and Lithuania. The boundary length of Belarus totals 3,098 kilometers (1,925 miles).

The capital city of Belarus, Minsk, is located near the center of the country.

2 Topography

The topography of Belarus is generally flat and contains much marshland. The Belarussian Ridge (Belorusskya Gryda) stretches across the center of the country from the southwest to the northeast. The highest elevation, at Dzerzhinskaya Gora, is 346 meters (1,135 feet). The lowest point is along the Nyoman River at 90 meters (295 feet). The Dneiper is the longest river in the country with a length of 2,290 kilometers (1,420 miles). Lake Naroch, in the northwest, is the largest lake, with an area of 80 square kilometers (30 square miles).

GEOGRAPHICAL PROFILE

Geographic Features

Area: 207,600 sq km (80,154 sq mi)

Size ranking: 83 of 194

Highest elevation: 346 meters (1,135 feet) at Dzerzhinskaya Gora (Dzyarzhynskaya Hara)

Lowest elevation: 90 meters (295 feet) at the Nyoman River

Land Use*

Arable land: 27%

Permanent crops: 1%

Other: 72%

Weather**

Average annual precipitation: 57–61 centimeters (22.5–26.5 inches)

Average temperature in January: -5°c (23°f)

Average temperature in July: 19.4°c (67°f)

* Arable Land: Land used for temporary crops, like meadows for mowing or pasture, gardens, and greenhouses.

Permanent crops: Land cultivated with crops that occupy its use for long periods, such as cocoa, coffee, rubber, fruit and nut orchards, and vineyards.

Other: Any land not specified, including built-on areas, roads, and barren land.

** The measurements for precipitation and average temperatures were taken at weather stations closest to the country’s largest city.

Precipitation and average temperature can vary significantly within a country, due to factors such as latitude, altitude, coastal proximity, and wind patterns.

3 Climate

The mean temperature is 19.4°c (67°f) in July and -5°c (23°f) in January. Rainfall averages between 57 centimeters (22.5 inches) and 61 centimeters (26.5 inches) annually.

4 Plants and Animals

One-third of the country is forest, which is home to mammals that include deer, brown bears, rabbits, and squirrels. The southern region is a swampy expanse. The marshes are home to ducks, frogs, turtles, archons, and muskrats.

5 Environment

Belarus’s main environmental problems are chemical and nuclear pollution. Belarus was the republic most affected by the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in April 1986. Northerly winds prevailed at the time of the accident; therefore, most of the fallout occurred over farmland in the southeastern section of the country (primarily in the Gomel and Mogilev oblasts). Most experts estimate that 25% to 30% of Belarus’s farmland was exposed to radiation and should not be used for agricultural production or to collect wild berries and mushrooms, although it continues to be used for these and other purposes.

In addition, Belarus has significant air and water pollution from industrial sources. The most common pollutants are formaldehyde, carbon emissions, and petroleum-related chemicals. In 1992, Belarus was among the world’s top fifty nations in industrial emissions of carbon dioxide. The soils also contain unsafe levels of lead, zinc, copper, and the agricultural chemical DDT.

As of 2002, Belarus had over 2,000 species of plants, 74 mammal species, and 221 breeding bird species. Four mammal species and four bird species were listed as threatened that year. Endangered species include the European bison and the European mink. Belarus has 88 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

6 Population

The population of Belarus was estimated at 9.8 million in 2005. The population density in 2006 was 47 persons per square kilometer (122 persons per square mile). In that year an estimated 72% of the population lived in urban areas. The capital city, Minsk, had a population of 1.7 million in 2005.

7 Migration

With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, about two million Belarussians were among the various nationality groups who found themselves living outside the borders of their new republics.

In the 15 years since then, 160,000 ethnic Belarussians returned to Belarus from other former Soviet republics, including Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan. The estimated net migration rate of Belarus in 2005 was 2.42 per 1,000 people. In 2004, Belarus had an estimated 8,200 asylum seekers.

8 Ethnic Groups

In 2005, an estimated 81.2% of the total population was native Belarussian. Russians made up about 11% of the populace; Poles, Ukrainians, and other groups combined to make up about 8% of the population.

9 Languages

Belarussian belongs to the eastern group of Slavic languages and is very similar to Russian. It is written in the Cyrillic alphabet but has two letters that are not in Russian, and a number of distinctive sounds. The vocabulary borrows from

Polish, Lithuanian, German, Latin, and Turkic. Russian and other languages are also spoken.

10 Religions

As of 2005, approximately 80% of the population were Russian Orthodox, a faith that enjoys a favored status with the government. About 15% to 20% are Roman Catholics. Between 50,000 and 90,000 people are Jewish. Other minority religions include the Greek Rite Catholic Church, the Belarus Autocephalous Orthodox Church, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Calvinism, Lutheranism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Apostolic Christian Church, and Islam.

11 Transportation

About 5,512 kilometers (3,417 miles) of railways traverse Belarus, connecting it to Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, and Latvia. Belarus had 93,055 kilometers (57,880 miles) of highways in 2004, all of which were hard-surfaced. As of 2005, there were 133 airports in the country, 33 of which had paved runways. In 2003, scheduled airline traffic carried 234,000 domestic and international passengers.

12 History

The Belarussians are the descendants of Slavic tribes that migrated into the region in the ninth century ad. They trace their distinct identity from the 13th century when the Mongols conquered Russia and parts of Ukraine. During this period, Belarus managed to maintain its identity as part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The merger of the Grand Duchy with Poland in 1569 put the territory of Belarus under Polish rule. After the division of Poland in the late 18th century, Belarus fell to the Russian Empire.

The Belarussian National Republic was formed in March 1918 with German military assistance. However, after the German government collapsed in November 1918, Bolshevik troops moved in and set up the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic in January 1919. In 1922, the Belarus SSR became one of the 15 socialist republics to form the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Belarus, located between Germany and Russia, was devastated by World War II (1939–45).

During the decades of Soviet rule, Belarus’s leaders generally complied with Soviet policy. However, after extensive nuclear contamination by the 1986 Chernobyl accident in neighboring Ukraine, Belarussian nationalists, acting from exile in Lithuania, organized the Belarussian People’s Front.

Throughout the early 1990s the Belarussian leadership wanted to keep the Soviet Union intact. However, shortly after the failed August 1991 takeover attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev, the independence of Belarus was declared on 26 August 1991.

Since independence, Belarus has made very little progress toward economic and political reform. The economy is failing and Soviet-era party bosses are struggling to hold power. President Aleksandr Lukashenko has stopped economic and political reform since his election in 1994. In 1996, Lukashenko signed into law a new constitution that expanded his power. Despite widespread protests, Lukashenko remained in power. In July 1999 opposition leaders held an alternative presidential election prompting a new crackdown by Lukashenko.

Plans by Belarus and Russia to form an economic union remained stalled throughout the late 1990s. As of 2000, though, the leaders of both countries reaffirmed their intention of strengthening their bilateral ties.

Parliamentary elections were held in October 2000, and were criticized by election observers as being neither free nor fair. Turnout was so low that a rerun was necessary (it was held in March 2001). On 9 September 2001, Lukashenko was reelected president, with 75.6% of the vote.

BIOGRAPHICAL PROFILE

Name: Aleksandr Lukashenko

Position: President of a republic

Took Office: 20 July 1994, reelected to a third term March 2006

Birthplace: Vitebsk oblast, Belarus

Birthdate: 30 August 1954

Education: Mohylev Pedagogical Institute; Belarussian Agricultural Academy

Spouse: Galina Rodionovna

Children: Two sons Viktor and Dmitry

Of interest: Lukashenko spent two years as a Soviet border guard. He also suffers from a serious back condition that has required frequent hospitalization.

In June 2002, Russian president Vladimir Putin refused to follow the path to integration that Belarus had sketched out for the two nations, saying it would lead to the re-creation of “something along the lines of the Soviet Union.” Lukashenko pledged not to give up Belarus’s sovereignty in the union with Russia. The issue was unresolved as of 2006.

In November 2002, 14 European Union (EU) states (minus Portugal) imposed a travel ban on Lukashenko and several of his government ministers as a way of protesting Belarus’s poor human rights record. In April 2003, the travel ban was lifted, but the United States and the EU remained critical of the country’s human rights record. Lukashenko was elected to a third term in March 2006. The international pressure appeared to have little effect on his government. Lukashenko imposed new restrictions on freedoms of speech, the press, and peaceful assembly.

13 Government

A new constitution was adopted on 15 March 1994. Until mid-1994, Belarus was the only former Soviet republic not to have a president. In elections held in July 1994, Aleksandr Lukashenko was elected after promising to clear out the communist establishment ruling Belarus. However, in 1996 Lukashenko signed into law a new constitution that gave the presidency greater power. Under the new constitution, the president has the power to select the heads of the Constitutional Court, Central Bank, and Supreme Court. The president also has the power to dissolve parliament and veto its decisions. The two-chamber parliament, called the National Assembly, is composed of a 64-member Council of the Republic and a 110-member House of Representatives. Lukashenko, who was elected to a third term in March 2006.

Under the new constitution, Belarus is divided into six regions or provinces (oblasts).

14 Political Parties

The Communist Party was declared illegal after the failed August 1991 takeover attempt, but was relegalized in February 1993. It and two other procommunist parties merged into one political party called the People’s Movement of Belarus in May 1993.

The primary pro-government party is the Belarussian Popular Patriotic Union. The primary opposition party is the Belarussian Popular Front. As of 2002, there were 18 political parties registered in Belarus. In the parliamentary elections held in October 2004 many opposition candidates were disqualified, clearing the way for pro-Lukashenko candidates to capture all 110 seats in the House of Representatives.

15 Judicial System

The court system consists of district courts, regional courts, and the Supreme Court. There are also economic courts, and a Supreme Economic Court. A Constitutional Court rules on serious constitutional issues, but has no power to enforce its decisions. The president appoints all district level and military judges. The judicial system is not independent and operates under the influence of the government.

16 Armed Forces

The active armed forces of Belarus numbered 72,940 in 2005. The army numbered 29,600 with approximately 1,586 main battle tanks. The air force and air defense force numbered 18,170 and had 210 combat aircraft and 50 attack helicopters. In 2005 the defense budget was $251 million.

17 Economy

Belarus’s economy has been geared toward industrial production, mostly in machinery and metallurgy with a significant weapons industry. Trade and services account for an increasing share of economic activity, however.

The breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 was highly disruptive to Belarus’s economy. It remains closely tied to those of other Eastern European countries and the other republics of the former Soviet Union.

The government has failed to stabilize the economy. The annual inflation rate was 2,220% in 1994, but it dropped to 244% in 1995. An overvalued Belarussian ruble has limited Belarus’s exports. During 1998, the Belarus ruble lost half its value during a five-month period. The government stopped accepting payment of its own currency for exports.

Belarus’s products remain noncompetitive on the world market. Losses from state-owned businesses are often written off, which prevents those businesses from going bankrupt and keeps unemployment artificially low. There are no legal provisions for regulating business matters.

Yearly Growth Rate

This economic indicator tells by what percent the economy has increased or decreased when compared with the previous year.

However, as of 2003, the country had six free economic zones, which attracted foreign investment.

18 Income

In 2005, the gross domestic product (GDP) was $77.8 billion, or $7,600 per person. The annual growth rate of the GDP exceeded 9% for that year. The average inflation rate in 2002 was 11.5%.

19 Industry

Belarus’s main industries are engineering, machine tools, agricultural equipment, fertilizer, chemicals, defense-related products, prefabricated construction materials, motor vehicles, motorcycles, textiles, threads, and some consumer goods, such as refrigerators, watches, televisions, and radios.

While there had been an increase in industrial production, a high volume of unsold industrial goods remain stocked in warehouses because Belarussian products are too expensive to be competitive on the world market. Belarus has taken few steps to privatize state-owned industries: it was estimated that around 10% of all Belarussian enterprises were privatized as of 2000. By 2004, the participation of industry in the overall economy was 32%.

20 Labor

There were 4.3 million persons employed in 2003. In that year, 14% were engaged in agriculture, 51% in services, and 35% in industry and construction. In 2004, the number of registered unemployed was 2%, but there was a large segment of the population that was underemployed.

The minimum age for employment is 16. As of 2005, the minimum wage was $55 a month, which does not provide a decent standard of living.

Although the constitution provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, these rights are not respected in practice.

21 Agriculture

About 27% of the land is arable (suitable for farming). In 2000, agriculture employed about 14% of the economically active population and accounted for 11% of the gross domestic product (GDP). By 2004, agriculture accounted for 9% of GDP. Production levels for 2000 included about 9.9 million tons of potatoes, 2.1 million tons of barley, 105 million tons of rye, 3.1 million

Components of the Economy

This pie chart shows how much of the country’s economy is devoted to agriculture (including forestry, hunting, and fishing), industry, or services.

tons of sugar beets, 102,500 tons of oats, and 765,000 tons of wheat.

22 Domesticated Animals

About 15% of the land area is devoted to pastureland. As of 2004, there were 3.9 million cattle, 3.3 million pigs, 63,000 sheep, and 24 million chickens. Of the 639,500 tons of meat produced in that year, beef and veal account for 35%; poultry, 14%; pork, 50%, and other meats, 1%. Belarus produces more dairy products than any other former Soviet republic except Russia, with approximately 5.2 million tons of milk, 77,400 tons of butter and ghee, and 80,800 tons of cheese produced annually. Egg production amounted to 163,300 tons and honey production totaled 3,100 tons in 2004.

23 Fishing

As Belarus is a landlocked nation, fishing is confined to the system of rivers that cross the country, including the Pripyat, Byarezina, Nyoman, Zach Dvina, Sozh, and Dnieper. The total catch in 2003 was 12,318 tons.

Yearly Balance of Trade

The balance of trade is the difference between what a country sells to other countries (its exports) and what it buys (its imports). If a country imports more than it exports, it has a negative balance of trade (a trade deficit). If exports exceed imports there is a positive balance of trade (a trade surplus).

24 Forestry

In 2000, about 45% of the total land area was covered by forests and woodlands. Radioactive contamination from the 1986 Chernobyl, Ukraine, nuclear disaster has severely restricted timber output. In 2003, Belarus produced 7.5 million cubic meters (265 million cubic feet) of roundwood, of which 1,518,000 cubic meters (53.6 million cubic feet) were exported for a value of $35.7 million.

25 Mining

Potash is the one significant mineral resource possessed by Belarus. The country ranked second in world output of potash in 2000. Total production in 2000 was 3.79 million tons (more

Selected Social Indicators

The statistics below are the most recent estimates available as of 2006. For comparison purposes, data for the United States and averages for low-income countries and high-income countries are also given. About 15% of the world’s 6.5 billion people live in high-income countries, while 37% live in low-income countries.

IndicatorBelarus Low-income countriesHigh-income countriesUnited States
sources: World Bank. World Development Indicators. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 2006; Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2006; World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C.
Per capita gross national income (GNI)*$6,970 $2,258$31,009$39,820
Population growth rate-0.3% 2%0.8%1.2%
People per square kilometer of land47 803032
Life expectancy in years: male63 587675
female74 608280
Number of physicians per 1,000 people4.6 0.43.72.3
Number of pupils per teacher (primary school)15 431615
Literacy rate (15 years and older)99.6% 65%>95%99%
Television sets per 1,000 people362 84735938
Internet users per 1,000 people250 28538630
Energy consumed per capita (kg of oil equivalent)2,613 5015,4107,843
CO2 emissions per capita (metric tons)6.06 0.8512.9719.92
* The GNI is the total of all goods and services produced by the residents of a country in a year. The per capita GNI is calculated by dividing a country’s GNI by its population and adjusting for relative purchasing power.
n.a.: data not available >: greater than <: less than

than 8% of which was exported). Two plants produced 2.17 million tons of cement in 2002.

26 Foreign Trade

In 2000, Belarus’s main exports were machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, petroleum products, and manufactured goods. Imports included fuel, natural gas, industrial raw materials, textiles, and sugar. Russia, Ukraine, Poland, and Germany were the major trade partners.

27 Energy and Power

Domestic electricity is produced by four thermal plants. Belarus also imports electricity generated by nuclear and hydroelectric plants. In 2004, a total of 30 billion kilowatt-hours was generated, of which 24.841 billion kilowatt-hours came from thermal sources and 0.028 billion kilowatt-hours from hydropower. As of 2002, Belarus had oil reserves estimated at 198 million barrels. About 36,500 barrels of oil were produced per day in that year.

28 Social Development

Old age, disability, survivors, sickness, maternity, work injury, family allowance, and unemployment insurance benefits have been revised and updated in recent years. The government has provided inhabitants with food and other basic goods to preserve social stability. Many factories have given workers mandatory unpaid vacations and four-day workweeks to avoid laying them off or closing down. There are no legal restrictions on women’s participation in public life. However, social customs discourage active participation by women in politics and business.

29 Health

As of 2004, there were an estimated 4.6 physicians and 12.2 nurses per 1,000 people.

As a result of the accident at the Chernobyl, Ukraine, nuclear power plant in April 1986, an estimated 2.2 million Belarussians were directly affected by radioactive fallout. Since then, the population is constantly subject to increased amounts of background radiation that weaken the immune systems of individuals in contaminated areas. Many are said to suffer from “Chernobyl AIDS.”

In 2005, life expectancy was 68 years (63 years for men and 74 years for women). The infant mortality rate in 2005 was 13 per 1,000 live births.

As of 2004, the number of people living with human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) was estimated at 15,000, and deaths from AIDS that year were estimated at 1,000.

The lack of adequate, affordable housing continues to be a problem for Belarus, but certain advances have been made. New homes and apartments were built to house people displaced as a result of the nuclear power plant accident in neighboring Ukraine in 1986. The government has been reforming housing laws so that citizens may acquire, build, reconstruct, or lease housing facilities.

31 Education

Education is compulsory for children between the ages of six and fifteen. Secondary education lasts for five to seven years, beginning at age twelve. The government is now putting more emphasis on replacing Russian with Belarussian as the official language for education. Approximately 97% of primary-school-age children are enrolled in school. There are over 4,000 preschools, more than 4,500 general-education schools, about 250 vocational and technical schools, and 150 state-run specialized secondary schools.

There are three universities in Belarus. The largest is the Belarussian State University, which is located in Minsk. Along with these universities, there are four polytechnical institutes and nineteen educational institutes. All higher-level institutions have a combined enrollment of between 325,000 and 500,000 students.

As of 2003, the adult illiteracy rate was estimated at 0.4% (males, 0.2%; females, 0.5%).

32 Media

There were approximately 311 mainline telephones in service for every 1,000 people in 2003. That year there were an estimated 113 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

In 2003, there were 199 radios and 362 television sets per 1,000 population. The government operates the only nationwide television station; however, there are over 40 local stations.

The most widely read newspapers (with 2002 circulation figures) are: Sovetskaya Belorussiya (Soviet Belorussia, 330,000); Narodnaya Hazeta (People’s Newspaper, 259,597); Respublika (Republic, 130,000); Vechernii Minsk (Evening Minsk, 111,000); Svaboda (Liberty, 90,000);

Zvyazda (Star, 90,000); and Belorusskaya Niva (Belarusian Cornfield, 80,000).

As of 2002, there were 23 Internet service providers (ISP) serving about 180,000 customers. All ISPs are controlled by the state.

Though freedom of the press is granted in the 1996 constitution, government authorities reserve the right to ban and censor publications presenting critical reports on national issues.

33 Tourism and Recreation

In 2003, there were 63,779 tourist arrivals in Belarus. Scenery, architecture, and cultural museums and memorials are primary attractions in Belarus. The Belavaezhskaja Puscha Nature Reserve features a variety of wildlife and a nature museum. The city of Hrodna is home to the baroque Farny Cathedral, the Renaissance Bernadine church and monastery, and the History of Religion Museum, which is part of a renovated eighteenth-century palace. There are also two castles in the area, both housing museums.

34 Famous Belarusans

Frantsky Sharyna, who lived in the first quarter of the 16th century, translated the Bible into Belarussian. Naksim Bahdanovich was an important 19th-century poet. Modern writers include Uladzimir Dubouka (1900–1976) and Yazep Pushcha, both poets. Kuzma Chorny and Kandrat Krapiva (1896–1991) were writers of fiction during the outpouring of Belarussian poetry and literature during the 1920s. Famous modern composers from Belarus included Dzmitry Lukas, Ryhor Pukst, and Yauhen Hlebau (1929–2000).

35 Bibliography

BOOKS

Belarus. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner, 1993.

Levy, Patricia. Belarus. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1998.

The Modern Encyclopedia of Russian, Soviet and Eurasian History. Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International Press, 1994.

Zaprudnik, I. A. Belarus: At a Crossroads in History. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993.

Zaprudnik, I. A. Historical Dictionary of Belarus. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 1998.

WEB SITES

Aquastat. www.fao.org/ag/Agl/AGLW/aquastat/countries/belarus/index.stm. (accessed on January 15, 2007).

Country Pages. www.state.gov/p/eur/ci/bo/. (accessed on January 15, 2007).

Government Home Page. www.government.by/en/eng_news.html. (accessed on January 15, 2007).

World Heritage List. whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/by. (accessed on January 15, 2007).

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Belarus

Belarus

Compiled from the January 2007 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:
Republic of Belarus

PROFILE

HISTORICAL HIGHLIGHTS

GOVERNMENT

POLITICAL CONDITIONS

ECONOMY

DEFENSE AND MILITARY ISSUES

FOREIGN RELATIONS

U.S.-BELARUSIAN RELATIONS

TRAVEL

PROFILE

Geography

Area: 207,600 sq. km. (80,100 sq. mi.); slightly smaller than Kansas.

Cities: Capital—Minsk.

Terrain: Landlocked, low-lying with thick forests, flat marshes and fields.

Climate: Cold winters, cool and moist summers, transitional between continental and maritime.

People

Nationality: Noun—Belarusian(s). Adjective—Belarusian.

Population: (end of 2005) 9,750,500 (men 4,555,300; women 5,195,200). Urban 72.4%; rural 27.6%.

