Test of Maturity

THIS YEAR, ADDRESSING THE BELARUSIAN PEOPLE AND PARLIAMENT WITH HIS TRADITIONAL STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS, THE PRESIDENT OF BELARUS CHOSE “PROSPERITY FOR OUR NATIVE LAND IS OUR COMMON GOAL” AS HIS THEME. HE OUTLINED DEVELOPMENTAL TARGETS FOR THE NEXT FEW YEARS
BELARUS WAS THE LAST TO BE AFFECTED BY THE CRISIS AND SHOULD BE THE FIRST TO EMERGE. According to the President, we now have a unique chance to cast off ballast which may be hampering progression. “We need to use this time to break through in all directions,” Alexander Lukashenko explained.

State regulation measures are becoming the norm, injecting governmental funds into production, social security, banks and large corporations — imposing control over capital flow. “Other countries are taking measures earlier rejected, when they slammed the Belarusian development model for being ‘non-market’. Effectively, they are admitting the positive management experience of Belarus, focusing on the private sector (industry, agriculture and construction) rather than speculating capital wildly,” believes Mr. Lukashenko.

“Due to its adopted measures, Belarus was the last to be affected by the crisis and should be the first to emerge,” the President stressed. Certain conditions are required — including concerted effort from every citizen. The President is against staff cutbacks; since the objective of the state is to maintain production, everyone keen to work will be ensured a job.

According to the President, economic collapse will not be allowed; Belarus is a people-oriented state and, sooner or later, the economic downturn will be replaced by an upsweep. Those countries which have managed to adapt quickly will be able to take advantage of changes in global competition, coming out on top. Belarus should be one of them. Mr. Lukashenko explained that we must search for new export niches and manoeuvre prices promptly in order to minimise the negative influence of the crisis.

FINANCIAL ‘ABSORBERS’: CREDITS AND DEVALUATION. According to Mr. Lukashenko, loans provided to Belarus by Russia, Venezuela, and the IMF — as well as credit resources exchanged with China — have been important in reinforcing economic security. They are providing a reservoir of stability in case of emergency.

However, such loans are purposeful only when used wisely to renew the manufacturing and technological base of enterprises, raising output of quality products and creating modern enterprises. Foreign loans taken out by Belarus should be used effectively — not wasted on everyday things, underlined the Head of State.

“The very fact of our co-operation with the International Monetary Fund was viewed by many, especially those in the West, as a positive thing, which confirms Belarus’ reliability. The IMF made not a single comment on Belarusian economic policy; the state was asked only to leave salaries unchanged and make a one-off devaluation of the Rouble.

Mr. Lukashenko explained the necessity of devaluation as a measure of financial regulation. “Following our basic trade partners, we had to devalue the national currency to avoid losing competitiveness of exports. It’s an unpopular measure but Belarus accepted it relatively painlessly: devaluation in Russia was set at 50 per cent,” noted the President.

UPDATING THE SERVICE SECTOR — BASIS FOR MODERNISATION. According to Mr. Lukashenko, the global financial crisis inspires other economic sectors to take on part of the load carried by industry. Belarus needs to boost its service sector, making it export-oriented. Transport, banking, leasing, healthcare, education and tourist services are real treasures. Smaller capital capacity, fast return on investments and soft requirements for start-up capital make the service sector most promising in terms of export development. They need to be used efficiently, with a boost given to the service sector in small towns. The President believes that cultural tourism looks very promising.

Belarus should improve transport infrastructure for international haulers, while creating competitive networks of transport and logistic centres and developing air-transport routes and conditions for business aviation. Border officials serving road and rail posts need to treat foreigners in a friendly fashion. “We should constantly confirm that Belarus is a reliable, stable and promising partner in all spheres of co-operation,” underscored the Head of State.

SUPPORTING ECONOMIC ACTIVITY. As part of liberalisation, excessive administrative barriers to business have been removed, ensuring less regulation and a smaller tax burden, with risks minimised. Mr. Lukashenko added that the country’s dynamic development could be ensured via close interaction between the state and businesses of all sizes.
The President specified that liberalisation could bring tangible results: “If we need to simplify the existing order, the government should introduce corresponding measures to convince businessmen that our state is interested in their success. This is the best way to ensure businessmen work legally: if they invest money in their Motherland, they won’t be investing abroad. People shouldn’t be afraid of carrying out business.”

LIFE-GIVING WATER OF INVESTMENTS. The high investment potential of Belarus was also confirmed by preliminary results from the London Investment Forum — attended by powerful businessmen from 35 countries. Wealthy businessmen are ready to invest in the Belarusian economy. “We’ll discuss investment projects connected with privatisation or modernisation pragmatically, weighing the pros and cons,” assured the Belarusian leader.
Addressing the civil servants, the President underlined that investors are unlikely to come out of the blue, “We need to search for investors, talk to them and guarantee their interests in my name. Let’s see world brands produced in Belarus — by Belarusians for Belarusians!”

