Top Ten Stories on Belarus Digest in 2011

Belarus Digest compiled a list of most read articles in 2011 and wishes you a Happy New Year! 

1. Cheap Booze For The People Of Belarus. As the economic crisis deepens prices on nearly all products rise sharply in Belarus with one remarkable exception - alcohol.  These days a bottle of vodka in Belarusian restaurants often costs less than a packet of orange juice - US$3.  In a supermarket half a liter of a cheap alcoholic drink with around 30% alcohol content costs around US$0.65. Yesterday the government increased taxes on alcohol and tobacco, but the state policy of providing affordable alcohol and tobacco remains unchanged.

2. The Consequences Of The April 11 Minsk Bombing. The explosion in Minsk underground is the most tragic terrorist act, which Belarus has seen since the end of the Second World War. The bomb exploded at the busiest station of Minsk subway on Monday evening. Over two hundred people injured and eleven reported dead as a result of the rush hour bombing in the capital of Belarus. It was clearly a terrorist act. Who is behind it is a more difficult question. Belarus is not waging any wars, has a homogeneous population and no unsettled territorial disputes.

3. Belarus Economy: In A Queue For US Dollars. The Belarus Ministry of Statistics reports that the GDP growth for January-February was 7.8%. It could seem impressive but other indicators tell us a totally different story. The gross external debt for 2010 was already US$28.5 bn, which makes 53% of GDP and it continues to rise. And the total foreign reserves contracted to US$4 bn (by 25% from December 2010), while the foreign currency reserves account has only US$1.3 bn (see Belarus National Bank statistics). In January-February the deficit of trade balance was nearly US$2 bn. It is only with Russia that it reached US$1.3 bn in those two months. So the foreign currency reserves are barely enough to cover the monthly amount of import.

4. The Black Tuesday Of The Belarusian Economy. This year's devaluation of Belarusian currency was the largest in the world for the past 20 years, according to the World Bank.  Independent media already called the day of official devaluation "the black Tuesday". However, Belarusian state media largely ignore this news focusing on the visit of Alyaksandr Lukashenka to Kazakhstan and the Cannes Festival in France.

5. A Stab In The Back? Lithuania Leaks Information About Belarusian Activists. Yesterday Mikalay Khalezin, the head of the Belarus Free Theatre accused Lithuania of handing information about accounts of Belarusian activists and NGOs in Lithuanian banks to the Lukashenka regime. At first it was hard to believe what Khalezin wrote in his blog. But on the next day the Lithuanian Ministry of Justice confirmed it.

6. Belarusian Vice Prime Minister: The Situation In The Country Is A Shame. On Thursday Nadzeya Yermakova, chair of the Belarusian National Bank, unexpectedly admitted that the government has almost no gold or foreign currency reserves. The National Bank only has USD 1.2 billion. The rest – 3/4 of the reserves - was borrowed from Belarusian commercial banks. 

7. No Belarusian Roubles Please. If you are in Belarus and only have Belarusian roubles to pay for your ticket – be prepared to stay in the country a bit longer.  AirBaltic and some other companies  operating in Belarus no longer accept Belarusian roubles. Instead they insist on payments in Euros - a currency which is nearly impossible to buy legally in Belarus. Today it became even more difficult as the National Bank of Belarus recommended commercial banks only to buy, but not to sell, foreign currency. 

8. Andrew Wilson On His Belarus Book And Lukashenka's Survival. Last month Yale University Press published Andrew Wilson's book "Belarus - The Last European Dictatorship". The book covers Belarusian history from Polatsk Principality to the present day Belarus and offers particularly interesting insights into Lukashenka's rise to power and the system which managed to help him survive for such a long time. 

9. The Hidden Problems Of The EurAsian Union. On 18 November presidents of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia met in Moscow and launched the Single Economic Space. They also signed the Treaty on the Eurasian Economic Commission.If three countries ratify these acts in the near future, on 1 July 2012 the Customs Union’s Commission will be abolished and all its powers will be transferred to the Eurasian Economic Commission. The Eurasian Union founders use the European integration experience as a model. However, it is hardly possible that they will form a harmonious union because of a number of political, economic and intercultural problems.

10. Belarus In Eurovision 2011: More Politics Than Music. Open political statements are not allowed at the Eurovision Song Contest, but to many this year's Belarusian contribution to the contest as pure politics.  In Belarus, the first version of the Eurovision song stirred contradiction from the very beginning. Initially, the song's title was “Born in Belorussia". This song was allegedly alluding to the nostalgia about the good old times in the former Belorussian Soviet Republic. Very few were concerned that the young singer Anastasiya Vinnikova was born in 1991 and has therefore never lived in the former Soviet Union.

 

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