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Belarus’s next five years: stability above all

On 13 September the Centre for New Ideas published a pilot Index of the Future covering Belarus’s next five years. According to the index’s authors, Belarus can expect a stagnant economy and decreasing research potential. On the other hand,...

On 13 September the Centre for New Ideas published a pilot Index of the Future covering Belarus’s next five years. According to the index’s authors, Belarus can expect a stagnant economy and decreasing research potential. On the other hand, minorities’ rights may improve and the national identity strengthen.

The Centre for New Ideas surveyed 26 analysts and adopted 20 different indicators to describe Belarus’s near future. The two authors, Ryhor Astapenia and Andrei Kazakevich, interpreted qualitative indicators in the context of ongoing trends in Belarus’s development. Overall, they suggest that Belarus should avoid either significant progress or strong deterioration. They conclude that the notorious notion of Belarusian “stability” will continue to dominate economic, socio-demographic, educational and public administration spheres.

As Astapenia explained to Belarus Digest, the Centre for New Ideas launched the project because “many people see Belarus’s future as too abstract or made by one person [the president], while actually it is shaped by an elaborate tangle of long-term trends.”

A stagnant economy and rising debt

The Centre for New Ideas predicts slow economic growth of 1.5% – 3% per year, which in practice means stagnation. The average salary will probably rise from its 2017 level of $422 to at least $500 by 2022, with the top level suggested at $700. This means that Belarus might realise its nationwide struggle for “five hundred dollars to all.” At the same time, Belarusian external debt will likely grow due to increased external debt payments, making the Belarusian economy less stable.

A substantial dependence on the Russian market might remain among the major threats for the Belarusian economy, raising the possibility of trade wars and exposure to Russia’s increasing susceptibility to economic crises. Belarusian dependence on the Russian market may only slightly decrease, falling from 44% of exports in 2017 to 35-40 % in 2018-2022. The index foresees the number of countries receiving more than 5% of Belarusian exports growing by between three and five countries. In this way, the long-proclaimed diversification strategy of the Belarusian government might achieve partial success.

Longer life expectancy, yet fewer babies

The prognosis for the average salary in Belarus. Source: https://ideaby.org/index/en/

While the life expectancy of Belarusians born after 2017 might increase by approximately 10 years, their demographic load should rise as well. The experts predict a slow decrease of the Belarusian population from 9.5 million in 2017 to 9.25-9.4 million in 2022. Accordingly, Belarusians born today will most probably have to work longer in comparison with their parents to support the over-burdened pension system.

As for social equality, currently, Belarusians practically equal Scandinavian nations in terms of income distribution, evaluated by the Gini coefficient. According to the experts, the disproportion between the wealthy and the poor in Belarus will most probably stay the same in the next five years.

Belarus’s standing in gender equality remains comparable to that of many Western European nations, as Belarus ranks 26th in the world’s gender equality rating (evaluated by the Global Gender Gap Index). Furthermore, the Global Gender Gap Index for Belarus might even improve over the next five years.

Though various Belarusian minority groups (including the disabled, sexual, religious and other minorities) currently face systematic obstacles, they might expect positive changes. The experts predict a slight improvement of minorities’ rights on the institutional level, though their dissociation may continue

 

The prognosis for the Belarusian demographics. Source: https://ideaby.org/index/en/

Decreasing education and research expenses

Belarus’s education and research expenses will most probably stay at the present low level. Currently, Belarus spends only 0.5% of its GDP on research and development. In comparison, European states such as Norway or the Netherlands spend about 2% of their GDP on R&D. Nevertheless, the experts predict almost the same level of R&D expenditure in Belarus. As for the national education expenses, currently, Belarus spends on education almost as much as Germany, although the experts foresee a decrease in the coming years.

The index expects more Belarusian universities to enter the top 500 best universities in the QS World University Rankings. At present only the Belarusian State University makes the QS World University Rankings, where it occupies the 334th place. The experts expect the inclusion of additional two or three Belarusian universities in these rankings within the next five years. At the same time, despite the predicted success of Belarusian universities, the number of foreign students should only minimally increase. Apparently, Belarus has already fully employed its marketing potential to attract foreign students.

The authors see the number of patent applications remaining the same or slightly decreasing in the next few years. A slow decline of patent applications represents a worrying trend for contemporary Belarusian science. While in 2008 Belarusian scientists submitted 1500 patents a year, this number dropped three-and-a-half times over the subsequent decade. At present Belarusians submit approximately 400 patent applications annually and this number might fail to improve within the next five years.

No victory over corruption and passive civil society

The national battle against corruption will most probably fail to end up in a decisive victory. Though Belarus fares better in international corruption ratings than Russia and Ukraine, the experts expect the country to fail to achieve any radical progress fighting corruption. Belarus’s international corruption standing should still lag behind the majority of Western nations.

The development of Belarusian “e-government” awaits a limited progress. Though internationally Belarus ranks well according to e-government services available online and its telecommunications infrastructure, the citizens’ ability to operate e-government fails to keep pace due to governmental leniency. Hence, Belarus occupies an only 39th place in the global e-government index without significant prospects of rising higher in the near future.

The Belarusian national identity should strengthen slightly, and the conditions for civil society development might also improve marginally. Currently, the Belarusian non-profit sector remains in a rather complex condition due to the long-standing authoritarian regime, which hinders any progress in civil society development. Belarusian civil society will most probably remain conserved in the present state of passiveness.

In conclusion, the index for the future of Belarus attempts to evaluate Belarus’s near future in accordance with long-term trends and a range of qualitative indicators. Assuming that the Belarusian regime persists, the index foresees few major changes. The Centre for New Ideas predicts that Belarus awaits moderate economic growth, rising external debt,  stagnant demographics,  slightly reduced R&D expenses, and only slow progress for civil society.

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Olga Hryniuk
Olga Hryniuk
Olga Hryniuk holds degrees from Coventry University and the European Humanities University. She is based in Minsk, Belarus.
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