Toilet Paper-free Sausage, Journalists Fined, Potential Russian Pork Ban – Western Press Digest
The Belarusian economy received the brunt of the Western press' attention in October. Belarus is apparently looking to continue exporting sanctioned EU foodstuffs to Russia, while Russia is trying to stop it from entering the country. The IMF is still very sceptical about Belarus's economic situation and is not willing to provide it any financial support without serious reforms.
Lukashenka spoke to journalists and voiced his concerns about Russia's behaviour towards Ukraine, while a freelance journalist was fined for writing about the illicit food trade on the Belarusian-Russian border. Dozens of Belarusian and Ukrainian football fans were detained by police after a match where they sang a famous inflammatory song about Vladimir Putin.
Lukashenka assured reporters that Belarusian sausage was not cutting corners with any hidden additives in their products, unlike their Russian counterparts. All of this and more in this edition of the Western Press Digest.
Czech Business Heading for Belarus – Czech trade with Belarus has grown 167% over the past 5 years and is a leading destination for Czech business reports the Prague Post, referencing a local business newpaper article. Belarus has invested substantial sums into improving its infrastructure which has gone a long way in attracting Czech business to it. Czech exports are mainly technology related and include machinery, computer technology and equipment for telecommunications and other technology or transportation related goods.
Czech firms find that their Belarusian counterparts are prompt in making payments and it is easier to to do business with them than, for example, Ukraine. Several large projects, including a hydro-electric station in Grodno, have been completed by Czech firms with encouraging results. A bid to build a third line for the Minsk underground was recently made by a Czech company, a sign of their continued interest working inside of Belarus as well.
Russia Tightening Control Over Belarusian Food Imports – Reuters reports that a dispute is brewing between Customs Union members as Russia looks to enforce its sanctions on EU food product imports. The imports under question are not destined for Russia, but Kazakhstan. Russia is said to want all food imports that travel through its territory and are destined for Kazakhstan to be inspected by their own customs service.
Speaking to Russian news agency RIA Novosti, Head of Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance Sergey Dankvert said that food products that are going through Belarusian territory are being re- labeled to hide their EU point of origin. Pork originating in Belarus may be banned as well according to Dankvert. Russian officials are concerned about an outbreak of African swine fever in Belarus.
Belarus Needs to Implement Structural Reforms if it Wants IMF Loans – Additional external financing from the IMF is very unlikely without serious reforms being carried out according to the International Business Times. The IMF says that a 20% inflation rate and high wage growth remain a symptom of poor policymaking on the part of the Belarusian government. While some basic steps have been taken by the authorities in Minsk, no serious structural reforms appear to be underway, including privatisation. With Belarus's trade balance set to worsen once more, its economy is in for a rough times ahead.
Belarus Growing More Concerned about Russia – In a blog for the Wall Street Journal, journalist Nick Shchetko says Belarus is starting to become a little more guarded in its relationship with Russia. Quoting recent comments that Aliaksandr Lukashenka made during a 5 hour long conversation with journalists, Shchetko notes that Lukashenka has been critical of Moscow's behaviour towards Ukraine, but been careful not to step over the line.
Lukashenka, the blog states, is being particularly mindful of next year's presidential election as he looks to prolong his rule over the eastern European country. In closing his talk with the journalists he issued a veiled statement to intellectuals using crude language, reminding them to remember where they come from and apparently placing some of the blame on the relatively low level of development in the country on them.
Belarusian and Ukrainian Football Fans Detained at Match in Belarus – Dozens of Belarusian and Ukrainian football fans were arrested after a match between their national teams in the Belarusian city of Borisov. Newsweek reports that the fans were singing a famous song in the region that mocks Russian President Vladimir Putin. The fans also shouted out Belarusian and Ukrainian nationalistic chants together.
Police state that 41 fans were arrested on charges of "mild hooliganism" or "drinking in a public place", though a local independent newspaper said that more than 100 individuals were detained. At the time of the report, 12 Belarus fans had already been released after paying a fine.
DW Reporter Fined €500 by Belarusian Court – Several recent cases against journalists writing for foreign media have been popping up in Belarus. DW reports that the official reason for these fines being leveled against the reports often has to do with their not receiving the proper accreditation, a notoriously difficult process in Belarus which the OSCE has criticised. The freelance Belarusian Alexander Burakov was fined for the "illegal generation of a product for the mass media."
Burakov wrote a story for DW's Russian-language service on how food traders were managing to get around Russia's import ban on foodstuffs of EU origin. Before the case began, the accreditation issue was mentioned before the hearing began by the presiding judge. Another journalist was fined €400 by a Belarusian court. The fine is apparently in connection with a report they made for Polish radio.
