FLAG: Two horizontal bands of red (top) and green, with the red band twice as wide as the green. At the hoist is a vertical band showing a traditional Belarussian ornamental pattern.
ANTHEM: Maladaya Belarus.
MONETARY UNIT: The Belarus ruble (br) circulates along with the Russian ruble (r). The government has a varying exchange rate for trade between Belarus and Russia. br1 = $0.00047 (or $1 = br2,140) as of 2005.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is in force.
HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Orthodox Christmas, 7 January; International Women's Day, 8 March; Labor Day, 1 May; Victory Day, 9 May; Independence Day, 27 July; Day of Commemoration, 2 November; Christmas, 25 December.
TIME: 2 pm = noon GMT.
LOCATION, SIZE, AND EXTENT
Belarus is a landlocked nation located in eastern Europe, between Poland and Russia. Comparatively the area occupied by Belarus is slightly smaller than the state of Kansas, with a total area of 207,600 sq km (80,154 sq mi). Belarus shares boundaries with Latvia on the n, Russia on the n and e, Ukraine on the s, Poland on the sw, and Lithuania on the nw. The boundary length of Belarus totals 3,098 km (1,925 mi).
The capital city of Belarus, Minsk, is located near the center of the country.
The topography of Belarus is generally flat and contains much marshland. The Belarussian Ridge (Belorusskya Gryda) stretches across the center of the country from the southwest to the northeast. The highest elevation is at Dzerzhinskaya Gora, 346 m (1,135 ft).
The country's climate is transitional between continental and maritime. July's mean temperature is 19 ° c (67 ° f). January's mean temperature is -5 ° c (23 ° f). Rainfall averages between 57 cm (22.5 in) and 61 cm (26.5 in) annually.
FLORA AND FAUNA
About 45% of the country is forest land. Pine trees are found throughout the north, but spruce, alder, ash, birch, and oak trees are also common. Some of the mammals in the forest include deer, brown bears, rabbits, and squirrels. The southern region is a swampy expanse. The marshes are home to ducks, frogs, turtles, archons, and muskrats.
As part of the legacy of the former Soviet Union, Belarus's main environmental problems are chemical and nuclear pollution. Belarus was the republic most affected by the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in April 1986. Northerly winds prevailed at the time of the accident; therefore, most of the fallout occurred over farmland in the southeastern section of the country (primarily in the Gomel and Mogilev oblasts). Most experts estimate that 25 – 30% of Belarus's farmland was irradiated and should not be used for agricultural production or to collect wild berries and mushrooms, although it continues to be used for these and other purposes. Belarus has 88 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Bialowieza Forest. There are seven Ramsar wetland sites. In 2003, about 6.3% of the total land area was protected.
In addition, Belarus has significant air and water pollution from industrial sources. The most common pollutants are formaldehyde, carbon emissions, and petroleum-related chemicals. In 1992, Belarus was among the world's top 50 nations in industrial emissions of carbon dioxide, producing 102 million metric tons, or 9.89 metric tons per capita. In 1996, the total fell to 61.7 million metric tons. The soils also contain unsafe levels of lead, zinc, copper, and the agricultural chemical DDT. All urban and rural dwellers have access to safe drinking water.
As of 2002, Belarus had over 2,000 species of plants, 74 mammal species, and 194 bird species. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 6 types of mammals, 4 species of birds, and 8 other invertebrates. Endangered species include the European bison and the European mink.
The population of Belarus in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 9,776,000, which placed it at number 81 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 14% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 16% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 88 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 2005 – 10 was expected to be -0.6%, a rate, viewed by the government as too low, that reflects low fertility rates and high mortality rates, especially among adult men. The projected population for the year 2025 was 9,399,000. The population density was 47 per sq km (122 per sq mi).
The UN estimated that 72% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 0.09%. The capital city, Minsk, had a population of 1,705,000 in that year. The estimated population of other major cities included Homyel, 481,000; Mahilyow, 374,000; Hrodna, 317,366; and Brest (formerly Brest-Litovsk), 290,000.
Almost 25% of the population of Belarus was killed during World War II, and combined with the fatalities of the Soviet-era purges, the postwar population was one-third smaller than it had been in 1930. It was not until the 1970s that the population returned to prewar levels.