Population: decline: (2005) -49,600.

Ethnic groups: Belarusian (81.2%), Russian (11.4%), Polish (3.9%), Ukrainian (2.4%), Jewish (0.3%), other (0.8%).

Religions: (2004 est.) Eastern Orthodox 80%, Catholic 14%, Protestant 2%, other (including Autocephalous Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, and Krishna) 4%.

Languages: Belarusian and Russian (official).

Education: Literacy—98%.

Health: Infant mortality rate (2005)—6.4/1,000. Life expectancy (2004)—69 years (men 63.2 years, women 75 years).

Work force: (4.4 million) Industry—26.7%; agriculture and forestry—10.6%; construction—7.9%; transportation, communications—7.6%; trade, catering—12.2%; education—10.7%; other—24.3%.

Government

Type: Republic.

Constitution: March 30, 1994; revision by unrecognized national referendum of November 24, 1996, gave presidency greatly expanded powers and became effective November 27, 1996.

Independence: 1991 (from Soviet Union).

Government branches: Executive—president (head of state), prime minister (head of government), Council of Ministers (cabinet). Legislative—bicameral: the House of Representatives (110 deputies) and the Council of the Republic (64 deputies). Judicial—Supreme Court; Constitutional Court.

Political subdivisions: Six oblasts (regions) and one municipality.

Political parties: Belarus has 17 registered political parties, including: Agrarian Party (AP); Belarusian Communist Party (KPB); Green Party; Belarusian Social and Sports Party; Belarusian Patriotic Movement (BPR); Belarusian Popular Front (BNF); Belarusian Social-Democrat Party (BSDP); Social-Democratic Hramada Party; Belarusian Socialist Party; United Civic Party (UCP); Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus (LDBP); Party of Communists Belarusian (PKB); Party of Popular Accord; Republican Party of Labor and Justice (RPPS); Social Democratic Party of Popular Accord (PPA); Women’s Party Nadezhda. Several of these parties exist in name only. Other, unregistered parties are also active, such as: Belarusian Party of Labor, Christian Conservative Party, and Party of Freedom and Progress.

Suffrage: Universal at age 18.

Economy

GDP: (2004 est.) $22.9 billion (government statistics claim $29.6 billion in 2005).

GDP growth rate: (2005 est.) 5-7% (government statistics claim 9.2% in 2005).

Per capita GDP: (2004) $2,120.

Natural resources: Forest land, peat deposits, potash, small amounts of oil and natural gas.

Agriculture: Products—grain, potatoes, vegetables, flax, beef, milk.

Industry: Types—machinery and transport equipment, chemical products, fabrics, and consumer goods.

Trade: (2005) Exports—$16.0 billion (refined petroleum, machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, foodstuffs, metals, and textiles). Major markets—Russia, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Great Britain, Ukraine, and Lithuania. Imports—$16.7 billion (mineral products, machinery and equipment, metals, crude oil and natural gas, chemicals, foodstuffs). Major suppliers—Russia, Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Italy, Lithuania.

Exchange rate: (April 2006) 2,149 BYR (Belarusian rubles)=U.S. $1.

HISTORICAL HIGHLIGHTS

While archeological evidence points to settlement in today’s Belarus at least 10,000 years ago, recorded history begins with settlement by Baltic and Slavic tribes in the early centuries A.D. With distinctive features by the ninth century, the emerging Belarusian state was then absorbed by Kievan Rus’ in the 9th century. Belarus was later an integral part of what was called Litva, which included today’s Belarus as well as today’s Lithuania. Belarus was the birthplace of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Belarusian was the state language of the Grand Duchy until 1697, in part owing to the strong flowering of Belarusian culture during the Renaissance through the works of leading Belarusian humanists such as Frantzisk Skaryna. Belarus was the site of the Union of Brest in 1597, which created the Greek Catholic Church, for long the majority church in Belarus until suppressed by the Russian empire, and the birthplace of Thaddeus Kosciuszko, who played a key role in the American Revolution. Occupied by the Russian empire from the end of the 18th century until 1918, Belarus declared its short-lived National Republic on March 25, 1918, only to be forcibly absorbed by the Bolsheviks into what became the Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.). Suffering massive population losses under Soviet leader Josif Stalin and the German Nazi occupation, Belarus was retaken by the Soviets in 1944. It declared its sovereignty on July 27, 1990, and independence from the Soviet Union on August 25, 1991. It has been run by the authoritarian Alexander Lukashenko since 1994.

GOVERNMENT

The constitution provides for a popularly elected president who serves a 5-year term. The bicameral parliament consists of the 64-seat Council of the Republic and the 110-seat Chamber of Representatives. The Council of the Republic is the house of territorial representation. Eight members of the Council are appointed directly by the president of the Republic of Belarus, while local regional councils elect the rest. The deputies to the House of Representatives are elected directly by the voters. The president appoints the prime minister, who is the head of government.

POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Since his election in July 1994 as the country’s first President, Alexander Lukashenko has consolidated power steadily in the executive branch through authoritarian means. He used a non-democratic November 1996 referendum to amend the 1994 constitution in order to broaden his powers and illegally extend his term in office; and he began to count his 5-year term in 1996, thereby adding 2 years to his first term in office. In 2004, he engineered a fraudulent referendum that removed term limits on the presidency, and in 2006 took advantage of this provision to “win” another term in an undemocratic election.

In October 2000, parliamentary elections occurred for the first time since the disputed referendum of 1996. According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), these elections failed to meet international democratic standards. Based on the unrecognized 1996 constitution, Lukashenko announced presidential elections in 2001. International monitors noted sweeping human rights violations and undemocratic practices throughout the election period, including massive vote-counting fraud. These irregularities led the OSCE/ODIHR to find that these elections also failed to meet Belarus’ OSCE commitments for democratic elections. March 2003 local elections and October 2004 parliamentary elections also failed to meet international standards of freedom and fairness. In 2004, Lukashenko called a referendum on removing presidential term limits. According to official results, the referendum passed by a wide margin, and Lukashenko allies won across-the-board victories in simultaneous parliamentary elections. OSCE/ODIHR observers declared that the parliamentary elections fell far short of international standards, citing abuses in the campaign period and the vote counting. The referendum was also conducted with little regard for democratic principles. Independent exit polling showed results far different from those officially announced.

The March 19, 2006 presidential election marked another low point in the government’s treatment of its own citizens. OSCE/ODIHR observers noted that the election failed to meet international standards, and was characterized by a disregard for the basic rights of freedom of assembly, association, and expression, as well as by a climate of insecurity and fear and a highly problematic vote count. Authorities detained many opposition supporters and civic activists during the campaign, charging some with offenses that could lead to long prison sentences. The regime limited the free flow of information by controlling nearly all media outlets and arresting many opposition activists for passing out legal campaign materials. The government detained hundreds in connection with demonstrations in the week following the election, stormed a demonstrators’ tent camp in Minsk on March 24, and used force against demonstrators again March 25. One opposition presidential candidate, Aleksandr Kozulin, was beaten and detained repeatedly by authorities, ultimately sentenced to five and a half years in prison for “hooliganism.” Kozulin held a 54-day hunger strike in protest of the rule of Lukashenko,

only ending the protest after the United States brought up his plight in the UN Security Council in December 2006. Many aides and supporters of Aleksandr Milinkevich, the presidential candidate of a coalition representing most opposition forces, also suffered from detentions, beatings, harassment, and prosecution. Milinkevich and other opposition leaders have been subject to frequent harassment themselves.

Although government restrictions on basic freedoms spiked in connection with elections, they continued even in non-election periods. Efforts to further infringe upon press freedoms included the continued use of libel laws, restrictions on foreign funding, pressure on businesses not to advertise with independent media, limitations on access to newsprint and printing presses, prohibiting access to state distribution networks, censorship, restrictions on the import of media-related materials, temporary and permanent suspension of independent and opposition periodicals, confiscation in quantity of printed publications, and detention of those distributing such material. In December 2004, the government adopted new legislation establishing criminal penalties for “discrediting Belarus” and organizing activities of an unregistered non-governmental organization (NGO). The government has continued to make use of its monopoly on television broadcasting to present biased news coverage and to minimize the presentation of opposing points of view. All Internet service providers in Belarus operate through a state-controlled portal. Despite constitutional provisions, a 1998 government decree limited citizens’ rights to express their own opinions. The 1994 and 1996 constitutions both provide for freedom of peaceful assembly; however, the regime severely restricts this right in practice. Demonstrations require an application at least 15 days in advance of the event. The local government must respond positively or negatively at least 5 days prior to the event. Applications by opposition groups are usually rejected. Following many unsanctioned demonstrations, police and other security officials detain, harass, and beat demonstration participants.

The constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the authorities restrict this right in practice. Although Article 16 of the 1996 amended constitution that resulted from the illegal referendum reaffirms the equality of religions and denominations before the law, it also contains restrictive language stipulating that cooperation between the state and religious organizations “is regulated with regard for their influence on the formation of spiritual, cultural, and country traditions of the Belarusian people.”

On October 22, 2002, the parliament approved a new law on religion, despite protests from international and domestic human rights organizations as well as Orthodox religious groups not affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church. The law contains a number of very restrictive elements that make it extremely difficult to register any church the government considers to be non-traditional. In practice all religions except for Orthodox face some level of official interference in their activities.

According to the constitution, citizens are free to travel within the country and to live and work where they wish; however, the authorities sometimes restrict these rights in practice. The authorities issue internal passports to all adults, which serve as primary identity documents and are required to travel, obtain permanent housing, and for hotel registration. Citizens can only work in regions where they are registered to live, and re-registering can be difficult.

The constitution provides for the right of workers—except state security and military personnel—to voluntarily form and join independent unions and to carry out actions in defense of workers’ rights, including the right to strike. In practice, however, these rights are limited. The Belarusian Free Trade Union (FTUB) was established in 1991 and registered in 1992. Following the 1995 Minsk metro workers strike, the President suspended its activities. In 1996 FTUB leaders formed a new umbrella organization, the Belaru-sian Congress of Democratic Trade Union (BCDTU), which encompasses four leading independent trade unions and is reported to have about 15,000 members. In late 2003, the BCDTU became a member of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).

In May 2001, a complaint was lodged with the International Labor Organization (ILO) by several trade union organizations alleging the government was attempting to destroy the independent unions. A trade union campaign was carried out to raise international awareness and put pressure on the Belarus Government. Late in 2001, the regime attempted to further restrict the unions by refusing to turn over dues paid by members. Once it became clear that the unions and the FTUB were adjusting to this change, the government in June of 2002 embarked on a takeover of the FTUB and several of its branch unions. The FTUB subsequently became an arm of the government, and the election of Leonid Kozik to the position of Chairman of the FTUB has been challenged by the ILO.

On November 2003, the ILO approved the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry to investigate alleged serious violations of workers’ rights in the country. That same month the Ministry of the Economy informed the ILO that all activities related to its technical assistance project to labor unions must cease, because the registration of the project was denied. In 2004, the ILO presented the government with a list of 12 recommendations to improve its treatment of independent unions. A January 2006 ILO mission found the government had not implemented any of these recommendations. As a result, the European Union is considering revoking Belarus’ trading preferences under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP).

In March 2004 the government began forcing state employees (some 80% of Belarusian workers) to sign short-term work contracts. Although contracts may be concluded for a period of 5 years, most expire after one year—essentially granting the government the opportunity to annually fire anyone in its employ. Many members of independent unions, political parties, and civil society groups have lost their jobs when their contracts were not renewed.

The State Department’s report on human rights practices in Belarus is located at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2005/61638.htm.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 5/9/2006

President: Aleksandr LUKASHENKO

Prime Minister: Sergey SIDORSKIY

First Dep. Prime Min.: Vladimir SEMASHKO

Dep. Prime Min.: Ivan BAMBIZA

Dep. Prime Min.: Viktor BURYA

Dep. Prime Min.: Andrey KOBYAKOV

Dep. Prime Min.: Aleksandr KOSINETS

Min. of Agriculture & Food: Leonid RUSAK

Min. of Architecture & Construction: Aleksandr SELEZENEV

Min. of Communications & Information Technology: Nikolay PANTELEY

Min. of Culture: Vladimir MATVEYCHUK

Min. of Defense: Leonid MALTSEV

Min. of Economics: Nikolay ZAYCHENKO

Min. of Education: Aleksandr RADKOV

Min. of Emergency Situations: Enver BARYEV

Min. of Finance: Nikolay KORBUT

Min. of Foreign Affairs: Sergey MARTYNOV

Min. of Forestry: Petr SEMASHKO

Min. of Energy: Aleksandr OZERETS

Min. of Health: Vasiliy ZHARKO

Min. of Housing & Municipal Services: Vladimir BELOKHVOSTOV

Min. of Industry: Anatoliy RUSETSKIY

Min. of Information: Vladimir RUSAKEVICH

Min. of Interior: Vladimir NAUMOV

Min. of Justice: Viktor GOLOVANOV

Min. of Labor & Social Security: Vladimir POTUPCHIK

Min. of Natural Resources & Environmental Protection: Leontiy KHORUZHIK

Min. of Sports & Tourism: Aleksandr GRIGOROV

Min. of Statistics & Analysis: Vladimir ZINOVSKIY

Min. of Taxes & Duties: Anna DEYKO

Min. of Trade: Aleksandr IVANKOV

Min. of Transport & Communication: Vladimir SOSNOVSKIY

Chief, Presidential Administration: Gennadiy NYAVIGLAS, Maj. Gen.

Chmn., State Committee for Security (BKGB): Stepan SUKHORENKO

Prosecutor General: Pyotr MIKLASHEVICH

State Sec., Security Council: Viktor SHEYMAN

Chmn., National Bank: Petr PROKOPOVICH

Ambassador to the US: Mikhail KHVOSTOV

Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Andrey DAPKYUNA

Belarus’ embassy in the U.S. is at 1619 New Hampshire Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20009; tel: 202-986-1606; fax: 202-986-1805; website: http://www.belarusembassy.org

ECONOMY

As part of the former Soviet Union, Belarus had a relatively well-developed industrial base; it retained this industrial base following the breakup of the U.S.S.R. The country also has a broad agricultural base and a high education level. Among the former republics of the Soviet Union, it had one of the highest standards of living. But Belarusians now face the difficult challenge of moving from a state-run economy with high priority on military production and heavy industry to a civilian, free-market system.

After an initial outburst of capitalist reform from 1991-94, including privatization of state enterprises, creation of institutions of private property, and development of entrepreneur-ship, Belarus under Lukashenko has greatly slowed, and in many cases reversed, its pace of privatization and other market reforms, emphasizing the need for a “socially oriented market economy.” About 80% of all industry remains in state hands, and foreign investment has been hindered by a climate hostile to business. The banks, which had been privatized after independence, were rena-tionalized under Lukashenko. The government continued to nationalize companies in 2005, using the “Golden Share” mechanism—which allows government control in all companies with foreign investment—and other administrative means.

Economic output, which declined for several years, revived somewhat in the late 1990s, but the economy has remained dependent on heavily discounted oil and natural gas from Russia. Belarus has re-exported the oil at world market prices, using the profits to subsidize state enterprises. Price controls on industrial and consumer staples have also constituted a major feature of the Belarusian economy. Inflationary monetary practices, including indiscriminate monetary growth, have been regularly used to finance real sector growth and to cover the payment of salaries and pensions. In January 2007, Russia significantly increased the effective price of oil and gas deliveries to Belarus, which is expected to have an impact on growth of the economy.

Peat, the country’s most valuable mineral resource, is used for fuel and fertilizer and in the chemical industry. Belarus also has deposits of clay, sand, chalk, dolomite, phosphorite, and rock and potassium salt. Forests cover about a third of the land, and lumbering is an important occupation. Potatoes, flax, hemp, sugar beets, rye, oats, and wheat are the chief agricultural products. Dairy and beef cattle, pigs, and chickens are raised. Belarus has only small reserves of petroleum and natural gas and imports most of its oil and gas from Russia. The main branches of industry produce tractors and trucks, earthmovers for use in construction and mining, metal-cutting machine tools, agricultural equipment, motorcycles, chemicals, fertilizer, textiles, and consumer goods. The chief trading partners are Russia, Germany, Ukraine, and Poland.

The massive April 26, 1986 nuclear accident at the Chernobyl power plant, across the border in Ukraine, had a devastating effect on Belarus; as a result of the radiation release, agriculture in a large part of the country was destroyed, and many villages were abandoned. Resettlement and medical costs were substantial and long-term. As a matter of policy, the government is now resettling this land and promoting agricultural production in the contaminated areas.

Due to the economic and political climate, little new foreign investment has occurred in recent years. In 2002, two major companies, the Swedish furniture firm Ikea and Russian beer producer Baltika, ended operations in Belarus due to unrealized government commitments or unwelcome interference. Ford Motors did the same in 1999.

Growth in 2005 was reportedly robust, but peculiarities in official Belarusian statistics complicate analysis. Officially, inflation moderated to 8% in 2005, though hidden inflation remains a problem. Salaries are being increased by government directive, fueling some increased consumption but also making Belarusian firms less competitive. Over 40% of enterprises and a majority of collective farms currently operate at a loss, a level that has persisted since 2002. The government made progress in reining in its fiscal policies, largely due to constraints imposed by financial difficulties caused by the earlier economic slowdown. Belarus continues to be heavily dependent on Russia, with the potential for greater economic dependency looming in the long-proposed European Union (EU)-style union between the two states. Prospects for an eventual union remain murky, however, largely due to the apparent lack of interest on the part of Belarus.

The World Bank’s 2002–2004 country assistance strategy for Belarus focused on areas such as targeted social assistance to help open up Belarusian society, AIDS/HIV and tuberculosis prevention, environmental protection, Chernobyl-related damage, and small and medium enterprise development. The World Bank’s most recent project in Belarus began with its June 2001 approval of a $22.6 million loan to finance repairs in over 450 schools, hospitals, and homes for orphans, the elderly, and the disabled throughout Belarus. In 2004, Belarus rejected a World Bank loan to help fight AIDS and tuberculosis. International Monetary Fund (IMF) cooperation is currently limited to policy and technical consultations.

Environmental Issues

Belarus has established ministries of energy, forestry, land reclamation, and water resources and state committees to deal with ecology and safety procedures in the nuclear power industry. The most serious environmental issue in Belarus results from the accident in 1986 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. About 70% of the nuclear fallout from the plant landed on Belarusian territory, and about 20% of the land remains contaminated. But government restrictions on residence and use of contaminated land are not strictly enforced, and the government announced plans in 2004 to increase agricultural production in the contaminated regions. The government receives U.S. assistance in its efforts to deal with the consequences of the radiation. Belarus also faces growing air, land, and water pollution levels from potash mining in the south of the country.

DEFENSE AND MILITARY ISSUES

The United States continues to support Belarus’ adherence to arms control agreements and treaties into which it has previously entered, including the Open Skies Treaty which Belarus ratified in 2001. Cooperation in all such agreements has been exemplary.

Humanitarian aid continues to be the primary engagement between the U.S. military and Belarus. In early 2004, the United States European Command announced the allocation of $200,000 for the continued renovation of the Gomel Emergency Treatment Hospital. The hospital had already received more than $600,000 in humanitarian assistance, which included funds for the renovation and establishment of its blood transfusion center in 2001. In addition, in May 2004, the U.S. military donated $95,000 for the renovation of the Turov regional hospital. These programs, coupled with the continuous flow of Humanitarian Excess Property from U.S. Cold War stocks, define the U.S. military’s humanitarian assistance program.

Direct military to military cooperation continues to be minimal. Belarus currently has no International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, and bilateral exercises and cooperation are nonexistent. There is a great desire on the Belarusian side to re-establish such cooperation and contacts, but it has not been possible due to the political situation. The only program that is still functional within this category is the attendance of Belarusian military officers in George C. Marshall Center programs.

Belarus is currently cooperating with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, through the Partnership for Peace Trust Fund, to destroy a total of 700,000 conventional landmines. Belarus also has a stockpile of over 3 million non-conventional anti-personnel mines, which it has pledged to destroy by March 2008. In addition, there are numerous World War II-vintage minefields, which are still in place and kill or injure several Belarusians every year.

The Ministry of Defense is experiencing success in the area of military reform. Planned changes include combining the Air and Air Defense Forces, downsizing the force structure about 30% from 83,000 to 60,000, transitioning from a conscript to a contract force, and modernizing the command and control structure by creating a Ground Forces Command between the Ministry of Defense and the units in the field. Implementation of these reforms will take an unspecified amount of time.

There have been numerous reports of Belarusian sales or delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies to states of concern, including state sponsors of terrorism. In April and September 2004, the United States imposed sanctions on a Belarusian entity, Belvneshpromservice, pursuant to the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000 for the transfer to Iran of items on a multilateral export control list or items having the potential of making a material contribution to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or cruise or ballistic missile systems.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

Under an arrangement with the former U.S.S.R., Belarus was an original member of the United Nations. It also is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS—a group of 12 former Soviet republics) and its customs union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) Partnership for Peace, the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank.

Following the recognition of Belarus as an independent state in December 1991 by the European Community, EU-Belarus relations initially experienced a steady progression. The signature of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) in 1995 signaled a commitment to political, economic, and trade cooperation. Significant assistance was provided to Belarus within the framework of the TACIS technical assistance program and also through various aid programs and loans. However, progress in EU-Belarus relations stalled in 1996 after serious setbacks to the development of democracy. The EU did not recognize the 1996 constitution, which replaced the 1994 constitution. Neither the PCA nor its trade-related elements were implemented, and Belarus was not invited to join the EU’s Neighborhood Policy. Belarusian membership in the Council of Europe was not supported; bilateral relations at the ministerial level were suspended; and EU technical assistance programs were frozen. In 1998, relations were further worsened when President Lukashenko evicted several western ambassadors from their homes in the Drozdy area of Minsk. In 2004, the Council of Europe adopted a report written by special rapporteur Christos Pourgou-rides calling on Belarusian authorities to suspend various high-level officials in conducting a thorough investigation of the cases of several prominent Belarusian political figures who have disappeared and remain unaccounted for. In parallel with the U.S., the EU spoke out strongly about the government’s conduct of the 2006 election, noting that additional restrictive measures would be imposed against those officials responsible for abuses. After the election, the U.S. and EU imposed travel restrictions and financial sanctions against those responsible for abuses. The EU also launched a two-year, 2 million Euro project to support Belarusian access to independent information, also in complement to U.S. assistance programs.

