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Belarus, as seen by a belarusian

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Soviet cogitations: 33
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 09 Aug 2010, 16:57
Pioneer
Post 10 Aug 2010, 16:13
Komissar_KW wrote:
I would like to know a bit about Belarus, and the way the government and economy work there, particularly since the Western image of the country tends to be more negative, and the media and politicians alike tend to demonize the country and characterize the current political situation there as thug-ish authoritarianism. I suspect that it might be because Belarus is truly how you characterize it, refuses to bend over to the West


Indeed, Belarus retained a big part of the system that was left after the breakup of the USSR. The government is very centralized, and the most of the economy is in state hands. Private sector is somewhat 20-30% of the economy. Mostly - medium level enterprises like shopping malls, service companies, beverage producers, etc. But all of big companies are state owned (oil processing, metallurgy, truck making, potassium mining, etc.) Additionally, there are foreign investments (some are stakes in state enterprises, others are fully private - for example, cell phone operators, or banks).

That's true, contry's image is pretty much demonized in Western media. I think it largely derives from the rules of the game in media. When there is a state crack down on 100 opposition protesters - that's a big news shown globally. When old people receive good pension on time and can live their last years in dignity, unlike in many other ex-USSR countires - that's not a news at all, nobody shows it.

Funny thing, Belarusian government increasingly ponts at China as its role model. Its relation with Russia is very complicated. Russia is seen more as a country of a monopolistic capitalism, i.e. one of the worst forms of capitalism. Russian big companies gained motivation from new private owners (oligarchs), but lost accountability for their actions that used to come with state control.
Last edited by Bulbash on 10 Aug 2010, 18:52, edited 1 time in total.
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Soviet cogitations: 33
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 09 Aug 2010, 16:57
Pioneer
Post 10 Aug 2010, 16:46
In general, Russia is a good comp for Belarus, because they started from pretty similar point in 1991. Russian privatization was largely seen as unsuccessful by the Belarusian government, that's why they decided to not rush with it. The Russian privatization created a handful of enourmously rich oligarchs, whose path to power quite often involved actions that you can qualify as criminal, or bluntly criminal. However, besides getting a costly social shake up (a growing rich/poor divide), it is still unclear if there were any major advantages from the fact that ownership of huge ex-USSR plants and factories changed. What do oligarchs provide to those companies that state cannot? Perhaps, it is easier to gradually adapt the system of state management rather then to pay a high social price for an unclear immediate benefit. That was the major reasoning of the Belarusian government.

The result - it takes significantly longer to adapt the country towards new market realities which makes it less flexible /reactive /motivated, but at the same time you do not pay a high social price, and manage to retain some quality level of life for an average citizen, as well as make sure that state institutions continue provide quality service to the public.

Here is some comparison of "soft" indicators between Russia and Belarus

Countries by Human Development Index
Belarus - 0.826 (place - 68)
Russia - 0.817 (place - 71)

Countries by Quality-of-Life Index
Belarus - 4.978 (place - 100)
Russia - 4.796 (place - 105)

Countries by Education Index
Belarus - 0.958 (place - 27 and grows)
Russia - 0.933 (place - 40 and falls)

Countries by Income Equality (Gini coefficient)
Belarus - 29.7 (place - 16)
Russia - 39.9 (place - 67)

Countries by Homicide Rate (in reverse order)
Belarus - 7.53 (place - 95)
Russia - 14.9 (place - 112)

Countries by Global Peace Index
Belarus - 2.204 (place - 105)
Russia - 3.013 (place - 143)

All other ex-USSR countries with exception for Baltic states which are a part of the EU now, are lower than that.
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Soviet cogitations: 33
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 09 Aug 2010, 16:57
Pioneer
Post 10 Aug 2010, 17:07
If you wonder how does life "behind the curtain" looks like, here is a small gallery of Minsk photos that you can skim through - just a nice regular city.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/24251256@N06/sets/72157604005483466/

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Soviet cogitations: 4032
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 27 Oct 2006, 23:10
Politburo
Post 10 Aug 2010, 17:41
Welcome to the forum. I'm glad to see a comrade who has lived in Belarus on here. Since everyone is already asking the important questions, I figure I will ask some other questions. Do Belarussians play videogames? Is there any video game producers? How about animation studios? Are computers and internet access common? Is all media state-owned and controlled?
Loz
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Soviet cogitations: 11879
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 06 Dec 2009, 23:17
Philosophized
Post 10 Aug 2010, 17:48
Hi.
Can you tell something about the agriculture in Belarus?
Do kolkhozes still exist? How are they doing in the market? What's the quality of live on the village?
Was there decay of industry? How many factories closed down?
What's the police like? And the state bureaucracy?
How is Belarus coping with effects of Chernobyl?
And,what are Belarus girls like(compared to the ones in USA for example)?
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Soviet cogitations: 33
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 09 Aug 2010, 16:57
Pioneer
Post 10 Aug 2010, 19:40
Mabool wrote:
Can I ask you a lot of questions?

