On 8 May President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko delivered State of the Nation Address to the Belarusian people and the National Assembly.
“Our fundamental principles and our path are unchangeable. But this does not mean that Belarus will always remain the same. Time changes and we should move forward with courage. We should not be lagging behind. We need rapid progress. This pertains to all spheres of life of the country and, first of all, to its foundation – the economy,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
“The main lesson of the world crisis is that we should live within our means. One cannot spend more than he had earned. If you have money, spend it. If not, earn it. Printing unsupported money and depending on loans is a road to nowhere,” the President stressed.
According to the head of state, in order to give a new impetus to the economic activity it is necessary to focus on a number of essentials. These include economic modernization, FDI inflow, increase in wages, more effective economic management, stable national currency, boosting exports, import substitution and frugality, the development of science and innovations, agriculture and housing construction.
Taming prices and restoring the pre-crisis level of earnings are one of the top priorities now. “We cannot surrender everything to the market. We should have and will have wise control over prices. Prices will not be allowed to run amok. We are gradually moving towards more relaxed pricing practices but we need a golden mean now. Absolutely strict pricing leads to shortages and drain of commodities from Belarus. Meanwhile, the so-called free market can lead to profiteering that affects common people,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
“We cannot allow consumer prices to rise by more than 20% per annum. No country has abandoned the practice of price regulation,” the head of state stressed.
According to Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus needs less talk about free prices while efforts should be put into making market relations in Belarus civilized.
The President believes that Belarus should prevent the monopolization of the domestic consumer market by large trade networks or trough price collusion between them. “Along with hyper- and supermarkets we should develop small private and public shops,” the head of state said. “Discount programs for retirees, families with many children, disabled people should be a compulsory condition for them on our domestic market,” the President added.
The head of state instructed governors and the Minsk mayor to control put these issues under control.
“They say that our food prices are constantly rising. I have a simple answer: if you want to provide the entire world with free Belarusian foodstuffs, which are of highest quality and taste, you can hold these prices. But you see what has happened and is still happening. Our prices are two-three times lower than those in neighboring countries, we cannot close borders because of the Single Economic Space, we cannot close even borders with Ukraine. Therefore, there is a free movement of goods here, our cheap products go there,” the President said.
Alexander Lukashenko explained: “Unfortunately, we have to react on what is happening in the world and balance prices. Our prices will never be higher than prices in Ukraine and Russia”.
When speaking about the availability of goods for Belarusians, Alexander Lukashenko noted that salaries should be increased.
President urged to increase average salaries to $500 by the year-end. “We should encourage all regions and directors to fulfill this task,” Alexander Lukashenko stressed.
He added: “Hardly will all Belarusians get salaries equivalent to $500, but the average salary should reach this figure”. The economic growth rate testifies to the fact that by late 2012 Belarus may reach this level, the head of state is convinced.
The President drew attention to inefficient efforts made by the country to attract foreign direct investment. “There is much talk but little use. There are investors, there are projects, but all this is simply a drop in the ocean. There is no one to blame here but themselves. They want to come and invest. Foreign businessmen are lured by stability in Belarus, our honesty and reliability, low corruption levels,” the President said. However, a wall of bureaucracy and indifference they have to face in executive committees and ministries puts off any intent to invest.
“It is even more difficult for a national entrepreneur to do this. Belarusian businessmen can get nowhere at all. If they had been given more opportunities to invest in their own country, there would be less defrauding of income and capital export,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
The President demanded that the government, local authorities, all executives should drastically change the style and methods of working with investors, both foreign and Belarusian ones.
An important step in this direction is the forthcoming adoption of the law on investment. The President asked the MPs to take a careful approach to the document. “Investment conditions in Belarus should be among the best in the world, and guarantees to bona fide investors should be absolute. The law should contain rules of direct action, clear and understandable to everyone,” the head of state said.
Economic modernization is a priority for not only the government, according to Alexander Lukashenko. All Belarusian businesses and as many as possible foreign investors should be involved in this process. “The government, the entire executive vertical and heads of enterprises should change the psychology. Modernization means a robust inflow of state financing, which is often wasted to buy equipment or build plants manufacturing unnecessary products. If you have a project or an idea, look for investors. Persuade them, create favorable conditions,” the President stressed.
Alexander Lukashenko said that any company can be privatized in Belarus on certain terms. “Those, who want to buy state property, should pay a fair price,” the President reminded.
“Privatization should lead to more successful development of enterprises. We welcome those, who accept such conditions. But those, who hope to feather their nests, waste time,” the President said.