Acknowledging the lack of progress in relation to bilateral relations and the internal situation following the position adopted in 1997, the EU adopted a benchmark approach in 1999, whereby relations would be gradually improved upon fulfillment of the four benchmarks set by the OSCE. In 2000, some moderately positive developments toward the implementation of recommendations made by the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) were observed but were not sufficient in the realm of access to fair and free elections. The Belaru-sian Government, objecting to the OSCE AMG’s activities, forced its shutdown by failing to renew visas or extend accreditation of professional staff. The Belarus Government agreed to a successor OSCE presence after 14 EU member countries and the U.S. imposed visa restrictions on the travel of high-ranking Belarusian officials. The OSCE Office in Minsk formally came into existence on January 1, 2003 with a mandate to “assist the Belarusian Government in further promoting institution-building, in further consolidating the Rule of Law and in developing relations with civil society, in accordance with OSCE principles and commitments.”

Russia is the largest partner for Belarus in the economic and political fields. In terms of trade, over one-third of Belarusian exports go to Russia, although this reflects a decline in 2005 from previous levels, resulting from a January 2005 restructuring of the value-added tax (VAT) in bilateral trade. Due to the structure of Belarusian industry, Belarus relies heavily on other CIS countries and Russia in particular both for export markets and for the supply of raw materials, subsidized energy, and components. The introduction of free trade between Russia and Belarus in mid-1995 led to a spectacular growth in bilateral trade. The framework for the Russia-Belarusian Union was set out in the Treaty on the Formation of a Community of Russia and Belarus (1996), the Treaty on Russia-Belarus Union, the Union Charter (1997), and the Treaty of the Formation of a Union State (1999). The integration treaties contain commitments to monetary union, equal rights, single citizenship, and a common foreign and defense policy. They also have established a range of institutions modeled after the EU. After protracted disputes and setbacks, the two countries’ customs duties were unified as of March 2001. Belarus has made progress in monetary stabilization in the context of ongoing negotiation with the Russian Central Bank on monetary union. However, Belarus has repeatedly pushed back the date for implementing monetary union. It was reported in 2005 that a bilateral working group had developed a draft union constitutional act, to be ratified by a referendum held in both countries, but no dates for the referendum have been proposed. A dispute with Russia in late 2006 and early 2007 over gas prices and oil import duties raised further doubts about the future of the union.

U.S.-BELARUSIAN RELATIONS

The United States recognized Belaru-sian independence on December 25, 1991. After the two countries established diplomatic relations, the U.S. Embassy in Minsk was officially opened on January 31, 1992. Ambassador David H. Swartz, the first Ambassador to Belarus, officially assumed post on August 25, 1992—the first anniversary of Belarusian independence—and departed post on completion of his term in late January 1994.

On November 7, 1994, Ambassador Kenneth S. Yalowitz assumed post. He was succeeded by Ambassador Daniel V. Speckhard, who served from August 1997 to August 2000, spending one year recalled to Washington because of a dispute between the government and Western embassies over the confiscation of diplomatic residences. Michael G. Kozak served as U.S. Ambassador from October 2000 to August 2003. George A. Krol served as U.S. Ambassador from September 2003 to July 2006. Karen Brevard Stewart replaced Ambassador Krol as U.S. Ambassador and arrived in Belarus on September 18, 2006.

The two countries exchanged top-level official visits in the early years of independence. Stanislav Shushkevich, the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Belarus, met with President Clinton in Washington in July 1992, and President Clinton visited Belarus on January 15, 1994. After this high point in relations, however, bilateral relations cooled following the election of President Alexander Lukashenko in July 1994.

On September 12, 1995 three hot air balloons participating in the Coupe Gordon Bennett race entered Belaru-sian air space. Despite the fact that race organizers informed the Belaru-sian Government about the race in May and that flight plans had been filed, the Belarusian air force shot down one balloon, killing two American citizens, and forced the other two to land. The crews of the other two balloons were fined for entering Belarus without a visa and released. Belarus to date has not apologized or offered compensation for these killings.

In November 1996, the Lukashenko regime conducted an internationally unrecognized constitutional referendum, which resulted in the dissolution of Belarus’ legitimate parliament and the centralization of power in the executive branch. In that same year, the Belarusian authorities provoked a diplomatic crisis by demanding and, in contravention of international law, eventually confiscating diplomatic residences in the Drozdy housing compound, including the U.S. Ambassador’s residence. This action led the United States and other countries to withdraw their ambassadors from Belarus until the Belarusian authorities provided compensation and guarantees to respect international law. In addition, Lukashenko used his newly centralized power to repress human rights throughout the country, including persecuting members of the illegally disbanded Belarusian parliament (13th Supreme Soviet) and former members of his own government.

As a result of these events and tendencies, in 1997, the United States announced its decision to pursue a “selective engagement” policy with the Government of Belarus. This policy included downgrading government-to-government contacts to the level of Assistant Secretary and below, and restricting U.S. Government assistance to the Belarusian Government—with some exceptions including humanitarian assistance and exchange programs with state-run educational institutions. At the same time, the U.S. greatly expanded contacts with Belarusian civil society to promote democratization in Belarus.

Since 1997, despite growing U.S. engagement with Belarusian society, official bilateral relations have remained at a low level. In 2003, the United States, in tandem with the European Union, proposed a step-by-step, gradual approach to improve bilateral relations: the United States would respond positively to genuine efforts by Belarusian authorities to improve Belarus’ human rights and electoral practices. Belarusian authorities failed to take such steps to warrant a positive response.

In October 2004, the U.S. Congress passed, and the President signed, the Belarus Democracy Act, designed to promote democratization. In signing the act, President Bush noted that the authorities were turning Belarus into “a regime of repression in the heart of Europe,” and set out the U.S. policy of working “with our allies and partners to assist those seeking to return Belarus to its rightful place among the Euro-Atlantic community of democracies.” Together with the EU, the U.S. has imposed targeted sanctions against Belarusian officials implicated in human rights abuses and election fraud, including travel restrictions and targeted financial sanctions imposed in 2006 after the deeply flawed presidential election. To underscore U.S. support for the Belarusian people’s democratic aspirations, the President and Secretary of State met with a number of Belaru-sian activists in 2005 and 2006. U.S. assistance supports democratic political forces, civil society, exchanges, education and independent media, including external broadcasting, to help those promoting democracy and providing access to independent information in Belarus. On January 12, 2007, President Bush signed the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act, which calls for targeted sanctions against Belarusian officials, while continuing assistance for democracy building activities.

U.S.-Belarusian Economic Relations

The U.S. Government continues to support the development of the private sector in Belarus and its transition to a free market economy. With the advent of the Lukashenko regime, Belarusian authorities have pursued a generally hostile policy toward the private sector and have refused to initiate the basic economic reforms necessary to create a market-based economy. Most of the Belaru-sian economy remains in government hands. The government, in particular the presidential administration, exercises control over most enterprises in all sectors of the economy. In addition to driving away many major foreign investors—largely through establishment of a “Golden Share” requirement, which allows government control in all companies with foreign investment—Belarus’ centralization and command approach to the economy has left only a trickle of U.S. Government and international assistance programs in this field.

In February 1993, a bilateral trade treaty guaranteeing reciprocal most-favored-nation status entered into force. In January 1994, the U.S. and Belarus signed a bilateral investment treaty, which has been ratified by Belarus but has not been ratified by the U.S. Senate. In addition, due to continuing repression of labor rights in Belarus, the U.S. removed Belarus from the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) in 2000.

The United States has encouraged Belarus to conclude and adhere to agreements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on macroeconomic stabilization and related reform measures, as well as to undertake increased privatization and to create a favorable climate for business and investment. Although there has been some American direct private investment in Belarus, its development has been relatively slow. An Overseas Private Investment Corporation agreement was signed in June 1992 but has been suspended since 1995 because Belarus did not fulfill its obligations under the agreement. Belarus is eligible for Export-Import Bank short-term financing insurance for U.S. investments, but because of the adverse business climate, no projects have been initiated. The IMF granted standby credit in September 1995, but Belarus fell off the program and did not receive the second tranche of funding, which had been scheduled for regular intervals throughout 1996. Since that time, Belarus has had an ongoing discussion to relaunch IMF-backed reforms, concluding an IMF Staff-Monitored Program (SMP) in 2001, which ended in September 2001 with relatively disappointing results. In early 2004, Belarus halted negotiations on a follow-on stand-by arrangement due to disagreements with the IMF on macroeconomic policy and claiming that it did not require IMF funding.

Because of the unpredictable and at times hostile environment for investors, the U.S. Government currently does not encourage U.S. companies to invest in Belarus. Belarus’ continuing problems with an opaque, arbitrary legal system, a confiscatory tax regime, cumbersome licensing system, price controls, and lack of an independent judiciary create a business environment not conducive to prosperous, profitable investment. In fact, several U.S. investors in Belarus have left, including the Ford Motor Company.

U.S. Assistance to Belarus

U.S. Government assistance programs in Belarus support and encourage civil society development, access to independent information, pro-democracy forces, and the emergence of democracy in a very difficult and challenging environment. Most assistance is in the form of training and exchanges, as well as small grants and capacity-building for local non-governmental organizations. The U.S. also supports external radio broadcasting into Belarus. Because the Belarusian authorities have not embraced market reforms, the U.S. is able to program only modest activities in support of private entrepreneurs. The U.S. provides some health program funding and supports international organizations’ efforts in Belarus to combat the growing problem of trafficking in persons. With very limited exceptions, including humanitarian assistance and exchange programs involving state-run educational institutions, bilateral assistance is not channeled through the Government of Belarus.

From FY 1992 through FY 1995, the U.S. Government provided more than $455 million in assistance to Belarus, and transferred over $233 million in U.S. Defense Department excess and privately donated humanitarian commodities. Assistance is provided to Belarus under the Freedom for Russia and Emerging Eurasian Democracies and Open Markets (FREEDOM) Support Act (FSA) enacted in October 1992. U.S. Government assistance to Belarus peaked in 1994 at a level of approximately $76 million (consisting of more than $16 million in FREEDOM Support Act funds and some $60 million in funds from various U.S. Government agencies). However, U.S. assistance levels dropped sharply due to the lack of progress in democratic and economic reform after the coming to power of Alexander Lukashenko in mid-1994.

Belarus was previously a recipient of assistance under the U.S. Defense Department’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program, whose objective is to reduce the threat posed to the United States by weapons of mass destruction remaining on the territory of the former Soviet Union, by promoting denuclearization and demilitarization, and preventing weapons proliferation. However, in February 1997, due to the Belarusian Government’s poor record on human rights, President Clinton de-certified Belarus, rendering the country ineligible for further CTR assistance and placing restrictions on other security-related assistance as well.

The United States and Belarus signed a government-to-government umbrella agreement on CTR assistance in 1992, seven agency-to-agency CTR implementing agreements, and one memorandum of understanding and cooperation; the umbrella agreement was extended for one year in October 1997, but has now expired. For more detailed information on U.S. Government assistance to Belarus, please see the annual reports to Congress on U.S. Government Assistance to and Cooperative Activities with Eurasia, which are available in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs section on the State Department’s website.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

MINSK (E) Address: 46, Starovilenskaya St., Minsk Belarus 220002; APO/FPO: PSC 78 Box B Minsk, APO AE 09723; Phone: (375) (17) 210-1283; Fax: (375) (17) 234-7853; Workweek: M-F/0830–1730; Website: wwww.usembassy.minsk.by

AMB:Karen B. Stewart
AMB OMS:Nancy Walraven
DCM:Jonathan Moore
DCM OMS:Carol Jackson
POL:Dereck Hogan
CON:Sara Michel
MGT:Kirby Nelson
AGR:(Res in Moscow)
AID:Chuck Howell
CLO:Sandra Ricks
DAO:Keith Detwiler–Army
DEA:(Res in Vienna)
FAA:(res in Brussels)
FMO:Kevin Morgan
GSO:Neil McGurty
ICASS Chair:Chuck Howell
IMO:Mike Walton
IRS:Susan Stanley (Res. in Frankfurt)
ISO:Timothy Teas
LEGATT:(Res in Kiev)
PAO:James Land
RSO:Bernard Nixon
State ICASS:Dereck Hogan

Last Updated: 11/22/2006

TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet : October 20, 2006

Country Description: Belarus became an independent republic on August 25, 1991, after the breakup of the Soviet Union. In November 1996, a constitutional referendum, not recognized by the international community, centralized power in the executive branch (president), headed by Alexander Lukashenko. Economic and political reform in Belarus has stalled or is being reversed under his authoritarian government. The Belarusian Government’s human rights record remains very poor and has worsened in some instances. Belarus held presidential elections on March 19, 2006; as a result, President Lukashenko gained a third term. International observers, as well as the U.S. and EU, judged the elections to be seriously flawed and democratic nations condemned the subsequent governmental crackdown on peaceful protests in Minsk. Both Belarusian and Russian are official languages, and Russian is widely spoken throughout the country, particularly in the cities. Tourist facilities are not highly developed, but food and lodging in the capital and some regional centers are adequate.

Entry/Exit Requirements: A passport and visa are required. Travelers must obtain a visa in order to visit or transit through Belarus. Travelers who do not have a visa cannot register at hotels. U.S. citizens visiting or residing in Belarus are required to register with the local office of visas and registration (OVIR) within three working days after arrival. Failure to do so can result in fines and visits from local law enforcement authorities.

U.S. citizens staying in hotels are automatically registered at check-in. Visa validity dates are strictly enforced; travelers should request sufficient time to allow for delays in arrival and departure, and should carefully review the beginning and ending dates of their visas before traveling.

Exit Visa: A valid visa is necessary to depart Belarus. Generally, the visa issued by a Belarusian Embassy or Consulate is valid for entry and exit. It is helpful to make a photocopy of your visa in the event of loss, but note that a copy of your visa will not be sufficient for leaving the country, as Belarusian border officials always ask for the original.

Travelers who overstay their visa’s validity—even for one day—will be prevented from leaving until they have been granted an extension by OVIR. United States citizens without valid visas face delays in leaving Belarus and may have trouble finding adequate accommodation. By Belaru-sian law, travelers with an expired visa may not check in at any hotel, guesthouse, hostel, or other lodging establishment in Belarus.

On February 4, 2006, changes to the 1993 Law on the Legal Status of Foreign Citizens and Stateless Persons in the Republic of Belarus entered into force. The legislation introduces three new categories of legal presence in Belarus. Foreign citizens may be granted permission for a temporary stay (up to 90 days within a chronological year), temporary residence (up to one year), or permanent residence.

Belarusian Embassies and Consulates will issue visas for temporary stays. A temporary stay visa will allow the bearer to be present physically in Belarus for a maximum of 90 days within the 365-day period for which the visa is issued. Once an individual has spent 90 days in Belarus, at one time or through a combination of visits, he or she will not be eligible to receive another visa until the original 365-day period has passed.

Individuals who receive a visa for a temporary stay, but wish to remain in Belarus for longer than 90 days, will need to apply for temporary or permanent residence with the Ministry of Interior. Individuals must make the application in Belarus and within the 90 days allotted for a temporary stay. Permission for temporary residence can be granted to students, spouses or close relatives of Belaru-sian citizens, or for “work, business, or other activities.” Travelers may contact the Consular Section at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk for information about application procedures for temporary or permanent residence.

The new legislation also introduces a migration card that will be filled out by foreign citizens upon entry into Belarus. Foreign citizens will be required to retain this card and present it to the border authorities when exiting Belarus.

Another provision in the new legislation states that foreign citizens visiting and transiting Belarus should be prepared to demonstrate sufficient financial means to support their stay. For individuals in Belarus for less than one month, this amount is equal to approximately USD 15/day/person. For those staying for longer than one month, the requirements call for USD 375/person/month. Belarusian officials may request this proof of funds at the time of visa application, at the border, or during registration. According to the Ministry of Interior, cash, credit cards, paid hotel reservations, or a letter from an inviting party pledging full financial support are sufficient means to demonstrate financial wherewithal.

Belarus requires all foreign nationals (other than accredited diplomats) entering the country to purchase medical insurance at the port-of-entry, regardless of any other insurance they might have. Costs for this insurance will vary according to the length of stay. (Subject to change, current information puts costs at $1.00 for a one-or two-day stay, $15.00 for a stay up to 30-31 days, and $85.00 for a stay of one year.)

A presidential decree adopted in June 2005 requires citizens of foreign countries to pay a one-time fee when entering/exiting Belarus. This entry/exit tax currently amounts to approximately $3.00 per person. Travelers should receive a receipt and produce this document at the request of Border Control Officers at border crossing points. Diplomats and their family members, as well as members of official delegations and representatives of international organizations, are exempt from the duty.

Travelers entering Belarus by air with more than 50 kilograms of luggage (110 pounds) will be charged 2 Euro 2 per kilogram in excess of that limit. The fee must be paid in dollars or Euros. Travelers should declare all electrical and electronic equipment or devices upon entry; failure to do so will require the traveler to pay up to 30 percent customs duty on these items upon departure. Travelers should complete two customs declarations at the time of entry and should retain one copy and produce it at the time of exit in order to prove that items were not acquired while in Belarus. In accordance with current customs regulations, foreigners may enter Belarus with up to $10,000 and exit the country with up to $3,000 without submitting a written declaration.

Travelers who enter and then leave Belarus in a private vehicle at two different points are often required to pay a “green” tax, or ecology tax, which is levied by the regional authorities.

The Belarusian government sometimes enforces a requirement for special permits to travel in “protected border zones.” The Government of Belarus has not provided information defining the parameters of those zones. Travelers should be alert for warning signs, road barriers, and/or border guard posts, and are advised not to cross into such areas without permission.

Foreign missionaries may not engage in religious activities outside the institutions that invited them unless they have a religious worker visa. One-year validity, multiple-entry, “spiritual activities” visas, which are required of foreign missionaries, can be difficult to get, even for faiths that are registered with the government and have a long history in the country. Approval often involves a difficult bureaucratic process. It is not clear whether the legislation introducing three new categories of legal presence in Belarus will impact the procedures for receiving a religious worker visa.

A law signed in October 2002 required all religious groups and organizations, including recognized “traditional” religions such as Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Orthodox Judaism, Sunni Islam and the Lutheran Church, to re-register, and many such organizations chose to do so. Unregistered religious groups may not legally gather for religious purposes. Many groups continue to meet, however, leaving them vulnerable to selective implementation of the law by authorities. The law also stipulates that only Belarusian citizens can head religious organizations in Belarus. In recent years, authorities have harassed, warned, fined, and briefly detained members of some unregistered and so-called “non-traditional” faiths for engaging in unsanctioned worship or proselytism. The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends that any U.S. citizen who chooses to attend a religious service of an unregistered religious group do so only after consulting with members of the group about the risk of harassment or possible arrest by local law enforcement authorities. U.S. citizens are also urged to contact the U.S. Embassy should they encounter any problems with authorities due to their participation in such services or events.

U.S. citizens traveling through Belarus to other countries are strongly reminded that there is a transit visa requirement for entering and leaving Belarus. Transit visas should be obtained prior to any journey that requires travel through Belarus. Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Russian visas are no substitute for this transit visa. Most travel agencies, including those in Russia and CIS countries, as well as train ticket sales personnel, are often not aware of this visa requirement and may not seek a transit visa for a traveler unless instructed by the traveler to do so. U.S. citizens traveling to Belarus via Russia are reminded that they must possess a Russian transit visa in addition to their Belarusian visa. The Russian Embassy generally does not issue transit or tourist visas to Americans in Belarus.

U.S. citizens attempting to transit Belarus without a valid Belarusian transit visa have been denied entry into the country and forcibly removed from trains. In some instances, local border and train authorities have threatened passengers who did not possess a valid transit visa with jail or extorted “fines.” American citizens are advised not to pay any border or train officials for transit visas or “transit visa fines” as these officials are not authorized to issue such visas. Americans finding themselves in Belarus without transit visas should, if confronted by border or train personnel, demand to be put in contact with consular officials at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk.

After August 15, 2002, naturalized U.S. citizens originally from Belarus do not automatically lose Belarusian citizenship upon naturalization. Such individuals retain Belarusian citizenship unless they take specific steps to renounce it. The Belarusian authorities will allow naturalized U.S. citizens from Belarus without a valid Belarusian passport to enter the country on a “certificate of return” issued by Belarusian Embassies and Consulates abroad, but please note that a valid Belarusian passport will be required to leave the country. It can take between two to four weeks to receive a new Belarusian passport. For additional information please consult with the Embassy of Belarus at http://www.belarusembassy.org/.

Children born to Belarusian parent(s) before August 15, 2002, even if born in the United States and in possession of a U.S. passport, may not be issued a Belarusian visa for travel to Belarus. The Belarusian government considers these children to be Belaru-sian citizens until age 16, when they may choose to accept or reject that claim to citizenship. Instead of a visa, a “certificate of return” is issued that will allow the child to enter Belarus. It is imperative that parents of such children understand that, in order to leave the country, the child will be required to have a Belarusian passport if he/she does not already have one. It can take anywhere from two weeks to a month to complete the application procedures and receive a new Belarusian passport. (Note: if the parent left on a series PP passport, given to Belarusians who reside abroad and have cancelled their local registration, then Belarus would not require the child to reject his/her claim to citizenship). After 2002, when one parent is Belarusian and the other parent is a foreigner, the parents must by mutual consent agree to Belarusian citizenship for the child, regardless of place of birth. If the parents cannot reach consensus, Belarus would only force Belaru-sian citizenship on a child in cases where the child would be left stateless. Visit the Embassy of Belarus web site at http://www.belarusembassy.org/ for the most current visa information or contact the Embassy of Belarus at 1619 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20009, tel. 202-986-1606, fax: 202-986-1805, [email protected] belarusembassy.org.

