Year of great lessons
[b]President Alexander Lukashenko summarizes events and lessons of the past year[/b]The press conference lasted for four hours, with Alexander Lukashenko answering questions for a crowd of journalists using four microphones, installed in the National Library hall.Almost every media edition in the country was represented, with around 400 journalists sent by over 300 electronic and printed editions, alongside correspondents from foreign media accredited in Belarus.Mr. Lukashenko reminded those present that he has never avoided direct questions and always encourages sincere conversation. Moreover, last year, there were many burning issues regarding economy and politics. “It was a very complex year,” admitted the President. “I wouldn’t want it repeated.”The conference itself was more like a discussion, with the President asking journalists return questions, and calling for mutual sincerity. He reasoned his position emotionally, figuratively and, often, with humour, with plenty of soundbite quotations offered for news agencies and social network users. The event at the National Library was certainly lively. President Lukashenko was eager to address those journalists who were sharply critical in their attitude, wishing to respond to their comments, and prove his point.
The press conference lasted for four hours, with Alexander Lukashenko answering questions for a crowd of journalists using four microphones, installed in the National Library hall.
Almost every media edition in the country was represented, with around 400 journalists sent by over 300 electronic and printed editions, alongside correspondents from foreign media accredited in Belarus.
Mr. Lukashenko reminded those present that he has never avoided direct questions and always encourages sincere conversation. Moreover, last year, there were many burning issues regarding economy and politics. “It was a very complex year,” admitted the President. “I wouldn’t want it repeated.”
The conference itself was more like a discussion, with the President asking journalists return questions, and calling for mutual sincerity. He reasoned his position emotionally, figuratively and, often, with humour, with plenty of soundbite quotations offered for news agencies and social network users. The event at the National Library was certainly lively. President Lukashenko was eager to address those journalists who were sharply critical in their attitude, wishing to respond to their comments, and prove his point.
Answering questions, the President noted in particular:
On the results of 2011 and forecasts for the coming year
I have no wish to repeat the year our country endured in 2011, as it was very difficult. Prices for raw materials, components and hydrocarbon resources were the highest in the history of our state.
The coming year is expected to be better for economic development than the very best of the past. Nevertheless, we must ask why events happened as they did. In fact, we’ve already answered this question: we lacked enough money to pay for raw materials. There were some errors regarding money supply, alongside certain problems with car imports, costing us about $2bn. Experts believe we wasted even more. As a result, the financial market experienced the situation from which we’re now slowly recovering. Events in the economic and financial sphere now give us hope for a better future.
Of course, I could offer you various facts and figures but I think you already know our development priorities for the coming year. We expect GDP to rise by at least 5-6 percent, with other areas following suit. There’s no real cause for alarm, as GDP may grow by 7 percent, maybe slightly more. Considering the situation, it is a very good result. Few countries boast such GDP growth. You must understand that we are achieving this not through higher prices for energy resources but thanks to the production sector, agriculture, processing and manufacturing industries. In a word, the hands and brains of our nation are responsible; there is nothing more to say.
I would hate to see the situation occur again, affecting our economy and finances. Summing up the results of public and political life, it’s true that the year wasn’t easy. After the Presidential elections, we had to deal with complaints in all areas: ‘not the president we wanted’, ‘does not look the way we want it’, ‘wasn’t elected the way we wanted’, ‘not enough people voted the way we wanted’…
You’re well aware of the consequences of December 19th, 2010, when some citizens (and provocateurs) tried to institute the regime they wanted unconstitutionally. You know what happened to our ties with the European Union and the United States. Initially, we also experienced complications with the Russian Federation but recent events indicate that we’ve managed to resolve most of these.
I repeat: the year wasn’t easy. It was complicated and we can only blame ourselves. History cannot be changed; it will remain with us as a year of great lessons. I sometimes think that some good may come from what happened, joking that God struck us over the head in warning, telling us to live within our means. If we want to live well, we must work harder. It’s an axiom. Nothing can be invented or added. We understand where our policy needs to be corrected and where attention should be paid to prevent such things from happening again.