Alexander Lukashenko also pointed out advantages of the Single Economic Space for Belarus. “In 2012 we started to work on an equal footing with our partners in the Customs Union. Roughly equal. This is not what it was a year or two years ago. Political leadership of the country resolved the main issue: the price for natural gas, the main energy source coming into the country, was halved. The issues of cooperation with the Russian Federation in oil supplies were settled as well,” the President noted.
“The agreements on energy prices are not charity or subsidies as opposition tries to picture it. These are basic conditions for the operation in the Single Economic Space,” Alexander Lukashenko stressed.
“With such difference in prices as we had not long ago, there is no free competition. We had prices five times higher than those in Kazakhstan and Russia. There cannot be a single market with different standards and requirements to the quality of products. It is a simple truth,” the head of state said.
“That is why we do not beg for lower prices in the Single Economic Space of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia. The main thing here is common prices and common pricing principles. For everyone – be it Belarusian, Russian or Kazakhstani companies,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
When speaking about the situation on the foreign currency market, the head of state said that Belarus will stick to the managed float regime. “We should prevent any sharp fluctuations of the exchange rate. We will remain committed to the managed float regime based on open and transparent exchange auctions,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
Stability of the Belarusian ruble is among the economic priorities of Belarus. “The Belarusian currency is growing stronger. According to reports, this year households sold $1.5 billion via currency exchange offices, $0.5 billion more than they bought. Deposits in all currencies are growing every day. This demonstrates the stabilization of the currency market, trust in the national currency and the banking system. There are reasons for this trust,” the President said.
According to Alexander Lukashenko, each ruble in circulation in Belarus is supported by foreign currency reserves by 150% using the current market exchange rate.
“Export is directly connected to the stability of the exchange rate. It is export that brings foreign currency into the country. It is the task for central government and regional government agencies to secure a foreign trade surplus of over $1 billion this year. Moreover, at least 65% of the output should be exported. All the conditions have been created with the establishment of the Single Economic Space,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
Yet the Single Economic Space is not the limit. Large-scale efforts should be exercised all over the world where Belarus can gain benefits. “Do not enter new markets one by one. Act as a single front. Study the competition via the Foreign Ministry and the Trade Ministry. Then establish a beachhead using industrialists and businessmen supported by the government. Organize stable operation via trading houses and proprietary outlets. Do not let individual producers struggle. Act together,” the head of state said.
In 2012 the scheme should be used to penetrate the huge markets of Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, South Africa, India, Indonesia, Vietnam and other Southeast Asia countries. “It is important to go where we are wanted, where people are ready to work with us on principles of friendship and mutual respect. Our country has something to offer to its partners,” Alexander Lukashenko is convinced.
The Belarusian head of state spoke about Belarus’ relations with the West.
Alexander Lukashenko noted that “the European Union understands that Belarus has as much democracy as the West”.
“Belarus is often criticized from the outside for the alleged lack of democracy. These allegations are a ritual now,” the head of state said.
“They criticize us for the lack of democracy, claiming things here have gone down the drain. Until the conflict with ambassadors of the European Union. It was a painful issue for me, not only for the European Union. We just looked at what was going on, talked to people, talked to employees and so on. I was pleasantly surprised by an analytical note that stated no foreign diplomat that had been forced to leave Belarus had wanted to do so. It was repeatedly stated in conversations that Belarus is a beautiful country, a kind nation, peace in streets, recreation opportunities, a civilized European country, as good as Germany and other countries,” the President said.
“They publicly criticize and wipe their feet on us but the truth is different: they love the country, appreciate it and believe Belarus has as much democracy as their own countries,” Alexander Lukashenko stressed.
“We know that, too. We see how they use tear gas and water cannons against people, women and kids,” he said.
“Has the independent undemocratic Belarus ever tried to do the same? It has not. Why do you reproach us then? You reproach us for holding elections in line with the Constitution? We do not reproach you for that. For instance, you held elections in France. I congratulated the president of France right away. The nation of France made its choice. We did not have to interfere. Why do not you do the same?” the President wondered.
Alexander Lukashenko believes that few people think about the destiny of the Belarusian nation, the mentality and traditions of the Belarusians.
“In the 1990s radical liberalization was rejected not by Alexander Lukashenko. It was rejected by the will of the people. The Belarusians opted for a calm shock-free entry into the world of tough market competition,” the head of state said.
He remarked Belarus had gone a long way since then. At present the country has a mixed economy. Private companies prevail in many industries ranging from trade to programming. The role and functions of the government are changing persistently. Total instruction-based control is unnecessary now. “At present we believe the government should focus on encouraging progress in all spheres, on enabling social guarantees for citizens, creating the legal basis for human lives,” the President said.
