In the May 2020 edition of Europe Diplomatic Magazine, we published a profile of the President of Belarus entitled ‘ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO Dictator with a difference’, together with an overview of the political and social situation in that country.
To this end, the author drafted the text following lengthy and detailed research in the available documentation, as well as information provided by sources based in the country itself.
We are of course quite aware of the fact that no two people on the planet agree with each other on everything, all of the time.
However, we also know that the key is to share one’s opposing point of view respectfully — and effectively — so that the outcome one is looking for has a higher likelihood of materialising.
Therefore, in keeping with the principles of objectivity and impartiality which we have always held in high regard, we publish a letter in reaction to the article in question, from the Ambassador of the Republic of Belarus to Belgium and Luxembourg and its Permanent Representative to the EU and NATO.
Trajan Dereville, Editor-in Chief
Dear Mr. Dereville,
I have always followed with great interest and attention the publications of such a respected «Europe Diplomatic Magazine». Each time it was distinguished by a deep analysis of global world problems, it was modern and relevant.
In this regard, I was greatly surprised by the appearance of the headline article in the May edition «ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO Dictator with a difference». The publication reminded me the spirit of the journalism of the Cold War, when biased articles were published on both sides of the Iron Curtain, designed to criticize the lifestyle of the opposite side, artificially exaggerate the flaws and hush up the positive sides. I remember how, for example, in Soviet publications, New York was called the «stone jungle», and Paris «nest of debauchery». I did not expect to see such a style again. Especially in the European Union, which claims to be the international standard in many areas, including journalism.
In our opinion, the publication about Belarus has a lot of incorrect and biased interpretations of the situation in various areas of my country’s life. Parsing each inaccuracy in an article will take too much time. In addition, the author, with all his bias, has the right to his own fantasies. I will mention only the most serious and flagrant miscalculations.
Chernobyl disaster – the Pain of Belarus. The economic damage caused to the country by the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 30 years amounted to about 235 billion dollars. It has infected 23% of the territory including 3678 settlements with 2.2 million people. Nearly 400 000 have left their homes forever. 479 villages have perished.
Of course, it is worth mentioning that we are grateful to the private organizations of Belgium, Germany, Italy, Austria, Poland and many other European countries, which provide humanitarian assistance to our country. Unfortunately, its scale is incomparable with national expenses.
Since independence, Belarus allocates at least 3% of the budget annually to overcome the consequences of a nuclear accident in the framework of a special state program. The funds are used to decontaminate lands, cities and villages, where pollution has decreased to safely return them to normal life (territories contaminated with radiation have reduced 1.7 times).
Contamination map of Belarusian territory by cesium137
In this situation, the allegations that Belarus denies the threat of Chernobyl or the incidence of cancer (which is not the only disease triggered by the accident) and are also trying to populate the infected zone thoughtlessly, sound simply cynical.
As well as the notion that Belarus neglects the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. Belarusians perfectly acknowledge the gravity of the situation and are taking responsible and adequate decisions that are aimed to stop the spread of the disease. Since the outbreak of the epidemic Belarus has significantly increased the capacity of healthcare institutions and domestic production of drugs and medical products. The national healthcare industry currently employs almost 310,000 people, the total bed capacity in the hospitals is about 100,000. The quantity of ventilators for 100,000 citizens is 25, together with anesthetic and breathing equipment – 36, which makes this index higher than in some neighboring and Western countries. From the very beginning of the crisis Belarus has chosen the strategy of early detection of the contaminated people and their isolation making sure that this will break the chain of the spread of the virus.
Many have had a temptation to point out that official Belarusian figures on the spread of the disease had been false. But even the President of Lithuania – the country where the criticism towards my country has become a constant political narrative – was forced to admit that statistics was true. Even if one will multiple death toll in Belarus to 10 – the figures will still be around the average, although we mourn each death.
To assert that the choice of the abbreviation Slavic Union is connected with the Nazi «SS» police sounds blasphemous for everyone in my country, where one third of the population (about 3 million people, including 2,5 million civilians) died from the hands of the Nazis from 1941 to 1944. During the occupation, 209 out of 270 cities were looted and destroyed by fascists, including by «SS» soldiers, 9,097 villages were completely or partially destroyed. 628 villages were burned along with residents (women, old people and children) by the «SS» punitive squads. Of this number, 186 villages were never rebuilt.
1.3 million inhabitants of Belarus fought at the front, about 450 thousand people took part in active rebel resistance, accelerating the liberation of Europe by the way. Partisans controlled entire regions in the country, completely freeing them from the Nazis. The small garrison of the Brest fortress that got in the way of Hitler fiercely defended in 1941 for several weeks (longer than the Nazis needed to capture some European countries). So, there is a question who was really fighting for the European values that the European Union tries to teach us now?
