Independent, strong and prosperous Belarus: country’s historical choice

Minsk hosts 4th All-Belarus People’s Congress, with President Alexander Lukashenko’s speech on the prospects of the country’s development attracting most attention from delegates

Among top 50
By 2015, Belarus should be among the top 50 states regarding the Human Development Index. The President stresses that plans for the future are much more ambitious than in the past. The next five year period will become one of renovation, aimed at promoting new development countrywide. “The strategic goal is to join the top 50 countries showing the highest Human Development Index. High living standards for Belarusian citizens are not just a goal, but the essence of our state policy. The quality of people’s lives is defined by five important components: stable family, health, education, real income and comfort of living. The programme for the next five years should take into account all these components,” asserts Mr. Lukashenko, speaking at the 4th All-Belarus People’s Congress.

Investments into the economy
Over the past decade and a half, the country has proven its political and economic independence. In the last five years, Belarus’ average annual pace of economic development has reached around 8 percent; only twelve highly developed states worldwide boast higher results.

In the last five years, 185 new enterprises have been set up in the country, with over 320 drastically modernised. Belarus’ export of goods and services brings in revenue of over $25bn a year, while its output of innovative products has more than quadrupled. Over this period, our domestic plants have modernised their lines (with many seeing multiple updates). This great job has been the work of engineers, designers, scientists, workers and officers. In the coming five years, $72bn is to be invested into Belarus’ economy (against $20bn injected over the past five years).

“This is one of the most characteristic features of the Belarusian socio-economic model. We’ve spent earnings on development, investing into our own economy, rather than taking money abroad or embezzling funds in the form of dividends,” noted Mr. Lukashenko.

European level
By 2016, Belarus’ GDP per capita should reach the average European level. The country’s 2011-2015 Socio-Economic Development Programme has set extremely intensive performance goals, which are supposed to considerably increase living standards for Belarusians. “Within the next five years, GDP growth rate should reach 162-168 percent. Our GDP per capita should reach the average European level by 2016. It will be the highest pace of growth in the history of independent Belarus. Moreover, it will stand against an existing background of high achievement,” stresses Mr. Lukashenko. Energy security, import substitution, pharmaceutical security, balanced foreign trade and rising exports are priority goals for the Belarusian economy. The government is aiming for Belarus to receive over 30 percent of its energy needs from domestic resources by 2015, while the remaining 70 percent should be diversified in terms of suppliers and types of energy.
Additionally, Belarus should reach European levels of energy efficiency over the next five years.

Accommodation under the index of accessibility
In the coming five years, accommodation should become more accessible and of higher quality. Much has already been done in this sphere, with Belarus leading the CIS in terms of the number of new apartments built per 10,000 people. The country is now showing among the highest results worldwide.

Work is to continue. By 2015, 42m square metres of housing will have been built in Belarus: up 1.6-fold on the previous five year period. Planned salary rises should make housing construction affordable for the majority of people by 2016. People will be able to construct apartments using their own funds and via loans.

“At least 50 percent of housing will be built for those in need of social protection. Meanwhile, more people will be entitled to loans on preferential terms. I recently signed a decree to reduce the interest rate on preferential loans granted for housing construction: to just 1 percent in towns whose population is less than 50,000 people. These are unique conditions; nothing similar exists elsewhere in the world,” Mr. Lukashenko notes.

Exporting healthcare
Belarus should start exporting its healthcare services. The nation’s health remains a top priority for the state. Even during the global financial crisis, Belarus did not reduce funds spent on this sphere.

The country has identified all areas of healthcare development and conducted the necessary reforms. Today, there are more than five doctors per 1,000 people: more than in leading European countries such as France, Germany and Austria. However, the President believes that not all targets have been met. “Medical help should be prompt, of high quality and affordable — regardless of whether a person lives in a city or a village. In the coming two years, all medical institutions countrywide will become equipped with modern equipment, while avoiding excessive expenditure. The issue of polyclinics and hospitals being understaffed should be resolved. This problem — as well as the problem of queues at polyclinics — should be left in the past,” the Head of State stresses.

In terms of scientific and medical technology, Belarus already matches world levels, with our doctors conducting unique operations. The number one task is to start exporting medical services. Apart from this, the country’s pharmaceutical branch also needs a true breakthrough: including new ‘smart’ drugs, modern facilities and the latest medicines. Mr. Lukashenko believes that Belarus boasts the necessary scientific and production opportunities to make this possible.

Education as a strategic resource
The quality of education needs serious attention, being a strategic resource for Belarus; our wellbeing depends on technology and foreign markets. Mr. Lukashenko is convinced that it’s necessary to change the structure of personnel training, orienting towards the needs and demands of our economy.