On key events
I should mention the terrorist attack in Minsk — an extraordinary event which overshadows all else.
As far as foreign policy is concerned, the breakthrough of Belarus regarding integration projects is one of the most important events of 2011. Events in the CIS, which were of a ‘protocol’ character, should not be underestimated in their importance.
The EurAsEC is a disappearing organisation, being no longer needed in Belarus, Kazakhstan or Russia. It has now fulfilled its function, bringing us through the Customs Union to the Single Economic Space, from January 1st.
Another important event is Russia’s joining of the WTO. 170 million people reside within the Single Economic Space, so it is important to co-operate with them.
I’d also like to highlight some facts within the framework of the Belarus-Russia Union State. Judging by our financial and economic agreements, we may say that the forthcoming year will be rather good.
Speaking of other events, we should say a few words about the ‘Arab Spring’, which has changed the global political situation. I keep saying ‘there is worse to come!’ There will be far-reaching effects. Look at what has happened in Tunis and Egypt following the results of their elections. The process has somewhat slowed down in Syria, maybe for the better. I hope Syria will emerge from this situation but, I repeat, the consequences will be serious.
They say that Turkey is keen to take advantage of the situation to create a new empire. The Americans are reproached for being the ideologists behind the revolution carried out by the NATO block, whereby France and other states bombed Libya. The action is perhaps unambiguously assessed by ‘human rights advocates’ and our oppositionists. Our ‘fifth column’ may even agree with these assessments.
A fierce fight for the future is evident. Who will rule the world? It will be owned by those who possess energy resources. Thus, the fight for energy resources continues, and it will become increasingly tougher.
On external factors
I must mention the financial-economic crisis that hit the West and, especially, Europe. We — Russian, Belarusian, and Kazakh specialists — have discussed this issue very seriously, alongside a statement by Christine Lagarde, Director of the International Monetary Fund. Dmitry Medvedev says we are on the brink of some ‘great depression’. I hope he is mistaken, although we are already seeing the symptoms of a recession.
As a result, a tough anti-governmental movement has been triggered in the United States and in other countries. An important security concern for Belarus is the failure of US-Russia missile shield talks — an important and painful issue.
On positive events
There have been some good trends in recent months regarding the trade balance. The inflow of foreign currency is on the rise. Moreover, our trade with the EU has risen by 60 percent, giving a trade surplus of almost $2.5bn. We also have a trade surplus with Russia. If we manage to preserve this trend, there will be no economic, financial, social or political problems.
On satellite towns
All new construction around Minsk will be primarily concentrated towards satellite towns, as I’m afraid of becoming like Russia and other countries, where up to 30 percent of the population live in the capital and its suburbs. It’s awful to be so built up, with so much congestion. Of course, 25-30km isn’t far to travel to come into Minsk to work. People could live in more rural areas, like Zaslavl, Smolevichi, Dzerzhinsk and maybe even Logoisk. We’re developing new transport means to bring people into Minsk — such as an urban electric train. It’s wonderful. I’m overseeing this process.
Minsk’s satellite towns are certainly appearing. The most important thing is to correctly distribute production powers. People can’t live only in Minsk. We should be working in every corner of our land, with the population evenly spread. We aren’t doing enough to encourage the process.
However, we can’t just send a barrage of newcomers to Smolevichi, although the residents of Smolevichi and of Minsk are like different fingers on one hand. They need to be integrated carefully, as I’ve warned local authorities. We should bear this in mind as the most vital aspect of such processes.
On price regulation
We’ll be primarily guided by economic measures, as we’ve already demonstrated over the past year — especially in the last six months. There will be no uncontrolled emissions. We are currently living without them and will continue to do so over the coming year. Money should be earned. Moreover, the major economic law on the correlation between salary growth and labour productivity will be rigorously observed. Where labour productivity rises (production output per unit of time), bonuses will be given; if there is no rise in production, then salaries will remain as they are. It is the law.
