Last year was not a year of resounding victories nor a year of crushing defeats. The world financial crisis which began in 2008, fortunately, has not led to the destruction of our world system — as pessimists predicted. However, there are few causes for optimism, as the crisis continues: a crisis of ideas and of development. 2014 needs to be a year of finding new public and economic strategies.
The great minds of mankind are engaged in this search and I can’t help but think that Francis Fukuyama is right in his opinion that public solidarity, trust and social virtue are essential on the path to prosperity. Zbigniew Brzeziński’s latest book Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power has also attracted attention. The well-known ‘American hawk’ has never criticised the policy of the USA as sharply as in this book. Times change and the world is becoming multipolar: Brzeziński asserts that the USA must reconsider its self-view as a ‘God-chosen hegemon in world politics’ to avoid the collapse which has ruined other empires.
Well-known Belarusian philosopher, Professor Mikhail Vishnevsky, writes, ‘I don’t agree with Plato, who considered that the world of ideas dominates the material world. I rather believe in the ontological and cognitive status of ideas and see no firm law of social development covering the past and the future of any country — or mankind as a whole’. He sees nothing terrible in periods of stability being replaced by those of instability, believing that progress is guided by individuals and social groups working together.
In Belarusian society, we understand that modern challenges require greater personal initiative and responsibility. We must control economic and social processes. Ideology plays more of a role in such conditions, to motivate choice. This prompts the question: what is the basis of the ideology of the Belarusian state?
Professor Vishnevsky views the ideology of the Belarusian state as consent regarding basic values and joint aims. Without such consent, efficiency would be impossible. We need conformity in accepting developmental trends. Naturally, the state must nurture ties with science and encourage collective practice.
Last year, Belarus saw these issues discussed at the highest level. The President’s Message to Parliament noted the importance of modernisation, informatisaton and youth involvement in building the state, while raising our competitiveness abroad. He asserted, “Belarus needs its own niche in the global economy of knowledge.” Of course, in encouraging the younger generation, we must promote their creative potential. New ideas and new people help us to push forward.
A notable event in the recent public life of Belarus was the Republican meeting in which the President demanded that we improve the training of our managerial personnel. New principles are needed, based on personal initiative and responsibility. In late December 2013, the presidents of our three countries — Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan — approved the institutional part of the draft Agreement on the Eurasian Economic Union. All the avenues of our development — modernisation, reform of state governance and more intensive integration — aim at the same outcome: stronger nationhood and civil initiative. Our post-crisis development means that our formerly inflexible industrial economy must transform into a new network of manufacturing and relations. We need to seek our own new avenues, rather than being passive executors of instructions from above. However, such ‘independent thinking’ must be built upon the proper values, to avoid destructive influences.
Alfred Weber notes that our human desire to survive always remains, regardless of external change. Using Weber’s theory to look at geopolitical processes within post-Soviet territory, we can say that most of the world’s recognised experts view economic progress as a ‘reward’ for internal harmony. Without such harmony, economic prosperity remains elusive.
Former Soviet states have some way to travel to achieve success, requiring new legislation, new markets and the development of private enterprises. A new system of values is needed, to create a modern society boasting an advanced economy. This new system of values is already being shaped, including via the draft Agreement about the Eurasian Economic Union.
Although yet to acquire its final form, the draft has already been approved by the presidents of our three countries, detailing the international legal status and mechanisms of the union. The final text will be offered to the heads of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan for conclusion in May; by the end of 2014, it should be ratified, to allow the launch of the new union on 1st January, 2015. Naturally, this year will be devoted to improving and creating the final version of the agreement.
Before Kazakhstan became an active participant of integration processes, Belarus and Russia were forming their own alliance, with their enterprises achieving a high level of industrial co-operation and economic solidarity. According to the well-known theorist and sociologist Francis Fukuyama, such co-operation is vital to the creation of large industrial corporations able to compete on the world market.
The already approved union of Belarus and Russia, with its high level of economic integration and human solidarity, shows what is possible within post-Soviet territory. We can create another centre of global integration, capable of competing with such communities as the European Union, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
It is an ambitious but achievable mission; in our modern world, even the greatest states without allies and partners are viewed merely as big territories, sources of raw materials and oligarchy. Post-Soviet integration is going far from smoothly, being exposed to destructive selfishness — exacerbated by the world financial crisis. It is selfish to close our markets to strangers, using protective measures. However, the real trouble comes when politicians use unfair methods of market competition.
The recognised master of world policy, Zbigniew Brzeziński, has devoted a whole chapter to Belarus in his book Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power. He examines Belarus in the context of American strategy on the continent and quotes Mackinder, the founding father of geopolitics: ‘He who owns Eastern Europe owns the Heartland; he who owns the Heartland owns the World Island (Eurasia); he who owns the World Island owns the world’.
