Toilet Paper-free Sausage, Journalists Fined, Potential Russian Pork Ban - Western Press Digest

The Belarusian economy received the brunt of the Western press' attention in October. Belarus is apparently looking to continue exporting sanctioned EU foodstuffs to Russia, while Russia is trying to stop it from entering the country. The IMF is still very sceptical about Belarus's economic situation and is not willing to provide it any financial support without serious reforms.

Lukashenka spoke to journalists and voiced his concerns about Russia's behaviour towards Ukraine, while a freelance journalist was fined for writing about the illicit food trade on the Belarusian-Russian border. Dozens of Belarusian and Ukrainian football fans were detained by police after a match where they sang a famous inflammatory song about Vladimir Putin.

Lukashenka assured reporters that Belarusian sausage was not cutting corners with any hidden additives in their products, unlike their Russian counterparts. All of this and more in this edition of the Western Press Digest.

Economy

Czech Business Heading for Belarus - Czech trade with Belarus has grown 167% over the past 5 years and is a leading destination for Czech business reports the Prague Post, referencing a local business newpaper article. Belarus has invested substantial sums into improving its infrastructure which has gone a long way in attracting Czech business to it. Czech exports are mainly technology related and include machinery, computer technology and equipment for telecommunications and other technology or transportation related goods.

Czech firms find that their Belarusian counterparts are prompt in making payments and it is easier to to do business with them than, for example, Ukraine. Several large projects, including a hydro-electric station in Grodno, have been completed by Czech firms with encouraging results. A bid to build a third line for the Minsk underground was recently made by a Czech company, a sign of their continued interest working inside of Belarus as well.

Russia Tightening Control Over Belarusian Food Imports - Reuters reports that a dispute is brewing between Customs Union members as Russia looks to enforce its sanctions on EU food product imports. The imports under question are not destined for Russia, but Kazakhstan. Russia is said to want all food imports that travel through its territory and are destined for Kazakhstan to be inspected by their own customs service.

Speaking to Russian news agency RIA Novosti, Head of Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance Sergey Dankvert said that food products that are going through Belarusian territory are being re- labeled to hide their EU point of origin. Pork originating in Belarus may be banned as well according to Dankvert. Russian officials are concerned about an outbreak of African swine fever in Belarus.

Belarus Needs to Implement Structural Reforms if it Wants IMF Loans - Additional external financing from the IMF is very unlikely without serious reforms being carried out according to the International Business Times. The IMF says that a 20% inflation rate and high wage growth remain a symptom of poor policymaking on the part of the Belarusian government. While some basic steps have been taken by the authorities in Minsk, no serious structural reforms appear to be underway, including privatisation. With Belarus's trade balance set to worsen once more, its economy is in for a rough times ahead.

International Relations

Belarus Growing More Concerned about Russia - In a blog for the Wall Street Journal, journalist Nick Shchetko says Belarus is starting to become a little more guarded in its relationship with Russia. Quoting recent comments that Aliaksandr Lukashenka made during a 5 hour long conversation with journalists, Shchetko notes that Lukashenka has been critical of Moscow's behaviour towards Ukraine, but been careful not to step over the line.

Lukashenka, the blog states, is being particularly mindful of next year's presidential election as he looks to prolong his rule over the eastern European country. In closing his talk with the journalists he issued a veiled statement to intellectuals using crude language, reminding them to remember where they come from and apparently placing some of the blame on the relatively low level of development in the country on them.

Civil Rights

Belarusian and Ukrainian Football Fans Detained at Match in Belarus - Dozens of Belarusian and Ukrainian football fans were arrested after a match between their national teams in the Belarusian city of Borisov. Newsweek reports that the fans were singing a famous song in the region that mocks Russian President Vladimir Putin. The fans also shouted out Belarusian and Ukrainian nationalistic chants together.

Police state that 41 fans were arrested on charges of "mild hooliganism" or "drinking in a public place", though a local independent newspaper said that more than 100 individuals were detained. At the time of the report, 12 Belarus fans had already been released after paying a fine.

DW Reporter Fined €​500 by Belarusian Court - Several recent cases against journalists writing for foreign media have been popping up in Belarus. DW reports that the official reason for these fines being leveled against the reports often has to do with their not receiving the proper accreditation, a notoriously difficult process in Belarus which the OSCE has criticised. The freelance Belarusian Alexander Burakov was fined for the "illegal generation of a product for the mass media."

Burakov wrote a story for DW's Russian-language service on how food traders were managing to get around Russia's import ban on foodstuffs of EU origin. Before the case began, the accreditation issue was mentioned before the hearing began by the presiding judge. Another journalist was fined €​400 by a Belarusian court. The fine is apparently in connection with a report they made for Polish radio.

Other

Belarusian Sausage: Made without Toilet Paper - Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that Belarus's charismatic head of state cleared the air with Russian reporters on the quality of Belarusian sausage. Lukashenka said that unlike Russia, Belarus had maintained a high level of food inspection and quality since it gained independence from the Soviet Union. Russian food producers, however, have been known to have "toilet paper, soy, all kinds of additives". RFE/RL notes that both toilet paper and sausage were in low supply at the end of the Soviet era.

Devin Ackles

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