Safety and Security: Both organized and spontaneous demonstrations occur in Belarus. Localized street disturbances relating to political events occur most frequently in Minsk or larger cities. In some instances, authorities may use force to disperse protesters; bystanders, including foreign nationals, may face the possibility of arrest, beating, or detention. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can sometimes become confrontational and escalate into violence. For this reason, it is recommended that American citizens avoid all demonstrations and protest gatherings. Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities. These sites are not always clearly marked and application of these restrictions is subject to interpretation. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s Internet web site where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Crime: Belarus has a moderate incidence of street crime. Though violent crime against foreigners is rare, criminals have been known to use force if met with resistance from victims. Common street crimes, such as mugging and pickpocketing, occur most frequently near public transportation venues, near hotels frequented by foreigners, and/or at night in poorly lit areas.

American citizens and other foreigners have also been the victims of car theft, car vandalism, and hotel and residential break-ins. Foreigners visiting nightclubs and discos should pay particular attention to their surroundings, as criminal elements may rob unsuspecting patrons after drugging their drinks. Travelers should keep a copy of their passport in a separate location from their original.

Information for Victims of Crime: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the U.S. Embassy in Minsk. If you are the victim of a crime in Belarus, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Minsk for assistance. The Embassy staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Medical Facilities and Health Information: Medical care in Belarus is limited. There is a severe shortage of basic medical supplies, including anesthetics, vaccines and antibiotics. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Travelers are encouraged to ensure that they bring an adequate supply of prescription medications in the event that there are delays in departing Belarus.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Belarus is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Individual U.S. state drivers’ licenses are not recognized in Belarus unless accompanied by an international drivers’ license. When U.S. state licenses are used in conjunction with an international drivers’ license, U.S. citizens may drive in Belarus for up to three months. U.S. citizens should, therefore, always carry with them their passports to prove date of entry into the country in the event that police stop them. After residing in Belarus for three months, one may apply for a local driver’s license. Drivers will be required to successfully complete a two-part test in Russian. The first part is a computer-based multiple-choice test on local driving rules. The second part of the test is a driving test. To receive a local driver’s license, drivers will also need to complete a medical exam at a special medical clinic, which will include a general physical, a chest x-ray, and an eye exam.

Radar traps and road construction sites, both often unlit at night, are widespread. Except for a stretch of the main east-west highway, where the speed limit is 100 km/h (60 mph), the maximum speed limit on divided highways or main roads outside village, town or city limits is 90 km/h (55 mph). Speed limits in cities are 60 km/h unless marked and will usually range between 40 km/h and 70 km/h, with frequent radar traps. Visible and hidden dangers exist, including potholes, unlit or poorly lit streets, inattentive and dark-clothed pedestrians walking on unlit roads, drivers and pedestrians under the influence of alcohol, and disregard for traffic rules. Driving in winter is especially dangerous because of ice and snow. Driving with caution is urged at all times.

Radio-dispatched taxi services are generally reliable, arrive promptly once called and usually offer the lowest fare. Most radio-dispatched taxis are metered, although fares can vary greatly and are considerably higher in the late evening and overnight hours. Unmetered taxis and private autos are also available; however, using such taxis is not recommended, as they are often more expensive for foreigners and less safe. In the event a traveler must use such a taxi, he or she should not travel alone and should agree to the price of the trip before getting into the vehicle.

Minsk has a clean, safe, and efficient subway system that easily reaches most of the city center. Service is stopped briefly during the early morning hours, but otherwise runs regularly throughout the day. Ticket prices are extremely low by western standards. Though their routes are extensive, buses and trolleys lack heating or cooling capabilities and are usually crowded.

Travelers on all public transportation should be wary of pickpockets and other petty crime. For travelers interested in car rental, only one major western rental agency currently operates in Minsk. In general, rental car networks in Belarus are not well developed. Travelers may experience significant delays (of several hours) in crossing the border by road into neighboring countries. Visit the website of the Republic of Belarus National Tourism Agency at http://www.touragency.by/.

Aviation Safety Oversight: As there is no direct commercial air service between the United States and Belarus, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Belarus’ Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov.

Special Circumstances: Traveler’s checks are not widely accepted in Belarus. Most hotels accept either American Express or Visa credit cards. In addition, one hotel in Minsk, “Planeta,” provides cash from Visa credit cards during business hours. Travelers face arrest if they attempt to buy items with currency other than Belarusian rubles.

Authorized currency exchange centers are widely available throughout major cities. ATMs are also available for use, and it has become easier to use credit cards and debit cards in Belarus, especially in Minsk. However, this does not mean that it is safer to do so. There have been reports of instances in which U.S. citizens have had their card numbers “skimmed” and the money in their debit accounts stolen or their credit cards fraudulently charged. (“Skimming” is the theft of credit card information by an employee of a legitimate merchant or bank, manually copying down numbers or using a magnetic stripe reader.) In addition to skimming, the risk of physical theft of credit or debit cards also exists.

To prevent such theft, the Embassy recommends that travelers keep close track of their personal belongings when out and about and that they only carry that which is needed. If travelers choose to use credit cards, they should regularly check their account status to ensure its integrity. Persons seeking to marry in Belarus should consult the information located on the Embassy website at http://minsk.usembassy.gov/html/marriage.html.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Belaru-sian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belarus are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Children’s Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues website at http://travel.state.gov/family/family_1732.html.

Registration/Embassy Location: Americans living or traveling in Belarus are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration website and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Belarus.

Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy is located in Minsk at 46 Starovilenskaya Ulitsa; telephone (375) 17-210-12-83 or after hours (375) 17-226-16-01, fax (375) 17-234-78-53 or (375) 17-217-71-60 (consular section). The Consular Section may also be reached by email at Consular [email protected]

International Adoption : February 2007

The information below has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family.

Disclaimer: The information in this flyer relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is based on public sources and current understanding. Questions involving foreign and U.S. immigration laws and legal interpretation should be addressed respectively to qualified foreign or U.S. legal counsel.

Please Note: The Government of Belarus has not completed any U.S. adoptions of Belarusian children since October 2004. Although the Government of Belarus changed its adoption procedures in 2005, inter-country adoptions involving U.S. families have yet to proceed. Thus, the information in this flyer relates to how the process should work, according to Belarusian law, if and when the Government of Belarus again begins allowing U.S. adoptions. The government of Belarus stresses that American citizens interested in adopting a child in Belarus should not travel to that country until the stipulated adoption procedures have been completed.

Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family.

Patterns of Immigration: Please review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family.

Adoption Authority:
Belarusian National Adoption Center
Ms. Natalia Pospelova, Director
Platonova Str. 22, 11 th Floor
Minsk, BELARUS
Tel: 375 – 17-232-6701
Fax: 375 – 17-231-0617

Eligibility Requirements for Adoptive Parents: A prospective parent may be married, single, divorced, or widowed. A prospective parent must be at least 16 years older than the adoptive child. Single parents are permitted to adopt a child of either sex.

Residential Requirements: There are no residency requirements for Belarusian adoptions.

Time Frame: The adoption process in Belarus from start to finish generally takes 18 months.

Adoption Agencies and Attorneys: Although foreign adoption agencies are permitted to facilitate adoptions in Belarus, the actual adoption procedures are handled exclusively through Belarusian government bodies, while the foreign agency is restricted to a purely liaison role. Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family.

Adoption Fees: Adoptive parents can expect to pay $18,000 to $25,000 to complete an adoption in Belarus.

Adoption Procedures: Interested American citizens should find and work with a licensed adoption agency or provider that employs representatives or facilitators in Belarus. Applicants must send their completed application, together with Russian language translations of all documents, to the consular section of the Belarusian Embassy in Washington, D.C. After verifying and notarizing the documents, the Embassy transmits them to the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Minsk.

Once it has been established that there is no possibility of a child’s adoption by a Belarusian family, the National Adoption Center (NAC) gains the consent of the child’s guardian or orphanage director, the district (municipal) department of education, and the regional (oblast) department of education within a respective regional executive council and then initiates putting the child’s name on the List of Children for International Adoption. If the Council approves the adoption of the child to the prospective parents, the case is sent back to the NAC. Foreign prospective adoptive parents are notified of the prospective match after it is approved by the Minister of Education. Belaru-sian authorities will also inform the prospective adoptive parents when their court hearing date has been set. When the prospective parents arrive in Belarus, they will meet the child in the presence of a representative of the local guardianship and custody authority and then go to the appropriate regional court or to the Minsk City Court. The respective court then considers the case and rules for or against the adoption of the Belaru-sian child to foreign adoptive parents.

Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family.

Post-Adoption Reporting Requirements: Belarusian law requires that adoptive parents register their child with the Belarusian consular office that covers the child’s new place of residence. Parents should do this as soon as possible after they and the child have entered the United States.

Belarusian law also requires that the appropriate social services agency in the child’s new country of residence visit the child at least once a year for the first five years following the adoption and provide a report to the Government of Belarus. Parents of Belarusian adopted children may, however, choose to provide to the Belarusian embassy or consular office their own annual reports on the children’s well being. Such reports serve to reassure the Government of Belarus that the United States and its citizens adequately care for and protect Belarusian adopted children.

Belarusian Citizenship: Under Belarusian law, children adopted from Belarus remain citizens of Belarus at least until their 16th birthdays, notwithstanding the children’s acquisition of a new citizenship in their new country. When the child turns 16, the adoptive parents may apply to the Belarusian embassy in Washington to have the child’s Belarusian citizenship terminated. Parents with more detailed questions concerning this process should contact the Belarusian embassy at the address provided further down in this flyer.

Embassy and Consulate in the United States:
1619 New Hampshire Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20009
Tel: (202) 986-1606
fax: (202) 986-1805
Email: [email protected]
http://www.belarusembassy.org/

Belarus also has a Consulate in New York at its UN Mission.

U.S. Immigration Requirements: Prospective adopting parents are strongly encouraged to consult U.S. CIS publication M-249, The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adopting Children, as well as the Department of State publication, International Adoptions. Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family.

U.S. Embassy Belarus:
Consular Section, U.S. Embassy
46 Starovilenskaya St.
220002 Minsk, Belarus
Tel: 375-17-210-1283

Additional Information: Specific questions about adoption in Belarus may be addressed to the U.S. Embassy in Belarus. General questions regarding international adoption may be addressed to the Office of Children’s Issues, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/CI, SA-29, 4th Floor, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818, toll-free Tel: 1-888-407-4747.

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Belarus

Belarus

Type of Government

Belarus, which gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, is a republic whose government is structured like many other republics, with an executive branch headed by a president elected by popular vote, a bicameral (two-chamber) legislature, and a judicial branch led by a Supreme Court. Belarus, however, retains many of the characteristics of an authoritarian socialist regime. Its longtime leader, Aleksandr Lukashenko (1954–), has flouted and even altered the Belarus constitution since coming to power in 1994 and is often described as Europe’s last dictator.

Background

Situated at the far end of Eastern Europe, Belarus—which means “White Russia” in most of the Slavic languages—shares borders with Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Lithuania, and Latvia. Just over three-quarters of its population of 9.7 million identify themselves as Belarusian, and another 13 percent are ethnic Russians; most of the remainder are either Poles or Ukrainians. The original inhabitants of Belarus, a mixture of Baltic and Slavic peoples, came under the rule of the princes of Kievan Rus, who conquered what was known as the principality of Polatsk around 980. In the mid-thirteenth century Belarus became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a sizable empire that included the Baltic territories, part of Poland, and much of Ukraine.

In 1772 Belarus was annexed by Russia, a turn of events aided by a predominantly Russian Orthodox Belarusian population who had long resented the domination of a landowning class of Polish Catholic extraction. Belarusian nationalism surfaced in the latter half of the nineteenth century, propelled by a movement to establish a formal Belarusian-language grammar and literary tradition. In the final months of World War I, Belarusian nationalists proclaimed an independent Republic of Belarus on March 25, 1918, but less than a year later Red Army troops from the new Soviet Russia invaded the Belarus capital, Minsk. The area remained part of the Soviet Union as the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR) until 1991.

In 1988 a mass grave was uncovered near Minsk containing the remains of some one hundred thousand victims of a Soviet or Nazi atrocity during World War II. The shocking discovery helped renew nationalist fervor, and the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF) came into being in October 1988 under the leadership of Zianon Pazniak (1944–), the researcher who had played a large role in publicizing the grave’s discovery. By then a new, reform-minded Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev (1931–), had risen to power in Moscow, and multiparty elections were held for the first time in the Soviet republics in 1990. Belarus’s election for deputies to its Supreme Soviet took place in March of that year, and in July 1990 the newly seated Supreme Soviet issued a Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. Full sovereignty came a year later in the wake of an attempted coup in Moscow by Communist Party hardliners in August 1991.

Government Structure

The Republic of Belarus’s constitution was adopted in 1994 and significantly amended twice in referenda that failed to meet international standards for free and fair voting. It provides for an executive branch with a president elected by popular vote to what was originally a five-year term, with a two-term limit imposed. The president serves as head of state and appoints a prime minister who is the head of the government. The president also appoints a cabinet. In 1996 a constitutional referendum was held and its proposed amendments passed; these gave the office of president far greater power and extended the term of incumbent Aleksandr Lukashenko until 2001, though the vote was denounced as fraudulent. One of the amendments created an upper house of the legislature and restricted the entire National Assembly to two sessions yearly, not to exceed 170 days in total. Furthermore, the new amendment granted the president the power to rule by decree when the National Assembly was not in session. A 2004 referendum that ended presidential term limits also passed by a wide but suspect margin of yes votes.

The two houses of the Belarus National Assembly are the Council of the Republic, the upper house, and a lower body called the Chamber of Representatives. The upper house has sixty-four members who serve four-year terms. Eight of them are appointed by the president, while regional councils for the country’s seven administrative divisions each chose eight deputies. The Council is charged with enacting laws, approving the national budget, and carrying out foreign-policy directives. The lower house of the National Assembly has 110 members who are elected to four-year terms by direct vote from single-member constituencies.

The judiciary of Belarus remains closely allied with the executive branch. A Constitutional Court exists for judicial review of legislation, with half of its judges appointed by the president and the other half by the Chamber of Representatives; all serve eleven-year terms. After the sham 1996 constitutional referendum, seven of the Constitutional Court judges resigned in protest and were replaced by Lukashenko with political supporters. Belarus also has a Supreme Court, which serves as the highest court of appeal in the land and has consistently sided with the Lukashenko government in its decisions. One example of this has been the president’s crackdown on international human rights organizations in Belarus, with the Supreme Court ordering the confiscation of some of these groups’ equipment and assets.

Civil liberties in Belarus are virtually nonexistent. Lukashenko’s government regularly shuts down independent newspapers, compels journalists to receive state accreditation in order to work, and monitors all religious groups. Criticism of the government is forbidden by law, and arbitrary arrest and detention at the hands of the state security apparatus—which still bears its Soviet-era name, shortened to acronym form as KGB—serves to keep journalists, opposition leaders, and even ordinary citizens fearful. Telephone conversations, both landline and wireless, are monitored, and private mail is opened. Belarusian citizens are required to carry internal passports, and changes of residency are difficult to obtain. Along with Albania, Belarus is one of the two remaining European nations whose statutes still include the death penalty.

Organizing a public protest can be construed as a criminal offense in Belarus, and those convicted face a minimum three-year jail term. Prison conditions are said to be abysmal, and tuberculosis outbreaks have occurred due to overcrowding from an unusually large number of political detainees, who may be held without trial indefinitely. Some of Lukashenko’s political opponents have simply vanished, most notably in the 1999 disappearances of Yuryy Zakharanka, once the Minister of Internal Affairs, and Viktar Hanchar, former head of the Central Election Commission.

Political Parties and Factions

Belarus has multiparty elections, but the Central Election Commission, staffed by Lukashenko loyalists, consistently rejects the ballot-registration applications of opposition candidates, and the majority of seats in the National Assembly are held by independent candidates who are Lukashenko supporters. The Belarusian Popular Front (BPF), founded in 1988, renamed itself the Partyja BNF and joined several other political parties to mount an organized opposition to Lukashenko as People’s Coalition 5 Plus in the 2004 legislative elections; the group failed to win any seats in a contest denounced as blatantly manipulated by the Lukashenko government.

A year later members of the Coalition 5 Plus became United Democratic Forces of Belarus in preparation for the March 2006 presidential election. In that race Aleksandr Milinkevich (1947–) was Lukashenko’s main challenger, but the incumbent won with 82 percent of the vote in balloting that was marked by fraud once again. Crowds in Minsk jeered in the public square as large-screen televisions broadcast the official results, which gave Milinkevich just six percent of the popular vote. The opposition leader spoke before the crowd and was later arrested for participating in what was termed an unauthorized rally.

There are some active underground groups in Belarus, most notably the youth group Zubr (Bison), which operates under conditions of extreme secrecy. It attempts to stage small protest events on the sixteenth day of every month, which commemorates September 16, 1999, the date of Viktar Hanchar’s disappearance. Slavic specialists note, however, that Lukashenko does have a solid support base among rural and older voters, citing the heavy losses the country suffered in World War II that seem to make many older Belarusians uneasy with political change.

Major Events

Three months after Belarus declared its independence in August 1991, it became one of the three founding members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), along with Russia and Ukraine. At the time, Stanislav Shushkevich (1934–) was chair of the Supreme Soviet and acting president, but a 1993 no-confidence vote forced him out of office after he was accused of corruption. In March 1994 Belarus’s new constitution went into effect, which replaced the Supreme Soviet with a National Assembly and provided for a directly elected president. Lukashenko ran as the anticorruption candidate and won by a vote that was judged to be fair. However, he soon began using questionable means to consolidate his power.

The November 1996 referendum marked the most significant turning point for Belarus’s young democracy. As controversy flared prior to the vote, Lukashenko fired the head of the until-then independent Central Election Commission, and on the day of the referendum the building that housed its offices was surrounded by government troops. The official results were denounced as fraudulent by Lukashenko’s political opponents in the National Assembly, who earlier that year had signed a petition threatening him with impeachment for violating the constitution. After the questionable results of the November balloting, Lukashenko summarily dissolved the Assembly and replaced those who refused to withdraw their name from the impeachment petition with handpicked loyalists. Similarly, the president informed the judges of the Constitutional Court that they could remain on the bench if they refrained from choosing sides in the matter.

Twenty-First Century

Basic human rights and efforts to bring peaceful political change in Belarus are so broadly disregarded by the government that outsiders have given it the dubious place of honor as Europe’s last dictatorship. Lukashenko has asserted that he rules with the support of the people, and a superficial addressing of issues takes place every five years at the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly, a general meeting similar to the Soviet-era Communist Party congresses in which twenty-five hundred government officials and handpicked supporters discuss the state of the nation. Lukashenko was the keynote speaker at the 2006 People’s Assembly; he trumpeted the economic successes of the past few years and urged Belarusians to adopt a healthier lifestyle by exercising regularly and cutting down on evening snacks.

Belarus enjoys occasionally tense but mostly cordial relations with Moscow. In 1999 the nation signed the Treaty of Creation with Russia, a document declaring an official intent to establish a Union of Russia and Belarus. A major obstacle remains Belarus’s continued reliance on a Soviet-style centralized economy, despite the urging of Russian president Vladimir Putin (1952–) to adopt free-market reforms. Extreme-right nationalist groups in Russia have even voiced support for Lukashenko’s candidacy in the 2008 Russian presidential election.

Korosteleva, Elena A., Rosalind J. Marsh, and Colin W. Lawson. Contemporary Belarus: Between Democracy and Dictatorship . London: Routledge, 2003.

Marples, David R. Belarus: A Denationalized Nation . Amsterdam: Harwood Academic, 1999.

White, Stephen, Elena Korosteleva, and John Löwenhardt, editors. Postcommunist Belarus . New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005.

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Belarus

Belarus

  • Area: 80,154 sq mi (207,600 sq km) / World Rank: 85
  • Location: Northern and Eastern Hemispheres, in Eastern Europe, east of Poland, west of Russia, south of Latvia and Lithuania, north of Ukraine
  • Coordinates: 53°00′N, 28°00′E
  • Borders: 1,925 mi (3,098 km) total / Latvia, 88 mi (141 km); Lithuania, 312 mi (502 km); Poland, 376 mi (605 km); Russia, 596 mi (959 km); Ukraine, 554 mi (891 km)
  • Coastline: Landlocked country, Belarus has no coastline
  • Highest Point: Dzerzhinskaya Mountain, 1,135 ft (346 m)
  • Lowest Point: Neman River, 295 ft (90 m)
  • Longest Distances: 400 mi (640 km) SW-NE / 310 mi (490 km) N-S
  • Longest River: Dnieper, 1,420 mi (2290 km)
  • Largest Lake: Lake Naroch, 30 sq mi (80 sq km)
  • Natural Hazards: None
  • Population: 10,350,194 (July 2001 est.) / World Rank: 74
  • Capital City: Minsk, located in the center of the country
  • Largest City: Minsk, 1.7 million (2002 est.)

OVERVIEW

The Republic of Belarus is a landlocked country in east central Europe, about 161 mi (260 km) southeast of the Baltic Sea coastline. The topography is relatively flat (average elevation 100 ft / 162 m), and Belarus has no natural borders. The country features thousands of lakes, areas of marshland, and forests.

Although its topography is chiefly flat-to-hilly, the country does have five distinct geographic regions. In the north is the Polotsk Lowland, an area of lakes, hills, and forests. The Neman Lowland in the northwest is similar. The lowlands are separated from each other and the rest of the country by the Belorussian Ridge and smaller uplands. Plains and grasslands lie in the east and central part of the country. The south is dominated by the Polesye Marshes, a vast swampy area that extends into Ukraine. The swampy plains of the south, the northern lakes, and the gently sloping ridges were all the work of glaciers.

MOUNTAINS AND HILLS

Although its terrain is generally level, the Belorussian Ridge, a region of highlands, runs across the center of the country from the southwest to the northeast. The highest elevation is Dzerzhinskaya Mountain (Dzyarzhynskaya Hara; 1135 ft / 346 m).