I'll be more than happy


Mabool wrote:
What changed in Belarus since the dissolution of the USSR?

The country became relient on its own forces.
The big Soviet Economy was very structured, operating as one big machine. Belarus played the role of an assembling line in this organizm. I.e. resources were supplied from places like Siberia, and produced into finished goods in places like Belarus. Then Belarus was left with all those big assembling enterprises which hudgely exceed internal needs of Belarus, and with no access to resources or consumer markets. Closing of those giants wasn't an option due to heavy social toll. Belarus had to find market-friendly way to diversify its supply routes to keep factories afloat. Now oil comes from Venezuella and Kazakhstan, steel from Russia, while tractors and trucks are sold to China and Iran.

Belarus is also one of the world's biggest suppliers of all sorts of weapons (another huge leftover from the times of the USSR).

Mabool wrote:
Would you call its economy socialist?

Probably yes.

Mabool wrote:
How exactly does it work, is there a private sector, if yes, how big is it?

As I mentioned it somewhere higher ~ 30% of the economy.

Mabool wrote:
Is socialism demonized in Belarus as it is in the West?

Not at all. Quite the opposite. Socializm is alive and doing well in Belarus.

Mabool wrote:
Are people nostalgic?

They have nothing to be nostalgic for. Things didn't change much (besides general human development - the Internet, cell phones, iPhones...). There is much more nostalgia in places like Russia or Ukraine. Belarus never left the Soviet system. It is a shrinked version of the USSR.

Mabool wrote:
Has the standard of living risen or fallen since 1991?

It has definitely risen significantly. Things were quite bad in the last years of the Union.

Mabool wrote:
What would you call the pros and cons of Belarusian society?

Good question.

Pros:
- gradual evolution of state economy, as opposed to market shock therapy
- relatively high level of living comparing to other ex-USSR countries
- lack of social tensions due to lack of huge social divide
- stable and reliable state institutions: ranging from government services till medical and educational systems
- ability to provide a dignity level of life to elderly people who are the least adaptive to market changes, but who also paid the highest toll with their lives and health during WWII for our existence. Other ex-Soviet countries often prefer to forget about this unadaptive layer of society

Cons:
- bad entrepreneurial climate, especially for small business. High taxes and too much micro-regulation.
- difficulty to attract foreign investments, mostly because of country's image in foreign media
- authoritarian rule of president Lukashenko that suppresses political opposition. Although, it might be just a function of the chosen economic model which would have never survived in a country ravaged between different political interests (Ukraine is a good counter-example).
- disregard of the pre-USSR national history. This is an old struggle between communists and nationalists, so common for many other ex-Soviet countries. China knew it very well, as well as almost all Eastern European countries. By being anti-nationalistic Belarusian government de-facto banned history of its own nation which will probably backfire in the future.
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Soviet cogitations: 33
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 09 Aug 2010, 16:57
Pioneer
Post 10 Aug 2010, 19:53
Lepton wrote:
Hello Bulbash,
Maybe you have some information on a question I asked about Pyotr Masherov.
The question is in the "Cult of Personality" sub forum and is the second last post on page 1 dated October 20th 2009.

I'll be happy to tell you whatever I know in the relevant thread.

Masherov was and is a highly respected figure in Belarus. I cannot think of any other place were any former Soviet leader would be as much respected as Masherov in Belarus. And it has nothing to do with communist ideology, or soviet propaganda. The years of Masherov's rule are commonly acknowledged by the Belarusians as the Golden Age in its modern history.

It is largely due to high level of life during the Masherov's rule that made Belarusians much less antagonistic towards the Soviet system than in other ex-USSR countries. Many people associate USSR with suppression, totalitarianism, and GULAGs. Because of Masherov, many Belarusians associate those years with economic prosperity and a very easy and comfortable life.
Last edited by Bulbash on 10 Aug 2010, 22:12, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
Soviet cogitations: 33
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 09 Aug 2010, 16:57
Pioneer
Post 10 Aug 2010, 20:21
Loz wrote:
Can you tell something about the agriculture in Belarus? Do kolkhozes still exist? How are they doing in the market? What's the quality of live on the village?