We’ll use every method possible to keep prices under control. The Government is committed to reducing inflation to 18-19 percent, which will be better for all of us — especially the Government. I’m convinced that we’ll solve these problems.
Our priority is to raise standards of living for our people. This will be impossible if high price growth and inflation remain. Salaries should be raised but only where they are truly earned. We’ve spoken of raising salaries and pensions several times this year, without using emission money. We’ll only raise salaries, pensions and other allowances if we have money in the budget. As I’ve said before, we’re ready to give the last rouble to people but won’t pay ‘money for nothing’.
On nuclear power station and prospects for Ostrovets
Ostrovets is becoming the most advanced town, as the nuclear power station boasts the highest technologies — like the space programme. We’ll build the power station to rival the most advanced worldwide, allowing us to be self-sufficient of imported electricity, and to actually sell a considerable portion abroad. The population will double or triple in Ostrovets and we’ll select highly qualified specialists strictly. They must be tried and tested, responsible professionals. We’ll be planning the development of the town taking into account the creation of new jobs.
Many people will find employment in local services. Major construction works at the nuclear power station and its surroundings will also provide work and local agriculture will be developed around Ostrovets, with definite efforts made to set up processing of milk and meat. We may help 2-3 large agricultural enterprises in the district set up final processing nearby. Every household will be connected to these facilities. We’re ready to implement a whole range of measures to avoid any problems in the town.
On the threat of ‘economic capture’
To those who say we are losing independence and sovereignty I can only say that they’d be silent if we’d sold our pipeline to their ‘patrons’. Why Russia rather than Europe or America or so on? I was guided by economic and financial profit, as we received $5bn for Beltransgas pipeline.
Via this pipe, Belarus received natural gas from Russia and supplied small amounts onwards to Ukraine, Lithuania, Kaliningrad and Poland. Russia has now built the first gas pipeline along the bed of the Baltic Sea, to Germany, and a second line is planned. Who knows what’s next. Really, what did we lose? We were keeping the company alive while earning pennies. Our transit fees were 3-5 times lower than those charged by Western countries but we couldn’t force Russia to pay more, as they would have forced us to pay more for our natural gas.
It’s wrong to say that Belarus lost ‘leverage’ against Russia; are we to wage war? Shall we swing the pipe at Moscow, the Kremlin, or Russia? Only idiots talk about ‘leverage’ against Russia; Russia has enough ‘leverage’ to influence us. Only an idiot can think in military terms regarding the solving of economic issues. We still have the pipeline and will receive even more in taxes. We’ve received guarantees that transit will increase and we’ll gain more transit earnings. Thanks to the deal, we’ll gain over $2bn every year.
This will produce a real effect on our economy. Today, Belarus pays $165 per 1,000 cubic metres of natural gas. Are we ready to pay about $400 per 1,000 cubic metres? 2011 showed us that even $300 could drown us. Don’t criticise me. I acted for the people. Nobody has dug up the pipe and taken it to the Kremlin. It’s a normal and very profitable deal for our state. People still work there and the pipeline is to be modernised. What is there to complain of?
Moreover, the deal is tied to other arrangements with the Russian Federation. In particular, with a Russian loan for building the nuclear power plant and oil prices for 2012. Oil delivery terms will be even better than in 2011 — better than for the last five years. Why has Russia done that?
On Belarus-Ukraine relations
I can’t say that things are rosy here. Economics are paramount, propelling us to adopt certain political and social decisions. Trade between Belarus and Ukraine stands at around $6bn — almost the same as with the EU. Progress is obvious. Since Kuchma times, we’ve had a package of agreements to settle; these are to be tacked in the context of our recent agreements. I met Viktor Yanukovych in Moscow and he told me his position. We had definite difficulties but Belarus is not to blame.
I don’t want these difficulties to affect personal relations between presidents or state officials. Such moments exist but I believe that we can overcome them. As far as Belarusians are concerned, we’ve moved on. Stepping over such obstacles, we’ve spoken to Mr. Yanukovych and have agreed to finalise a date for meeting soon, to tackle those issues which need to be settled.