INLAND WATERWAYS

Lakes

Belarus has over 4,000 lakes. Lakes Drisvyaty and Osveyskoye are near the northern border. The largest is Lake Naroch (Narach) covering 50 sq mi (80 sq km) in the northwest.

Rivers

The Dnieper is the longest river in Belarus at 1420 mi (2290 km). It is the third longest river in Europe; only the Volga and Danube are longer. After crossing the Russian border southwest of the Belorussian Ridge, the river bends south and flows across most of eastern Belarus, passing through the city of Mahilyow before entering Kiev. Main tributaries are the Berezina in the central region and the Pripyat in the south.

The Berezina River in east central Belarus originates in the marshes near the town of Barysaw. It flows southeast for 365 mi (587 km) then joins the Dnieper River, which continues to the Black Sea. The Berezina is important for transporting timber.

The Pripyat and its tributaries flow eastward across the southern part of Belarus before curving southwest and meeting the Dnieper just inside of Ukraine. They are surrounded by the Polesye (or Pripyat) Marshes. The Bug River, which flows north along part of the border with Poland, is connected to the Pripyat-Dnieper system by the Dnieper-Bug Canal.

The major rivers in the north of the country are the Western Dvina and the Neman. The Western Dvina enters the country from Russia and flows across the northern tip of Belarus into Latvia. The Neman has its source in the center of the country and flows west before turning north and entering Lithuania. Canals link both these rivers with the Dnieper helping make it one of the main waterways linking the Black and the Baltic seas.

Wetlands

About 25 percent of Belarus is covered in peat bogs and marshes. The Polesye Marshes are a poorly drained lowland around the Pripyat River, featuring some low hills, that dominate the southern part of Belarus and northern Ukraine. Roughly 300 mi (485 km) across from east to west and 140 mi (225 km) from north to south, they are the largest wetland in Europe. Forests cover about a third of the marshes. The marsh soils are predominantly sandy, and about 70 percent of the soil in Belarus is acidic with fairly large amounts of iron oxides, a type of soil called podzolic. The Polesye Marsh area was once covered by a glacial lake.

THE COAST, ISLANDS, AND THE OCEAN

Belarus is landlocked and has no coast.

CLIMATE AND VEGETATION

Temperature

The Belarusian climate is considered transitional between continental and maritime. Cool temperatures and high humidity predominate, with helpful influence from the nearby Baltic Sea. In January the average temperature is 23°F (-5°C ); in July, 67°F (19°C ). Sometimes in the north, frosts of below -40°F (-40°C) have been recorded. Summer lasts up to 150 days, while winter ranges between 105 and 145 days.

Rainfall

Precipitation ranges between 22.5 and 26.5 in (570 and 610 mm) in an average year; the central region generally receives the highest amount. It is said, with some truth, that in Belarus it either rains or snows every two days.

Population Centers – Belarus
(1999 POPULATION ESTIMATES)
Name Population Name Population
Minsk (Meinsk) 1,725,100 Baranovichi (Baranovichy) 173,800
Hoyel' (Gomel or Homiel) 503,700 Borisov (Barysau) 153,500
Mahilyow (Mogilev or Mahilou) 371,300 Pinsk 133,500
Vitsyebsk (Vitebsk or Viciebsk) 358,700 Orsha (Vorsha) 124,300
Grodno (Horadnia) 308,900 Mozyr (Mazyr) 110,000
Brest (Bierascie) 300,400 Soligorsk 101,700
Bobruysk 228,000 Lida 99,600
SOURCE : Ministry of Statistics and Analysis, Belarus

Grasslands

Outside of the Belorussian Ridge highlands most of the country is flat and well-watered, and although substantial portions are forested or marshland, Belarus still has vast areas of grassland. Roughly a third of the country is suitable for farming.

Forests

Forests and woodlands cover 34 percent of Belarus's land. The forests are scattered and variable in size. In the north, pine is the principal tree, but spruce, oak, birch, alder, and ash trees also are common. A significant part of the Polesye Marshes is wooded. In the southwest, the Belovezhskaya Pushcha Reserve is part of the oldest existing European forest, safe haven of the nearly extinct European bison, or wisent, as well as other birds and animals that have become extinct elsewhere. The reservation extends into Poland, and both countries administer it. Belarus's forests shelter more than 70 mammal and 280 bird species.

HUMAN POPULATION

Some 10,350,194 people (130 persons per sq mi / 50 persons per square kilometer) live in Belarus (July 2001 estimate). Of that number, 68 percent live in urban areas. Roughly four-fifths of the population is ethnically Belarusian, with Russians making up the largest minority. Belarus was a part of the Soviet Union for many years, and Russia before that, and much of the population still uses that language.

NATURAL RESOURCES

Belarus's major natural resources are its forests and peat deposits. The country also has small quantities of oil and natural gas. Manufacturing and commerce are the most important parts of the economy.

FURTHER READINGS

Glover, Jeffrey. "Outlook for Belarus." Review and Outlook for the Former Soviet Union. Washington: PlanEcon, August 1995, pp. 89-104.

"In the Slav Shadowlands," Economist, 335, No. 7915, May 20, 1995, pp. 47-49.

World Bank. Belarus: Energy Sector Review. Washington: April 21, 1995.

Zaprudnik, Jan. Belarus: At a Crossroads in History. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1993.

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Belarus

Belarus

At a Glance

Official Name: Republic of Belarus

Continent: Europe

Area: 80,154 square miles (207,600 sq km)

Population: 10,350,194

Capital City: Minsk

Largest City: Minsk (1.6 million)

Unit of Money: Belerusian rubel

Major Languages: Byelorusian (official), Russian

Natural Resources: Forest, peat, oil, natural gas

The Place

Belarus is located in eastern Europe. This landlocked country consists mostly of flat lowlands—more than half the surface area of Belarus is less than 700 feet (213 m) above sea level. There are three main lowland areas in the country. The Polatsk Lowland lies in the northeastern part of Belarus, and the Nyoman Lowland is located in the north western corner. The Central Byanrezina Plain lies in the middle of the country. To the south of this wide plain are the Pripet Marshes, the largest swamp area in Europe.

These lowlands are divided by rolling hills and upland. Some of the higher parts of the country are made up of ridges formed by glaciers. The Belarusian Ridge—the largest ridge in the country—runs from the Polish border to just north of Minsk. The highest point in the country is Dzyarzhynsk Mountain at 1,135 feet (345 m) above sea level.

The Byelavyezhskaya Forest is located on the country's western border with Poland. It is the largest area of primeval mixed forest in Europe. Approximately 285 square miles (738 sq km) of the 485-square-mile (1,256-sq-km) forest lie within Belarus. The rest of the country has a mix of deciduous and coniferous forests.

Belarus has a temperate climate characterized by high humidity. The country has cold winters. During January, temperatures average around 21° F (-6° C). In the north, temperatures as low as -40° F (-68° C) have been recorded. However, Belarus also experiences warm summers. During July, temperatures average approximately 64° F (18° C). Belarus receives from 20 to 26 inches (50 to 66 centimeters) of precipitation each year.

The People

The people of Belarus are still in a transitional period following the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. After the break-up, the economic situation in the country worsened, and a rise in the cost of living has made life hard for the large lower and middle classes. There are 4.3 million people in the work force, and 40% of them are employed by industry and construction. Another 40% of workers are in the service industry.

About 68% of Belarusians live in cities while the other 32% reside in rural areas. There are 127 people per square mile (50 people per sq km). The largest concentration of people is in the northern part of the country. The south is sparsely populated because of the marshy conditions.

Ongoing medical problems after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in nearby Ukraine still plague Belarus and its health services. In fact, the average number of cancer and leukemia victims has risen by 10,000 since the accident. Many facilities have been built to care for these patients and doctors have been specially trained to treat them. On average, there is 1 doctor for every 246 people. The average life expectancy in Belarus is 68 years.

Education

Children in Belarus are required to attend school between the ages of 7 and 16. Approximately 187,000 students are enrolled in classes today. About 75% of all eligible primary school-and secondary school-aged children go to school. Most classes are still taught in Russian, although it is not the official language of the country.

About 18% of college-age students enroll in a university. Some of Belarus's universities include the Belarusian Agricultural Academy, Homyel State University, and Hrodna State University. There are also special medical and technological institutes in Belarus.

Government

Type: Republic

Structure: Executive

Leader: President/Prime Minister

Defense

50,500 army personnel

2,348 tanks

0 major ships

349 combat aircraft

Popular Culture/Daily Life

Participating in sports is one of the most popular pastimes in Belarus. There are about 70 different sports played throughout the country. Some of the most popular include soccer, ice hockey, basketball, wrestling, and boxing. There are more than 450 specialized children's sports schools and 8 Olympic sports schools. More than 200,000 students study at the 13 schools established for sports specialization. Coaches and sports specialists train at the Sports Academy.

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Belarus

BELARUS

Compiled from the November 2003 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.




Official Name:
Republic of Belarus




PROFILE
HISTORICAL HIGHLIGHTS
ECONOMY
ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
DEFENSE AND MILITARY ISSUES
FOREIGN RELATIONS
U.S.-BELARUSIAN RELATIONS
TRAVEL


PROFILE


Geography

Area: 207,600 sq. km. (80,100 sq. mi.); slightly smaller than Kansas.

Cities: Capital—Minsk.

Terrain: Landlocked, low-lying with thick forests, flat marshes and fields.

Climate: Cold winters, cool and moist summers, transitional between continental and maritime.


People

Nationality: Noun—Belarusian(s). Adjective—Belarusian.

Population: (end of 2002) 9,899,000. Men: 4,642,000. Women: 5,257,000. Urban: 71.1% Rural: 28.9%

Population growth: (thousands of people 2002) -52.4.

Ethnic groups: Belarusian (81.2%), Russian (11.4%), Polish, Ukrainian, Other (7.4%).

Religions: (1997 est.) Eastern Orthodox, other (including Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Protestant, Autocephalous Orthodox, Jewish, and Muslim) 20%.

Languages: Belarusian and Russian (official), other.

Education: Literacy—98%.

Health: Infant mortality rate—14.38/1,000. Life expectancy—67.9 years.

Work force: (4.9 million) Industry—27%; agriculture and forestry—
14.1%; construction—7.0%; transportation, communications —7.2%; trade, catering—12.0%; health services, sports, social services—7.3%; education—10.4%.


Government

Type: Republic.

Constitution: March 30, 1994; revised by unrecognized national referendum of November 24, 1996 giving presidency greatly expanded powers and became effective November 27, 1996.

Independence: 1991 (from Soviet Union).

Branches: Executive—president (head of state), prime minister (head of government), Council of Ministers (cabinet). Legislative—bicameral: the House of Representatives (110 deputies) and the Council of the Republic (64 deputies). The Council of the Republic is the house of territorial representation. Eight members of the Council are appointed directly by the president of the Republic of Belarus, while the rest are elected by local region councils. The deputies to the House of Representatives are elected directly by the voters. Judicial—Supreme Court; Constitutional Court.

Administrative subdivisions: Six voblasts (regions) and one municipality.

Political parties: Agrarian Party (AP); Belarusian Communist Party (KPB); Belarusian Ecological Green Party; Belarusian Patriotic Movement (BPR); Belarusian Popular Front (BNF); Belarusian Social-Democrat Party (BSDP); Social-Democratic Hramada Party; Belarusian Socialist Party; United Civic Party (UCP); Liberal Democratic Party (LDBP); Party of Communists Belarusian (PKB); Republican Party of Labor and Justice (RPPS); Social Democratic Party of Popular Accord (PPA); Women's Party.

Suffrage: Universal at age 18.


Economy

GDP: (2002 est.) $12 billion.

GDP growth rate: (2002) 4.7%

Per capita GDP: (2002) $1,400.

Natural resources: Forest land, peat deposits, small amounts of oil and natural gas.

Agriculture: Products—grain, potatoes, vegetables, flax, beef, milk.

Industry: Types—machinery and transport equipment, chemical products, fabrics, and consumer goods.

Trade: Exports—$8.1 billion (machinery and transport equipment), chemicals, foodstuffs, metals and textiles. Major markets—Russia, Latvia, Great Britain, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania. (2002)Imports—$8.98 billion (mineral products, machinery and equipment, metals, chemicals, foodstuffs). Major suppliers—Russia, Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Italy, Lithuania (2002).

Exchange rate: (March 2003) 1,955.48 BYR (Belarusian rubels) = 1 USD.




HISTORICAL HIGHLIGHTS

While archeological evidence points to settlement in today's Belarus at least 10,000 years ago, recorded history begins with settlement by Baltic and Slavic tribes in the early centuries A.D. With distinctive features by the ninth century, the emerging Belarusian state was then absorbed by Kievan Rus' in the 9th century. Belarus was later an integral part of what was called Litva, which included today's Belarus as well as today's Lithuania. Belarus was the birthplace of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (Belarusian was the state language of the Grand Duchy until 1697, in part owing to the strong flowering of Belarusian culture during the Renaissance through the works of leading Belarusian humanists such as Frantzisk Skaryna). Belarus was the site of the Union of Brest in 1597, which created the Greek Catholic Church, for long the majority church in Belarus until suppressed by the Russian empire, and the birth place of Thaddeus Kosciuszko, who played a key role in the American Revolution. Occupied by the Russian empire from the end of the 18th century until 1918, Belarus declared its short-lived National Republic on March 25, 1918, only to be forcibly absorbed by the Bolsheviks into what became the Soviet Union. Suffering massive population losses under Stalin and the Nazi occupation, Belarus was retaken by the Soviets in 1944. It declared its sovereignty on July 27, 1990, and independence from the Soviet Union on August 25, 1991. It has been run by the authoritarian Alexander Lukashenko since 1994.


ECONOMY

As part of the former Soviet Union, Belarus had a relatively well developed industrial base; it retained this industrial base following the breakup of the U.S.S.R. The country also has a broad agricultural base and a high education level. Among the former republics of the Soviet Union, it had one of the highest standards of living. But Belarusians now face the difficult challenge of moving from a state-run economy with high priority on military production and heavy industry to a civilian, free-market system.


After an initial outburst of capitalist reform from 1991-94, including privatization of state enterprises, creation of institutions of private property, and entrepreneurship, Belarus under Lukashenko has greatly slowed its pace of privatization and other market reforms, emphasizing the need for a "socially oriented market economy." About 80% of all industry remains in state hands, and foreign investment has been hindered by a climate hostile to business. The banks, which had been privatized after independence, were renationalized under Lukashenko.


Economic output, which declined for several years, revived somewhat in the late 1990s, but the economy remains dependent on Russian subsidies. Until 2000, subsidies to state enterprises and price controls on industrial and consumer staples constituted a major feature of the Belarusian economy. Inflationary monetary practices, including the printing of money also has been regularly used to finance real sector growth and to cover the payment of salaries and pensions.


Peat, the country's most valuable mineral resource, is used for fuel and fertilizer and in the chemical industry. Belarus also has deposits of clay, sand, chalk, dolomite, phosphorite, and rock and potassium salt. Forests cover about a third of the land, and lumbering is an important occupation. Potatoes, flax, hemp, sugarbeets, rye, oats, and wheat are the chief agricultural products. Dairy and beef cattle, pigs, and chickens are raised. Belarus has only small reserves of petroleum and natural gas and imports most of its oil and gas from Russia. The main branches of industry produce tractors and trucks, earthmovers for use in construction and mining, metal-cutting machine tools, agricultural equipment, motorcycles, chemicals, fertilizer, textiles, and consumer goods. The chief trading partners are Russia, Ukraine, Poland, and Germany.

The massive nuclear accident (April 26, 1986) at the Chernobyl power plant, across the border in Ukraine, had a devastating effect on Belarus; as a result of the radiation release, agriculture in a large part of the country was destroyed, and many villages were abandoned. Resettlement and medical costs were substantial and long-term.


In 2000, Belarus managed to unify its currency exchange rates, tightened its monetary policy, and partially liberalized the foreign currency market. These developments led to the conclusion of a staff-monitored program in cooperation with the IMF, addressing, among other topics price and wage liberalization, a widening of privatization, fiscal reform, the adoption of international accounting standards in the banking sector, and the repeal of several egregious laws and decrees to improve the investment climate. The program was conducted between April and September 2001, with relatively disappointing results.


In 2002 Belarus' economy remained stagnant or in decline with more than 40% of industrial enterprises operating at a loss. Belarus continues to be heavily dependent on Russia, with the potential for greater economic dependency looming in the proposed EU-style union between the two states. Due to the economic and political climate, little new foreign investment occurred in 2002, while two major companies, the Swedish furniture firm Ikea and Russian beer producer Baltika, ended operations in Belarus due to unrealized government commitments or unwelcome interference. The government itself faced increasing fiscal difficulties as


arrears rose in wages and pensions, and in tax payments.


The World Bank is currently considering a new country assistance strategy for Belarus, focusing on areas such as targeted social assistance, AIDS/HIV and tuberculosis prevention, environmental protection, Chernobyl-related damage, and small and medium enterprise development. In June 2001, the World Bank approved a loan of $22.6 million to finance repairs in over 450 schools, hospitals, and homes for orphans, the elderly and the disabled throughout Belarus. Finally, an IMF mission in September 2002 was unable to establish a basis even for a monitoring program.


ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

Belarus has established ministries of energy, forestry, land reclamation, and water resources and state committees to deal with ecology and safety procedures in the nuclear power industry. The most serious environmental issue in Belarus results from the accident at the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant. About 70% of the nuclear fallout from the plant landed on Belarusian territory, and about 25% of the land is considered uninhabitable. But government restrictions on residence and use of contaminated land are not strictly enforced. As noted, the government receives U.S. assistance in its efforts to deal with the consequences of the radiation.




GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Since his election in July 1994 to a five-year term as the country's first President Alexander Lukashenko has consolidated power steadily in the executive branch through authoritarian means. He used a non-democratic November 1996 referendum to amend the 1994 Constitution in order to broaden his powers and illegally extend his term in office. The new constitution has a popularly elected president who serves a 5-year term. The bicameral parliament consists of the 64-seat Council of the Republic and the 110-seat Chamber of Representatives. The presi dent appoints the prime minister, who is the head of government. Administratively, the country is divided into six regions or "voblasts."


In October 2000, parliamentary elections occurred for the first time since the disputed referendum of 1996. According to OSCE/ODIHR, these elections failed to meet international standards for democratic elections. In particular the elections fell far short of meeting the minimum commitments for free, fair, equal, accountable and transparent elections. Following on from the flawed parliamentary elections, and based on the unrecognized 1996 constitution, Lukashenko announced early in 2001 that presidential elections would be held. International monitors noted sweeping human rights violations and nondemocratic practices throughout the election period, including massive vote counting fraud. These irregularities led the OSCE/ODIHR to find that these elections also failed to meet Belarus' OSCE commitments for democratic elections.


Government restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, peaceful assembly, religions and movement all increased in 2002. The authorities maintain vigilant control over the press vis-à-vis near-monopolies of the means of production of newsprint and the distribution of national level broadcast media, such as television and radio. Efforts in the past year to further infringe upon press freedoms included the closing of an independent newspaper and continued harassment, beating or denial of accreditation to independent journalists critical of the regime. At the end of 2002 the government called for the re-registration of all media organizations. Additionally, although several Internet service providers have emerged in Belarus, they are all state controlled.


Despite constitutional provisions, a 1998 government decree limited citizens' rights to express their own opinions. The 1994 and 1996 Constitutions both provide for freedom of peaceful assembly; however, the regime severely restricts this right in practice. It requires an application at least 15 days in advance of the event. The local government must respond positively or negatively at least 5 days prior to the event. Following many unsanctioned demonstrations, police and other security officials beat, detained, and attempted to coerce confessions from some demonstration participants.


The constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the authorities restrict this right in practice. Although Article 16 of the 1996 amended constitution, which resulted from an illegal referendum, reaffirms the equality of religions and denominations before the law, it also contains restrictive language that stipulated that cooperation between the state and religious organizations "is regulated with regard for their influence on the formation of spiritual, cultural, and country traditions of the Belarusian people."


On October 22, the Parliament approved a new law on religion, despite protests from international and domestic human rights organizations as well as Orthodox religious groups not affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church. The law contains a number of very restrictive elements.

According to the constitution, citizens are free to travel within the country and to live and work where they wish; however, the authorities restrict these rights in practice. The authorities issue internal passports to all adults, which serve as primary identity documents and are required to travel, obtain permanent housing, and for hotel registration.


The constitution provides for the right of workers—except state security and military personnel—to voluntarily form and join independent unions and to carry out actions in defense of workers' rights, including the right to strike. In practice, however, these rights are limited. The Belarusian Free Trade Union (BFTU) was established in 1991 and registered in 1992. Following the 1995 Minsk metro workers strike, the President suspended its activities. In 1996 BFTU leaders formed a new umbrella organization, the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Union (BCDTU), which encompasses four leading independent trade unions and is reported to have about 15,000 members.