“In recent years we have been promoting the so-called civil society. We encouraged a public dialogue, secured the transparent and open election and complete freedom for the candidates. However, what they did with these vast opportunities is another thing,” the head of state said.
In his words, “the 2010 election showed what is bad for people”. “Insults at the country and the government on TV, violence in the streets, calls for terror and violence. However, each Belarusian could see the real face of the opposition and its candidate. It is hard to think of better reasons to support the existing government,” the President said.
Alexander Lukashenko remarked that after the 2010 election, we planned to go on with the policy of rapprochement with Europe and the United States, to develop the so-called civil society and an internal political dialogue, and to improve the political system.
“However, the West and our fifth column decided differently. Not only did they refuse to engage in a dialogue, but they started attacking our country by pressure and sanctions,” the head of state said.
“I hope everyone can see now that it is a road to nowhere,” he added.
“A lot of time was wasted because of Europe’s weird policy, but our position remains unchanged: we are ready for the dialogue,” the Belarusian President said.
Alexander Lukashenko believes that Belarus and the West should overcome differences with the help of dialogue but not sanctions and restrictions.
“We treat certain issues of social organization differently. But we should overcome these differences with the help of dialogue, negotiations but not sanctions and bans. The policy of sanctions is erroneous, first of all, because it is useless and futile,” the head of state said.
Alexander Lukashenko stressed that Belarus is not hostile either to the European Union, or to the United States.
The President said that the European Union is one of the main partners for Belarus. “Economically and politically Belarus and the EU are important partners. The European Union is our main export partner, it is second after Russia in terms of the trade turnover,” the head of state said.
“I want to tell the Europeans and the Americans that the Belarusians cannot be broken. We can be buried only. If we are not around, you can whatever you like to the country. So let us be friends and talk to each other instead,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
“Dialogue is the only way to success. Moreover, our national interests are very simple. Plainly speaking, we want to be friends with and at peace with everyone. We want to trade freely and sincerely cooperate in all things, which are interesting for us and our partners. Easier said than done, unfortunately. Too many are unhappy about it. Some countries believe that Belarus has no natural right to defend its own national interests. Some countries view Belarus as either a sanitary cordon or a sanitary zone. Some believe they have the right to tell the Belarusian people how they should live,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
“Naturally such approaches in relations with us will always be destined to fail,” the Belarusian leader said. “We are not tired of repeating: Belarus is interested in not just calm relations with close and far neighbors but in the tightest integration in all possible areas,” he added.
In addition, Belarus suggests creating a common economic space from Lisbon to Vladivostok.
“Now many “analysts” start recycling this again: you move there or here? You are with these or those? Are these “swings” or not?” the President said.
In his view, all of this is outdated approaches, primitive thinking. “Reasonable politicians understand: there are no “swings”. There are objective interests of the country, dictated by the present and the future,” the head of state said.
"Strategic future means that two large unions should not be hostile to each other. They should not divide the continent but unite it,” Alexander Lukashenko stressed.
“Belarus suggests full integration. Its goal is to create a common economic space from Lisbon to Vladivostok,” the President said, adding that this issue was touched upon by the sitting President of the Russian Federation.
According to Alexander Lukashenko, the SES summit in December 2011 in Moscow adopted Belarus-initiated decision on development of cooperation between the Single Economic Space and the European Union.
“In my opinion, Central European states have a mission. Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic should unite the traditional West and East. It is their new historical calling and special mission,” the Belarusian leader believes.
“I know that my counterparts, the heads of states – members of the Single Economic Space - Russia and Kazakhstan take the same fundamental approach,” Alexander Lukashenko added.
The President stressed that Belarus deliberately stakes on integration.
“We understand that in contemporary world survive either those, who have a huge domestic market of at least hundreds of millions of people, or those, who create such a market with the help of integration. Today our integration model is taking shape. Together with Russia and Kazakhstan (I am confident that other countries will join us soon) we have formed the Customs Union and the Single Economic Space with the common market of 170 million of people,” the head of state said.
The common market gives additional opportunities to sell products, especially, high-technology ones. This integration provides equal access to raw materials and energy resources necessary for the development of any country. “This way fully satisfies the interests of Belarus and Belarusians as it is aimed at strengthening positions of the country in the world and raising the well-being of people. Our structures are prepared to welcome other countries in order to expand the common market. This is not the limit. We are planning to create the Eurasian Economic Union by 2015,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
“Two vectors of the East-West axis are not enough to maintain long-term stability of our state. It is in our strategic interests to build the third pillar to support us in the South,” the head of state said.