With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, some two million Belarussians were among the various nationality groups who found themselves living outside their autonomous regions or native republics. Most of the Belarussians who have returned to Belarus fled other former Soviet republics because of fighting or ethnic tensions. From 1989 to 1995, 3,000 Belarussians returned from Azerbaijan and 3,000 Belarussians returned from Kyrgyzstan. From 1991 to 1995, 16,000 Belarussians returned from Kazakhstan and 10,000 Belarussians returned from Tajikistan. In 1999 Belarus had 131,200 internally displaced persons from the ecological effects of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, and 160,000 "returnees" (ethnic Belarussians who had returned to Belarus from other former republics).
A defining characteristics of migration between former Soviet republics is its irregular or transient quality and the existence of "shuttle" migrants. Some 2005 estimates suggest that there are 10 million irregular migrants in the region. The estimated net migration rate for Belarus in 2005 was 2.42 per 1000 population. The government views the immigration level as too high.
As of 2004, Belarus had an estimated 8,200 asylum seekers officially registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In 2004, about 2,100 Belarussians made asylum claims, the majority in Sweden.
In 2005, an estimated 81.2% of the total population was Belarussian. Russians made up about 11.4% of the populace; Poles, Ukrainians, and other groups combined to make up about 7.4% of the population.
Belarussian belongs to the eastern group of Slavic languages and is very similar to Russian. It did not become a separate language until the 15th century, when it was the official language of the grand duchy of Lithuania. It is written in the Cyrillic alphabet but has two letters not in Russian and a number of distinctive sounds. The vocabulary has borrowings from Polish, Lithuanian, German, Latin, and Turkic. Russian and other languages are also spoken.
As of 2005, the State Committee on Religious and National Affairs estimated that approximately 80% of the population were Belarussian Orthodox. About 15 – 20% were Roman Catholics. Between 50,0000 and 90,000 people were Jewish. Other minority religions included the Greek Rite Catholic Church, the Belarus Autocephalous Orthodox Church, Seventh-Day Adventists, Calvinism, Lutheranism, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Apostolic Christian Church, and Islam.
Since the 1994 elections, the country's first president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who claims to be an "Orthodox atheist," has maintained a policy of favoring the Belarussian Orthodox Church (a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church) as the country's chief religion. A 2003 Concordat between the government and the Belarussian Orthodox Church (BOC) more firmly established the special relationship between the government and the BOC. The BOC works closely with the government in developing and implementing political policies, including those related to such departments as the ministries of education, defense, health, and labor. The president grants the Orthodox Church special financial aid that is not given to other denominations and has declared the preservation and development of Orthodox Christianity a "moral necessity."
The government's State Committee on Religious and National Affairs (SCRNA), established in 1997, categorizes religions and may deny any faith it designates as "nontraditional" permission to register. The traditional faiths are the BOC, the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Judaism, Sunni Islam, and Evangelical Lutheranism. In 2002, Lukashenka passed a new law on religion that prohibits all religious groups from importing or distributing religious materials without prior approval from the government. The new law prevents foreigners from leading any religious organizations and prohibits those organizations from establishing clerical training schools within the country. The new law also set a more complex registration system and prohibits the operations of any unregistered group.
About 5,512 km (3,417 mi) of broad and standard gauge railways traverse Belarus, connecting it to Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, and Latvia, as of 2004. Of that total, broad gauge accounts for 5,497 km (3,419 mi). Of the 93,055 km (57,880 mi) of highways in 2003, all were hard-surfaced. As of 2003, there were 1,557,800 passenger cars and 25,400 commercial vehicles registered for use.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) initiated a study of railways and roads in 1993 to help determine location advantages for future development in Belarus. The focus of the EBRD study also included the development of the trucking industry.
Because Belarus is landlocked, there are no ports or merchant fleet. Although, there are, as of 2003, some 2,500 km (1,555 mi) of navigable canals and rivers, but whose use is limited by their location near the country's perimeter, and by shallowness. In 1995, Belarus claimed to have retained 5% of the merchant fleet of the former Soviet Union. As of 2004, there were an estimated 133 airports in the country. As of 2005, a total of 44 had paved runways and there is also a single heliport. In 2003, scheduled airline traffic carried about 234,000 domestic and international passengers.