Khatyn memorial complex with the number of burned-out villages
Belarus takes 8th place in the world in terms of the number of «Righteous Among the Nations» – local residents who saved Jews from inevitable extermination. On the wall of honor of the Yad Vashem Memorial Complex there are more than 700 Belarusian surnames. According to historians, in fact, there were much more, since many paid for their mercy with their lives.
In 2018, Belarus hosted a convention of the European Jewish Congress, which was attended by representatives of Jewish organizations from all over Europe. My country has rendered all possible assistance to them and continue to participate together with the international community in commemorating the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. At a time when anti-Semitic actions and speeches are growing in the European Union, it is probably convenient for some experts to redirect attention from real problems with intolerance.
Belarusians are known in the world for their peacefulness and good neighborliness. That’s why we have granted equal social and labor rights with Belarusian citizens for more than 160 thousand Ukrainians, according to the UNHCR, who arrived after 2014 due to the aggravation of the situation in the neighboring country.
The capital city of Minsk in the evening
At my invitation, Minsk was visited by numerous delegations of politicians, entrepreneurs, artists, and ordinary people. None of them have complained about the capital, or about other cities in my country. If the author is overwhelmed by the «intimidating and oppressive architecture» of the capital, he probably has never been there. By the way the center of Minsk that oppresses the author the most has just been nominated to the UNESCO world heritage.
Minsk is a relatively young city from an architectural point of view. It was completely destroyed during the war. Indeed, citizens of Minsk are making great efforts to keep the city clean. This is a visiting card of our capital. With all the author’s desire to describe the «army of the unemployed» in Belarus, the order is maintained by public services. And unemployment in Belarus in the 1st quarter of 2020 amounted to 4.1% of the working-age population according to the methodology of the International Labor Organization. It seems to me that some European countries may envy this indicator. Many European residents are probably unaccustomed to visit clean cities, where there are no dog feces on wide sidewalks, and people do not allow themselves to urinate on the streets.
The city of Minsk
The author pledges that economy of Belarus is based on oil exports. Oil refining is indeed a substantial sector of our economy. But in no case it is the only one. Last years we have substantially modernized our enterprises in order to increase the efficiency of hydrocarbon utilization. Together with fuel production, our country uses petroleum products in the chemical industry, for example, in the production of artificial fiber, which is of great demand on the European market. In addition, Belarus takes the 2nd place in the world in the production of potash fertilizers.
We continue to create competitive products according to the most modern standards. For example, BelAZ factory holds one third of the global market for mining trucks, including creating unmanned vehicles that already operate in open mines. They successfully compete with Caterpillar or Komatsu trucks. Every 10th wheeled tractor in the world is of Belarusian production (exported to 164 states).
We are developing other advanced sectors of the economy. The High-Tech Park in Minsk has been operating for 10 years already. Mobile applications used by more than 1 billion people in 193 countries are being developed there. 91% of the software produced in the Park is exported (mainly to the United States and the Western European countries). Such applications as Viber, Juno, MSQRD, as well as the world famous game «World of Tanks» have been developed in HTP.
We would be happy to show to the EU our real potential in economic cooperation, exporting more to Europe. But for 20 years (until the recent warming which started in 2015), the European Union rope has not systematically cooperated with our country. Moreover, it used each possibility to sting Belarus on various occasions. Partly this approach remains unchanged. Over the years, we have not asked the EU for help or charity. We only needed equal conditions in the market. But Europe declaring itself as an ideal free market economy continued to shut itself off from the countries like Belarus, creating political, administrative and trade barriers. For example, by dragging out the certification procedure for Belarusian agricultural products. It slows down negotiations on Belarus’s accession to the WTO. Another example of the EU protective measures is quota on trade ferrous metal’s products with our country, because the European Union is not able to compete and protects its producers.
Naturally, in such conditions, the young independent state had to rely on other available centers of power. For example, in the East, in Asia, in far arc countries. It was not an easy path but we have managed to achieve some progress both in our external trade and in our internal economic development.
The estimation, that Belarusian countryside reminds another era is also very far from reality. Yes, Belarus was and remains partly an agrarian country. Around the world, this is a sector requiring large investments, even in the EU. The funds invested by Belarus in the agriculture, successfully provide food not only to our own citizens, but also to sell products abroad. In 2019, Belarusian food products were supplied to 104 countries where they are valued for their naturalness and lack of GMOs.
Dear Mr. Dereville, I really want the «Europe Diplomatic Magazine» to remain an authoritative, interesting and objective medium. Taking this opportunity, I would like to personally invite you to Belarus so that you have the possibility to see with your own eyes my country as it is, with its shortcomings, but also with many advantages.
Obviously, no one knows our problems better than ourselves. And over the years of our independence, we have seen that only we ourselves can solve them. So, let us do our job.
I very much hope that, in accordance with the democratic principles of objectivity and impartiality of the media, your journal will publish this letter.
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Belarus to Belgium and Luxembourg with residence in Brussels, Permanent Representative of Belarus to the EU and NATO.
Click here to read the 2020 July edition of Europe Diplomatic Magazine