By Stephen Gowans
As he stepped off his plane at the Minsk airport two summers ago to begin a two-day visit to Belarus, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez pointed to a connection between his country and that of his host, President Alexander Lukashenko. “Belarus,” he declared, “is a model of a social state, which we are also building.” (1) That Chavez’s model state exists in an infrequently remarked upon corner of Europe may be a surprise to most admirers of the Bolivarian Revolution.
Called Europe’s last dictator by Condoleezza Rice and a “brother in arms” by Chavez (2), Lukashenko oversees over a “socially-oriented market economy” in which 80 percent of the enterprises are state-owned and collective farms still feed the country.
He has “presided over a continual increase in real wages for several years…cut the (value added tax), brought down inflation, halved the number of people in poverty”…and created “the fairest distribution of incomes of any country in the region.” (3)
He has done “what the conventional wisdom in the West says is not possible: maintaining a state run economy with one of the strongest growth rates in Europe, generating increases in wages and pensions, boosting productivity and minimizing the disparities in wealth that have destabilized so many of the former Soviet republics in their transition to market economies.” (4)
What may be equally surprising to Chavez admirers is that Lukashenko has done all this by “steadily turn(ing) Belarus into a miniature version of the Soviet Union, with a state-run economy.” (5)
The only deputy of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic to vote against the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, Lukashenko talks fondly of the Soviet Union — “my country,” he called it in 2005 before the UN General Assembly. (6) Statues of Lenin and busts of Stalin — some newly erected — can still be found in Belarus.
This hardly sits well with state officials in the West who accuse Lukashenko of stealing elections and smothering democracy – the usual charge leveled against leaders who haven’t signed on to the project of fattening the bottom lines of Western corporations and investment banks at the expense of their own people. Lukashenko wins elections by landslides because he is widely popular, and he’s widely popular because he puts the interests of Belarus’ people first.
So Washington and London fund subversion projects under the guise of promoting democracy, funneling millions of dollars to youth groups, anti-Lukashenko media and opposition parties to bring down the government. The New York Times remarked that in the last presidential election the US and British-backed opposition “seemed not to be running an election campaign, as much as they (were) trying to organize an uprising.” (7)
The opposition failed miserably, both at the polls and in the streets.
Check out Stewart Parker’s new book, The Last Soviet Republic: Alexander Lukashenko’s Belarus (http://www.belarussolidaritycampaign.co.uk/) as well as “Belarus struggles to defend workers’ interests” in the latest issue of Proletarian http://www.cpgb-ml.org/index.php?secName=proletarian&subName=display&art=338 .
Both go a long way to setting the record straight on the hold-out Soviet republic Chavez calls a model of a social state.
1. New York Times, July 24, 2006
2. Financial Times, August 2, 2007.
3. Times Online, March 10, 2006.
4. Los Angeles Times, March 19, 2006.
5. New York Times, January 1, 2006.
6. Lukashenko address to the 60th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, September 15, 2005.
7. New York Times, January 1, 2006.
12 thoughts on “A Model Social State”
Listen, I was born in Poland and know first hand what western-style economic reforms did to that country. After the fall of communism, foolish and naive ‘democratic leadership’ sold Poland’s valuable enterprises and assets at fire sale prices and caused a lot of poverty and unemployment.
After the smoke cleared, people realized that they got robbed, bad. The banking system in Poland has been Germanized.
Almost 20 years later, the country is still struggling and it is sad that it has to constantly look to foreigners for help.
Polish commentators admit that Poland needs more self-respect because without it, it is easy prey for foreign opportunists.
This is exactly the scenario that Lukashenko sought to prevent in Byelorussia and he has succeeded. This is why the west and the US do not like him, because he refuses to sell his country cheap to the west.
Many people in Poland wish that they still had the social system that Byelorussia now has.
My dad’s friend is now going back to Byelorussia after being in the US. He says that there is good opportunity to start a business there, and when you park your card on a city street overnight, in the morning the car will still be there. If you try doing this in Warsaw, well, you BETTER have FULL AUTO INSURANCE COVERAGE because you will not see your car again!