To date, the only country in Eastern Europe to avoid the influence of the USA is Belarus. This may be why the West has refrained from taking seriously the creation of the Eurasian Union — comprising Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan. The Eurasian Economic Union is such a project as politicians in various countries have dreamt of through the ages. Working onwards from Mackinder’s theories and finishing with today’s plan for a Euroatlantic free trade zone (as offered to the European Union by the United States), Brzeziński stresses that the latter will be incomplete without Russia and its partners.
It would seem that we have a chance to develop integration from Lisbon to Vladivostok. President Vladimir Putin is keen to liaise with European partners, while Mr. Lukashenko has offered the EU an ‘integration of integrations’. This would bring equal rights and mutually advantageous co-operation between the two largest European integration blocks.
Alas, the West sees such co-operation only on its own terms. As Zbigniew Brzeziński writes, America needs to attach Russia to the West, to gain control over Eurasia. The American strategist considers that, in our modern world, the safety of states located close to the main forces in the region depends on the international status quo, supported by the global domination of America. Better to say that only America can protect the sovereignty of small states located on strategic world axes.
The logic is disputable, especially when we observe current events to gain influence in Ukraine. The struggle to link Ukraine to the West is acute and the end unpredictable. Brzeziński refers to Ukraine as the ‘most geopolitically vulnerable of states’. This vulnerability is obvious, considering Ukraine’s split between the axis of East and West. Belarus differs drastically from Ukraine in having more of a unified public. This creates a true competitive advantage, since such consensus is rarely seen elsewhere abroad. This lack of public solidarity has led to social protests in the richest EU countries of the European Union. It’s no surprise that the crisis continues, since the world yet lacks a new attitude.
Before we can solve the new problems created by the crisis, many countries need to overcome internal division — as we see acutely in wealthy Ukraine, with its reputation as a resident of Europe and with major volumes of natural resources. It lacks only internal consent, which has brought the country close to collapse.
Unlike those countries in which citizens lack agreement, we, Belarusians, can begin to solve our problems. We have a strong platform from which to embrace interstate economic competition. We boast internal solidarity and an ability to embrace change: a well-known sign of success.
Belarus enjoys internal consensus regarding its model for economic development. This year, our task is to create an innovative economy, since we lack raw materials and other natural riches. What we do not lack is human capital. Besides our traditional industrial expertise, we are building a niche in the IT sphere, creating software and business models known worldwide.
Wargaming.net already has global recognition for its computer game — ‘World of Tanks’: it is the most well-known Belarusian game, with 75 million users, registered in 209 countries. Belarus was the first in the Eurasian zone to launch software development. We can say with confidence that Belarus has made more progress than other post-Soviet states in this direction. Our Park of High Technologies is a new ‘Silicon Valley’. Since its launch 7-8 years ago, the Park has made serious progress.
Thankfully, Belarus has always been able to adapt to changing realities: a skill able to help us to reach a new technological and social level. Our Belarusian system of values hinges on our ability to remain united. This will allow us to move forward, strengthening our traditional values while embracing new ideas.
Today, according to the Co-chairman of the Republican Confederation of Entrepreneurship, Viktor Margelov, there is a ‘liberal crisis’. At a certain historical stage, liberalism made a significant contribution to the world’s material well-being. Now, we see materialism pursued at any cost, to the disregard of spiritual harmony, personal development and the balance of nature. Western countries face such a problem while Belarus continues to seek out material development in parallel with other, more lofty, ideals.
Analyst Roman Dubovets questions Maslow’s theories on what motivates man to work. While material needs are a strong motivation, they may only inspire us to achieve the minimum necessary. In contrast, those who run their own business are often far more driven, since their success relies solely on their efforts. Clearly, to motivate the labour-force to work at full efficiency, they must feel a personal stake in the success of society. We must all believe in our role: that the prosperity of our country depends upon our efforts. Co-operation is vital. Even those pursuing the most selfish of aims cannot deny that it’s easier to achieve success when working in collaboration with others.
Analysts are suggesting that we develop our project system, through discussion, ‘round table’ debate, essays and exchange of experience — including student exchange, so that the younger generation gains a greater sense of involvement, ownership and responsibility.
The Academy of Public Admini-stration, under the aegis of the President of the Republic of Belarus, is already implementing such project management and administration, creating innovative platforms for the academic environment. Much more is to come in our transition, creating a community of citizens united in their sense of responsibility for everything that happens.
By Nina Romanova
Demand for innovative ideas
[b]Last year was not a year of resounding victories nor a year of crushing defeats. The world financial crisis which began in 2008, fortunately, has not led to the destruction of our world system — as pessimists predicted. However, there are few causes for optimism, as the crisis continues: a crisis of ideas and of development. 2014 needs to be a year of finding new public and economic strategies. [/b]