In May 2001, a complaint was lodged with the ILO by several trade union organizations. A trade union campaign was carried out to raise international awareness and put pressure on the Belarus government. Late in 2001, the regime attempted to further restrict the unions by refusing to turn over dues paid by members. Once it became clear that the unions and the BFTU were adjusting to this change, the Government in June of 2002 embarked on a takeover of the BFTU and several of its branch unions. The BFTU subsequently became an arm of the government and the election of Leonik Kozik to the position of Chairman of the BFTU has been challenged by the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Principal Government Officials
Last Updated: 2/2/04


President: Lukashenko, Aleksandr

Prime Minister: Sidorsky, Sergei

First Dep. Prime Min.: Semashko, Vladimir

Dep. Prime Min.: Kobyakov, Andrei

Dep. Prime Min.: Drazhin, Vladimir

Dep. Prime Min.: Vnuchko, Roman

Dep. Prime Min.: Tyutyunov, Anatoliy

Min. of Agriculture & Food: Dvaraninovich, Vasil

Min. of Architecture & Construction: Kurachkin, Gennadiy

Min. of Communications: Goncharenko, Vladimir

Min. of Culture: Hulyaka, Leonid

Min. of Defense: Maltsev, Leonid

Min. of Economy: Zaychanka, Mikalay

Min. of Education: Radzkow, Aleksandr

Min. of Emergency Situations: Astapov, Valery

Min. of Finance: Korbut, Nikolay

Min. of Foreign Affairs: Martnyov, Sergei

Min. of Forestry: Zorin, Valentin

Min. of Fuel & Energy: Tovpenets, Eduard

Min. of Health: Astapenko, Vladislav

Min. of Housing & Municipal Services: Belakhvostov, Vladimir

Min. of Industry: Kharlap, Anatoliy

Min. of Information: Rusakevich, Vladimir

Min. of Interior: Naumov, Vladimir

Min. of Justice: Golovanov, Viktor

Min. of Labor and Social Security: Lyakh, Ivan

Min. of Natural Resources & Environmental Protection: Khorovzhik, Leontiy

Min. of Sports & Tourism: Vorsin, Yavhen

Min. of Statistics & Analysis: Zinowski, Vladimir

Min. of Taxes and Duties: Sumar, Konstantin

Min. of Trade: Kulichkov, Aleksandr

Min. of Transport and Communication: Borovoy, Mikhail

Chmn., State Committee for Security (KGB): Yerin, Leonid

Chmn., National Bank: Prokopovich, Petr

Prosecutor General: Sheyman, Viktor

State Sec., Security Council: Nyaviglas, Gennadiy, Maj. Gen.

Ambassador to the US: Khvostov, Mikhail

Acting Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Ivanov, Aleh

Chief of the Presidential Administration: Laty pov, Ural Belarus' embassy in the U.S. is at 1619 New Hampshire Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20009; tel: 202-986-1606; fax: 202-986-1805; website: http://www.belarusembassy.org




DEFENSE AND MILITARY ISSUES

The United States continues to support Belarus' adherence to arms control agreements and treaties to which it has previously entered. Added to this list is Belarus' recent ratification of the Open Skies Treaty. Cooperation in all such agreements has been exemplary.


The primary engagement between the U.S. military and Belarus continues to be in the humanitarian assistance arena. Completion of the renovation of the Gomel Regional Blood Transfusion Center in July 2002 with a project cost of $475,000 marked the high point of this assistance. On January 29, 2003, the United States signed a contract to donate $190,000 for continued renovation of the Gomel Oblast Emergency Hospital, which houses the blood transfusion center. This program, coupled with continuous flow of Humanitarian Excess Property (HEP-EP) form EUCOM Cold War stocks into the Republic, will continue to define the HA program.


Direct military to military cooperation continues to be minimal. Belarus currently has no IMET program, and bilateral exercises and cooperation are nonexistent. There is a great desire on the Belarusian side to reestablish such cooperation and contacts but it has not been possible due to the political situation. The only program that is still functional within this category is the attendance of Belarusian Military Officers in George C. Marshall Center programs.


Potential areas of cooperation can be seen in the area of mine disposal, demining and small arms destruction. Belarus possesses an unstable inventory of about 3.5 million anti-personnel mines, which require proper disposal. Officials have been working with foreign governments to acquire financial and technical support for these efforts but have met with little tangible success. In addition to this there are numerous World War II vintage minefields which are still in place and killing or injuring several Belarusians every year. The Belarusian Government would quickly accept assistance in either of these areas.

The new Minister of Defense is experiencing success in the area of military reform. Planned changes include combining the Air and Air defense Forces, downsizing the force structure about 30% from 83,000 to 60,000, transitioning from a conscript to a contract force, and modernizing the command and control structure by creating a Ground Forces Command between the Ministry of Defense and the units in the field. Implementation of these reforms will take an unspecified amount of time.


The area of greatest concern continues to be the link between the Belarusian MOD, the sale of arms, equipment services to, and the training of personnel from States of Concern. Included in this category (but not limited to) are the sales of weapons to Libya and Syria, along with reported weapons transfers, upgrades of Iraqi equipment (S-300 system) and air defense training of Iraqi service members.




FOREIGN RELATIONS

Under an arrangement with the former U.S.S.R., Belarus was an original member of the United Nations. It also is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS—a group of 12 former Soviet republics) and its customs union, the Organizaion for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), NATO's Partnership for Peace, the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank.


Following the recognition of Belarus as an independent state in December 1991 by the European Communities, EU-Belarus relations initially experienced a steady progression. The signature of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) in 1995 signaled a commitment to political, economic and trade cooperation. Significant assistance was provided to Belarus within the framework of the TACIS Program and also through various aid programs and loans. However progress in EU-Belarus relations stalled in 1996 after serious setbacks to the development of democracy, and the Drozdy conflict. The EU did not recognize the 1996 constitution, which replaced the 1994 constitution. The Council of Ministers decided against Belarus in 1997: The PCA was not concluded, nor was its trade-related part; Belarusian membership in the Council of Europe was not supported; bilateral relations at the ministerial level were suspended and EU technical assistance programs were frozen.

Acknowledging the lack of progress in relation to bilateral relations and the internal situation following the position adopted in 1997, the EU adopted a step-by-step approach in 1999, whereby sanctions would be gradually lifted upon fulfillment of the four benchmarks set by the OSCE. In 2000, some moderately positive developments toward the implementation of recommendations made by the OSCE AMG were observed but were not sufficient in the realm of access to fair and free elections. The Belarusian Government, objecting to the OSCE AMG's activities, forced its shutdown by failing to renew visas or extend accreditation of professional staff. The Belarus Government agreed to a successor OSCE presence after 14 EU member countries and the U.S. imposed visa restrictions on the travel of high-ranking Belarusian officials. The OSCE Office in Minsk formally came into existence on January 1, 2003 with a mandate to "assist the Belarusian Government in further promoting institution-building, in further consolidating the Rule of Law and in developing relations with civil society, in accordance with OSCE principles and commitments."


Russia is the largest partner for Belarus in the economic and political fields. In terms of trade, two-thirds of Belarusian exports go to Russia. Due to the structure of Belarusian industry, Belarus relies heavily on other CIS countries and Russia in particular both for export markets and for the supply of raw materials and components. The introduction of free trade between Russia and Belarus in mid-1995 led to a spectacular growth in bilateral trade, which was only temporarily reversed in the wake of the financial crisis of 1998. Lukashenko seeks to develop a closer relationship with Russia. The framework for the Russia-Belarusian Union was set out in the Treaty On the Formation of a Community of Russia and Belarus (1996), the Treaty on Russia-Belarus Union, the Union Charter (1997), and the Treaty of the Formation of a Union State (1999). The integration treaties contain commitments to monetary union, equal rights, single citizenship, and a common foreign and defense policy. They also have established a range of institutions modeled after the EU. After protracted disputes and setbacks, the two countries' customs duties were unified as of March 2001. Belarus has made progress in monetary stabilization in the context of on going negotiation with the Russian Central Bank on monetary union. In early 2003, a bilateral working group was developing a draft Union constitution to be ratified by a referendum held in both countries. Belarus and Russia had also reaffirmed their intention achieve currency unification by 2005.




U.S.-BELARUSIAN RELATIONS

The United States recognized Belarusian independence on December 25, 1991. After the two countries established diplomatic relations, the U.S. embassy in Minsk was officially opened on January 31, 1992. Ambassador David H. Swartz, the first ambassador to Belarus, officially assumed post on August 25, 1992—the first anniversary of Belarusian independence—and departed post on completion of his term in late January 1994. On November 7, 1994, Ambassador Kenneth S. Yalowitz assumed post. He was succeeded by Ambassador Daniel V. Speckhard who served from August 1997 to August 2000, spending one year recalled to Washington because of a dispute between the government and Western embassies over the confiscation of diplomatic residences. On April 6, 2000, President Clinton named Michael G. Kozak U.S. ambassador; he arrived in Belarus on October 20, 2000.

The two countries have exchanged top-level official visits. Stanislav Shushkevich, the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Belarus, met with President Clinton in Washington in July 1992, and President Clinton visited Belarus on January 15, 1994. After this high point in relations, however, bilateral relations cooled following the election of President Lukashenko in July 1994. After the internationally unrecognized November 1996 constitutional referendum, which resulted in the dissolution of Belarus' legitimate parliament and the centralization of power in the executive branch, Lukashenko provoked a diplomatic crisis by demanding and eventually confiscating diplomatic residences on the Drozdy compound, taking the U.S., German, British, French, Italian, and IMF residences away from those missions, ignoring outstanding lease agreements, and leaving the confiscation uncompensated. In addition, Lukashenko used his newly centralized power to repress human rights throughout the country, but particularly members of the disbanded 13th Supreme Soviet, the legitimately elected parliament at the time, or former members of his own government.


For these reasons, the United States began to pursue a "selective engagement" policy with the Government of Belarus, limiting access for the government to U.S. Government officials at the Assistant Secretary level and below, and restricting U.S. assistance to the Belarus Government—with the exception of humanitarian assistance and exchange programs with state-run educational institutions. At the same time, the U.S. greatly expanded contacts with lower levels of the government and with the democratic opposition within Belarus.


U.S.-Belarusian Economic Relations

The U.S. Government continues to support the development of the private sector in Belarus and the transition to a free market economy, which is treated by the Belarusian authorities in a highly repressive and arbitrary manner. In addition to driving away many major foreign investors, Belarus' centralization and command approach to the economy has left only a trickle of U.S. Government and international assistance programs in this field.


In February 1993, a bilateral trade treaty guaranteeing reciprocal most-favored-nation status entered into force. In January 1994, the U.S. and Belarus signed a bilateral investment treaty, which has been ratified by Belarus but has not been ratified by the U.S. Senate. In addition, due to continuing repression of labor rights in Belarus, the U.S. removed Belarus from the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) in 2000.


The United States has encouraged Belarus to conclude and adhere to agreements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the program of macroeconomic stabilization and related reform measures, as well as to undertake increased privatization and to create a favorable climate for business and investment. Although there has been some American direct private investment in Belarus, its development has been relatively slow given the uncertain pace of reform. An Overseas Private Investment Corporation agreement was signed in June 1992 but has been suspended since 1995 because Belarus did not fulfill its obligations under the agreement. Belarus is eligible for Export-Import Bank shortterm financing insurance for U.S. investments, but because of the adverse business climate, no projects have been initiated. The IMF granted standby credit in September 1995, but Belarus has fallen off the program and did not receive the second tranche of funding, which had been scheduled for regular intervals throughout 1996. Since that time, Belarus has had an ongoing discussion to relaunch IMF-backed reforms, concluding an arrangement for an IMF Staff-monitored program (SMP) in 2001. However, the authorities did not follow through with reforms as hoped, leaving an uncertain future for IMF-backed cooperation.


As a matter of policy, the U.S. Government currently does not encourage U.S. companies to invest in Belarus. Belarus' continuing problems with an opaque, arbitrary legal system, a confiscatory tax regime, cumbersome licensing system, price controls, and lack of an independent judiciary create a business environment not conducive to prosperous, profitable investment. In fact, several investors into Belarus have left in recent years, including the Ford Motor Company. The investment climate is exacerbated by the fact that the IMF and the World Bank have had to cancel or suspend their programs of cooperation with Belarus in recent years.


U.S. Assistance to Belarus

Since 1992, the U.S. Government has provided an estimated $597.07 million in assistance to Belarus, including $194.05 million in U.S. Defense Department excess and privately donated humanitarian commodities. U.S. Government assistance to Belarus peaked in 1994 at a level of approximately $76 million (consisting of more than $16 million in FREEDOM Support Act funds and some $60 million in funds from various U.S. Government agencies). However, U.S. assistance levels dropped sharply due to the lack of progress in democratic and economic reform after the coming to power of Alexander Lukashenko in mid-1994. An overview of annual assistance levels is provided below:


Annual U.S. Assistance (including DoD excess and privately donated humanitarian commodities)

FY 1994—$101.5 million

FY 1995—$86.1 million

FY 1996—$69.2 million

FY 1997—$22.8 million

FY 1998—$17.2 million

FY 1999—$29.4 million

FY 2000—$24.3 million

FY 2001—$30.7 million

FY 2002—$28.07 million


In FY 2002, the U.S. Government provided an estimated $28.07 million in assistance to Belarus, including $10.91 million in FREEDOM Support Act (FSA) assistance; $1.41 million in other U.S. Government assistance; and $15.75 million in U.S. Defense Department excess and privately donated humanitarian commodities. In FY 2002, some 173 Belarusians ranging from high school students to mid-career professionals traveled to the United States on U.S. Government-funded training and exchange programs.


As mentioned above, U.S. Government assistance to Belarus continues to be subject to the policy of selective engagement with the Government of Belarus, under which no bilateral assistance is channeled through the Government of Belarus, except for humanitarian assistance and exchange programs involving state-run educational institutions. Virtually all U.S. Government assistance to Belarus is targeted at the country's non-governmental sector, particularly those NGOs that are working to promote the development of civil society and the free flow of information.


Training and exchange programs: Since FY 1993, U.S. Government-funded exchange programs have brought more than 2,300 Belarusian citizens to the United States for short-term professional or long-term academic training, including some 173 in FY 2002 alone. These programs are giving reform-oriented Belarusians an opportunity to develop their skills and establish contacts with U.S. counterparts.


Crossborder training programs: U.S. Government-funded cross-border programs provide training to Belarusians in neighboring eastern European countries, giving the Belarusians an opportunity to see first-hand the results of successful post-communist democratic and economic reforms.

Democracy fund small grants program: The U.S. embassy's Democracy Commission awards small grants to Belarusian NGOs in support of a wide range of democracy-building activities, including civic participation, independent print and electronic media, independent trade unions, legal aid organizations, youth and women's groups and human rights groups. Although Democracy Commission grants are limited in size—individual grants do not exceed $24,000, with most falling between $5,000 and $15,000—they have proven to be a very effective vehicle for supporting pro-reform segments of Belarusian society at the grassroots level.


Support for the National Endowment for Democracy: The U.S. Government provides supplementary funding to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in support of small grants to Belarusian NGOs and independent media outlets.


Political process programs: With funding from USAID, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) conduct in-country training focusing on party- and coalition-building, domestic election monitoring, and strengthening political skills for democratically oriented organizations, party leaders and activists.


Independent print media: With funding from USAID, the ProMedia II Program implemented by the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) offers technical and legal assistance to Belarus' independent media, especially in the regions outside Minsk. IREX has adapted its activities to address the extremely adverse working environment forin dependent media in Belarus by providing legal assistance to help journalists defend their rights.


Rule of law programs: With funding from USAID, the American Bar Association's USAID-funded Central and Eastern European Law Initiative (ABA/CEELI) is strengthening law-related NGOs and educating average Belarusian citizens about their rights under Belarusian law. ABA/CEELI has been working with lawyers from 22 legal advice centers run by independent trade unions and NGOs to improve the quality and increase the availability of free legal advice to the population.


NGO development programs: With funding from USAID, the Counterpart Alliance for Partnership (CAP) seeks to promote civil society development in Belarus by providing assistance to Belarusian NGOs, with a focus on legal aid and education to strengthen the capacity of its Belarusian NGO partners to protect their own rights.


Support for Belarusian entrepreneur: Although the lack of economic reform in Belarus has precluded a broader program of USAID-funded economic development assistance, USAID has sought to help Belarusian entrepreneurs to organize and defend their rights.


Western NIS Enterprise Fund (WNISEF): WNISEF runs a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) credit and capital investment program in Uk raine, Moldova, and Belarus. However, because of the restrictive environment for private SMEs in Belarus, WNISEF has had no active credit and investment projects in Belarus for the past several years.


U.S. Department of State—Operation Provide Hope: In FY 2001, the Humanitarian Programs Division of the Office of the Coordinator of U.S. Assistance to the NIS transported approximately $18.6 million in privately donated and U.S. Defense Department excess humanitarian commodities to Belarus.


Security programs: Belarus was previously a recipient of assistance under the U.S. Defense Department's Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program, whose objective is to reduce the threat posed to the United States by weapons of mass destruction remaining on the territory of the former Soviet Union, by promoting denuclearization and demilitarization and preventing weapons proliferation. However, in February 1997, due to the Belarusian Government's poor record on human rights, President Clinton de-certified Belarus rendering the country ineligible for further assistance. This resulted in the reallocation to other countries of unobligated CTR assistance funds originally intended for Belarus, as well as restrictions on other security-related assistance to Belarus. The United States and Belarus signed a government-to-government umbrella agreement on CTR assistance in 1992, seven agency-to-agency CTR implementing agreements, and one memorandum of understanding and cooperation; the umbrella agreement was extended for one year in October 1997, but has now expired.

For more detailed information on U.S. Government-funded assistance programs, please see the Annual Reports on U.S. Government Assistance to Eurasia, which are available online at the following addresses:


The FY 2001 Annual Report is available at http://www.state.gov/p/eur/rls/rpt/2002/


The FY 2000 Annual Report is available at http://www.state.gov/p/eur/rls/rpt/2001


The FY 1994-99 annual reports are available at http://www.state.gov/www/regions/nis/nis_assist_index.html


Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

Minsk (E), 46 Starovilenskaya Str., 220002 Minsk PSC 78, Box B Minsk, APO 09723, Tel [375] (17) 210-12-83 and 234-77-61, after-hours Tel 226-1601, Fax 234-78-53, CON Fax 217-7160; Fax 577-4650; PAO Tel 217-04-81, Fax 217-88-28.

AMB: George A. Krol
AMB OMS: Susan McDowell
DCM: Karen Stewart
DCM OMS: Nancy J. Walraven
POL/ECO: Ted Kontek
CON: Nancy Szalwinski
MGT: Thomas Burke
GSO: Jonathan Bayat
RSO: Shawn Sherlock
PAO: Dian J. McDonald
AGR: Geoff Wiggin (res. Moscow)
AID: Christine Sheckler
LAB: Thaddeus L. Kontek
FAA: Dennis B. Cooper (res. Brussels)
IRS: Margaret J. Lullo (res. Berlin)
DAO: MAJ John R. Pilloni
RMO: Dr. Earnest E. Davis
DEA: Thomas C. Slovenkay (res. Vienna)
IPO: Harry Chamberlain

Last Modified: Thursday, December 11, 2003




TRAVEL


Consular Information Sheet
December 24, 2003


Country Description: Belarus became an independent republic on August 25, 1991, after the breakup of the Soviet Union. In November 1996, a constitutional referendum, not recognized by the international community, dissolved Belarus' legitimate parliament established under the March 1994 constitution and centralized power in the executive branch (President), headed by Alexander Lukashenko. Economic and political reform in Belarus has stalled or is being reversed under his authoritarian government. Both Belarusian and Russian are official languages, and Russian is widely spoken throughout the country, particularly in the cities. Tourist facilities are not highly developed, but food and lodging in the capital and some regional centers are adequate.


Entry Requirements: A passport and visa are required. A visa must be obtained before entering Belarus. Travelers who do not have a visa cannot register at hotels. U.S. citizens residing in Belarus are required to register with the local Office of Visas and Registration (OVIR) within 72 hours of arrival. Failure to do so can result in fines and visits from local law enforcement authorities. U.S. citizens staying in hotels are automatically registered at check-in. Visa validity dates are strictly enforced; travelers should request sufficient time to allow for delays in arrival and departure.


Travelers entering Belarus by air with more than 50 kilos of luggage will be charged $2 per kilo in excess of that limit. The fee must be paid in dollars.


Foreign missionaries may not engage in religious activities outside the institutions that invited them unless they have a religious worker visa. One-year validity, multiple-entry, "spiritual activities" visas, which are required of foreign missionaries, can be difficult to get, even for faiths that are registered with the government and have a long history in the country. Approval often involves a difficult bureaucratic process.


Any one entering the country planning to be involved in religious activities should be aware of a new law on religion, signed in October 2002, which has significantly affected religious life in Belarus. This law requires all religious groups and organizations, including recognized "traditional" religions such as Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Orthodox Judaism, Sunni Islam and the Lutheran Church, to re-register. Those not re-regi stered may not legally worship although most groups continue to meet, leaving them vulnerable to selective implementation of the law by authorities. The law also stipulates that only Belarusian citizens can head religious organizations in Belarus. Within the past year, authorities have harassed, warned, fined, and jailed members of several unregistered and so-called "non-traditional" faiths for engaging in unsanctioned worship. The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends that any U.S. citizen who chooses to attend a religious service of an unregistered religious group do so only after consulting with members of the group about the risk of harassment or arrest by local law enforcement authorities. U.S. citizens are also urged to contact the U.S. Embassy should they encounter any problems with authorities due to their participation in such services or events.

Belarus requires all foreign nationals (other than accredited diplomats) entering the country to purchase medical insurance at the port-of-entry regardless of any other insurance one might have. Costs for this insurance will vary according to the length of stay (Subject to change, current information puts costs at $1.00 for a one-day stay; $15.00 for a stay of 60 days, up to a maximum of $85.00 for a stay of one year.)


U.S. citizens traveling through Belarus to other countries are strongly reminded that there is a transit visa requirement for entering and leaving Belarus. Transit visas should be obtained prior to any journey that requires travel through Belarus. Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Russian visas are no substitute for this transit visa. Most travel agencies, including those in Russia and CIS countries as well as train ticket sales personnel, are often not aware of this visa requirement and may not seek a transit visa for a traveler unless instructed by the traveler to do so. U.S. citizens traveling to Belarus via Russia are reminded that they must possess a Russian transit visa in addition to their Belarusian visa.


U.S. citizens attempting to transit Belarus without avalid Belarusian transit visa have been denied entry into the country and forcibly removed from trains. There have also been numerous situations involving American citizens traveling through Belarus by train without transit visas who have been required to disembark while in transit. In some instances local border and train authorities have threatened passengers with jail or extorted "fines" when it was learned that they did not possess a valid transit visa. In some cases, American citizens have been subjected to rude and threatening treatment including body and baggage searches. American citizens are advised not to pay any border or train officials for transit visas as these officials are not authorized to issue such visas. Nor should Americans pay "transit visa fines." Americans finding themselves in Belarus without transit visas should, if confronted by border or train personnel, demand to be put in contact with consular officials at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk.

