Brain-drain in Belarus: do dreams come true abroad?
According to a report on May 22 by TUT.by, 31.3% of Belarusians would consider moving permanently to another country. The study, conducted by Belarusian Analytical Workroom, surveyed 1,063 people and demonstrates that more and more Belarusians are willing to leave the country.
According to official statistics, Belarus is among the few countries in the Post-Soviet region with more people coming to the country than leaving. Nevertheless, sociologists point to a discrepancy between official statistics and reality.
The economic crisis, political pressure, and stagnation of education are just several reasons Belarusians are leaving the country. Neighbouring countries, however, are trying to attract more Belarusians. For example, on 30 May the Lithuanian newspaper Delfi reported that the amount of IT specialists arriving from Belarus is increasing.
Although they spend large sums on security and defence, the authorities do little to influence Belarusians to stay in their country. The alternative to this is for Belarus to adapt to brain-drain by stimulating an exchange of capital and improving conditions for young specialists.
How Many Belarusians Emigrate?
Belarusians continue to emigrate in search of a better life. The state's official statistical agency, Belstat, reports that around 13,000 Belarusians left the country in 2016. This is 3,000 more people than the year before. Meanwhile, in 2017, emigration has increased even more. In the first two months of this year, 1,839 Belarusians have already moved to Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, and Turkmenistan.
Despite the fact that the majority of Belarusians emigrate to Russia, many would prefer to move to Europe. Anastasia Barysava, a member of the National Academy of Science, told Thinktanks.by that ‘the flows of economic migrants have been re-directed from Russia to the EU countries’.
At the same time, official statistical information provides a dubious picture of the true number of emigrants. According to Eurostat, Belarusian citizens were among the top-10 countries receiving EU citizenship. Moreover, Rosstat estimates that 83,000 Belarusians immigrated to Russia in 2016. Thus, the real number of Belarusian emigrants remains unclear, especially given the number of illegal residents.
The economic situation in the country is triggering more and more Belarusians to leave. GDP continues to fall and the average salary (currently $377,8) has failed to reach $500 per month, as promised by the Belarusian government. Additionally, authorities continue to think up new taxes, such as the social parasite tax which taxes unemployment.
Why do Belarusian Students Emigrate?
Belarusian students constitute a large portion of emigrants. Due to cultural similarities and the absence of a language barrier, Russia remains the most popular destination for workers, including constructing workers and service-industry employees. The EU, however, attracts more students from Belarus. Despite the fact that Belarus has now joined the Bologna Process, educational flow from the country continues to grow. From 2001 to 2015, the total number of those studying abroad increased fivefold.
It seems that until the principles of the Bologna process are truly implemented, rather than simply formally, brain-drain will continue to grow. However, such changes are unlikely happen given the insignificant achievements of the country as a part of the Bologna process and the position of officials.
On 17 November 2016, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenka told the Russian media at a conference: ‘We followed…the Bologna process to some extent…But a time may come when we will sacrifice the quality of our education in order to please the West. They come here and envy us: we have a good education’.
Besides shallow educational achievements, which is reflected in insufficient academic freedom and ideologisation, Belarus discourages a significant amount of students for political reasons. In February-March, during the protests against the social parasites tax, many students fell victim to threats and expulsion.
European countries attract Belarusian students via programmes and scholarships. For instance, Poland offers the Kalinowsky Scholarship to Belarusians and has simplified the process for obtaining the Pole's Card.
UNESCO reports that 37 out of every 10,000 Belarusian students study abroad. In comparison, in Russia the number is 3.4; in Ukraine it is 9.3.
Currently, around 35,000 Belarusians are studying abroad. They also have opportunities to obtain a number of international scholarships, such as German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Swedish Institute's Visby Scholarship, and the Muskie Graduate Fellowship. Meanwhile, Belarus forces students to pay for missed classes and work for the state for at least two years after graduating; this often leads to protests.
Instead of economic reforms, the authorities are offering new taxes and full control over businesses. By wasting money on secret services and military parades, the regime is neglecting to invest in the development of the educational system.