The Belarussians are the descendants of Slavic tribes that migrated into the region in the 9th century. They trace their distinct identity from the 13th century when the Mongols conquered Russia and parts of Ukraine. During this period, Belarus managed to maintain its identity as part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The union of the Grand Duchy with the Polish Kingdom in 1569, resulting in the emergence of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita), put the territory of Belarus under Polish rule. As a result of the partitions of Rzeczpospolita in 1772, 1793, and 1795 by Imperial Russia, Austria, and Prussia, Belarus fell to the Russian Empire.
In March 1918, at the time of the Soviet-German Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in which Moscow agreed to relinquish claim to a substantial amount of territory captured by Germany in exchange for peace, the Belarussian National Republic was formed with German military assistance. However, after the German government collapsed in November 1918 and German forces were withdrawn from the region, Bolshevik troops moved in and set up the Belarussian Soviet Socialist Republic in January 1919. In 1922 the Belarus SSR became one of 15 socialist republics to form the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Two years later, Belarus's borders were enlarged at the expense of Russia and Ukraine. Later, parts of eastern Poland were annexed to Belarus by Stalin under the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. However, Belarus was devastated by World War II.
During the decades of Soviet rule, Belarus underwent intense Russification, and its leaders generally complied with Soviet policy. However, after extensive nuclear contamination by the 1986 Chernobyl accident in neighboring Ukraine, Belarussian nationalists, acting from exile in Lithuania, organized the Belarussian People's Front. The nationalist upsurge of the period was intensified by the discovery of mass graves from the Stalinist purges of the 1930s at Kuroplaty and other locations. Although the Belarussian leadership still supported keeping the Soviet Union intact, Belarus's parliament declared Belarus a sovereign state within the USSR in July 1990. Shortly after the abortive August 1991 coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev, Belarus declared its independence on 26 August 1991.
Belarus's first president, Alyaksandr Lukashenko, was elected in July 1994, the same year the country adopted its first post-Communist constitution. Lukashenko has halted economic and political reform, and silenced or even jailed his critics using internal security forces. At the end of 1996, Belarus sent the last of its nuclear missiles back to Russia. Also in November 1996, Lukashenko won a plebiscite to expand his power as president, although most observers agreed that the election was not fair. On 28 November 1996, Lukashenko signed into law a new constitution containing provisions that gave him almost total control of all branches of government and extended his term by two years to 2001. A new bicameral National Assembly replaced the old Parliament. During 1996, Lukashenko suspended the registration of new enterprises, stopped privatization, and spurned World Bank assistance. Under the new constitution, the president has the right to hire and fire the heads of the Constitutional Court and the Central Bank, and he also has the right to dissolve parliament and veto its decisions. Most members of the international community criticized the plebiscite expanding Lukashenko's power, and do not recognize the 1996 constitution or the bicameral legislature that it established.
The constitutional changes implemented by the president sparked strong protests, including public demonstrations and opposition by the Constitutional Court and members of parliament, some of whom attempted to form their own assembly. However, all dissent was effectively suppressed, and Lukashenko remained in power. After boycotting the April 1999 local elections, his political opponents held an alternative presidential election in July. This was followed by a new crackdown that forced opposition leader Semyon Sharetsky into exile. From exile Sharetsky proclaimed himself the nation's legitimate ruler, but his action had little effect on the actual state of political affairs in the country. Another prominent political dissident, Voctor Gonchar, was reported missing in September 1999.
In April 1997, Lukashenko and Russia's President Yeltsin signed an initial charter for economic union that included a plan to adopt a common currency. However, over the following two years, implementation of the integration plan moved slowly, and in September 1999, Belarus took steps to peg the country's currency to the euro. Nevertheless, at the end of year, Belarus and Russia reaffirmed their intentions of forming an economic alliance. The leaders of both countries signed a new treaty in December 1999, and it was approved by both parliaments. In April 2000 Russia's new president, Vladimir Putin, reconfirmed his country's commitment to strengthening ties with Belarus.