In addition to the above, the Belarusian government sometimes enforces a requirement for special permits to travel in "protected border zones." The Government of Belarus has not provided information defining the parameters of those zones. Travelers should be alert for warning signs, road barriers, and/or border guard posts, and are advised not to cross into such areas without permission.


In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.


Children born to Belarusian parent(s) after August 15, 2002, even if born in the United States and in possession of a U.S. passport, will not be issued a Belarusian visa for travel to Belarus. The Belarusian government considers these children to be Belarusian citizens until age 16, when they may choose to accept or reject that claim to citizenship. Instead, a "certificate of return" is issued that will allow the child to enter Belarus. It is imperative that parents of such children understand that, in order to leave, the child will be required to have a Belarusian passport if he/she does not already have one. The time frame on the issuance of Belarusian passports is often unpredictable.


For more information concerning entry requirements, travelers should contact the Belarus Embassy located at 1619 New Hampshire Ave, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20009, tel. (202) 986-160 6; Internet: http://www.belarusembassy.org or the Belarus Consulate in New York at 708 Third Avenue, 21st floor, New York, NY, 10017, tel. (212) 682-5392.


Dual Nationality: In addition to being subject to all Belarusian laws affecting U.S. citizens, individuals who also possess the nationality of Belarus may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on citizens of that country. Persons who have acquired U.S. nationality through naturalization may from the Belarus government's perspective still hold Belarus nationality and ensuing obligations. For additional information please consult with the Embassy of Belarus and see the Consular Affairs home page on the Internet at http://travel.state.gov for our dual nationality flyer.


Safety and Security: Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities. These sites are not always clearly marked and application of these restrictions is subject to interpretation.


Organized and spontaneous demonstrations can and do occur. Localized street disturbances relating to political events may occur most frequently in Minsk or larger cities. Authorities may use force in those instances, and bystanders, including foreign nationals, may face the possibility of arrest, beating, or detention. We also wish to remind American citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can sometimes become confrontational and escalate into violence. Therefore, we urge American citizens to avoid demonstrations and protest gatherings and to exercise caution when near such gatherings.


For the latest security information, Americans travel ing abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet website at http://travel.state.gov where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements can be found.

The Overseas Citizens Services call center at 1-888-407-4747 can answer general inquiries on safety and security overseas. This number is available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). Callers who are unable to use toll-free numbers, such as those calling from overseas, may obtain information and assistance during these hours by calling 1-317-472-2328.


Crime: Belarus has a moderaterate of crime; common street crime occurs especially at night and in or near hotels frequented by foreigners. Foreigners, and particularly foreign cars, tend to be targets of crime. Travelers should keep a copy of their passport in a separate location from their original.


The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.


U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad, for ways to promote a trouble-free journey. The pamphletis available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://www.gpoaccess.gov, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.


Medical Facilities: Medical care in Belarus is limited. There is a severe shortage of basic medical supplies, including anesthetics, vaccines and antibiotics. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities.

Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas including emergency services such as medical evacuations. Please note that Belarus requires all foreign nationals (other than accredited diplomats) entering the country to purchase medical insurance at the port-of-entry (see "entry requirements"). The Belarusian government's compulsory medical insurance is not adequate to cover the costs of medical emergencies."


When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties. When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.


Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular affairs home page.


Other Health Information: The Embassy recommends against drinking the local water even in larger cities. It is recommended visitors instead drink only bottled or filtered water. While the effects of radiation from the Chernobyl disaster have diminished, it is inadvisable to eat any food grown in the contaminated areas near Chernobyl, and the Embassy cautions against eating any mushrooms or berries. Consumption of Belarusian milk is best avoided as well.


Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747), fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.


Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Belarus is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.


Safety of Public Transportation: Good
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor


U.S. citizens may drive in Belarus with their home country driver's license for up to six months from arrival. Foreign drivers should, therefore, always carry their passports to prove date of entry into the country in the event the police stop them. After residing in Belarus for six months, one may apply for a local driver's license. A medical exam at the driver's clinic, which will include a chest x-ray, is the only exam required to receive a local driver's license.

Radar traps, often unlit at night, are widespread. Except for a stretch of the main east-west superhighway, where the speed limit is 100 km/h (60 mph), the maximum speed limit on divided highways or main roads outside village, town or city limits is 90 km/h (55 mph). Speed limits inside city limits vary widely from 40 km/h to 70 km/h, with frequent radar traps. Visible and hidden dangers exist, including potholes, unlit or poorly lit streets, inattentive and dark-clothed pedestrians walking on unlit roads, drivers and pedestrians under the influence of alcohol, and disregard for traffic rules. Driving in winter is especially dangerous because of ice and snow. Driving with caution is urged at all times.


Taxi service is prompt although fares vary greatly. Buses and trolleys, lack heating or cooling capabilities, and are usually crowded.


Travelers may experience significant delays (of several hours) in crossing the border by road into neighboring countries.


For additional information about road safety, see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page's road safety overseas feature at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html.


Aviation Safety Oversight: As there is no direct commercial air service at present, or economic authority to operate such service, between the U.S. and Belarus, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Belarus' Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit FAA's Internet website at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/iasa/index.cfm.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.


Customs Regulations: Belarus' customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary import into or export from Belarus of items such as icons, art, rugs, antiquities, etc. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Belarus in Washington or one of Belarus' consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.


Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the U nited States for similar offenses. Persons violating Belarus's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belarus are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.


Special Circumstances: Traveler's checks are not widely accepted in Belarus. Most hotels accept either American Express or Visa credit cards. In addition, one hotel in Minsk, The Planeta, provides cash from Visa credit cards during business hours. Travelers face arrest if they attempt to buy items with currency other than Belarusian rubles. Authorized currency exchange centers are widely available throughout major cities. ATMs are also available for use. Travelers should be aware that there is a high incidence of credit card fraud in Belarus. If they choose to use credit cards, they should regularly check their account status to ensure its integrity.

Persons seeking to marry in Belarus should consult the information located on the embassy website at www.usembassy.minsk.by.


Children's Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone the Overseas Citizens Services call center at 1-888-407-4747. The OCS call center can answer general inquiries regarding international adoptions and will forward calls to the appropriate country officer in the Bureau of Consular Affairs. This number is available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Eastern time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). Callers who are unable to use toll-free numbers, such as those calling from overseas, may obtain information and assistance during these hours by calling 1-317-472-2328.


Potential adoptive parents are advised that the National Adoption Center in Belarus recognizes a limited number of adoption agencies in the United States and requires adoptive parents to coordinate all activities through an approved agency. A list of approved agencies may be found on the Embassy website at www.usembassy.minsk.by.

Please see notes under section 2 regarding children of Belarusian citizens traveling to Belarus.


Registration/Embassy Location: U.S. citizens living in or visiting Belarus are encouraged to register at the Consul ar Section of the U.S. Embassy in Belarus and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Belarus. The U.S. Embassy is located in Minsk at 46 Starovilenskaya Ulitsa; telephone (375) 172-10-12-83 or after hours (375) 172-26-16-01, fax (375) 172-34-78-53 or (375) 172-17-71-60 (consular section). The Consular Section may also be reached by email at [email protected]

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Belarus

Belarus

POPULATION 10,335,382
BELARUSAN ORTHODOX 35 percent
ROMAN CATHOLIC 7 percent
PROTESTANT 5 percent
BYZANTINE RITE CATHOLIC 3.5 percent
OTHER 2 percent
NONRELIGIOUS 47.5 percent

Country Overview

INTRODUCTION

The Republic of Belarus is an eastern European country that gained its independence in 1991 after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Poland lies to the west, Lithuania and Latvia to the north, Russia to the east, and Ukraine to the south. Poland and Russia in particular have had profound effects on Belarusan history. During the second half of the twentieth century Belarus became heavily industrialized, although its flatlands continue to support a significant agricultural economy. The population is overwhelmingly Belarusan, an East Slavic people.

The land that is now Belarus came under the control of Kievan Rus in the ninth century c.e., under which Eastern Orthodoxy was introduced. When Lithuania and Poland formed a union in the fourteenth century, Belarusan lands came under their jurisdiction, and Roman Catholicism gained a strong footing, particularly among landowners. The Byzantine rite of Catholicism, the Uniate faith, later developed. By the late eighteenth century Belarus had passed to Russian control as Belorussia (White Russia). After World War I the Belarusan territory was disputed between Poland and Russia. The Soviet Union established a Belorussian republic and on the eve of World War II incorporated the former Polish areas into it.

The principal religion in Belarus is Eastern Orthodoxy. Its main body is the Belarusan Orthodox Church, an exarchate (branch) of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Belarusan church has only limited autonomy, with the Russian church further extending its authority by appointing bishops directly rather than through the exarchate.

RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE

Belarus is a secular country, with all religious faiths independent of the state. In October 2002, however, the parliament adopted the law On Freedom of Confessions and Religious Organizations, whose preamble declares the determining role of the Orthodox Church in the emergence and development of the Belarusan people's spiritual, cultural, and state traditions. Thus, there is a clear trend toward giving Orthodoxy a privileged status in comparison with other religions. The Belarusan president, Alyaksandr Lukashenko, for example, has described himself as an "Orthodox atheist."

Those of other faiths dislike the 2002 law, which imposes limitations on the registration of religious communities, with only those at least 20 years old and with at least 20 members being eligible for registration. There also are restrictions on worship services, and liturgies performed in the open are equated with mass actions, which require the permission of government authorities. According to the law, foreign priests cannot work in the country for more than one year, although about two-thirds of Roman Catholic priests in Belarus are Polish nationals.

Major Religion

BELARUSAN ORTHODOX CHURCH

DATE OF ORIGIN Tenth century c.e.
NUMBER OF FOLLOWERS 3.6 million

HISTORY

The religious history of Belarus is closely related to the influence of the various political forces that have governed its territory. Orthodoxy was introduced beginning in the tenth century c.e. In 992, when Belarus was a part of Kievan Rus, the ancient Russian state with its capital at Kiev, an episcopal see was created in Polotsk. Up to the mid-fifteenth century the Belarusan Orthodox Church was governed by the metropolitan see at Kiev, but it later came under the jurisdiction of the metropolitan see of Lithuania-Novgorod, one of the successors to Kiev.

Roman Catholicism also established a presence in Belarus during that time, and in 1596, when Belarus was a part of the union of Poland and Lithuania, the Byzantine rite of the Roman Catholic Church was introduced. In exchange for recognition of the pope's authority and of the principal Catholic dogmas, the Uniates, as they became known, were permitted to preserve the ritual aspects of the Orthodox service. In time 80 percent of the population came to profess the Uniate version of Christianity. In 1839, however, Nicholas I, the Russian tsar, issued a decree prohibiting the Byzantine rite of the Catholic Church, and in the late nineteenth century, when the territory of Belarus had passed to Russia, the restoration of the Orthodox Church began. Roman Catholicism also suffered oppression from Russian authorities, with cathedrals and monasteries closed and believers forced to embrace Orthodoxy.

After World War I the western part of Belarus was joined with Poland, where Orthodox parishes were governed by the Autocephalous (Independent) Orthodox Church of Poland. In the eastern part, which became a Soviet republic, the communist authorities launched a campaign of oppression against the Orthodox Church, as against all religions. In the 1930s the Orthodox clergy of Belarus, as well as clerics of other confessions, were subject to reprisals. Numerous churches were closed, and priests were charged with anticommunist activities and executed or exiled. The Orthodox Church bodies were exterminated by the early 1930s.

During World War II, when the Germans occupied the territory of Belarus, an attempt was made to restore the Orthodox Church. Episcopal sees were created, and churches were reopened. The German occupation authorities considered the Orthodox Church a tool of their influence, however, and the attempt to revive the church ended with the defeat of German troops. After the Belarusan territories were united within the Soviet Union, the Orthodox Church, under the Moscow Patriarchate, was restored. The 1960s witnessed another campaign against religion, with many churches closed and the number of parishes drastically reduced.

A religious renaissance began in 1988, when the 1,000th anniversary of the christening of Kievan Rus was celebrated. Episcopal sees were restored, and churches and religious educational institutions were reopened. In 1990 the Belarusan Orthodox Church became an exarchate of the Moscow Patriarchate. This arrangement continued after Belarus achieved independence in 1991. The church is governed on behalf of the Moscow patriarch by his vicar, who serves as the exarch of all Belarusans. In addition to its episcopal sees and churches, the Belarusan Orthodox Church has monasteries and convents under its jurisdiction.

EARLY AND MODERN LEADERS

Among the most influential persons in the Belarusan Orthodox Church was Kirill, bishop of Turov (c.1130–82), a religious thinker and authoritative figure of the medieval Church. Evfrosiniya of Polotsk (c. 1110–73) was a princess and later a nun who founded the Spaso-Evfrosiniev monastery, copied church books, performed a pilgrimage to Constantinople and Jerusalem, died during her travels, and was later canonized. Sofiya of Slutsk (1585–1612) was a duchess whose activities made Slutsk the religious center of Belarus; she protected the Orthodox from the imposition of union with the Roman Catholic Church, for which she was canonized. Iosif Semashko (1798–1868), metropolitan of Lvov and Wilno, was a Uniate bishop who later embraced Orthodoxy and who, in 1839, played the key role in the restoration of Orthodoxy in Belarus.

The most eminent contemporary leaders of the Belarusan Orthodox Church include Filaret (born in 1935), an experienced church diplomat and politician and the exarch of Belarus; Maksim (born in 1928), archbishop of Mogilev and Mstislavl and an opponent of ecumenism; and Feodosii (born in 1956), bishop of Polotsk and Gluboksk, who is known as a conservative cleric. All of these leaders advocate religious and political unity with Russia.

MAJOR THEOLOGIANS AND AUTHORS

The most renowned theological figure in Belarus was Kirill, bishop of Turov, who left a rich epistolary heritage. In his view the genuine sense and purpose of human activity was to achieve salvation. An advocate of the monastic way of life, he considered laymen to be sinners. He believed that humility was the principal virtue and the only reliable path toward salvation and that the essence of a monk's service to God was the development of humility.

During the period when Belarus was a part of the Russian Empire, the most eminent religious writer was Michail Osipovich Koyalovich (1828–91). Born into a noble family, he became a professor of theology and a philosopher who advocated the religious and ethnic unity of Russians and Belarusans.

HOUSES OF WORSHIP AND HOLY PLACES

The most revered churches and holy places of the Belarusan Orthodox Church include the Sofiya cathedral in Polotsk, built in the eleventh century; the temple complex of the Belchitsa monastery in Polotsk, constructed in the twelfth century; and the Spaso-Evfrosiniev convent in Polotsk, also built in the twelfth century. The Saint Spirit cathedral in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, was built in the seventeenth century as a Roman Catholic church, but in the nineteenth century it was transformed into an Orthodox church. Relics of Sofiya, the duchess of Slutsk, and of the martyr Saint Varvara and the icon of the Minsk Virgin are preserved there.

WHAT IS SACRED?

The dogmas and beliefs of the Belarusan Orthodox Church do not differ from those of the Russian Orthodox Church. Thus, both the Scriptures and the writings of church fathers serve as guides. As with other Orthodox churches, the decisions of those councils held before 1054, the date of the schism with Roman Catholicism, are recognized. Saints and relics are worshiped, and icons play an important role in worship.

HOLIDAYS AND FESTIVALS

Among the principal holidays in Belarus, the most important is Easter. Christmas is both a religious holiday and a state festival. The overwhelming majority of Belarusans celebrating such holidays as Easter and Christmas, however, observe them merely as cultural events. Although they designate themselves as Orthodox Christians, most Belarusans do not observe the fasts before Easter and Christmas and do not attend worship services on these days.

MODE OF DRESS

The garments of the Belarusan Orthodox clergy are the same as those worn in the Russian Orthodox Church. The dress of the clergy, especially of the supreme hierarchs, is luxurious. Monks and nuns, however, wear modest black garments. There are no dress restrictions for laypersons, but women traditionally go to church with their heads covered. Women also are discouraged from using makeup and from wearing short skirts, pants, and garments of bright colors in church.

DIETARY PRACTICES

The Easter, Christmas, Saint Peter's Day, and Assumption holidays are preceded by fasts, when believers refrain from consuming meat, milk, eggs, and sometimes even fish, as well as any food made of them. The strictest fast is the seven weeks of Lent before Easter. In addition, all Wednesdays and Fridays, except those of Easter week, are days of fasting. The Belarusan Orthodox clergy may exempt sick and elderly persons, travelers, and certain others from fasting.

RITUALS

The rituals of the Belarusan Orthodox worship service are sophisticated and solemn. The services are long, and believers stand during them. The language of the service is Church Slavonic, which is not intelligible to most believers. Sermons, however, are given in both Russian and Belarusan. Only clerics are entitled to perform the services and administer the sacraments.

RITES OF PASSAGE

Baptism, or christening, is usually done in childhood and is administered by a priest in church. This marks the most important rite of passage, for every Belarusan who has been baptized is considered to be an Orthodox Christian.

MEMBERSHIP

Members of the Belarusan exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church are divided into laypersons and clergy. The laity includes everyone who has been christened and who goes to church for confession and for Communion at least once a year. Polls have shown that at least 3.5 million Belarusan citizens consider themselves Orthodox. Only 3 to 5 percent of the population observes church discipline, however, so that the number of active believers is no more than 300,000–500,000. As in Russia, most of those who call themselves Orthodox in Belarus are ignorant of the main dogmas of the church, do not take part in church life, and do not observe religious rituals. Evangelizing and mission work by the church is weak, especially in comparison to that of Protestants.

SOCIAL JUSTICE

Being a component of the Russian church, the Belarusan Orthodox Church is guided by the parent body's "Fundamentals of the Social Conception of the Russian Orthodox Church" (2000). This document proclaims that the church shall protect the poor and advocates a just distribution of the products of labor, warning society against too strong a striving for material wealth. According to the document, a person's property status cannot in itself be treated as a sign of his being welcomed or not welcomed by God. A number of church organizations render humanitarian aid to orphans, to the elderly and disabled, and to others in need.

SOCIAL ASPECTS

The Belarusan Orthodox Church emphasizes traditional social values. The role of the woman as mother, wife, and housekeeper is strongly encouraged. It is taught that participation in the workforce should not have a negative impact on the woman's role in the family. A religious marriage is regarded by the church as the only true marriage. The church discourages premarital and extramarital relations and condemns divorce. Abortions are discouraged. The church insists on the religious upbringing and education of children. Only heterosexual marriage is recognized, with homosexual relations strongly condemned.

POLITICAL IMPACT

The political role of the Orthodox Church in contemporary Belarus is determined primarily by the state authoritie's attempts to use the church as an institution to influence people's views. On the other hand, the fact that the Belarusan church is completely dependent on the Moscow Patriarchate determines the pro-Russian orientation of the clergy. This is a source of dissatisfaction on the part of much of the population, which would like a more independent policy for Belarus.

CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES

The Belarusan Orthodox Church emphasizes the social role of the family and strongly opposes feminist views. Orthodox ideology opposes any attempt to belittle the social importance of motherhood and fatherhood for the sake of success in the workplace, and it condemns women's neglect of their roles as mothers and wives. There is no open conflict between the views of the church and of the people generally.

CULTURAL IMPACT

The adoption of Orthodoxy by the Belarusan people was a strong impetus to the development of architecture and painting. The oldest Orthodox buildings, from the eleventh and twelfth centuries, are found in Polotsk, Vitebsk, and Grodno. There was an original school of highly artistic fresco painting, done on cathedral walls, in Polotsk from the eleventh to thirteenth centuries. After Christianity was embraced by the Belarusans, literacy began to spread rapidly, with books written and copied at monasteries. Orthodoxy also influenced literature in the form of the lives of various saints, for example, of Evfrosiniya of Polotsk. At the same time, however, because Belarus was a possession of Poland and Russia for long periods, its culture has been subject to the influences of its neighbors.

Other Religions

The Roman Catholic Church is the second largest confession in Belarus. There are several Catholic convents and two seminaries in the country. Catholic churches in Belarus run many Sunday schools. The Catholic Church is active in the field of charitable work, with its episcopal sees running branches of Caritas.

Protestantism appeared in Belarus in the second half of the sixteenth century, and today there are a number of Protestant confessions found in the country, mostly in the Minsk and Brest oblasts. Protestant groups have shown dynamic growth, even though the Belarusan political climate is anything but favorable to them. Many Protestant faiths have criticized the 2002 law on religions, pointing out that it creates obstacles to those groups that are not privileged.

Religious minorities with long historical roots in Belarus but with insignificant numbers include the Byzantine rite of the Roman Catholic Church, the Old Ritualist sects of Orthodoxy, Islam, and Buddhism. The Byzantine rite of the Roman Catholic Church, or Uniate faith, is today found in western Belarus, which experienced a strong Polish influence. Although it was the dominant religion in Belarus in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Uniates were persecuted under Russian rule, and in 1839 believers were forced to embrace Orthodoxy. After World War I, when western Belarus was occupied by Poland, there was a renaissance of the Uniate church, but it was later discouraged by Soviet authorities. There was some revival of the Bzyantine rite in the 1980s, but the Uniate church lacks a significant social basis or influence in Belarus.

The Old Ritualist sects appeared in Belarus in the second half of the seventeenth century when Orthodox dissenters fled Russia to avoid persecution by the authorities. These believers rejected Patriarch Nikon's ritual innovations.

Islam is the religion of the Tatar population, whose ancestors went to Belarus in the fourteenth century. The mosque in the village of Davbuchishki, built in the sixteenth century, is among the most ancient in Europe. Since the late 1980s the Tatar's religious, social, and cultural activity has strengthened. In 1994 an independent muftiate was formed in Belarus. Most of the Tatars follow the Sunni version of Islam.