ADVANCED TECHNOLOGIES FOR THE NATION’S HEALTH. “Improving the quality of medical services is a social policy priority,” underlined the Head of State. “Several years ago, heart and other organ transplants were unthinkable. Last year, Belarusian doctors carried out nine liver transplants, as well as 70 kidney and 127 bone marrow transplants. Three heart transplants have been performed already,” Mr. Lukashenko noted.
Cancer patients continue to need urgent treatment in Belarus. One in seven in the Republic dies of this disease. “It’s a severe problem in our country, connected with Chernobyl. It has to be solved immediately. Accordingly, I’ve ordered that huge resources be dedicated to developing oncology medicine,” the President explained.

CONFESSIONAL WORLD: UNITY IN VARIETY. Belarus is known worldwide for welcoming various ethnic and confessional groups. According to the President, the Republic practices a unique model of partnership between the state and Orthodox and Catholic churches. “We rely on assistance, supporting all confessions to consolidate families and the upbringing of the next generation. Religion encompasses charity and social devotion, as well as the prevention of alcoholism, violence and spiritual degradation. I invite everyone to help, to co-operate with us on any level — from the very top to the most modest village council,” he stressed.

The Vatican has praised Belarus’ confessional policy. “My meeting with the Pope was based on the fact that Roman Catholic supreme hierarchs highly estimate Belarus’ policy — including the Moscow patriarchate,” said the President. He added that such harmony between eastern and western vectors of the country’s confessional life sets an example for the foreign policy for Belarus.

MULTIPLE VECTORS — BASIC PRINCIPLE. The President criticised rumours of a ‘new team’ influencing him to approach the West. “The present situation is no invention. Since I entered office, I’ve spoken in a straightforward manner and have underlined that we should live in peace with our neighbours. However, the West failed to hear us. Accordingly, we began leaning towards the East. After the collapse of the USSR, it was reasonable,” explained the Belarusian leader.

The West is aware that Minsk realises the lack of prospects in a policy of isolation. According to Mr. Lukashenko, Europe is aware that relations with Belarus must be built not on prejudice towards Russia, China and other states. Belarus should be a bridge between East and West.

The Belarusian government asserts that Belarus must develop active relations with the European Union, being the main consumer of Belarusian exports. Europe possesses new technologies and investments and colossal intellectual potential — everything for the assistance of Belarusian economic modernisation. The EU has the longest border with Belarus and the Eastern Partnership initiative is timely. Its realisation could bring more structured, dynamic co-operation between Belarus and the EU. The Head of State asserts, “Activating a multilateral European course should not be a temporary measure but a long-term serious area of activity.”

Mr. Lukashenko underlined the importance of relations with the United States of America. Our countries have experience of economic, investment and humanitarian co-operation. “I hope that the new US administration recognises the hopelessness of using sanctions and force when talking to us,” said the President. Belarus is interested in normalising political relations with the USA and believes that full resumption of trade and economic co-operation (close to one billion US Dollars before sanctions were put in place) will be mutually beneficial.

INDEPENDENT AND RESPONSIBLE PARLIAMENT. Instructing the parliamentarians, elected to a new convening of the National Assembly, the Head of State underlined the necessity of independent and responsible work from deputies. “The time of laid back consideration of draft laws has gone; you must offer solutions to problems,” emphasised the President. “Parliamentary activity presupposes hard, independent work. Don’t rely on anyone to come and do it for you. Work with self-motivation and responsibility. Parliament must be the first to experience change in Belarus.”

CONSOLIDATION OF THE NATION IN THE YEAR OF OUR NATIVE LAND. “The Year of Our Native Land should be a national strategy, stimulating understanding, co-operation and responsibility,” explained Mr. Lukashenko. Belarusians need to stand united, even those living abroad for various reasons. The Belarusian Diaspora should stay in touch with developments in the country, forming a positive image of Belarus, an inflow of foreign investments into the economy and the return of cultural and historical values.

The President underlined that the state will take care of its compatriots living on different continents. It will extend a helping hand to them in preserving and developing their native language, national culture and traditions. We remember and need them.

According to the Head of State, this year provides another reason to consolidate all political parties and civic organisations who share a belief in state policy. “We cannot allow party or confessional interests to disturb civil peace; true patriots have nothing to fight for — Belarus is one for all,” he said.

UNITY AND RESPONSIBILITY ENSURE SUCCESSFUL DEVELOPMENT. The President summarised, “Our path of progressive development aims to ensure a decent and happy life for every individual.” He noted that the world crisis is no cause for panic or pessimism. State bodies, the business community and civil organisations will be able to prove their political, economic and professional maturity.

“I’m confident that we’ll be able to stand the test of time, ensure a dynamic breakthrough in all areas of the economy and improve the quality of people’s lives. Belarus’ treasure is its people. The future of our state depends on society’s unity and civic engagement,” Mr. Lukashenko underscored.

Vladimir Vasilkov
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