Parliamentary elections held in 2001 were criticized by election observers as being neither free nor fair. Lukashenko and his administration manipulated the election process to make sure a minimum of opposition candidates were elected to parliament. Turnout in 13 constituencies was so low that a repeat of the voting was necessary (it was held in March 2001). On 9 September 2001, Lukashenko was reelected president in what Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers described as undemocratic elections. Lukashenko won 75.6% of the vote, with opposition candidate Vladimir Goncharik winning 15.4% and Liberal Democratic Party leader Syargey Gaydukevich winning 2.5%. The government reported 83.9% of eligible voters participated in the election.
In June 2002, Russian president Vladimir Putin refused to follow the path to integration that Belarus had proposed for the two nations, saying it would lead to the recreation of "something along the lines of the Soviet Union." While Lukashenko pledged not to relinquish Belarus's sovereignty in the union with Russia, Putin put forth a proposal for the "ultimate unification" of both countries. Putin envisioned a federation based on the Russian constitution, with the Russian ruble as the state's sole currency and the election of a president in 2004. A constitution for the union was approved in March 2003. In April 2003, the speaker of the Russian Duma indicated Armenia, Ukraine, and Moldova might be probable candidates for joining the Belarus-Russian union. Although Lukashenko's relations with Moscow continued to improve (Russia endorsed the 2001 elections and the 2004 referendum), as of 2006, little progress had been made in solving some of the problems related to the organization and structure of the Belarus-Russian union.
European policy has not been coherent or proactive in facing the human right violations in Belarus. In November 2002, 14 EU states imposed a travel ban on Lukashenko and several of his government ministers as a way of protesting Belarus's poor human rights record. However, Lukashenko continued to eliminate political opponents, attack independent press, and expand his powers. In February 2003, Lukashenko pledged support for Iraq in the prelude to war that began on 19 March, led by a US and UK coalition, to project an image of a strong and independent leader.
Among European countries Poland has been playing the most active role in promoting democratic changes and market transformation in Belarus, and supporting the country's national revival. However, the Polish government has not developed a strong or consistent policy of dealing with Lukashenko. The Belarussian Union of Poles (ZPB), an organization representing the 400,000 ethnic Poles living in Belarus, had its headquarters raided by police in July 2005, after Lukashenko accused the organization of plotting his overthrow. Poland recalled its ambassador after the incident, and relations between the two countries were strained as of early 2006.
On 16 December 2005 presidential elections were announced for 19 March 2006.
In May 1993, a draft constitution was presented to the 12th session of parliament, which adopted 88 of the new constitution's 153 articles.
Until mid-1994, Belarus was the only former Soviet republic not to have a president. The chairman of the Supreme Soviet was considered the chief of state, but power remained in the hands of the Council of Ministers headed by a prime minister.
On 19 July 1994, elections for president were held in Belarus. Alyaksandr Lukashenko received 80.1% of the vote. He was elected on a platform of clearing out the ruling Communist establishment. Lukashenko, however, is not a democrat but a Communist populist, who appears to have no plans for implementing political or economic reform.
He has been cited by Human Rights Watch for numerous violations and, by Western standards, rules as a dictator.
In November 1996, Lukashenko won a plebiscite to expand his powers. He signed a new constitution into law giving the president power to dissolve parliament and authorized the formation of a new bicameral National Assembly with a 64-member upper house, the Council of the Republic, and a 110-member lower house, the House of Representatives. All legislators serve four-year terms. The president's term was also extended until 2001, the year when he was reelected. The October 2004 referendum, criticized by Western observers as fraudulent, revised the constitution to eliminate presidential term limits. Consequently, Lukashenko was eligible to run for a third term in September 2006. Parliamentary elections held at the same time resulted in the election of only pro-Lukashenko candidates, with many opposition candidates disqualified on technicalities.
The Communist Party was declared illegal after the abortive August 1991 coup attempt, but was relegalized in February 1993. With two other pro-Communist parties it merged into the People's Movement of Belarus in May 1993. On the whole, political parties have not gathered the momentum evident in other former Soviet republics. None of the parties has had a large public following.
The parties with the greatest representation in the 260-member unicameral Supreme Council elected in 1995 were the Communist Party (42 seats) and the Agrarian Party (33). Following the elections in October 2004, which were widely criticized internationally, all the seats were won by pro-Lukashenko candidates. The Supreme Council was disbanded under the terms of the 1996 constitution and replaced with a bicameral legislature, for which the first elections were held in January 1997.
