Forbes: Currency devaluation a shock for Belarussians
MINSK, Jan 8 (Reuters) – A surprise 20 percent devaluation of the Belarussian currency has sent people rushing to shops before prices go up. The devaluation shocked many in this ex-Soviet state where President Alexander Lukashenko, widely known as 'Batka' or 'Dad', insulated the population from the turbulence of world markets by keeping much of the economy in state hands.
But the global turmoil has caught up with Belarus and has forced it to seek a $2.5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. The devaluation may have been linked to the loan as freeing up the currency system, cutting social spending to balance budgets and wage controls are common conditions set by the IMF for its loans to help rebalance ailing economies.
On Dec. 31 Minsk agreed to the IMF loan and on New Year's Day it devalued the rouble to 2,600/$ from 2,200/$. Belarussians rushed to the shops the next day to buy what they could in anticipation of steep price rises once the next set of imports hit the shelves. 'I don't remember such queues since the Soviet times,' said Marina, a 38-year-old housewife, out shopping in Minsk. 'I saw a woman grabbing onto a fridge and shouting that she got it first, while a man was telling her that he had ordered it.' 'We sold 10-days worth of stock in three days,' said Tatyana, a furniture store assistant.
'Today, there were a lot of unhappy people. People couldn't believe that we've sold out.' Read full text at Forbes.com.
The National Endownment for Democracy hosts an event on Belarus
The International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and RFE/RL invite you to a briefing:
Are Belarus' Overtures to the West Genuine?
Friday, December 12, 2008 9:00AM-10:30AM
National Endowment for Democracy 1025 F Street NW, Suite 800 [at the historic Woodward and Lothrop Building]
Olga Kazulina Activist and daughter of opposition leader, Alyaksandr Kazulin
Alyaksandr Klaskouski Director of Analytical Projects, BelaPAN news agency
Rodger Potocki Director for Europe and Eurasia, National Endowment for Democracy
Please RSVP by email to <email@example.com> or
by telephone to (202) 378-9525.
Despite the controversial September 2008 parliamentary elections in Belarus, which were widely denounced by western observers as undemocratic, the European Union has followed through on pre-election pledges to loosen travel restrictions on Belarusian government officials, including President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
Over the past year, Belarus has taken steps to release political prisoners and says it wants improved relations with the West. Is Belarus, which continues to actively repress domestic criticism and has reportedly offered to host Russian missiles on its territory, sincere in its stated wish to improve relations with Europe and America?
Olga Kazulina is the daughter of political prisoner and former presidential candidate
Alyaksandr Kazulin, who was arrested in March 2006 and sentenced to 5 1/2 years of imprisonment for his political actions against the Lukashenko regime. She is a member of the Social Democratic Party and the commission “Freedom for Kazulin and All Political Prisoners.” Ms. Kazulina was the deputy director of the firm Alaktiv from 2005 until 2007, when she was fired after attending an opposition conference in Lithuania.
Alyaksandr Klaskouski is Director of Analytical Projects for the news agency BelaPAN and Editor-in-Chief of BelaPAN’s Elections website. He also runs a popular political blog for the e-weekly Nasha Niva and writes a column for Naviny.by. Mr. Klaskouski is a regular contributor to RFE/RL's Belarus Service and BelSat, a Warsaw-based satellite television channel. Both speakers are in the U.S. at the invitation of the International Republican Institute to participate in events marking International Human Rights Day.
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