The difficulty of coping with change
by James Sforza

Belarus in the Post Soviet Era 
by Jennifer Lau

The difficulty of coping with change

James Sforza, May 2000

A successful transition and the implementation of democracy relies on several essential changes-an avoidance of violence, a strong economic development, an abundance of necessary resources, and a mutual trust among the plethora of ethnic groups trying to coexist (Barner-Barry & Hody, 1995).  Democracies are built on trust so the fear and hostility that violence promotes must be eliminated.  It is the role of the government to assure the people that disputes will be handled in a politically sensitive manner without turning to violence which intimidated the people throughout the days of the Soviet Union.   Compromise and tolerance must also be generated among the different religious, racial, and ethnic groups. If these foundations cannot be established than there is no common place from which a new nation can develop.

 The most important factor that needs to be established is economic growth. Successful economic development will ease the transition and enable violence and dissention among the races very avoidable (Barner-Barry & Hody, 1995).  If resources are abundant and properly distributed then multiple markets can grow.  However, when resources run scarce and competition arises for limited assets then violence and animosity become the only plausible alternatives.  If two industries fiercely compete for limited resources then one is likely to be forced out of the market.  A sound and developing economy is essential for the happiness and orderly conduct of the people (Barner-Barry & Hody, 1995).

Belarus is a country that is suffering through the transition from the harsh authority of the Soviet Union to the successful implementation of their democracy.  When Belarus declared its independence they established a government filled with "former members of the communist elite" (Barner-Barry & Hody, 1995).  It seems impossible to make this a transition from communism to democracy when the government officials are trained in the old system.

In addition, Belarus already suffered from a faulty economy that could not support itself.  Their foundation was feeble.  "The problem was that the government had no clear alternate program to pursue, so it tended to fall back on the familiar Soviet way of doing things" (Barner-Barry & Hody, 1995).  Their genesis as an independent nation was plagued with trouble.  They simply did not have the proper political and economic orientation to prosper.  A successful transition requires that every member optimistically and assiduously works to make their country attain its maximum potential.  However, when pessimism discourages the population, any attempt to advance is futile.

The Belarusians became impatient and questioned why they had separated from Russia.  The officials started to become unwilling to compromise leading to "a situation where there were fourteen registered parties and almost a hundred different political movements and organizations" (Barner-Barry & Hody, 1995).  There was no unity and no common goal for which the people could strive to attain.  It was young nation, relative to its latest independence, that was greatly impaired by its lack of motivation.   "Given the entrenched conservative leadership of Belarus, the chances for rapid movement toward either a stable democracy or a market economy are slight...  the post-Soviet rulers of Belarus are essentially the same as the Soviet rulers.  They have adopted the position that stability is to be the primary goal.  Stability, however, can lead to stagnation" (Barner-Barry & Hody, 1995).

The officials opted for a slow and cautious transition into a market economy that was marked by tight control and very limited expansion.  The economy continued to deteriorate throughout the early 1990s rather than progress.  Fortunately, Belarus made one, positive advancement by promoting foreign investments (Barner-Barry & Hody, 1995).  In addition, Belarus depended upon Russia for many of its natural resources.  While this reliance on Russia seems to contradict the notion of independence, it was necessary so that they could maintain their economy.  Without natural resources there can be not market development.  An abundance of resources is needed in order to encourage separate enterprises to expand and seek to reach their potential output (Barner-Barry & Hody, 1995).

 It is evident that transition is difficult for the country of Belarus.  The government officials are too formerly rooted in their Soviet-type philosophies.  There are three essential ingredients to facilitate the change-"adequate economic resources, appropriate political experience, and time" (Barner-Barry & Hody, 1995).  Belarus is receiving a decent supply of resources from Russia that is mandatory in order to enhance their economic performance.  Also, time is a phenomenon that will never run out.  However, their major setback is their leadership.  It is politically and economically oriented around the system that they are trying to elude.  The Belarusians must continue to adjust and constantly assess the direction in which their leaders will take them.                 

Barner-Barry, and Hody.  The Politics of Change: The Transformation of the Former Soviet Union.  New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.  




Reviewing the Situation: Belarus in the Post Soviet Era 

by Jennifer Lau

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Belarus was among the thirteen nations that declared independence and shortly joined with many of the former Soviet states, in establishing the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), with Minsk as its capital. The economic conditions in the early years of independence were dismal, with a 10 percent industrial production decrease and a 26 percent decline in the volume of traded commodities. The wholesale price index for industrial goods increasing to 2,465 percent of 1991 levels and the value of the Belarussian ruble fell to 18,600 to the dollar. The financial responsibility of cleaning up the fallout from the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl added to the economic woes of the nation. As a result, the government has been an avid supporter of establishing and maintaining close ties with Russia. In 1994, after the election of Aleksandr Lukashenko, the nationís first elected official, proposals were made to link the Belarussian and Russian economies, with Belarus adopting the Russian ruble as its currency, and removing the tariff barriers between the two nations.

Efforts at privatization proposed by the Lukashenko regime were proven to be unsuccessful, with many government officials hesitant to make the shift to private ownership of property and production. The initial privatization program focused mainly in the retail sector, with the transition occurring by moving toward employee ownership, converting to a joint stock company, or selling off enterprises. Sectors involved in defense, transportation, alcohol and fuel distillation were not subject to privatization.

There was limited success in privatizing state-owned enterprises and in privatizing farm holdings. While land reform gained popular support, these efforts were undermined by manages of large collective and state-operated farms who had influential connections. In 1994, roughly 10 percent of existing enterprises are privatized, and the policy of privatization was halted the following year. In addition, private land ownership by the ordinary citizens has not been implemented, excepting small plots for gardening, housing and small farming. Curiously, a law passed in 1993 states that foreigners and native Belarussians are allowed to lease land up to 99 years, and also states that foreign investors are allowed to own state or communal land, so long as they have permission from the institution in charge of allocating land. The transitory nature of the economy as well as the contradictory laws on private property and foreign investment has discouraged Western nations from investing in Belarus. This resulted in food shortages and the establishment of a currency black market. In 1998 the proposal of linking the Belarussian economy with the Russian economy was implemented. Despite having substantial industrial resources, economic progress continues to fall behind other CIS nations. Also in 1998, registration of all businesses was suspended indefinitely, rendering registration of any new business illegal from that year onward. After months of debate, a presidential edict issued in March 1999 established stricter registration procedures, leaving businesses (especially privately owned businesses) more susceptible to government intervention.



Kort, Michael G. The Handbook of the Former Soviet Union, Millbrook Press, 1997.

Dawisha, Karen and Bruce Parrott Russia and the New States of Eurasia, Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Batalden, Stephen K. and Sandra L. Batalden The Newly Independnet States of Eurasia- Handbook of Former Soviet Republics Second Edition, Oryx Press, 1997



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