That Lushenko is somehwhat heavy-handed towards the ‘opposition?’ But that is understandable when taking into account the facts that the opposition is openly calling for Lukashenko’s overthrow and the handing over of Byelorussia’s wealth to foreigners, and is doing so with foreign aid, which itself is a gross violation of international law. I wonder what would happen to a group funded by Russia who was calling for the overthrow of the government in the US? Do you think that Bush and the State Dept. and the FBI would just sit there any think that it’s just ‘part of the democratic process?’ Dream on!
standing against counter-revolution
This year’s International Meeting Of Communist And Workers’ Parties took place in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, from 3-5 November 2007. The CPA was represented by Guardian columnist and CPA Central Committee member Rob Gowland.
In this, the ninetieth anniversary year of the October Revolution in Russia, it was timely that the meeting was held in Minsk, for it was in this city that the first congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (Lenin’s party) took place 109 years ago.
There were 154 representatives at the Meeting from 71 Communist and workers’ parties from 58 countries.
The International Meeting began with a message of welcome from President Lugachenko of Belarus, read by the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Belarus, Tatyana Golubeva.
Bordering the Baltic states in the north, the Ukraine in the south, Russia in the east and Poland in the west, Belarus has had a chequered history. Part of the country was under Polish occupation until 1939, and then in 1941 it was overrun by the Nazis.
Devastation in the war was extreme and brutal: every fourth inhabitant died. 83 percent of the capital was levelled.
Under the Soviet Union’s overall economic plan, Belarus was developed as an engineering powerhouse. The country has few natural resources, but instead built a quarter of all the heavy trucks, buses and tractors used in the whole of the USSR and Eastern Europe. Belarus tractors were even exported to Australia.
In 1991, Belarus unlike most of the rest of the Soviet Union, did not embrace capitalism. Instead, they have retained, as Golubeva put it, “the system and ideas of the Soviet Union”.
In contrast to the rest of Europe, state enterprises not only dominate the economy, they are visibly successful. In the period January-August this year, state-owned enterprises produced almost 38% of the total volume of industrial products; another 50% was produced by privately-owned companies with a government stake in their authorized capital.
In addition there are over 37,000 small enterprises and nearly 203,000 individual entrepreneurs (in 2006 they accounted for nine percent of the GDP).
GDP growth is 9-10 % annually, while unemployment is only 1.9%. Unlike some other parts of the former Soviet Union, life expectancy is comparable to Soviet times, being 69 for men, even higher for women.
The country is under severe ideological, economic and political assault from imperialism. In the first half of this decade, there was an economic depression and one assumes the intense inflation took place then as well (50,000 rouble banknotes are commonplace).
However, the economy is now stable (a fact recognized by international agencies like Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s) and in advance of the pre-depression levels. The National Bank expects that price increases in 2007 will not exceed 8%.
Production in the agricultural sector has been so successful that the country is turning from an importer to an exporter, supplying potatoes and grain to states like Moldova which have suffered from unfavourable weather conditions.
Belarus is the site of Russia’s principal electronic listening posts, keeping tabs on NATO forces and US nuclear-armed forces, including of course nuclear submarines. Needless to say, imperialism is less than pleased by this resurgent USSR-in-miniature in such a sensitive location.
The West finances a small but vocal opposition taking the form of a “pro-democracy” movement in an effort to destabilise the country. (Earlier this year, SBS’ Dateline program joined in, devoting most of an episode to “exposing” President Lugachenko as a “dictator”.)
There was apparently some ideological pressure applied beforehand to stop parties coming to the International Meeting on the grounds that it would “give support to Lugachenko’s repressive regime”, and in a few cases this apparently had an effect. The French and Japanese parties, for example, were not there.
There was even apparently a small demonstration in Minsk against the Conference on its opening date, but I did not see it. It was presumably staged for the benefit of foreign news media and was over as soon as the cameramen had got their pictures.
In her address, Golubeva condemned the USA’s efforts to export “colour” revolutions (actually counter-revolutions, as in the Ukraine, Georgia, Czechoslovakia, etc), to countries like Belarus. Considering the strife that has followed these counter-revolutions in other parts of Eastern Europe, and having seen the tranquil and steadily rising quality of life in Belarus, I agree with a comment from one of the international delegates: “I hope these people realise what they’ve got here”.
