Thursday, February 19, 2009

To CIS or not to CIS...

From: Alex R
Subject: Belarus...
Date: Wednesday, February 18, 2009, 7:36 AM


I would say I am relatively new to reading your blog and find it very useful in finding information and news on Belarus. I am currently studying for a Politics degree at University in the UK and am particularly interested in Belarus as my family were originally from Lida in the east of Belarus. I am currently pursuing work that will be help me in my dissertation for next year and seeing as you’re a writer who is living in Belarus I thought I would ask you a question that would be really helpful to me. As you know, news that surrounds Belarus is usually distorted to enhance Belarus (coming from the state), tarnish the country (from the US) or be critical of the situation that really exists in Belarus (Charter 97). I feel finding valid and in certain circumstances, truthful information surrounding Belarus a difficult task.

With regards to the question I hope you can help me with, I am interested as to what someone like yourself says who lives in Belarus and has lived in other Eastern European states. The issue is the CIS. Whether Belarus still views it as important to their regional and international security? Or is the CIS irrelevant seeing as Belarus and other CIS members are subservient to Russia and its much needed energy?

It would be great if you could get back to me

Regards, Alex.
P.S. I visited Minsk when the England football team played Belarus at the end of last year. I had a great time and thought the City was an amazing place, somewhere where I would love to visit again and possibly live if I knew what was really happening in the country!

Re: Belarus...
Thursday, February 19, 2009 3:02 AM
"Adam Goodman"

Well Alex, I would probably say that pretty much everything is about money. Though Belarus claims to have traded with 183 nations last year, obviously the vast majority of their trade is local. And this makes sense because the sorts of good and services which Belarus does have is only really normal for those countries from the former Soviet Union. I can see your point about the CIS and CSTO and EuAsEc becoming of lesser importance as European markets begin to open, but I think your perspective comes from an "always open world market" economic situation and this is simply not a privilege that Belarus has enjoyed nor even expects to enjoy. It also hasn't had the capital to reinvest in factory and infrastructure improvements. So, we are speaking of a different world.

Now, aside from the above mentioned grouping and the trade union movement with several other CIS states, Belarus has also created Union State with Russia as a protectionist entity, both economic and otherwise. You are right that everything centers on Russia just like it did during the time of the USSR. Russia is going to use Belarus for its air defense program and it also has missiles in Kazakhstan, Afghanistan; it has a fleet on the black sea in Crimea and of course, it has a strong presence in Chechnya and in the breakaway states in Georgia. But as you say, they are of course only protecting Russian interests. But this is how it has always been! The culture is not going to disappear in our lifetime; yes, it is about Moscow and this is no secret.

But they always ask people whether or not they want the Soviet Union to return in some form or another and there is always a reasonably large percent that wants it. There is nostalgia. But the idea is dwindling and there really is not that great of a movement to actually reinvent the USSR and I feel the reason is that, simply said, there is no more socialist ideology backing such a union and everybody knows it. In order for the USSR to exist, and I am speaking here of people agreeing to be the same and work for minimalist wages in a controlled economy for lifetimes, there needs to be a moral, spiritual and ideological reason to do it. Without communism, you just have suppression for the purpose of having suppression and that's fascism and it can't last. So with the ideology having been starved out of people and as they become more and more selfish out of need and experience, and as the country becomes more and more integrated, of course such a grouping would become less and less important.

So to answer the question about whether or not the CIS is important to Belarus, well, I think that the answer is yes. As you said, America still demands that Belarus be seen negatively and in fact, I just had my web hosting cancelled last week, my host sighting the Patriot Act as their rational for giving me the boot. So, there are still market problems. Perhaps this situation is somewhat less drastic in Europe and is becoming less and less the more the Europeans come here looking for business opportunities. And remember that Gasprom makes everybody pay so Belarus, either by design or providence, has had to become more accommodating and open. But entities like the CIS are and most probably will remain vital for Belarus because economically, it would be impossible for Belarus to exist without having those "original" markets to work with. If the association is seen negatively by the west, the reasoning there would only be the desire for greater control and availability by the Europeans, something that Russia and its neighbors are not likely to give up in this lifetime- and yes, they have missiles at the ready to prove the point.

Hope this opinion was helpful for you.
Cheers and best of luck with your education.


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