Yes, kolkhozes are still the dominant form of argicultural enterprises in Belarus. I'd say they produce over 90% of agricultural products. They are doing quite fine in the market economy. Kolkhozes are just simply bigger agro-enterprises with diversified revenue streams (and thus, more reliable access to financing). There were numerous private farms that appeared right after 1991, but they all lost market competition to kolkhozes and disappeared (the state does support kolkhozes in many cases, but much less than for example the French government supports private French farmers).

Loz wrote:
Was there decay of industry? How many factories closed down?

No, there wasn't any decay. None of factories were closed down. Almost 20 years have passed, and everything is working.

Loz wrote:
What's the police like?

Police is.... police. Brutal towards political demonstraitors. But quite nice and friendly in daily contacts. Much more responsive and significantly less corrupt than the one in Russia.

Loz wrote:
And the state bureaucracy?

The state bureaucracy lives in fear of the president and his Administration. Can't complain. Everything is done on time, and with good quality.

Loz wrote:
How is Belarus coping with effects of Chernobyl?

That's a very painful issue for Belarus. Most people don't know that Belarus is the country the worst hit by Chernobyl. Surely, it takes a toll on the economy. Residence and businesses are limited or banned in poluted areas.

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Loz wrote:
And,what are Belarus girls like(compared to the ones in USA for example)?

Skinny and independent
. They would be much more like those in Croatia.
Btw, Belarus has some still largely unresearched connection to the region of Croatia and Serbia. We are the only two regions in Europe were typical family names end with -ich. Some sort of a common legacy from the times before our ancestors split somewhere in the region of modern Germany. Some of them went South, while others went East.
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Soviet cogitations: 33
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 09 Aug 2010, 16:57
Pioneer
Post 10 Aug 2010, 20:45
Fitzy wrote:
Since everyone is already asking the important questions, I figure I will ask some other questions. Do Belarussians play videogames? Is there any video game producers? How about animation studios? Are computers and internet access common?


Yes, Belarusians are quite heavy gamers (mostly PC, console market never picked up due to unquestionable dominance of PC games there). For example, my Steam account includes 72 games and 317 hrs of Left 4 Dead 2 gameplay (in addition to 198 hrs of L4D 1)
.

Belarus doesn't have big game developers. Most of Belarusian game devs move to work for studios in Ukraine and Moscow. However, Belarus is the birthplace of some of the biggest (if not the biggest) outsourcing companies in Eastern Europe - EPAM Systems, and IBA Group. Later, due to economic climate and better infrustructure EPAM moved to Slovakia, and IBA moved to Czech Republic. Software engeneering is probaby #1 career for young people in Belarus.

Internet is growing, but could have been better. Belarus has the highest level of Internet penetration of all the CIS countries: between 35% and 38% according to different sources. It is generally available, but infrustructure needs more investments. The main problem is Beltelecom who slows down this development due to its current monopolistic position.
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Loz
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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 06 Dec 2009, 23:17
Philosophized
Post 10 Aug 2010, 20:47
Comrade,thanks for informative and useful responses.

I hope that you'll stay here for long,unlike most of our new members.


Quote:
Btw, Belarus has some still largely unresearched connection to the region of Croatia and Serbia. We are the only two regions in Europe were typical family names end with -ich

Yes,it's true that around 80-90% of Croatian and Serbian surnames(mine included) end with -ich.
But i thought that many Russian surnames have this ending too?
Anyway,it's proven that there were White Croats(and "White Serbs" or today's Lužice Serbs/Dolnosrbi still exist in Germany) in today's Germany/Poland are.
I'm not familiar with proto Croatian-proto Belorussian connections,do you have some sources/extra info on that?
Google gives me only football-related results.
A Serbian site mentions this though:
Quote:
Srpsko-bjeloruske vezesežu sve do epohe seobe slovenskih plemena. Tada se deo Severjana, koji predstavljaju značajnu komponentu u etnogenezi Belorusa, odselio na teritoriju današnje Srbije (Banat).

"Serbian-Belarus connections go all the way up to the times of migrations of Slavic tribes.Back than a part of Severjans(northerners),who represent a significant component in the ethnogenesis of Belarus people,moved to Banat(Vojvodina)-the territory of today's Serbia."

