President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s playing Moscow against the West is turning a profit in the midst of global economic crisis. Having received $1.5 billion from Russia and $1.5 billion from the International Monetary Fund, Belarus will soon close its financial gap for the current year. Pending are a further $1.36 billion from the IMF, $200 million from the World Bank and $500 million (the last tranche of a $2 billion credit) from Russia. Although the demand for its goods from Russia and Europe plummeted, Belarus is faring quite well in crisis. Less dependent on external financing, its financial and banking sectors won’t take long to recover. Minsk is even confident enough to seek accession to the WTO, as a participant in a customs block with Russia and Kazakhstan. While becoming a WTO member is a long shot for the country with an old Soviet-style economy and a foreign trade turnover of modest $50 billion, the whole gambit will certainly boost Minsk’s ego and attract Western investors. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has approved a 10-fold increase in the amount of foreign trade that Belgazprombank can finance, raising its maximum exposure from $1 million to $10 million. Belarusian national airline Belavia has brushed up on entrepreneurial skills and is launching a frequent flyer program. Things are looking up, and even Campbell’s is ready to soup up its business by making a foray into the Belarusian market.
VIRGINIA – on July 17, 2009 a federal judge sentenced Viktar Krus to 7 years in prison for creating and running an illegal ring that supplied cheap workers to the East Coast resorts and railroad yards. 22 other co-defendants have been convicted in the case. Viktar Kurs, a Belarus national, entered the United States on a J-1 student visa in March of 2001. He immediately applied for asylum claiming he was persecuted in Belarus for being a member of the ZUBR student group. Later the ring helped many other Belarusians to obtain political asylums by submitting false documents demonstrating that the Belarus government had persecuted them for their political activities. The convicted also brought in workers by filing false alien relative petitions, and false tourist visa requests, and arranging sham marriages.
The Belarusian government not only violates human rights at home, but also hand over fist contributes to their violations abroad, going just as unpunished. Last week Graduate Institute of International Studies issued a report titled “Small Arms Survey 2009: Shadows of War”, which named Belarus – along with principled regimes like Iran and North Korea – a “significant exporter” of small arms that provides little or no information on its exports. Produced annually by a team of researchers based in Geneva, Switzerland, the report estimates the undocumented trade of firearms to be at least US$ 100 million. Little Belarus has been culpable of keeping the illegal arms trade up from its very birth as an independent state. In the new millennium it has only become better at it. In 2002, Mark Lenzi wrote in the Wall Street Journal Europe, that Belarus secretly delivered over $500 million worth of weapons to Palestinian militants. In 2003, Lebanon seized Belarusian weapons waiting to be smuggled into Iraq in defiance of a United Nations ban. In 2004, a report produced by Amnesty International accused Minsk of selling weapons and equipment “complicit in torture, rape and murder” in the western Darfur region.
WASHINGTON — Freedom House released its country reports on freedom in the world. Belarus remains the only European country classiffied as “Not Free”. A few former Soviet Union countries did better — Ukraine and Baltic States are regarded “Free”, while Moldova, Georgia and Kyrgystan are “Partially Free”. Here is the summary of the report on Belarus:
Detaining American citizens to hand them over months or even years later turning offenses into favors is becoming a tradition in dictatorial countries like North Korea. Last year – strangely or not – Belarus has followed the suit by detaining an American lawyer. Pardoning the ailing prisoner after the meeting with seven representatives of the US Congress who visited Minsk on Tuesday, June 30, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka undoubtedly scored points with the United States. Emanuel Zeltser has been in a Belarusian prison since last March after being convicted for industrial espionage in a closed trial. The commission asked for Mr. Zeltser’s release on humanitarian grounds as continued incarceration would endanger his life.
The first move of Obama administration towards Belarus seems to be in line with the U.S. policy of putting pressure on Belarus for violations of human rights and democratic principles. Below is the notice communicated by the Office of the Press Secretary of the White House:
WASHINGTON — Wreath Laying Ceremony and Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom Ceremony will take place at the Victims of Communism Memorial on June 16, 2009. A delegation of Belarusian diaspora representing Belarusian-American Association and We Remember Foundation will attend the events and lay flowers to commemorate tens of millions of victims.
Apparently, the IMF mission to Belarus was satisfied with the efforts the country is making to tackle its worst economic crises since early 1990-s. The fund agreed to extend the second tranche of the financial aid package for Belarus:
На 18-м годзе незалежнасці Беларусь усё яшчэ ў значнай ступені застаецца Terra Incognita для знешняга свету. Прыкладаў таму вялікае мноства, адзін з якіх — упамінанне краіны ў заходніх фільмах. Мала таго, што такіх выпадкаў надзвычай мала, дык яны яшчэ часцей за ўсё абарочваюцца поўнымі кур’ёзамі. З “Пагоняй” на ўніформе У амерыканскім баевіку “Прыгавораны” (The Condemned) рэжысёра Скота Вайпера (2007 г.) 10 смяротнікаў- забойцаў, вызваленых з турмаў краін трэцяга свету, змагаюцца за жыццё на бязлюдным востраве. Аднаго са смяротнікаў прывезлі з Беларусі. На экране так і напісана: “Беларусь, Дзяржынск і (чамусьці) Віцебская калонія”. На ваеннай форме, якая ў прынцыпе не мае ніякага дачынення да Беларусі, можна было ўбачыць какарды з… “Пагоняй”. Застаецца толькі здагадвацца, як ў Галівуд трапіла бутафорыя з гістарычным гербам Беларусі. З “вадзіцельскім пасведчаннем”
The Washington-based International Women’s Media Foundation awarded a 2009 Courage in Journalism Award to Iryna Khalip, a Belarusian journalist who is frequently detained and subjected to all-night interrogations by police.
You are invited to attend a presentation by Jaroslav Romanchuk, a leading market-oriented Belarusian economist. The presentation is organized by the Baltic Black Sea Initiative (BBSI). Mr. Romanchuk is the Founder and President of the Minsk-based Research Mises Center, Vice President of the United Civic Party, and the Executive Director of the independent think tank Analytical Center “Strategy.” He has authored over 1,000 articles and co-authored numerous books on market-based economics and democratic governance, including a handbook that offers an alternative path of Belarusian development with free-market solutions in monetary, taxation, budgetary, social security and privatization issues.