The Jamestown Foundation: Belarus Survey Reveals Changes in Public Mood

WASHINGTON – David Marples published the following piece on changing attitudes towards the West in Belarus in the Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor.

The warming relationship between Belarus and the European Union has given rise to discussions about whether a new dialogue is possible under Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. It also leads to questions about the link between the world financial crisis and the more conciliatory attitude in Minsk. An equally important but often ignored factor is whether Belarusian society supports the new direction and whether the government will remain the sole decision-maker for future policies.

From the official standpoint, Belarus is well-placed to withstand the effects of the world crisis. The growth rate from January through November was reported to be 10.8 percent, with an anticipated 7 percent rise in GDP in 2009 (Reuters, December 9). In other respects, however, the outlook seems less optimistic. Inflation has risen to 12 percent compared with 9.4 percent last year. The Belarusian currency continues to fall—the rate was BR 2,200 to the dollar last week in Minsk and even worse in other cities. The price for imported gas from Moscow seems certain to rise above Belarus’s desired price of $140 per thousand cubic meters (Belapan, December 11). Equally critical is whether Russia will reduce purchases of Belarusian goods, particularly machinery and tractors, which would make the country’s impressive industrial output somewhat meaningless.

On the surface, the country seems bent on a new pro-European direction. On Belarusian Television on December 11, an earnest Lukashenka was shown in a conversation with the departing Ambassador Extraordinaire and Plenipotentiary of Italy to Belarus, Norbert Cappello. The Belarusian president lauded Italy’s role in improving relations with his country and stated that Belarus was ready for an open-ended dialogue with the EU, but without prior conditions (ITAR-TASS, Belarusian Television, December 11). A new official of the European Commission in Belarus was formally approved the next day (Interfax, December 12).

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