The primary pro-government party is the Belarussian Popular Patriotic Union, which supports President
Lukashenko and the proposed union with Russia. Other pro-government parties include the Agrarian Party (AP), the Belarussian Communist Party (KPB), the Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus, and the Social-Sports Party. The primary opposition party is the Belarussian Popular Front, whose chairman, Zyanon Paznyak, was in exile in the United States and whose other leaders were jailed at various times. The Popular Front was one of three parties that organized the alternative presidential elections held in 1999 to protest the extension of President Lukashenko's term to 2001. Other opposition parties are the Belarussian Social-Democrat Party Narodnaya Gromada (BSDP NG), the Belarussian Social-Democratic party Hromada, the United Civic party (UCP), the Party of Communists Belarussian (PKB), and the Women's Party "Nadezhda". The opposition Belarussian Party of Labor was liquidated in August 2004, but remains active.
Belarus is divided into six provinces (oblasts) and one municipality. The oblasts are roughly parallel to counties in the United States. Each has a capital city, and the name of the oblast is typically derived from the name of this city. The names of the six oblasts are Brestskaya, Homyel'skaya, Hrodzyenskaya, Mahilyowskaya, Minskaya, and Vitsyebskaya. The municipality is Horad Minsk. Local Councils of Deputies are elected for four-year terms. A 1994 decree gave the president the right to appoint and dismiss senior local officials. The constitutional modifications passed in 1996 give the president increased powers over local government, including the power of nullifying rulings by local councils.
The courts system consists of district courts, regional courts, and the Supreme Court. Higher courts serve as appellate courts but also serve as courts of first instance. There are also economic courts, and a Supreme Economic Court. Trials are generally public unless closed on grounds of national security. Litigants have a right to counsel and, in cases of need, to appointment of counsel at state expense.
The president appoints all district level and military judges. The 1996 constitution gives the president the power to appoint 6 of the 12 members of the Constitutional Court, including the chief justice. The Council of the Republic appoints the other remaining 6 members of the Constitutional Court. The judiciary is not independent and is under the influence of the executive. Legislation concerning independence of the judiciary was passed in 1995, but the laws have not been implemented. The Constitutional Court was established in 1994, and adjudicates serious constitutional issues, but it has no power to enforce its decisions. Prosecutors are responsible to the Procurator General who is appointed by the Council of the Republic according to the 1996 constitution. The offices of prosecutors consist of district offices, regional, and republic level offices.
The active armed forces of Belarus numbered 72,940 in 2005. The reserves consisted of 289,500 individuals who had military service within the last five years. The nation's military is organized into three services: an army; an air force; and an air defense force. The Army numbered 29,600 active personnel, and was supported by 1,586 main battle tanks, 1,588 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 916 armored personnel carriers, and 1,499 artillery pieces. The Air Force and Air Defense Force numbered a combined 18,170 active personnel. The Air Force had 210 combat capable aircraft, including 50 attack helicopters. The Air Defense Force operated 175 surface-to-air missile batteries. Belarus also had a paramilitary force of 110,000 personnel, which included 12,000 border guards, an 87,000-man militia, and 11,000 Ministry of Interior Troops. The militia and the border guards are also under the command of the Interior Ministry. In 2005 the defense budget totaled $251 million.
Belarus was admitted to the United Nations on 22 October 1945 and serves on several specialized agencies, such as IAEA, IMF, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, WHO, and the World Bank. It is an observer in the WTO. Belarus joined the OSCE on 30 January 1992. The country is part of the Commonwealth of Independent Nations (CIS) and the Central European Initiative. In 2000, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan established the Eurasian Economic Community.
The country has signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and has formal diplomatic ties with many nations. It is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (London Group) and the Nonaligned Movement. The country is also a member of the NATO Partnership for Peace. The United States recognized Belarus's sovereignty 25 December 1991. US diplomatic relations with Belarus were established two days later. Belarus has unresolved boundary disputes with Ukraine and Latvia.
In environmental cooperation, Belarus is part of the Basel Convention, the Conventions on Biological Diversity and Air Pollution, Ramsar, CITES, the London Convention, the Montr é al Protocol, MARPOL, and the UN Conventions on Climate Change and Desertification.