This pertains to China, first and foremost. Alexander Lukashenko noted that Belarus has an important competitive edge there, as the country has been viewed as China’s strategic partner for many years already. “We should translate political advantages into economic ones. That is what we mean when we talk about the “big advent” of China to Belarus,” the head of state said.
As for the Southern Hemisphere, Belarus has been securing its foothold on the markets of Venezuela and the neighboring countries of Latin America. The President believes that Belarus should focus its efforts on India, Southeast Asia, and Africa where Belarus’ presence is insignificant.
“We have made some progress in expanding cooperation with Turkey, Qatar and other countries of the Gulf. We need to keep it up,” the head of state said.
Alexander Lukashenko believes that cooperation with Israel can be quite promising, too, especially in high tech and agriculture. “A lot of immigrants from Belarus live there; they could bring capital and new technologies to Belarus. These people sincerely love our country and we should take advantage of it,” the President said.
He demanded that the government agencies should ramp up their efforts to promote Belarusian products and production in new markets. “It is high time we sent representatives of our major exporting industries to diplomatic missions abroad to help our diplomats. You have been legally authorized to do that. We need to promote the brand “Made in Belarus” in every possible way,” the President said.
According to the Belarusian leader, in the twenty first century the world will be following a different pattern than in the past century; the changes will be sweeping, vehement and unpredictable.
“Global leaders come and go very fast. East Asia is challenging the Old Europe. However, there is no struggle between centers of power like it was in the 20th century. The global economy makes all countries interdependent. There cannot be winners or losers. Economic booms benefit all; economic crises are detrimental to all, too,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
The new world can be better described by the example of two giants – the United States and China. Their economies are symbiotic; none of them can do without the other.
“Unfortunately, the global politics lags behind the global economy. Politicians still speak the language of force, wars and threats. Humankind has not come up with reliable instruments of maintaining security. Global powers still feel an urge to cut, not to disentangle “the Gordian knot of the global politics,” the Belarusian President said.
“We are not able to change these things. Belarus should adjust to the global order shaped in many ways against our will. I have said it many times: Belarus does not have geopolitical ambitions. But we should clearly see our place in the world and defend our interests in every way we can,” Alexander Lukashenko emphasized.
Alexander Lukashenko emphasized that Belarus cannot betray its basic principles. “Stability in the society and the state is our greatest value. Many envy Belarus because we have no chaos, conflicts and political disturbances. We do not want them and we will not let them happen whatever the cost,” the President said.
“Stability and unity of the nation is the great asset we should preserve. It is essential for economic growth and normal and peaceful life of people,” the head of state said.
The President emphasized that stability does not mean stagnation. “Our goal is consistent and sustainable improvement of public and political life in our Belarus,” he said.
“We understand that a new generation is born. Sometimes it is called “the Internet generation”. It has come to the fore in many fields, like sport, business and high-tech. This generation differs from the previous one – they prefer to rely on themselves, rather than the government; they are more prone to risk and immediately assimilate all the novelties of the modern world. This new, young generation should definitely play their part in shaping the future of their homeland, Belarus,” the President said.
The President also drew attention to the role of Parliament for the country.
“The country needs a strong legislative body and a strong parliament. Therefore the development of the parliamentary system is among the fundamental elements of the Belarusian democratic state,” Alexander Lukashenko assured.
In his words, the Parliament’s current convocation has played a crucial role in consolidation of the state. “The regular parliamentary elections are scheduled for this autumn. Of course it is important for the country to preserve continuity. If a part of MPs of the current convocation will make part of the new parliament, it will create the best conditions for continuation of this diligent legislative work,” the President noted.
“I guarantee you that the forthcoming election campaign will be held at an adequate level and in strict adherence to the laws and the Constitution of our country,” the President stressed.
According to Alexander Lukashenko, the current system of parliamentary elections in Belarus does not create problems in the society or for neighboring states. It has not been rejected by people and stays up-to-date. “Why break it today? Let us work on it gradually to improve it,” the head of state said.
Alexander Lukashenko assured that the President and the authorities hear the minority that exists in Belarus: “We hear, analyze but proceed from the demands of the vast majority of our society. This is how it will continue. We are ready to listen to voices from the European Union, America, Russia, but we will act as we think fit and for the benefit of its citizens. We will gladly borrow and adopt the best practices from the European Union that are acceptable to us. Not only in the economy but also in the political system. But everything will be done with no rush, in the interests of the Belarusian people,” the President said.
According to the President, the new Parliament should become a center of strong legislation. No automaticity in law making. However, when needed we have to overcome outdated approaches. Quality of law-making activities should be very high to ensure a real and long-term stability of the legislation. Yet, we still have problems here,” the President said.