Jews also settled in Belarus in the fourteenth century, and by the sixteenth century they had developed educational institutions. In the eighteenth century Hasidism, a Jewish mystical teaching, spread in Belarus. During the Soviet period the role of religion in the lives of Jews was greatly weakened, with schools, synagogues, and prayer houses closed. A revival of Jewish religious activity began in the late 1980s. Jewish beliefs and rites in Belarus differ little from those in other countries. Some Jews in Belarus are Orthodox, while others, particularly the young and intellectuals, adhere to Reform Judaism.

Newer religious groups of foreign origin can also be found in Belarus. These include the Society of Krishna's Consciousness and Bahai communities. They are very small, however.

Larissa A. Andreeva

See Also Vol. 1: Christianity, Eastern Rite Churches, Roman Catholicism, Russian Orthodoxy

Bibliography

Kozhokin, Evgenij Mikhajlovich, ed. Belorussiya: Put' k novym gorizontam. Moscow: Izdatel'stvo Rossijskogo Instituta Strategicheskikh Issledovanij, 1996.

Narbut, A.N. Genealogiya Belorussii. Pts. 1 and 2. Moscow: Knizhnaja Palata, 1995.

Rigsby, J. "Standing Room Only: Christian Resurgence in Belarus." Christian Century 111 (July 17–August 3, 1994): 709–711.

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Belarus

BELARUS

Compiled from the October 2004 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:
Republic of Belarus


PROFILE

Geography

Area: 207,600 sq. km. (80,100 sq. mi.); slightly smaller than Kansas.

Cities: Capital—Minsk.

Terrain: Landlocked, low-lying with thick forests, flat marshes and fields.

Climate: Cold winters, cool and moist summers, transitional between continental and maritime.

People

Nationality: Noun—Belarusian(s). Adjective—Belarusian.

Population: (end of 2003) 9,849,000. Men 4,610,000; women 5,239,000. Urban 71.5%; rural 28.5%.

Population decline: (2003) −54,700.

Ethnic groups: Belarusian (81.2%), Russian (11.4%), Polish, Ukrainian, other (7.4%).

Religions: (1997 est.) Eastern Orthodox 80%, other (including Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Protestant, Autocephalous Orthodox, Jewish, and Muslim) 20%.

Languages: Belarusian and Russian (official).

Education: Literacy—98%.

Health: Infant mortality rate (2003)—7.7/1,000. Life expectancy (2002)—67.9 years.

Work force: (4.4 million) Industry—26.2%; agriculture and forestry—11.1%; construction—7.1%; transportation, communications—8.1%; trade, catering—13.7%; health services, sports, social services—7.6%; education—11%; other—15.2%.

Government

Type: Republic.

Constitution: March 30, 1994; revision by unrecognized national referendum of November 24, 1996, gave presidency greatly expanded powers and became effective November 27, 1996.

Independence: 1991 (from Soviet Union).

Branches: Executive—president (head of state), prime minister (head of government), Council of Ministers (cabinet). Legislative—bicameral: the House of Representatives (110 deputies) and the Council of the Republic (64 deputies). Judicial—Supreme Court; Constitutional Court.

Administrative subdivisions: Six voblasts (regions) and one municipality.

Political parties: Belarus has 18 registered political parties, including: Agrarian Party (AP); Belarusian Communist Party (KPB); Green Party; Belarusian Labor Party; Belarusian Social and Sports Party; Belarusian Patriotic Movement (BPR); Belarusian Popular Front (BNF); Belarusian Social-Democrat Party (BSDP); Social-Democratic Hramada Party; Belarusian Socialist Party; United Civic Party (UCP); Liberal Democratic Party (LDBP); Party of Communists Belarusian (PKB); Party of Popular Accord; Republican Party of Labor and Justice (RPPS); Social Democratic Party of Popular Accord (PPA); Women's Party Nadezhda. Several of these parties exist in name only. Other, unregistered parties are also active, such as: Christian Conservative Party and Party of Freedom and Progress.

Suffrage: Universal at age 18.

Economy

GDP: (2003 est.) $17.5 billion.

GDP growth rate: (2003) 6.8%.

Per capita GDP: (2003) $1,765.

Natural resources: Forest land, peat deposits, small amounts of oil and natural gas.

Agriculture: Products—grain, potatoes, vegetables, flax, beef, milk.

Industry: Types—machinery and transport equipment, chemical products, fabrics, and consumer goods.

Trade: (2003) Exports—$10.0 billion (machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, foodstuffs, metals, and textiles). Major markets—Russia, Latvia, Great Britain, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania. Imports—$11.5 billion (mineral products, machinery and equipment, metals, chemicals, foodstuffs). Major suppliers—Russia, Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Italy, Lithuania.

Exchange rate: (June 2004) 2,157.76 BYR (Belarusian rubles)=U.S. $1.


HISTORICAL HIGHLIGHTS

While archeological evidence points to settlement in today's Belarus at least 10,000 years ago, recorded history begins with settlement by Baltic and Slavic tribes in the early centuries A.D. With distinctive features by the ninth century, the emerging Belarusian state was then absorbed by Kievan Rus' in the 9th century. Belarus was later an integral part of what was called Litva, which included today's Belarus as well as today's Lithuania. Belarus was the birthplace of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Belarusian was the state language of the Grand Duchy until 1697, in part owing to the strong flowering of Belarusian culture during the Renaissance through the works of leading Belarusian humanists such as Frantzisk Skaryna. Belarus was the site of the Union of Brest in 1597, which created the Greek Catholic Church, for long the majority church in Belarus until suppressed by the Russian empire, and the birthplace of Thaddeus Kosciuszko, who played a key role in the American Revolution. Occupied by the Russian empire from the end of the 18th century until 1918, Belarus declared its short-lived National Republic on March 25, 1918, only to be forcibly absorbed by the Bolsheviks into what became the Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.). Suffering massive population losses under Soviet leader Josif Stalin and the German Nazi occupation, Belarus was retaken by the Soviets in 1944. It declared its sovereignty on July 27, 1990, and independence from the Soviet Union on August 25, 1991. It has been run by the authoritarian Alexander Lukashenko since 1994.


GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Since his election in July 1994 to a 5-year term as the country's first President, Alexander Lukashenko has consolidated power steadily in the executive branch through authoritarian means. He used a non-democratic November 1996 referendum to amend the 1994 constitution in order to broaden his powers and illegally extend his term in office; and he began to count his 5-year term in 1996, thereby adding 2 years to his first term in office. The new constitution has a popularly elected president who serves a 5-year term. The bicameral parliament consists of the 64-seat Council of the Republic and the 110-seat Chamber of Representatives. The Council of the Republic is the house of territorial representation. Eight members of the Council are appointed directly by the president of the Republic of Belarus, while local regional councils elect the rest. The deputies to the House of Representatives are elected directly by the voters. The president appoints the prime minister, who is the head of government.

In October 2000, parliamentary elections occurred for the first time since the disputed referendum of 1996. According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), these elections failed to meet international standards for democratic elections. In particular the elections fell far short of meeting the minimum commitments for free, fair, equal, accountable, and transparent elections. Following on from the flawed parliamentary elections, and based on the unrecognized 1996 constitution, Lukashenko announced early in 2001 that presidential elections would be held. International monitors noted sweeping human rights violations and nondemocratic practices throughout the election period, including massive vote-counting fraud. These irregularities led the OSCE/ODIHR to find that these elections also failed to meet Belarus' OSCE commitments for democratic elections. March 2003 local elections also failed to meet international standards of freedom and fairness.

Lukashenko called a referendum in October 2004 on constitutional changes to remove term limits for the presidency and allow him to run again in 2006. According to official results, the referendum passed by a wide margin, and Lukashenko allies won across-the-board victories in simultaneous parliamentary elections. OSCE/ODIHR observers declared that the parliamentary elections fell far short of international standards, citing abuses in the campaign period and the vote counting. The referendum was also conducted with little regard for democratic principles. Independent exit polling showed results far different from those officially announced.

Government restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, peaceful assembly, and religions continued in 2003 and 2004. Efforts to further infringe upon press freedoms included the continued use of libel laws, limitations on foreign funding, pressure on businesses not to advertise with independent media, limitations on access to newsprint and printing presses, censorship, restrictions on the import of media-related materials, temporary suspension of independent and opposition periodicals, and detention of those distributing such material. The government continued to make use of its monopoly on television broadcasting to present biased news coverage and to minimize the presentation of opposing points of view. On September 9, 2003 President Lukashenko called upon mass media to be used as an instrument for promoting a pro-government state ideology. Additionally, although several Internet service providers have emerged in Belarus, they are all state-controlled. Despite constitutional provisions, a 1998 government decree limited citizens' rights to express their own opinions. The 1994 and 1996 constitutions both provide for freedom of peaceful assembly; however, the regime severely restricts this right in practice. Demonstrations require an application at least 15 days in advance of the event. The local government must respond positively or negatively at least 5 days prior to the event. Following many unsanctioned demonstrations, police and other security officials detain, harass, and beat demonstration participants.

The constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the authorities restrict this right in practice. Although Article 16 of the 1996 amended constitution that resulted from the illegal referendum reaffirms the equality of religions and denominations before the law, it also contains restrictive language that stipulated that cooperation between the state and religious organizations "is regulated with regard for their influence on the formation of spiritual, cultural, and country traditions of the Belarusian people."

On October 22, 2002, the parliament approved a new law on religion, despite protests from international and domestic human rights organizations as well as Orthodox religious groups not affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church. The law contains a number of very restrictive elements.

According to the constitution, citizens are free to travel within the country and to live and work where they wish; however, the authorities sometimes restrict these rights in practice. The authorities issue internal passports to all adults, which serve as primary identity documents and are required to travel, obtain permanent housing, and for hotel registration.

The constitution provides for the right of workers—except state security and military personnel—to voluntarily form and join independent unions and to carry out actions in defense of workers' rights, including the right to strike. In practice, however, these rights are limited. The Belarusian Free Trade Union (BFTU) was established in 1991 and registered in 1992. Following the 1995 Minsk metro workers strike, the President suspended its activities. In 1996 BFTU leaders formed a new

umbrella organization, the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Union (BCDTU), which encompasses four leading independent trade unions and is reported to have about 15,000 members. In late 2003, the BCDTU became a member of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).

In May 2001, a complaint was lodged with the International Labor Organization (ILO) by several trade union organizations. A trade union campaign was carried out to raise international awareness and put pressure on the Belarus Government. Late in 2001, the regime attempted to further restrict the unions by refusing to turn over dues paid by members. Once it became clear that the unions and the BFTU were adjusting to this change, the government in June of 2002 embarked on a takeover of the BFTU and several of its branch unions. The BFTU subsequently became an arm of the government, and the election of Leonid Kozik to the position of Chairman of the BFTU has been challenged by the ILO.

In 2003, the authorities took numerous measures to suppress independent trade unions and continued to interfere in the work of the BFTU, especially regarding activities of independent, affiliated unions. In May, the trade unions at nine state enterprises merged to form the Belarusian Union of Industry Workers (BUIW), which subsequently became a member of Kozik's BFTU. The authorities and directors of state enterprises placed significant pressure on workers to join the BUIW. Independent union activists called the BUIW a pro-government, "yellow union" established to quell resistance to BFTU's pro-government agenda and undermine reformist grassroots unions. In June 2003, the International Labor Organization's (ILO) Standards Committee included the country in its special paragraph on trade union violations for a second consecutive year and urged the government to address the ILO recommendations to eliminate government interference in unions. On November 19, the ILO approved the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry to investigate alleged serious violations of workers' rights in the country. On November 11, the Ministry of the Economy informed the ILO that all activities related to its technical assistance project to labor unions must cease, because the registration of the project was denied.

In March 2004 the government began forcing state employees (some 80% of Belarusian workers) to sign short-term work contracts. Although contracts may be concluded for a period of 5 years, most expire after one year—essentially allowing the government to fire anyone annually. Although the contracts are new, several members of independent unions have already lost their jobs when their contracts were not renewed.

The State Department's report on human rights practices in Belarus is located at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2003/27827.htm.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 1/25/05

President: Aleksandr LUKASHENKSO
Prime Minister: Sergei SIDORSKY
First Dep. Prime Min.: Vladimir SEMASHKO
Dep. Prime Min.: Andrei KOBYAKOV
Dep. Prime Min.: Vladimir DRAZHIN
Dep. Prime Min.: Ivan BAMBIZA
Dep. Prime Min.: Anatoliy TYUTYNOV
Min. of Agriculture & Food: Vasil DVARANINOVICH
Min. of Architecture & Construction: Gennadiy KURACHKIN
Min. of Communications: Vladimir GONCHARENKO
Min. of Culture: Leonid HULYAKA
Min. of Defense: Leonid MALTSEV
Min. of Economy: Mikalay ZAYCHANKA
Min. of Education: Aleksandr RADZKOW
Min. of Emergency Situations: Enver BARIEV
Min. of Finance: Nikolay KORBUT
Min. of Foreign Affairs: Sergei MARTYNOV
Min. of Forestry: Valentin ZORIN
Min. of Fuel & Energy: Eduard TOVPENETS
Min. of Health: Ludmila POSTOYALKO
Min. of Housing & Municipal Services: Vladimir BELAKHVOSTOV
Min. of Industry: Anatoly RUSETSKY
Min. of Information: Vladimir RUSAKEVICH
Min. of Interior: Vladimir NAUMOV
Min. of Justice: Viktor GOLOVANOV
Min. of Labor and Social Security: Antanina MORAVA
Min. of Natural Resources & Environmental Protection: Leontiy KHOROVZHIK
Min. of Sports & Tourism: Yury SIVAKOV
Min. of Statistics & Analysis: Vladimir ZINOWSKI
Min. of Taxes & Duties: Anna DEIKO
Min. of Trade: Aleksandr KULICHKOV
Min. of Transport and Communication: Mikhail BOROVOY
Chief of the Presidential Administration: Viktor SHEYMAN
Chmn., State Committee for Security (BKGB): Stepan SUKHORENKO
Chmn., National Bank: Petr PROKOPOVICH
Prosecutor General: Pyotr MIKLASHEVICH
State Sec., Security Council: Gennadiy NYAVIGLAS , Maj. Gen.
Ambassador to the US: Mikhail KHVOSTOV
Charge d'Affaires to the UN, New York: Aleg IVANOU

Belarus' embassy in the U.S. is at 1619 New Hampshire Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20009; tel: 202-986-1606; fax: 202-986-1805; website: http://www.belarusembassy.org


ECONOMY

As part of the former Soviet Union, Belarus had a relatively well-developed industrial base; it retained this industrial base following the breakup of the U.S.S.R. The country also has a broad agricultural base and a high education level. Among the former republics of the Soviet Union, it had one of the highest standards of living. But Belarusians now face the difficult challenge of moving from a state-run economy with high priority on military production and heavy industry to a civilian, free-market system.

After an initial outburst of capitalist reform from 1991-94, including privatization of state enterprises, creation of institutions of private property, and entrepreneurship, Belarus under Lukashenko has greatly slowed its pace of privatization and other market reforms, emphasizing the need for a "socially oriented market economy." About 80% of all industry remains in state hands, and foreign investment has been hindered by a climate hostile to business. The banks, which had been privatized after independence, were renationalized under Lukashenko.

Economic output, which declined for several years, revived somewhat in the late 1990s, but the economy remains dependent on Russian subsidies. Until 2000, subsidies to state enterprises and price controls on industrial and consumer staples constituted a major feature of the Belarusian economy. Inflationary monetary practices, including the printing of money, also have been regularly used to finance real sector growth and to cover the payment of salaries and pensions.

Peat, the country's most valuable mineral resource, is used for fuel and fertilizer and in the chemical industry. Belarus also has deposits of clay, sand, chalk, dolomite, phosphorite, and rock and potassium salt. Forests cover about a third of the land, and lumbering is an important occupation. Potatoes, flax, hemp, sugar beets, rye, oats, and wheat are the chief agricultural products. Dairy and beef cattle, pigs, and chickens are raised. Belarus has only small reserves of petroleum and natural gas and imports most of its oil and gas from Russia. The main branches of industry produce tractors and trucks, earthmovers for use in construction and mining, metal-cutting machine tools, agricultural equipment, motorcycles, chemicals, fertilizer, textiles, and consumer goods. The chief trading partners are Russia, Germany, Ukraine, and Poland.

The massive April 26, 1986 nuclear accident at the Chernobyl power plant, across the border in Ukraine, had a devastating effect on Belarus; as a result of the radiation release, agriculture in a large part of the country was destroyed, and many villages were abandoned. Resettlement and medical costs were substantial and long-term.

In 2000, Belarus managed to unify its currency exchange rates, tightened its monetary policy, and partially liberalized the foreign currency market. These developments led to the conclusion of a staff-monitored program in cooperation with the IMF, addressing, among other topics, price and wage liberalization, a widening of privatization, fiscal reform, the adoption of international accounting standards in the banking sector, and the repeal of several egregious laws and decrees to improve the investment climate. The program was conducted between April and September 2001, with relatively disappointing results.

Due to the economic and political climate, little new foreign investment occurred in 2003. In 2002, two major companies, the Swedish furniture firm Ikea and Russian beer producer Baltika, ended operations in Belarus due to unrealized government commitments or unwelcome interference. The government itself faced increasing fiscal difficulties as arrears rose in wages and pensions, and in tax payments.

Growth in 2003 and early 2004 was reportedly robust, but peculiarities in official Belarusian statistics complicate analysis. Inflation remained highest in the region despite a modest decline to 18% in early 2004. Over 40% of enterprises and a majority of collective farms currently operate at a loss, a level that has persisted since 2002. The government made progress in reining in its fiscal policies, largely due to constraints imposed by financial difficulties caused by the earlier economic slowdown. Belarus continues to be heavily dependent on Russia, with the potential for greater economic dependency looming in the proposed European Union (EU)-style union between the two states. Prospects for an eventual union appear diminished, however, largely due to the apparent lack of interest on the part of Belarus.

The World Bank's 2002-2004 country assistance strategy for Belarus focuses on areas such as targeted social assistance to help open up Belarusian society, AIDS/HIV and tuberculosis prevention, environmental protection, Chernobyl-related damage, and small and medium enterprise development. The World Bank's most recent project in Belarus began with its June 2001 approval of a $22.6 million loan to finance repairs in over 450 schools, hospitals, and homes for orphans, the elderly, and the disabled throughout Belarus. In 2004, Belarus rejected a World Bank loan to help fight AIDS and tuberculosis. IMF cooperation is currently limited to policy and technical consultations.

Environmental Issues

Belarus has established ministries of energy, forestry, land reclamation, and water resources and state committees to deal with ecology and safety procedures in the nuclear power industry. The most serious environmental issue in Belarus results from the accident in 1986 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. About 70% of the nuclear fallout from the plant landed on Belarusian territory, and about 20% of the land remains contaminated. But government restrictions on residence and use of contaminated land are not strictly enforced, and the government announced plans in 2004 to increase agricultural production in the contaminated regions. The government receives U.S. assistance in its efforts to deal with the consequences of the radiation.


DEFENSE AND MILITARY ISSUES

The United States continues to support Belarus' adherence to arms control agreements and treaties into which it has previously entered. Added to this list is Belarus' recent ratification of the Open Skies Treaty. Cooperation in all such agreements has been exemplary.

Humanitarian aid continues to be the primary engagement between the U.S. military and Belarus. In early 2004, the United States European Command announced the allocation of $200,000 for the continued renovation of the Gomel Emergency Treatment Hospital. The hospital had already received more than $600,000 in humanitarian assistance, which included funds for the renovation and establishment of its blood transfusion center in 2001. In addition, in May 2004, the U.S. military donated $95,000 for the renovation of the Turov regional hospital. These programs, coupled with the continuous flow of Humanitarian Excess Property from U.S. Cold War stocks, define the humanitarian assistance program.

Direct military to military cooperation continues to be minimal. Belarus currently has no International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, and bilateral exercises and cooperation are nonexistent. There is a great desire on the Belarusian side to re-establish such cooperation and contacts, but it has not been possible due to the political situation. The only program that is still functional within this category is the attendance of Belarusian military officers in George C. Marshall Center programs.

Potential areas of cooperation can be seen in the area of mine disposal, demining, and small arms destruction. Belarus possesses an unstable inventory of about 4.2 million anti-personnel mines, which require proper disposal. Officials have been working with foreign governments to acquire financial and technical support for these efforts but have met with little tangible success. In addition to this, there are numerous World War II-vintage minefields, which are still in place and kill or injure several Belarusians every year. The Belarusian Government would quickly accept assistance in either of these areas.

The Minister of Defense is experiencing success in the area of military reform. Planned changes include combining the Air and Air Defense Forces, downsizing the force structure about 30% from 83,000 to 60,000, transitioning from a conscript to a contract force, and modernizing the command and control structure by creating a Ground Forces Command between the Ministry of Defense and the units in the field. Implementation of these reforms will take an unspecified amount of time.

The area of greatest concern continues to be links between Belarus and states of concern through the sale of arms to, equipment services to, and the training of personnel from these states. Included in this category (but not limited to these examples) are the sales of weapons to Libya and Syria, along with reported weapons transfers, upgrades of equipment (S-300 system), and air defense training of service members of the former Iraqi regime.


FOREIGN RELATIONS

Under an arrangement with the former U.S.S.R., Belarus was an original member of the United Nations. It also is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS—a group of 12 former Soviet republics) and its customs union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) Partnership for Peace, the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank.

Following the recognition of Belarus as an independent state in December 1991 by the European Community, EU-Belarus relations initially experienced a steady progression. The signature of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) in 1995 signaled a commitment to political, economic, and trade cooperation. Significant assistance was provided to Belarus within the framework of the TACIS technical assistance program and also through various aid programs and loans. However, progress in EU-Belarus relations stalled in 1996 after serious setbacks to the development of democracy and the Drozdy conflict. The EU did not recognize the 1996 constitution, which replaced the 1994 constitution. The EU Council of Ministers decided against Belarus in 1997: The PCA was not concluded, nor was its trade-related part; Belarusian membership in the Council of Europe was not supported; bilateral relations at the ministerial level were suspended; and EU technical assistance programs were frozen. In 2004, the Council of Europe adopted a report written by special rapporteur Chr