Education is the third component defining quality of life. Belarus already occupies 23rd position on the Legatum Prosperity Index’s education sub-ranking, which is also a great achievement.

All children receive secondary education in our country, with wide possibilities open for higher education. “Perhaps, at no other time in Belarus’ modern history have we seen so many university students or those with higher education,” notes the President, stressing that the republic’s major success is that it has managed to ensure equal access to higher education and fairness of enrolment for all those who try: from cities or villages.

Much attention is to be paid in future to further strengthening financial support for students and pupils, in addition to provision of hostels and good living conditions. Other topical problems for students are to be addressed.

Country’s soul resides in villages
Belarus is ranked first in the CIS regarding food production per capita. It is also among the global leaders for producing milk, potato and flax. This is the result of its far-sighted policy, which has enabled the country to make a breakthrough in its agricultural development.

“I should admit that, on adopting the rural revival programme, I was thinking not of food security alone — although this was very important at the time. I was much guided by an aspiration to save the foundation of our country and its soul: villages. In these, Belarus’ hard work and wisdom are rooted. It is where our culture and national identity were formed. Our Slavonic state could not exist without them,” stresses the President.

Gradually, without any revolution, Belarus has been moving towards village revival. From 1996-2000, food security was ensured and, from 2001-2005, the country increased its production and entered foreign markets. In the current five year period, further innovative development of production and the social sphere in rural areas has continued. Technical and technological independence for agriculture has been ensured, with over 80 percent of the machinery used in our fields being manufactured domestically. In the next five years, exports of agricultural products and food should rise, to reach $7bn.
The President notes that, in 2010, the State Programme for Rural Revival and Development is to complete. Its major result is that Belarusians are now self-sufficient in most locally grown foods, with a strong foothold on global agrarian markets.

“Today, our food is sold in 63 countries. This year, we are about to export $2bn of farm products. Our agricultural system has withstood the global economic crisis and extreme weather conditions. The hard, even heroic, labour of our farmers deserves admiration. It has enabled us to create a solid foundation for shifting agriculture into a highly-advanced and export-oriented branch of the economy,” the President explains.

Salaries to grow
Wages in Belarus should reach $1,000 monthly (in equivalent) by 2015. In turn, the minimum pension is to be strictly tied to the living wage, growing at the same pace as salaries. Additionally, the retirement age won’t be increased. The Head of State admits that $500 or, even, $1,000 salaries are lower than those seen elsewhere in Europe. “However, the state has taken responsibility for a significant part of the expenses relating to social welfare, on a voluntary basis,” he asserts.

The middle class of society has already been formed in the country. At present, the number of those seeing themselves as having an average income has reached two-thirds — against the figures registered five years ago (half of the present number). This is an undisputable fact.

At the same time, our country can boast a significant victory: we have no strong social segregation. The President emphasises, “Belarus is now among the top ten states boasting the lowest social inequality: we have less than five times difference between the highest and lowest earners — like those in Germany, Austria or Sweden. In Russia, the rich hold 20 times more assets than the poor.”

Belarus’ policy aims to raise the number of prosperous people, with the incomes of other layers of society also  proportionally rising.

Strong labour rights
According to Mr. Lukashenko, unemployment in Belarus stands at less than one percent — much lower than in many developed countries. In comparison, Germany’s unemployment rate stands at 7.5 percent. In the UK, it is over 5 percent, while Japan boasts unemployment of 4 percent. The figure is 10 percent in the USA and over 20 percent in Spain.

“Without false modesty, we can be proud of preventing mass layoffs at a time when hundreds of millions of people across the globe have been left jobless as a result of the crisis. Our insignificant layoffs have been compensated for by a greater number of jobs made available in a particular region. In the hard crisis year of 2009, the national economy employed 0.7 percent more people than in the successful year of 2008,” Mr. Lukashenko notes. He wonders who is more concerned about the observance of basic human rights: those who speak or those who do? Which rights are more important: the right to employment or the right to hold a rally? The answer is absolutely clear to anyone with a brain.

Belarus has created conditions enabling full employment and there are enough vacant positions; the rest depends on will and individual potential. “Those who work longer and harder will earn more; it’s no worse than abroad. I faithfully promise this to you. Thank God, we have plenty of work available. There are three times more vacancies than the number of unemployed. Nevertheless, enterprises won’t hire just anyone — you have to be suitable; it’s a reality of life,” the Belarusian leader notes.

Formalism to remain in the past
Bureaucratic formality and a callous attitude towards ordinary people are to be strongly suppressed, with corruption and bureaucratisation wiped out. “For many years, we’ve been fiercely struggling against this many-faceted evil,” notes the Head of State. “We’ve already done much to make the state organs at the centre of the country and at local levels answerable for their actions; more work lies ahead.”