Alexander Lukashenko noted that novelties would inevitably penetrate into all the spheres of the society. “In this respect we need to develop our political system. It is clear that the role of political parties will become stronger. And we should develop a civilized party system. Perhaps, one day we will be ready for a combined election system, including party-list elections,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
“People should elect members of parliament according to the majority voted system. A MP should be maximally close to his constituency. People should elect him in a certain territory and know him in person. Then he will not leave as it happens with party members: one MP from the party list leaves, another comes. Who elected you? What kind of system is that, what kind of elections? This is against the mentality of the Belarusian people. Therefore I am against it,” the President said.
“Now in Belarus you are welcome to get nominated, compete, win and take your seat in the Parliament,” the Belarusian leader stressed.
Another important issue is the development of information technologies.
According to Alexander Lukashenko, vigorous development of the Internet opens up brilliant prospects for Belarus.
“Land has been the main asset of the mankind for millennia. With the advent of capitalism people opted for money. In the last quarter of the 20th century the mankind entered the information society age,” the President said.
He said the Internet had revolutionized every part of life – from finance and trade to mass media and entertainment. “Vigorous development of the Internet, information and communication technologies open up brilliant prospects for Belarus. The intellect of our people, young Belarusians has started generating tangible profits for the country. In the future this industry may become a key one in the national economy,” the head of state said.
Over the last two years Belarus has advanced considerably in this area. He added that according to the UN Belarus leaped from the 84th position to the 48th one in telecommunication infrastructure development. “It is strange that Belarus gets branded as an enemy of the Internet all the time. The truth is all our restrictions mimic American and European approaches,” the Belarusian head of state said.
In his words, looking at the Internet, Belarus is concerned about the same things the West is concerned about such as hacker attacks, digital scams, and copyright violations. “Yes, we clearly saw how they tried to blow up the country via the Internet. It worked in Arab countries, it partially worked in Russia and Kazakhstan. In Belarus all these ‘revolutions via social networking’ were doomed to failure. We didn’t block or plug anything. We gave a proper answer to Internet-powered sabotage efforts, including by means of new information technologies. We will act like that in the future, too. The Internet should be used for peaceful purposes,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
He added that Belarus should be the top CIS country as far as accessibility and versatility of digital services are concerned.
The President said that Belarus needs to improve law enforcement and judicial system.
“We need to humanize our criminal legislation and judicial practice in regard to economic crimes. Imprisonment is not the only option to punish or rehabilitate. The Prosecutor General’s Office and the Investigating Committee should analyze the practice of applying such a restrictive measure as taking into custody,” the head of state said.
The President noted that the practice of placing into custody has almost become total. “Why isolate energetic, capable people, if they have committed offences posing no risk to life and health of citizens? You can offer bail, recognizance not to leave. But remember only the court can award a verdict. At the same time it must be guaranteed that a person is not a flight risk,” the President said.
The head of state instructed the Government to draft a law on amnesty, which will coincide with the main state holiday – the Independence Day.
At the end of the meeting the President answered MPs’ questions.
One of the MPs asked about the possibility to introduce moratorium on capital punishment in Belarus.
“I will never make this decision on my own,” said Alexander Lukashenko. “I will not do it because I am a servant of the people, excuse me for the high-sounding words, I know the mood of the people,” he added.
“It is a difficult question. It is difficult to discuss it in public,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
“We once risked consulting with the nation by putting the issue up for a referendum. It is the law for me. Moreover, when courts substitute a death sentence (which has not been abolished not only in Belarus but also in the USA, the stronghold of democracy) with life imprisonment or some other term, I don’t support such rulings and I don’t approve of the work of courts,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
“If you are a bastard and has committed atrocious crimes, you must bear responsibility for them,” believes the head of state.
“Maybe our society is ready to introduce a moratorium or ban capital punishment. Then we will make the decision together,” President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko told parliamentarians.
Alexander Lukashenko also spoke about Belarus’ relations with Russia.
The President expressed confidence about progress in Belarus-Russia relations.
“Some people think that after the election Putin will try to stifle Belarus. Neither Russia nor Putin has resources to do that. This is not in Russia’s interests and Russia will never do that,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
He reminded of the time when Belarus had to buy energy at very high prices. “It is not only about the SES. Russia realized that if it persists with this policy for at least a year, Belarus will no longer be by its side; therefore, they backed down prudently. You want to say that Putin is going to make the same mistake again? No,” the President said.
“I would like to disappoint those who hope that the next day after Putin has assumed power, he will start stifling us; our relations will be growing stronger. At least, we will stick to this policy towards the Russian Federation,” the head of state concluded.
Please, see the Russian version of this site for the verbatim of the Address delivered by the President of Belarus