Belarus's economy has been geared toward industrial production, mostly in machinery and metallurgy with a significant military component, although trade and services account for an increasing share of economic activity. Forestry and agriculture, notably potatoes, grain, peat, and cattle, are also important. Belarus's economy is closely integrated with those of Eastern Europe and the other republics of the former Soviet Union, and the breakup of the Soviet Union was highly disruptive to it. The demand for military products was cut sharply, and supplies of imported energy and raw materials were curtailed.
Despite repeated calls by the IMF for economic reform in Belarus, the Lukashenko government remains committed to maintaining state control over most industries. Lukashenko's administration has also come under severe criticism for its monetary policies. Western analysts accuse the Belarussian government of printing more money to subsidize higher salaries, thereby fueling inflation.
In 1997, Belarus and Russia signed a treaty of union, to provide for close cooperation in foreign affairs and military and economic policies, including freedom of movement for citizens, property ownership, and participation in local elections. Each country will retain its sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and other aspects of statehood however. A constitution for the union was approved in 2003.
The business climate remains poor in Belarus: as of 2000, production had increased, but products were uncompetitive on the world market and many were placed in warehouses for storage. Losses from state-owned businesses are largely written off, which prevents those businesses from going bankrupt and keeps unemployment artificially low. Because Lukashenko controls all governmental power, there are no checks and balances or legal provisions for regulating business matters. However, as of 2003, Belarus had six free economic zones, which have attracted foreign investment, especially from Poland, Russia, and Germany, with the United States as the sixth-largest investor.
Economic expansion has been strong over the past years, with a boost of the GDP growth rate from 7.1% in 2003, to 11.0% in 2004; in 2005, the rate is expected to return to the 2003 level. This expansion was fueled by strong domestic demand, as a result of an increase in real wages, and due to a better and more stable macroeconomic situation. Inflation has been fairly high, but decreasing — in 2004 it was 18.1%, and by 2005 it was expected to dwindle further to 13.0%. Unemployment is very low at 2%, but a large number of the working force is believed to be underemployed.
Despite having an economy that seems to be doing well on paper, most international analysts agree that as long as Lukashenko will continue to favor the obsolete industrial base, and as long as he will continue to pump subsidies into the agricultural sector (the peasants and the blue collar workers are his main constituency), Belarus will not achieve healthy and sustainable economic growth.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Belarus's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $77.8 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $7,600. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 7.8%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 11.5%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 9.3% of GDP, industry 31.6%, and services 59.1% in 2005.
According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $162 million or about $16 per capita and accounted for approximately 0.9% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $32 million or about $3 per capita and accounted for approximately 0.2% of the gross national income (GNI).
The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Belarus totaled $10.42 billion or about $1,055 per capita based on a GDP of $17.6 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 3.0%. In 2001 it was estimated that approximately 36% of household consumption was spent on food, 15% on fuel, 7% on health care, and 10% on education. It was estimated that in 2003 about 27.1% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.
The labor force as of end 2003 numbered 4.305 million workers. Of that total in that same year, an estimated 14% were engaged in agriculture, 51.3% in services, and 34.7% in industry. In 2004, the number of registered unemployed was officially put at 2%, but there was a large segment of the working population that was underemployed.
Although the constitution provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, these rights are not respected in practice. Union activity is discouraged, and almost impossible to conduct in most of the state-owned larger industries. Strikes are legally permitted but tight control by the regime over public demonstrations makes it difficult to strike or hold public rallies. The government has harassed and arrested union leaders, and broken up union-sponsored activities. In addition, workers who are fired for union or political activity are not required to be rehired by their employers.
Forced or compulsory labor by adults or children is prohibited. The statutory minimum employment age is 16, although a child of 14 can be employed if the parent or legal guardian gives written consent. In addition, minors under the age of 18 cannot work at hazardous jobs, or those which will adversely affect his or her education. Also they cannot work overtime on government holidays, or on the weekend. The workweek was set at 40 hours, with a 24-hour rest period per week. Safety and health standards in the workplace are often ignored. As of 2005, the minimum wage was us$55 a month, which does not provide a decent standard of living. However, average real wages were officially reported (as of end 2005) at around us$250 per month, although many receive additional income from the underground economy.