On death penalty
When I’m being criticised by the EU for the death penalty, I tell them to look over the Atlantic Ocean, to their great friend. As soon as that friend abolishes the death penalty, we’ll be next in line. Why do I say this? Not because we’ll immediately follow America’s example but because I want to show them that double standards are evident. The death penalty, with perhaps cruelly aggravated consequences and tougher laws, exists in the People’s Republic of China, as well as in neighbouring states and Arab countries — from which they pump oil. Why don’t they demand this from them… because they receive oil. Isn’t it clear?
I assess all death sentences with my heart, as I do life sentences. I’m often frightened when documents and photos are placed on my table (I always demand that I see all the details regarding sentencing with this extreme punishment). There are sometimes cases where some bastards break into a flat, kill the whole family, rape the younger daughters and cut them into pieces, throwing them into the bathroom before leaving. They receive 25 years of imprisonment. I have the same feeling as you: they should be likewise cut into pieces and thrown into a bathroom…
You don’t see the materials regarding these criminal cases. In our country, we do have life sentences and the death penalty. If there’s even the smallest chance that a mistake has been made, if we doubt even one of ten factors, the criminal receives a life sentence. No one passes the exceptional measure of punishment. I’m aware of this juridical practice.
People often ask me about the terrorist act on the metro. You have perhaps forgotten what we survived. Put yourself in my place. When I went down to the metro forty minutes later, as I had no choice but to do, despite risking my own life, how do you think I felt? It wasn’t easy. I often think we should refer to public opinion in these matters, asking how people feel and think. We should speak to those who lost their loved ones. They are gone; they have perished. How would you feel if you had to look at an invalid without hands or legs, remembering the image for the rest of your whole life? This is my answer regarding the death penalty.
You know, I’ve discussed this topic with many presidents and they tell me that they’ve adopted a moratorium and can’t turn back, because there are too many problems. Let’s draw conclusions and make decisions based on the abundance of information.
The nation votes for its representatives. However, I also express my point of view during parliamentary elections. We’ll see how many oppose Lukashenko: our ‘fifth column’. Don’t deprive me of the opportunity to conduct at least some agitation. Excuse my immodesty, but I’m used to listening to various points of view.
I’ve been told that, if there are no opposing points of view at a session, then it’s cancelled. It’s dangerous to come to me with only praise, agreeing with everything I say, as I don’t like flattery. If I hear it, I’m immediately made wary and suspect the person’s motives. Flattery can wreck a leader, as I’ve always believed and will continue to do so. You can’t reproach me that our Parliament only ‘approves’; you don’t know the battles which sometimes take place there.
I only ask deputies not to disgrace themselves by fighting, as may be seen elsewhere. Don’t succumb to wild emotions, as this may destabilise the situation. We all desire the well-being of our people so let’s solve issues calmly. If you don’t like a draft law, come to me directly and we’ll discuss it.
We have a Parliament elected by the nation. Of course, citizens expect it to represent them and can have their word, as we should expect. I’ve always restrained my power and tried not to meddle, or agitate too much, as this will stir up the people. I’ve always adhered to this principle.
We won’t violate existing legislation during parliamentary elections. No; they’ll be fair. I, as Head of State, guarantee this.
I’m not afraid of opposition in Parliament. However, even when led by the hand, it’s almost impossible to get them into Parliament. I’ve already told you how it was. Those from the EU arrived and asked me why there were no opposition candidates in Parliament, asking me to help them become elected. I listened and promised to do something. We asked the opposition to find normal people to offer as candidates, saying that we wouldn’t oppose their campaigning. Honestly, I did this. However, they didn’t find anyone. We gathered crowds at factories to hear them speak, but they didn’t arrive. What kind of deputies would they make when they are afraid to speak to a small labour group? Don’t reproach me that we lack a fair Parliament. The opposition is in the minority, so they must drum up support. Go for it! Set to work! Don’t wait for financial aid from abroad! You’ll find yourself in the same situation as Belyatsky, who didn’t pay his taxes. Then, you’ll be again saying that Lukashenko is to blame.
