Crisis in Belarus: Internal Dynamics and External Interests

Conference on current developments in Belarus

26/10/2011 | 09:00 - 17:30 | DGAP | Invitation only

Category: Belarus

Belarus used to be an island of stability in the post-Soviet area, supported by economic growth and social security that was subsidized by Russia. This system is teetering now because Russia is limiting its financial support. This is leading to high inflation, currency shortage, job losses, and, consequently, to an unprecedented decline in popular support for the Belarusian president.

How is the elite dealing with the economic and social challenges? What are the influential groups in the administration, economy and society? Where is Belarus heading in the coming years? These questions were discussed in a conference organized by the Center for Central and Eastern Europe of the Robert Bosch Stiftung of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) and the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Andrej Dynko, chief editor of Belarusian independent newspaper “Nasha Niva”, pointed out that the country has already experienced economic decline in the 1990’s. The difference is that for the first time the crisis has been caused by the Belarusian economic model itself and President Lukashenko’s politics, and not by external factors like the global financial crisis. Dr. Jörg Forbrig, Program Director Central and Eastern Europe at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Berlin, added that Western and Belarusian experts had failed to predict the political shift and economic collapse in Belarus. Yauheni Preiherman, Policy Director at the Discussion and Analytical Society “Liberal Club” in Minsk, concluded that even in this period of crisis, there is no clear economic strategy or vision for the country’s future among the Belarusian elites, including the opposition.

The second panel examined Russian-Belarusian relations. Dr. Kirill Koktysh, Associate Professor at Moscow State University of International Relations, believes that after having subsidized the Belarusian economy for such a long time, Russia will now only pay to ensure minimal living standards in Belarus. It will not provide the resources for economic growth. One of the ways out of such a situation is seen by many experts to be the privatization of Belarusian enterprises by Russian business. However threatening this may sound, Alex Nice, Coordinator of Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House in London, thinks the danger of Russian investments is exaggerated: “Look at Georgia. Russians own significant assets there, but it does not influence the geopolitical orientation of the country.”

In which direction will Belarus move in the near future? Will it move ever closer to Russia in a Eurasian Union as announced by the Russian Prime Minister? Maryna Rakhlei, journalist at the Belarusian Private News Agency BelaPAN, recalled that so far none of the Russian-Belarusian integration projects had been successful, and suggested that Putin’s initiative was a piece of pre-election rhetoric. At the same time the EU is still of interest for the Belarusian people, Ms. Rakhlei stressed. The EU should continue with exchange programs, professional training program and introduce a free visa regime for the Belarusians.

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