Although Belarusians are less likely to take part in political protests than their neighbours in Ukraine or Russia, a significant amount of demonstrators appear to be young people. Suppression of activists leads to even more Belarusians leaving the country, as happened in 2006 and 2010 when oppositional activists and students protested the elections results.
Political analyst Aliaksandr Klaskoŭski believes that Belarusian youth mainly move to the West as they can't imagine ‘opportunities for self-realisation’ in Belarus, as well as for political reasons, reports gazetaby.com.
Since 1993, Belarus has maintained a system in which scholarship students must stay in Belarus for a certain amount of time to work off their 'debt'; this theoretically works to prevent brain drain. This compulsory work placement often means that students must work in small villages for low salaries. The unfavourable conditions of this two-year repayment scheme forces Belarusians to either pay for their education out of pocket or study abroad.
Belarus would benefit significantly from cooperation with the diaspora. The state, however, has failed to introduce a coherent and constructive policy regarding the diaspora. Successful academics, businessmen, and artists living abroad could promote the country and bring more money into Belarus. At the same time, Lukashenka seems to fear this strategy, as he perceives most representatives of the diaspora as belonging to the opposition.
Stopping the brain drain from Belarus is a challenging task, especially given that neighbouring Lithuania or Poland face many of the same problems, despite the higher quality of life there. Nevertheless, the state could adapt to brain drain. For instance, Belarus could promote the flow of capital from those who have left home by lowering taxes on the transfer of money from abroad, cooperating with the diaspora, and providing more educational opportunities for young Belarusians.
Belarusian defence industries: doubling exports and launching ballistic missile production
On 20-22 May, Milex-2017, an exhibition of defence equipment, took place in Minsk. It featured the first Belarusian ballistic missile. This recent success was one of many for the Belarusian defence industry.
On 18 May, the Chairman of the State Military Industrial Committee of Belarus, Siarhei Hurulyou, announced that from 2011 to 2016 the defence enterprises supervised by his committee had almost doubled their export volume, earning about $1bn last year.
These two stories illustrate two different paths the Belarusian arms industry is taking. On one hand, they still earn a considerable portion of their money by cooperating with Russia. On the other, they are diversifying and developing products by working with China, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and many other countries – even going so far as to annoy the Kremlin.
Russia both nervous and glad about the successes of Belarusian defence industries
In an article published in the May issue of the Russian Natsionalnaya Oborona defence review, Hurulyou admitted that 'export remains the main point of interest for balanced economic development of the [firms subordinated to the] State Military Industrial Committee.'
Speaking at Milex-2017 on 20 May, Hurulyou stressed that Russia remains Belarus's principal partner, 'which nevertheless is somewhat nervous and, well, maybe also glad about our successes.' He also mentioned China and South East Asian nations as other important partners.
Belarus could hardly have earned a $1bn last year without Russia's involvement. This is obvious given known deals, as well as those reported in the media in recent months. The largest deals which did not involve Russia are novelties for the industry: including deals on air defence equipment and related services with Vietnam, Myanmar, and Azerbaijan. For instance, an improved version of the Vostok-E radar, which once helped Iran intercept a US drone, has been developed together with Vietnam. Furthermore, Belarus sold the armoured vehicle Bars and the Belarusian-Ukrainian anti-tank missile Karakal to Turkmenistan. Minsk also made other minor deals such as selling Poland munition for $7.7m in 2015. Nevertheless, these deals alone cannot explain the dramatic growth in Belarusian defence export.
Deals on military aircraft and their servicing bring in much more money: the 558th Aircraft Repair Works in the city of Baranavichy conducts overhaul and modernisation of helicopters and aircraft. Last year, it signed a contract to overhaul twelve Su-25 aircraft for Kazakhstan. Concurrently, it is also completing the overhaul and modernisation of the second-hand Su-30K jets which Russia promised to Angola. The latter contract generates at least as much income as the deal with Kazakhstan.
Belarusian defence industries make the most money not by producing complete systems, but by making components for the systems manufactured by others, especially Russia. The most notable of these include chassis from the Minsk-based factory MZKT. The Russian tactical ballistic missile system Iskander, some S-400 surface-to-air missile systems' parts, and the mobile coastal defence missile systems Bastion, Bal-E, and Bereg all operate on MZKT-7930 chassis.