Despite the one-stop-shop principle being introduced, people can still feel intimidated by state agencies. People sometimes feel compelled to address the President himself with minor requests: to settle a land dispute, or to gain help in cleaning a courtyard or launching a new bus route. “I’m concerned when people cannot solve such minor issues at local level; such matters shouldn’t even appear,” says Mr. Lukashenko. “Working with people and being attentive to their needs is more important than the fulfilment of economic plans. We must eradicate situations where elementary issues are not settled for years, with local staff awaiting orders from top managers. Such red tape leads to careless officers losing their jobs.”

‘Can do’ space technologies
In the next five years, space technologies are to become part of everyday life in Belarus, helping with commercial and managerial decisions in agriculture, forestry, water economy and melioration, while assisting in the prevention and liquidation of emergency situations, as well as mineral mining, updating of topographic maps and navigation.

Space programmes have encouraged the development of a whole layer of marketable technologies, which have already paid for themselves several times over. Russia, Ukraine, Italy and other countries are interested in Belarus’ 21st century technologies, being ready to work jointly.

At present, our country is busy creating the necessary infrastructure for remote sensing of the Earth.
Among our national projects are the systematic informatisation of Belarus and the large-scale introduction of IT. A single global strategy is being put together, instead of individual programmes.

Nano- and bio-technologies are to be advanced to the level of commercial manufacturing. The country will create a bio-technology sector, including 20 new and modernised enterprises. Belarus is already among the top 30 states in the world regarding its scientific-technical potential index.

At the centre of a multi-vector policy
“Our country has been, is and shall remain a reliable and stable international partner. We plan to further contribute to solving global problems. Belarus is open to liaisons with anyone who wishes them as sincerely as we do,” notes Mr. Lukashenko.

Not everyone is pleased that a truly independent state is being established at the centre of Europe, able to efficiently promote and defend its national interests within the international arena, breaking stereotypes. This state acts not under others’ directorship but adheres to its own position regarding the international agenda. “Despite accepting the opinion of our foreign partners, we cannot blindly follow recommendations placed on us from either the West or the East. We have proceeded and shall proceed in the future exclusively from real needs and possibilities for our Belarusian society,” stresses the President. “We understand the status of a ‘crossroads’ — which Belarus geopolitically holds — as a connecting link, as an artery between the West and the East. This is not a barrier, a buffer or a sanitary border and, of course, is not an open house.”

The President explains that Belarus has no plans to choose between the EU and Russia. He is convinced that our bilateral relations with Russia will return to a normal pace. “We were once a single country; we are one people, having common roots. Our co-operation with any other country will never be as close as that with Russia — even in the worst times. This is why we’ll normalise these relations. You will see that relations will return to normal, as unexpectedly as they have worsened,” Mr. Lukashenko asserts. He notes that Belarus will always fulfil its duty to Russia, regardless of the form our relations might take.

The country is following a multi-vector policy, without which, sovereignty can hardly be preserved in the modern world. “We don’t intend to choose between the European Union and Russia. It would be unwise and incorrect. We are not moving towards the East or the West. We have our own special place in Europe, given by God to our people, as well as our own geopolitical identity and national interests. The most important thing is to secure balanced co-operation with everyone and to form a good neighbourhood belt along our borders,” concludes Mr. Lukashenko, adding, “Making all our key neighbours feel equally close is not the point, however. The strategy of claiming equal distance to the West and the East is most optimal for us. It allows us to effectively use our geographical location, and the transit and industrial potentials of our country.”

The European Union is a key buyer of Belarusian products, offering a huge market and being an important source of technologies and investments. The promotion of relations in energy transit, transport and migration, alongside the counteraction of human and drug trafficking and organised crime are important to all of Europe. “Our high level contacts with European leaders and member states indicate that a productive, trust-based (albeit complicated) dialogue can destroy stereotypes. We rely on a pragmatic and sensible approach by Brussels towards Minsk. Fully-fledged co-operation with Belarus on equal terms would be profitable for both sides,” stresses the Head of State.

Mr. Lukashenko notes that Belarus would like to see the United States of America among its leading partners. “Do Belarusians and Americans have different interests regarding modern global threats and challenges? No. Yet we hardly use the opportunities of our economic co-operation, though the potential is huge,” he adds.

US businessmen are ready to invest in Belarus — as seen from a recent visit by the American business community. A new delegation of American businessmen is to arrive soon. “We are sincerely interested in establishing friendly and mutually beneficial relations with the USA and are ready to do our utmost to encourage this,” says the President. Additionally, Belarus is to continue contributing to the development and strengthening of relations with its partners within the Customs Union and other states — including those in Europe, Asia and Latin America.

In three and a half hours of speaking, the President covered all the most important spheres of public life, offering concrete paths of development.

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