Thinking Citizen Blog — Belarus
Thinking Citizen Blog — Monday is Foreign Policy Day
Today’s Topic: Belarus — what should every thinking citizen know?
Belarus, a landlocked nation that has been independent of the Soviet Union since 1991, is in turmoil. Protestors fill the streets calling for the ouster of Alexander Lukashenko, President of Belarus since 1994. He has been widely denounced as “Europe’s last dictator.” Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.
GEOGRAPHY, DEMOGRAPHY, ECONOMY
1. Geography: bordered to the north by Lithuania, Latvia, and Russia. To the east by Russia and Ukraine. To the west by Poland and Lithuania. To the south by Ukraine. The land is flat, heavily forested, and has 11,000 lakes. The principal rivers are the Nemen, Pripyat, and the Dnieper. The southwest of the country is famous for its marshland (near Brest and Pinsk). The southeast was seriously impacted by the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe.
2. Demography: 9.5 MM population, 84% Belarusian, 8% Russian, 3% Polish, 2% Ukrainian. 70% urban. Minsk (2 MM) is the centrally located capital. Eastern orthodox: 48%, no religion 41%, Catholic 7% (mostly in the west).
3. Economy: GDP per capital (nominal): $6744 versus $19,153 for Lithuania, $15860 for Latvia, $12,372 for Poland, $2186 for Ukraine, and $8748 for Russia. State sector: 39% of employment. 56% of imports from Russia, 38% of exports to Russia. Refined petroleum products are its largest export category. Peat is its most important mineral resource. And tractors are its principal manufacturing export.
HISTORY — THE PALE OF SETTLEMENT, THE HOLOCAUST
1. The “Pale of Settlement” (1791–1917) was the part of the Russian Empire in which Jews were allowed to settle and beyond which they were largely forbidden to stray. The area included Belarus, Lithuania, Moldova, part of eastern Poland and western Russia. Roughly 95% of the 5.3 MM Jews in the Russian Empire lived there.
2. Minsk, for example, had a population that was 50% Jewish in 1897.
3. 90% of the Jewish population of Belarus (about 1 MM) was exterminated during the Holocaust, in large part by Nazi Einsatzgruppen (roving death squads). Once 14.7% of the total population of Belarus, Jews are now less than 1%.
ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO (1954 — )
1. His mother worked as a milkmaid. His father is unknown. Taunted in school for being the child of an unmarried mother.
2. A veteran of the Soviet Army he would become a director of a state farm before launching his political career in 1990 — as an opponent of corruption.
3. President since 1994 he has been denounced for countless human rights violations, rigged elections, and anti-semitism.
Postscript: Svetlana Alexievich (1948- ), the winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature, has recently joined the protests against Lukashenko. Hard to classify her, work has been described as “polyphonic.” Is anyone familiar with it?
Please share the coolest or most important thing you learned in the last week, month, or year related to foreign policy. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in our life related to foreign policy.
This is your chance to make someone else’s day. And to consolidate in your memory something important you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart. Continuity is the key to depth of thought. The prospect of imminent publication, like hanging and final exams, concentrates the mind. A useful life long habit.