Oh,and some questions about our Slavic vice-alcohol.
What's the situation with alcohol(ism)?
Is there rampant alcoholism,and how is the situation in Belarus compared to Russia or Ukraine?
Do people drink "freely" in the streets? Do young people drink a lot?
User avatar
Soviet cogitations: 33
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 09 Aug 2010, 16:57
Pioneer
Post 10 Aug 2010, 21:35
Loz wrote:
Yes,it's true that around 80-90% of Croatian and Serbian surnames(mine included) end with -ich.
But i thought that many Russian surnames have this ending too?

Those Russians who have family names on -ich are highly likely to have Belarusian ancestors. The "signature endings" are the following:

Typical Russian:
-ov, -ev (like Petrov, Sidorov, Medvedev). A legacy of accepting Orthodox religion from Bulgaria.
-in (Rasputin, Putin)

Typical Ukrainian:
-o, -a (like Galushko, Yuschenko)

Typical Belarusian:
-ich (Litvinovich, Gurinovich, Yanukovich)
-ok (Luchenok, Laptenok)
-nya (Maisenya, Nikoloenya)

But those people have heavily mixed with each other.

Bulbash wrote:
Oh,and some questions about our Slavic vice-alcohol.What's the situation with alcohol(ism)?


In villages people do drink heavily sometimes. But on average, I would say people drink much less than in Britain, for example.
A couple of years ago authorities introduced a ban on drinking in the streets. It becomes more of a beer culture, although the country does produce one of the purest vodkas.
Soviet cogitations: 10005
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 14 Jul 2008, 20:01
Ideology: Trotskyism
Philosophized
Post 11 Aug 2010, 00:38
What you're saying sounds awesome. Like, really, really awesome. I think I love Belarus.

Quote:
Probably yes.


I guess the economy did change a lot though, to get out of the mess that Gorbachev's reforms created, is that true? Did it revert to a Brezhnev-style socialist planned economy, or was a new system introduced? Or is it more accurate to say that Gorbachev's "market socialism"-like system was merely stabilized? Are there still Pyatiletkas? Is there an equivalent of Gosplan? Are prices fixed? To what extent do market forces have an impact on the economy? If planning still exists, in which way did it develop, or is it still done the old Soviet way?

Quote:
As I mentioned it somewhere higher ~ 30% of the economy.


Is it growing or shrinking? Does the bourgeoisie have political power in Belarus? And, assuming that economic planning still exists, does it affect the private sector as well?

Quote:
Not at all. Quite the opposite. Socializm is alive and doing well in Belarus.


Do Belarussians perceive their country as socialist? Does it call itself socialist? What opinion do people have about capitalism? Are they educated in Marxism-Leninism?

Quote:
They have nothing to be nostalgic for. Things didn't change much (besides general human development - the Internet, cell phones, iPhones...). There is much more nostalgia in places like Russia or Ukraine. Belarus never left the Soviet system. It is a shrinked version of the USSR.


Wouldn't this make Belarus the most advanced socialist country ever to have existed?

Also, more questions: Do the soviets (I mean the councils) still exist? Are there multiple parties? What about the Communist Party? Did Belarus switch to parliamentary democracy as the rest of the USSR did?
"Don't know why i'm still surprised with this shit anyway." - Loz
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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 27 Oct 2006, 23:10
Politburo
Post 11 Aug 2010, 00:51
Wow, there is a ton of questions in here. Thanks for the answers, and I hate to add to your burdens, but I was just wondering about the press. I read that Russian firms are sometimes allowed to broadcast. So I am assuming much of the press is state owned and controlled, correct?
Soviet cogitations: 10005
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 14 Jul 2008, 20:01
Ideology: Trotskyism
Philosophized
Post 11 Aug 2010, 02:36
Sorry for being so overly curious, but what about unemployment? Does it exist? Did it exist in the Soviet Union prior to/during Gorbachev's rule? Has it gotten worse or better?
"Don't know why i'm still surprised with this shit anyway." - Loz
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Soviet cogitations: 33
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 09 Aug 2010, 16:57
Pioneer
Post 11 Aug 2010, 03:34
Mabool wrote:
What you're saying sounds awesome. Like, really, really awesome. I think I love Belarus.

Don't get overexcited. It is still unclear whether pros outweigh cons, and whether this system is sustainable in the long run. It is just an alternative approach to development comparing to other Eastern European countries. People prioritize social stability above political pluralism and fast money.

Mabool wrote:
Did it revert to a Brezhnev-style socialist planned economy, or was a new system introduced?
It is a new socialist breed that evolved without demolishing the old foundation. Unlike USSR Belarus cannot ignore the rest of the world, financial markets, globalizing technologies.