On political reforms
Reform is to be conducted in the near future. We’re currently considering how best to do this. I don’t need to suppress anything by force. Olga Abramova asked me a very precise question during the time of the previous Parliament: ‘Would you pass on the same political system to your successor?’ I answered sincerely that I’d given much consideration to the question and thought not. It’s vital that the right person is given power: someone who won’t be filling their own pockets to keep power, regardless of independence or sovereignty. We’ll return to this later; don’t be in a hurry.
We are not planning on taking out any more loans, although we’re ready to negotiate a loan with the IMF, since they are offering acceptable interest rates of 1-2 percent. We aren’t going to borrow at 10 percent, from Sberbank of Russia, as there is no need. If our businesses require funds, they can liaise directly or through our banks. The People’s Republic of China is also a willing lender; it’s no secret that major money is currently concentrated in Chinese hands. They’ve allocated us $15bn of commercial loans, linked to their programmes and constructions. They’re also giving us another $2bn of loans on preferential terms.
We’ll be constructing a runway at our National Airport, of a contemporary nature; the current one is slightly short and out-of-date. We should have a normal airport in time for the 2014 IIHF Championships, costing about $600m. China is giving us loans at just 1.5-2 percent interest, so we’re taking them — primarily for commercial projects. We don’t need to borrow at state level, as our gold-and-currency reserves are of the required amount. We won’t strain the situation. We’d rather gradually pay off loans than take out more.
On Belarus’ economic position
It wasn’t me who developed this economic model. The Belarusian public needed a socially oriented economy and I added market components. Why? Because we must compete, struggle and generate revenue; then the economy will be socially-oriented.
I believe that any state, regardless of whether it has energy resources or not, should have a socially oriented economy. Otherwise, you have the situation now observed in Greece, the USA and the whole of Europe: slaughter, fighting and shooting. There’s worse to come… I want us to have a normal economy, without beggars on the streets and very rich people driving their Mercedes cars and so on. I’d like our economy and our country to have a ‘human face’. So, we won’t move away from a socially-oriented economy. I’ve said so before and I say so again.
On relations with the EU and Poland
Our relations with the EU are developing poorly and Poland has definitely had a hand in making them worse. We didn’t expect anything from Poland’s presidency over the European Union… and have been proven correct. I answer briefly, as there’s no sense in dwelling on the topic. You’re well aware of it, as are the people.
On the events of December 19th, 2010
What would happen if someone in the USA attempted to enter the White House with a pick, shovel, bar or sharp instrument? Firstly, they’d never reach the door, as they’d be shot before coming within 1.5km. No one would even ask their name before sending them into eternity. Why am I reproached for protecting the state institution and arresting rascals? They were openly convicted; not 450 people, but just 20 or 25 — I don’t remember exactly. They were the real aggressors.
You saw the events on TV, as Western journalists filmed everything. You saw what happened. Even one call to overthrow the ruling power in a non-constitutional manner is enough in democratic states to receive 15 years of imprisonment. For what am I reproached? If I encourage such phenomena, people will break down doors and throw in grenades. Power is designed to protect the law and bring order to a country. I’m asked about the fate of those convicted following the events of December 19th. In line with the Constitution, I can grant mercy, if someone applies to me for help. If they don’t apply, they remain in prison.
On the Union State
We aren’t destroying the EurAsEC; rather, it has transformed into the Single Economic Space. As soon as this reaches the necessary level of integration, as we currently have in our Union with Russia, it will fade away. However, the Single Economic Space still has a way to go before it reaches this point. I refer to healthcare and education, as well as equal conditions and equal rights.
We’ve made significant progress but the military-political sphere still requires work. We have a joint army with the Russian Federation but nothing similar is discussed within the EurAsEC or the Single Economic Space. The CSTO hasn’t achieved this level either. I must assert that the Union State — as an area of our foreign policy — remains vital. We’ve agreed with Russia’s leadership that we won’t ‘neglect’ this project.
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