Although Belarus has an army, it depends for its main defence on Russia. Its people are acutely conscious that the USA’s so-called anti-missile defence shield (supposedly — and incredibly — to defend Europe from attack by the DPRK or Iran) is being deployed on their borders, in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Visiting Belarus today as a member of a communist party delegation is like revisiting the Soviet Union. The Communist Party has prestige and influence; the conference had the whole-hearted support of the government.
The country is small, and despite its growing economy it is by no means rich. Nevertheless, the atmosphere is one of relative prosperity. They did an excellent job of organising the conference (if on a sometimes modest scale).
Delegates were taken to a folk-song-and-dance concert which was very accomplished. They also took delegates to their choice of one of four enterprises. I went to the motor factory, a huge enterprise manufacturing four and six cylinder engines for trucks, buses and tractors.
Until recently, Belarussian truck engines did not meet EU emission standards, so they had to fit their trucks for export to EU countries with MAN engines bought from Germany. However, they now mass produce their own engines certified to Euro3 standard and plan to produce Euro4 standard engines (which will be marketable anywhere) by 2009.
The factory was noisy (naturally) but the air was surprisingly clean, and the production lines moved very slowly (a capitalist would undoubtedly have seen scope for “speed up”, but they still managed to turn out an engine every minute). The slow pace of the line probably helps account for the accident rate being “very low”.
In response to a question about whether there was any pressure to privatise industry in the country, one of our guides from the factory replied that industry in Belarus was not under threat because “it is too inefficient”! Presumably he meant “by capitalist standards”.
The CP of Belarus’ youth organisation was circulating a petition for the 17th World Festival of Youth and Students to be held in Belarus. I was more than happy to sign it on behalf of our Party.
On the whole, I thought the international delegates were favourably impressed by Belarus and its government’s policies.
The effect of Belarus on the Communist visitor is complex. One is impressed by the way they have managed to successfully retain their segment of the Soviet Union, but at the same time it makes one sad that it is only here in this small area. It drives home how much has been lost to the world’s people through the counter-revolution in the USSR.
Russia and the former USSR
The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) was the organiser of the Moscow celebrations that followed the International Meeting, and during the Meeting the KPRF leaders were treated as joint-organisers of it. So KPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov was on the presidium, accompanied Golubeva to lay wreaths at the war memorial and was the second speaker after Golubeva herself.
In his contribution, Zyuganov said that “the 21st century is veering left”. He pointed out that “forty percent of the world’s people live in countries where the Communist Party is either the governing party or takes part in government”.
In the former USSR, Belarus, Moldova and Kazakhstan now have governments of that type.
The delegate for the Communist Party of Moldova reported that the economy of Moldova had improved “now that the Communists are in power”. However, they are battling with a dire legacy from the period of counter-revolution in the ’90s: private property now accounts for 80 percent of the economy. Moldova now has the unenviable record of being “the most privatised country in Europe”.
After the International Meeting in Minsk, all the delegates were taken by train to Moscow as guests of the KPRF. In Moscow they visited Lenin’s Mausoleum, took part in a concert and KPRF election rally in the House of Trade Unions (the Duma elections are to be held shortly) and also took part in an evening march by tens of thousands of people to Red Square and an outdoor rally (very cold!) with songs, speeches and fireworks.
All the opinion polls in Russia indicate that the great majority of the people would like to see the Soviet Union restored. The success or other wise of the KPRF’s “centre-left” ticket hinges on the extent to which those people also want the Communist Party back in power.
Having just visited Minsk earlier this month for the conference jointly organised by the CP of Belarus and the CPRF, I must say I was very impressed by the place.
Whilst 3 days is not enough time to know enough about a country, I spoke with many people, and could see the demeanor of people going about their daily life.
I visited a collective farm where they they were using state of the art technology for tomatoe production, and the staff were clearly proud of their facility.
A young Communist Party member I spoke to was very supportive of the President, and said his only frustration was that President Lukashenko has been invited to join the Party a few times, but has turned down the invite!