Belarus had about 5,570,000 hectares (14,159,000 acres) of arable land (27.6% of the total) in 2002. Agriculture engaged about 14% of the economically active population in 2003 and accounted for 9.3% of GDP in 2005. Production levels (in 1,000 tons) for 2004 include: potatoes, 9,900; sugar beets, 3,088; barley, 2,070; rye, 1,480; wheat, 1,025; and oats, 765. In 2002, 64,200 and 13,800 tractors and combines, respectively, were in service.
About 15% of the total land area is devoted to pastureland. In 2004, there were some 3,924,000 cattle, 3,287,000 pigs, 63,000 sheep, and 24,000,000 chickens. Of the 639,500 tons of meat produced in 2004, beef and veal accounted for 35%; poultry, 14%; pork, 50%, and other meats, 1%. Belarus produces more dairy products than any other former Soviet republic except Russia, with 5.2 million tons of milk, 77,400 tons of butter and ghee, and 80,800 tons of cheese produced in 2004. That year, egg production amounted to 163,300 tons; honey, 3,100 tons.
As a landlocked nation, fishing is confined to the system of rivers (Pripyat, Byarezina, Nyoman, Zach Dvina, Sozh, Dnieper) that cross Belarus. The total catch in 2003 was 12,318 tons, with aquaculture accounting for 44% of that amount.
About 45% of the total land area was covered by forests in 2000. Radioactive contamination of some forestland from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster has severely restricted output. In 2003, Belarus produced 7.5 million cu m (265 million cu ft) of roundwood, of which 1,518,000 cu m (53.6 million cu ft) were exported for a value of $35.7 million.
Potash was the one significant mineral resource possessed by Belarus, which ranked second in world output in 2000. During the 1980s, Belarus produced 5 million tons per year (calculated based on potassium oxide content), about 50% of the former Soviet Union's output. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, production fell to 1.95 million tons by 1993. A program was then undertaken to raise the quality of potash to world standards to increase exports. Total production in 2002 was 3.8 million tons, down from 4.55 million tons in 1999. Potash was mined in the Salihorsk region, by the Belaruskaliy production association. Accumulated waste from the industry has raised environmental concerns. Two plants produced 2.17 million tons of cement in 2002.
ENERGY AND POWER
Domestic electricity is produced by four thermal plants. Belarus also imports electricity generated by nuclear and hydroelectric plants. In 2004, a total of 30 billion kWh was generated, of which 24.841 billion kWh came from thermal sources and 0.028 billion kWh from hydropower. In the same year, consumption of electricity totaled 28.015 billion kWh. Total capacity in 2002 was 7.838 million kW.
Only a small portion of Belarus's energy requirement is met by local production. Belarus has been producing oil since 1964 and had 37 operational fields in 1995. As of 2002 Belarus had oil reserves estimated at 198 million barrels, but there was a lack of foreign investment to fund exploration. In 2002, around 36,500 barrels of oil were produced per day, along with a nominal amount of peat and natural gas. Peat is found throughout the country and is processed by 37 fuel briquetting plants. Natural gas production in 2002 totaled 6.71 billion cu ft. There are two major oil refineries: Mazyr and Navapolatsk. Although oil consumption has been cut roughly in half since the early 1990s, Belarus was still obliged to import 75% of its oil from Russia as of 2002. In December 2002, Belarus sold its 11% stake in Slavneft, a joint Belarus and Russian state-run oil company, to Russia.
Belarus is an important transit route for Russian oil and natural gas exports to Eastern Europe, via pipelines that can carry up to 1,030,000 barrels per day of oil and 22.7 billion cu m (800 billion cu ft) per year of natural gas. Roughly half of Russia's net oil exports travel through Belarus, and a trade agreement between the two countries exempts Russia from paying export duties on this oil. In March 1993, Poland and Russia entered into an agreement to build a 2,500-mile natural gas pipeline from Russia's northern Yamal Peninsula, through Belarus and Poland, to Germany. When completed by 2010, the planned capacity of the new pipeline will be more than 56.6 billion cu m (2 trillion cu ft) per year. To maintain stable supplies of oil and natural gas, Belarus has entered into a joint project with Russia, sponsored by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), to develop 60 million tons of oil from idle wells in Russia's Tymen region in exchange for guaranteed Russian oil supplies.