I'll put it this way: this new breed takes advantage of the fact that there is capitalism somewhere out there, and feeds of it. For an inside observer - Belarus looks like a socialist society. For an outside observer - Belarus is one united business corporation under single management. But that's what other modern corporations are trying to achieve.

Mabool wrote:
Are there still Pyatiletkas? Is there an equivalent of Gosplan? If planning still exists, in which way did it develop, or is it still done the old Soviet way?
I would again compare it to medium-term planning inside big corporations. There is no Gosplan, plans are developed by the Cabinet of Ministers.

Mabool wrote:
Are prices fixed? To what extent do market forces have an impact on the economy?
It's a combination. Prices are fixed for state produced goods, but since they make a big share of the market they inevitably effect prices of private made goods.

Potentially, market forces have significant impact, but Central Bank learned to navigate things like inflation, exchange rates, unemployment, etc.

Mabool wrote:
Is [private sector] growing or shrinking? Does the bourgeoisie have political power in Belarus?
It mights be growing, but not faster than general wealth of population grows. You cannot become an oligarch overnight even theoretically. Wealthy people have no political power.

Political regime is authoritarian, only the president has all political powers. He is more like system's guardian.

Mabool wrote:
Do Belarussians perceive their country as socialist?

They are not overwhelmed with definitions as long as things stay as they are. People are generally favorable towards Scandinavian / German approaches to the economy, but they are not trying to replicate them.

Mabool wrote:
Wouldn't this make Belarus the most advanced socialist country ever to have existed?
I'm not sure. China and Vietnam are another examples of how you evolve without demolition of the socialist base. Only time will show.

Mabool wrote:
Do the soviets (I mean the councils) still exist? Are there multiple parties? What about the Communist Party? Did Belarus switch to parliamentary democracy as the rest of the USSR did?

There is a Parliament, but it is controlled by the president. Opposition parties (including Communists) exist, but they have small public support and are not present in the Parliament. Soviets exist as local councils.

It is weird, but words "Communists/Communism" have a negative connotation with the Belarusian public while "Soviet/socialist" are rather positive.

Mabool wrote:
what about unemployment? Does it exist? Did it exist in the Soviet Union prior to/during Gorbachev's rule? Has it gotten worse or better?
I don't have data, but it is clearly less than in other ex-Soviet countries. State-run enterprises provide some additional level of job security.
User avatar
Soviet cogitations: 33
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 09 Aug 2010, 16:57
Pioneer
Post 11 Aug 2010, 03:43
Fitzy wrote:
I was just wondering about the press.

Freedom of speech is one of those things that are "sacrificed" for stable development. All major TV channels are state controlled. They show quality entertainment and tons of Western and Russian content. All the same shows I watch in NYC
But political news are censored.

Nevertheless, authorities are generally favorable towards Euronews Channel that is broadcasted widely.

Independent newspapers are very limited, but lots of state run ones. Internet is the source of uncensored information.
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Soviet cogitations: 4032
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 27 Oct 2006, 23:10
Politburo
Post 11 Aug 2010, 05:07
I certainly hope that Belarussian socialism does not see the same decline that so many other socialist states have. I do not wish to see a steady adoption of capitalist market principles, nor do I wish to see the rise of a new bourgeoisie.

As well, I have to say that it is better to have only state-run media than to have private media firms, because the latter will necessarily act as agents of the bourgeoisie, with a few small and inconsequential exceptions. That said, a system of consumer cooperative media firms would be substantially better than state-run media.
Soviet cogitations: 10005
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 14 Jul 2008, 20:01
Ideology: Trotskyism
Philosophized
Post 12 Aug 2010, 18:22
For the consideration of anyone who might be interested: A highly interesting article about the Belarusian economy.

http://case.com.pl/dyn/plik--29062166.pdf
"Don't know why i'm still surprised with this shit anyway." - Loz
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Soviet cogitations: 4032
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 27 Oct 2006, 23:10
Politburo
Post 12 Aug 2010, 23:25
I suppose it is an interesting article, but I don't like the conclusion:

Under changing circumstances the only way to secure sustainable growth in the long term is to force the economic transition to the open market economy since a command economy has proved historically its ineffectiveness.
User avatar
Soviet cogitations: 1537
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 14 Jan 2010, 05:46
Ideology: Marxism-Leninism
Party Member
Post 13 Aug 2010, 02:20
Dose Belarus have good relationships with other socialist countries like north korea, cuba, venezula, ect. ?
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