Belarusian Sausage: Made without Toilet Paper – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that Belarus's charismatic head of state cleared the air with Russian reporters on the quality of Belarusian sausage. Lukashenka said that unlike Russia, Belarus had maintained a high level of food inspection and quality since it gained independence from the Soviet Union. Russian food producers, however, have been known to have "toilet paper, soy, all kinds of additives". RFE/RL notes that both toilet paper and sausage were in low supply at the end of the Soviet era.
Benefits of the Eurasian Integration, Jobless Belarusians, Code of Conduct For Officials – Belarus State TV Digest
Over the last few weeks Belarusian state TV devoted much attention to discussing Eurasian Union integration, how to make officials nicer and the alleged low level of unemployment in Belarus. It also proudly reported Belarus's high ranking in the Human Development Index.
Compared to other coverage over the last few weeks, less attention was paid to Ukraine with only a short story about the Ukrainian elections which went off rather quietly and will certainly be recognised by Belarus.
Domestic Affairs: New Code of Conduct for Officials, Jobless Belarusians
Michail Arda: the new head of the officially recognised trade unions. According to the coverage, the new leader of the biggest public organisation in Belarus was elected in an “open election process”. According to state Channel 1, the newly elected head of the official trade unions, a former head of the pro-Lukashenka BRSM youth organisation, wants to increase its cooperation with Belarusian youth.
What to do with “useless” people? State Channel 1 was particularly preoccupied with the question about what to do with 400 thousand Belarusians that are not contributing anything to the Belarusian economy. In a video aired by the Channel 1 Lukashenka harshly told off those who do not work but use healthcare system, education and other social services. The same applies to the migrants from Ukraine: they should find employment as soon as possible in order to avoid conflicts with their Belarusian “brothers/Slavs”, according to Lukashenka.
22 thousand people remained jobless despite over 50 thousand available vacancies in the country Read more
There is a job for every Belarusian. On another occasion, state TV covered a job fair that took place in Minsk. The coverage emphasised that officially 22 thousand people remained jobless despite over 50 thousand available vacancies in the country. Unemployment in Minsk remains the lowest in the country and reached only 0.2%. About a third of employers offers salaries between 5 million BYR (around $470) and 15 million BYR ($1,404).
Who should be more honest and nice. During a recent round of appointments’ of new officials, Alexander Lukashenka spoke about how officials should have a “human approach” towards peoples’ problems, particularly leading up to the upcoming elections. The elections will be like an “exam” for the authorities, thus they should do their best to act fairly and honestly towards Belarusians.
According to Lukashenka, some people suggested that the elections should take place earlier. Some believe that this would help secure voters' support for him, but he was not in favour of having the elections that early. “This would deceive people”, the head of the state pointed out.
Belarus: a leader among the post-Soviet countries. Belarusian state TV proudly reported that according to a report by the UN on Human Development, Belarus ranked 53rd out of 187 countries. It even climbed in the rankings in terms of gender-equality, scoring 28th overall.
Hopes for more money from the International Monetary Fund. ONT TV covered a meeting of between prime-minister, Michail Miasnikovych, and the head of the IMF mission to Belarus. So far the cooperation between the organisation and Belarus remain on good terms, primarily due to Minsk’ discipline in paying off its $3.5bn loan.
How will the Eurasian Union change the life of ordinary Belarusians?
The Eurasian Union: an opaque project. One of the guest speakers, Andrej Karpunin, chairman of the Republican Club of Financial Executives, noted that the integration with the Eurasian Union has brought up more questions than it has answered for Belarus. Belarusian MPs Nikolai Samosiejka and Aliaksandr Shpakouski, director of the Information-Analytical Centre, strongly disagreed. Shpakouski argued that there was no real alternative for Belarus other than the Eurasian Union.
“Belarusian business concerned about the integration”. Borys Miednik, a Belarusian businessman who was also on the show, openly aired his concerns regarding the trying competitive environment in the Eurasian market. The competition would be particularly harsh for smaller Belarusian entrepreneurs like himself. Another guest, a businessman from Kazakhstan, painted a picture a rosier picture of the economic bloc, emphasising the potential benefits that the common economic zone would bring to business in all three countries.
integration was not a panacea for the Belarusian economy, but rather an opportunity Read more
“Belarus and Russia are interdependent”. The participants discussed the efficiency of the Belarusian economy and the subsidies it receives from Moscow. In the opinion of Shpakouski, both countries have very close economic ties. The fact that Belarus remains one of Russia's top business partners makes the economies of both countries interdependent, in his opinion.
“It will be more expensive and difficult” after the period of integration with the Eurasian Union, said Andrej Karpunin. Looking ahead at the next two years, Belarusians should expect a significant increase in prices. Shpakouski commented that integration was not a panacea for the Belarusian economy, but rather an opportunity. All of guests agreed that Belarusian society does not know enough about the integration project with the Eurasian Union.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials available on the web site of Belarusian State Television 1 (BT1) and ONT TV. Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media convey primarily the point of view of the Belarusian authorities. This review attempts to give the English-speaking audience a better understanding of how Belarusian state media shape public opinion in the country.