Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A bit more about the budget…

The Ideal of "New Soviet Man": The monumental sculpture "The Worker and the Peasant Woman" ("Rabochy i kolchoznitsa", V. Mukhina) is 79 feet (24 meters) in height and was first exhibited on top of the Soviet Pavilion at the Paris World's Fair (Exposition Internationale) in 1937. Produced in 65 separate laminated stainless steel pieces weighing 75 tonnes, it is now located close to the site of the All-Russian Exhibition Center (VDNKh) in Moscow.
BelTA had today several economic articles of the same sort of idea that I mentioned in my post about isolation two days ago. I combined all three on the BHTimes, so you can jump over and have a look if you want.

But echoing my point that Belarus is in fact fighting tooth and nail against the Russian Gas issue, the statistics mentioned show that during the five-month period of January to the end of May of this year, foreign trade in goods and services grew by 19% to $20,507 billion.

The article goes on to say that exports grew by 16% and also imports grew by 21.8%. Again, the export number is really colored by the gas and oil deals. In fat it is later mentioned that Russia accounted for 48.3% of the total trade turnover.

But it is still interesting to note that during this period of time, Belarus is said to have done business with 160 countries exporting to 125 states and importing from 140. Now this number is a bit lower than last years which might very well reflect the sanctions and embargos America and Europe have placed on Belarus, but still the numbers only represent the loss of 10 or fifteen countries over-all. I say that if you combine that there really was not so many countries which shied away as a result of all of the negative hype with the increased productivity in all sectors, you have a country which is by no means dead.

A couple of thoughts come to mind though.

Firstly, despite such a heated and acerbic agenda, the USA doesn't seem to have any problems selling its products here. You can buy a coke pretty much anywhere and Sprite and Fanta are available too. And just this morning we got a bag of Estrella potato chips- they by the way also have no problem needling their buyers: Their ingredients are printed in Russian and Belarusian. At the market there are literally hundreds of products being sold every day whose manufacture trace directly back to the good old US of A.

But secondly, this business of mislabeling the old cost of Gas and oil from Russia as a subsidy seems not to mesh with these figures. As I mentioned in the previous blog, Belarus during the time of the Soviet Union was about manufacturing. They were the worker's workers. They were also a model for the Soviet Union because of this. And don't think that belarus did not take being a role model seriously. Even to this day, 15 years after, politness and deference are still the mainstay of the culture. Just ask anyone who has been here: Belarusians are nice people.

Don't believe me? Think about it: To even have been named a role model for a worker's paradise would have to be about something relevant, wouldn't you agree? I mean, you could say that it was becausse people were so nice or that because they were honest or moral or didn't cuss, but really the bottom line for winning such a social position would have to have come from somthing they actually did to contribute and this means the work ethic.

And really, this is the truth: Belarusians are notoriously hard workers. Devotion to one's labor is still one of the most recognizable trademarks. Pretty much all modern Belarusian philosophy and culture is based on getting the job done and being resourceful. Proof of this could come from during some of the worst periods of the post USSR depression: The workers of Belarus maintained social order and continued to work at their jobs, even when there was little or no pay to support their actions.

In fact, another way to try and understand Lukashenko's popularity is to understand that he is speaking to a work oriented public and therefore his demands for discipline and devotion to reaching goals are received by locals as being simply the truth. He isn't seen as an evil dictator here; he is simply the boss of the whole company and is seen as doing a credible job of maintaining things.

With this in mind, I think that the most telling statistic of the article comes from the foreign trade in services which were up 40.6% against the same time last year. Exports of services upped by 32.5% to reach $1,079 billion, imports – by 61% to $514.5 million. Both the size of this number against the whole of the budget and the vast difference between giving and receiving really shows what is going on here. Sure you could say that this number has as much to do with how small wages are, but I say that it is a real indicator of what Belarus is really about. This is no pariah state; Belarus is not sitting around waiting for their welfare checks. This country works, has always worked, has worked regardless of devious, debilitating economies and, when considering US and European sanctions, socially despicable situations as well. And yet, through all of this the country has always managed to show up to work the next morning just the same. To me this is not a country to be laughed at; it is a country to be admired for its fortitude and perseverance.

Oh, and one more stat worth thinking about: The foreign trade deficit stood at $881.6 million but the trade in goods, minus services showed a debt of 1.5 billion. That's the oil and gas folks. Without the price hike (and certainly without all the jeeing and propaganda,) This country turned a profit simply from their labors. There is no need for any "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" talk here. I say to hell with any of you who say the word subsidy. There was no subsity. The situation is that the distributer took all of the profits out of the manufacturing business but the workers came in on Monday morning all the same. Just like they always have. And, if they do get to have their own say about how things in their counbtry need to be, they will continue to do so for a long, long time.

More soon...