Belarusian sight devices are installed on various Russian anti-tank systems, including the T-90, T-72, and T-80 tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. Russian defence industries also use Belarusian fire control systems on various armoured vehicles. Likewise, Belarusian firms supply electronic warfare and some avionics; these are installed not only on modernised Su-27 but also on the most advanced Russian fighter aircraft Sukhoi PAK FA (T-50).
No wonder the Belarusian defence industries have succeeded in earning more money thanks to the massive modernisation of the Russian army in recent years, which also necessitated replacing certain Ukrainian components in Russian-manufactured equipment.
Missiles and armoured vehicles: How Belarusian are they?
Minsk, however, realises that these tailwinds can change, and is struggling to diversify. The most remarkable new products presented in the Milex-2017 included a new missile for Palanez and an armoured vehicle called Kaiman. Both of them were results of attempts to develop technological branches that had been either non-existent – like missiles systems – or underdeveloped, like armoured vehicles.
A mock-up of a tactical ballistic missile has attracted arguably the most media attention at the exhibition. It will make recently deployed Palanez Belarus-Chinese multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS) capable of delivering a conventional 560 kg payload as far as 300 km. Now, the Palanez shoots only at 200 km with much smaller rockets.
The Belarusian State Military Industrial Committee admits that the missile was designed under the framework of 'existing cooperation'. This formulation seemingly indicates collaboration with China. Experts at the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies dismiss it as a version of the Chinese missile M20. However, experts have suspected for years that Ukrainian firms may also be involved.
The Belarusian State Military Industrial Committee announced its plans to conduct initial shooting tests of the Belarusian ballistic missiles this autumn. The committee head boasted of 'having established a complete scientific, experimental, and manufacturing complex – from scratch – which enables Belarus to design […] and produce its own modern rocket and missile systems.'
Besides missiles, the Belarusian government has been striving to produce mechanised armoured vehicles in the country. The new combat reconnaissance/patrol vehicle Kayman became one of the most celebrated products at the Milex.
It was designed by the 140th Tank Repair Works based in the city of Barysau. The first models of Kayman were produced based on the Soviet BRDM-2, an armoured patrol car. However, the Works' head designer Volha Pyatrova insist that the final version of Kayman is an original product manufactured mostly from Belarusian components.
President Lukashenka ordered the design of such a vehicle three years ago. This month, Kayman was officially deployed in the Belarusian armed forces.
Does Minsk supply dysfunctional equipment?
Belarusian defence industries have so far succeeded in maintaining a certain degree of quality in their international cooperation. But on 17 May, the radical opposition web-site Belorusskii Partizan published material about allegedly dysfunctional military equipment supplied by Belarus to Azerbaijan in the early 2010s. Some Ukrainian components in the supplied systems reportedly were broken; furthermore, Belarusian firms perhaps paid Ukraine too much.
Numerous foreign media sources, such as the major Azerbaijani media outlet Haqqin, quoted the article. However, there is little evidence of the problems described by Belorusskii Partizan, which was the only source of information on the case. It claims to possess copies of documents proving the story but it has refused to publish them so far.
This is not the only unsubstantiated story about the Belarusian arms industries to circulate recently. On 26 April, the French bulletin Intelligence Online published an article accusing Lukashenka's government of continuing arms trade with the Syrian government. The bulletin based its story on a meeting between Belarusian Industry Minister Vitali Vouk and Syrian prime minister Imad Khamis. Official reports, however, do not indicate that they discussed military matters. Belarus has avoided supplying sensitive items to Damascus for years, and the 76-word story failed to provide any evidence that the opposite is now true.
Defence industries constitute an important branch of the Belarusian economy. They are dynamic, willing to introduce new products, and diversify markets and partners. Belarusian defence firms remain closely linked to Russia, but that does not mean they are dependent on it.
They are looking for autonomous ways to export their defence products. This certainly angers the Kremlin. Unsubstantiated stories which work to undermine cooperation with Ukraine and Azerbaijan are just more proof of this.