Belarus's industrial base is relatively well-developed and diversified compared to other newly independent states. Industry accounted for 31.6% of GDP in 2005. Belarus's main industries are engineering, machine tools, agricultural equipment, fertilizer, chemicals, defense-related products, prefabricated construction materials, motor vehicles, motorcycles, textiles, threads, and some consumer products, such as refrigerators, watches, televisions, and radios. The types of motor vehicles produced are off-highway dump trucks with up to 110-metric-ton load capacity, tractors, earth movers for construction and mining, and 25-metric-ton trucks for use in roadless and tundra areas.
While there had been an increase in industrial production as of 2002, a high volume of unsold industrial goods remain stocked in warehouses, due to high overhead costs that make Belarussian products uncompetitive on the world market. Belarus has taken few steps to privatize state-owned industries: it was estimated that around 10% of all Belarussian enterprises were privatized as of 2000.
By 2004, the participation of industry in the overall economic output had decreased to 36.4%, while its share in the labor fell to 34.7%; agriculture made up 11% of the GDP, and employed 14% of the labor force; services came in first with 52.6%, and 51.3% respectively. The industrial production growth was less than half of the GDP growth rate, at 4%, but it recovered in the first nine months of 2005 (10%), and was well above the same rate in Russia and Ukraine (4% and 3.2% respectively).
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
The Academy of Sciences of Belarus, founded in 1929 and head-quartered in Minsk, has departments of physics, mathematics, and informatics; physical and engineering problems of machine building and energetics; chemical and geological sciences, biological sciences, and medical-biological sciences; it also operates numerous research institutes.
The Belarussian State University, founded in 1921 at Minsk, has faculties of applied mathematics, biology, chemistry, geography, mechanics and mathematics, physics, and radiophysics and electronics. The Belarussian State Technological University, founded in 1930 at Minsk, has faculties of chemistry technology and engineering, forestry, and organic substances technology. In 1987 – 97, science and engineering students accounted for 48% of college and university enrollment.
The Belarussian State Scientific and Technical Library, located in Minsk, had more than 1.2 million volumes as of 1996. In 2002, total research and development (R&D) expenditures in Belarus amounted to $348.3 million, or 0.6% of GDP, of which 63.4% came from the government, 24.4% from business, 10.1% from foreign sources, and 2.2% from higher education. In that year, 1,870 researchers and 207 technicians per million people were actively engaged in R&D. In 2002, high technology exports totaled $212 million, or 4% of manufactured exports.
In 1992, retail prices rose more than 1,000%. The same year a parallel national currency (called the ruble) was introduced and declared the only legal tender for purchasing goods such as food, alcohol, and tobacco. In 1998, the inflation rate was 182%. Though the government had initiated some capitalist reforms from 1991 to 1994, President Alexander Lukashenko (elected 1994) has significantly slowed efforts toward privatization through a program of "market socialism." The government has administrative control of prices and currency exchange rates and has also reestablished certain management rights over private enterprises. As of early 2003, nearly 80% of industry was state-owned. Independent banks had also been renationalized.
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Belarus exported about 40% of its industrial output to other Soviet republics and imported 90% of its primary energy and 70% of its raw materials from them. Belarus has remained exceedingly dependant on Russia for economic support; a proposed EU-style partnership between the two nations threatens its economic independence.
In 2000, Belarus exported machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, petroleum products, and manufactured goods. Imports included fuel, natural gas, industrial raw materials, textiles, and sugar. Belarus's major trading partners are Russia, Ukraine, Poland, and Germany. Imports and exports grew at an annual pace of over 61% in 1995.
Unlike Russia, Belarus did not manage to maintain a positive resource balance in 2004 — while exports grew to $11.5 billion (FOB — Free on Board), they were surpassed by imports, at $13.6 billion. Russia continued to dominate Belarus's trade, receiving 47% of its exports, and sending 68.2% of its imports. Other important trading partners included the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, and Poland.
BALANCE OF PAYMENTS
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2001 the purchasing power parity of Belarus's exports was $7.5 billion, while imports totaled $8.1 billion, resulting in a trade deficit of $600 million.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2001 Belarus had exports of goods totaling $7.26 billion and imports