Security for the conference was minimal, even though it was a high profile event in the local media, which leads me to beleive that the US and EU paid opposition only tend to appear for organised photo opportunities.
I think the point Im trying to make is that intervention from abroad in terms of selecting ‘unified candidates’ etc. (Which is well documented) is stunting the political development in Belarus. Because people tend to vote entirely on the one issue, for or against Lukashenko. Political parties in Belarus are struggling to mature and find their own identity when their aims are vulgarised into simply being against something.
Hello Беларускi! I’m trying to find out about the articles in Nasha Niva and Narodnaia Volia which Lukashenka closed them down for. I haven’t had any joy yet, but I have to say, though admit this is purely a hunch, that I’m sceptical if Lukashenka’s real motivation for targeting the independent press was because of anti-Semitic content. Are you Belarusian yourself? The BAJ site seems to be a rather good source documenting some of the problems faced by journalists in Belarus.
I agree with you that things can’t be black and white. When are they ever that simple? But I’m not quite sure what you mean by “…the current situation of politics in Belarus revolving around pro or anti-Lukashenko arguments…” Isn’t that largely par for the course, that people are split, in any political environment, amongst those for and against the incumbent? Or do you mean support for opposition politicians from abroad destabilises what would otherwise be a far more stable Belarus?
I notice that you link to Nasha Niva on your Blog. This publication (now printed abroad) was closed down in Belarus by Lukashenko. Why? because they regularly printed extreme nationalist and openly anti-Semitic articles. Ironically the existence of Nasha Niva was used against Lukashenko, until the government had it closed, then he stood accused of stifling the media. Please see http://www.tau.ac.il/Anti-Semitism/asw2000-1/belarus.htm
The political situation in Belarus is far from black and white!
It honestly is true that state run media is (just) in the minority. Although you need to remember that not all independent media is anti-Lukashenko. In terms of Russian TV, the channel NTV openly campaigned against Lukashenko in its broadcasts received accross Belarus. I would never claim that the political situation in Belarus is a level playing field, but I would argue that the current situation of politics in Belarus revolving around pro or anti-Lukashenko arguments has been primarily engineered abroad.
That can’t be true, can it, that non-government media in Belarus is in the majority? And I think it is a fair assertion to claim that opposition candidates were given far less broadcast time, on state-run TV, than Lukashenka himself prior to the elections. Neither did they have the luxury, as Lukashenka did just before the 2001 elections, of a sugary sweet documentary about him on Russian TV showing what an ordinary guy and man of the people he was. I don’t deny for a second that Lukashenka is popular in Belarus. To claim that politics there are a level playing field, though, would be preposterous.
In response to the comment by Pleite, there is not actually a great deal of truth in the assertion that the opposition in Belarus has no access to media.
In fact non-government media in Belarus is in the majority. Additionaly because opposition media is primarily aimed at a foreign audience it is actually far less objective and honest than state owned publications. Belarusians reading lies about their country will recognise them far quicker than foreigners. As such state run media is far more sophisticated and balanced than oppsition media.
Visit Belarus, and you will see this! Opposition Newspapers have even been distributed on Lufthansa flights into Minsk.
right on fernandez. unfortunately democracynow, like pacifica radio network, still uncritically accepts so much usa government propaganda.
Authoritarian seems a very appropriate word to use to me. Lukashenka is an authoritarian, as many who openly oppose him have found to their cost, and his popularity, while genuine, is greatly helped by a very subservient media and a lack of access to the media for the opposition. The protesters on Sunday’s march were chiefly young people and opposition supporters.
Timely perspective, as usual, by Gowans. Interesting to note that today, 10/15/07, Democracynow.org reports that “in Belarus, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets on Sunday in a rare protest against the authoritarian regime of President Alexander Lukashenko. Protesters decried Lukashenko as the last dictator in Europe. Police reportedly detained 500 opposition activists.” Isn’t it a bit presumptive on the part of Decmocracynow to refer to Lukashenko’s regime as “authoritarian”? Authoritarian to whom? Secondly, who are these protesters?