Archive for December, 2009

Staff Reshuffle: Encore

Belarusians usually get new ministers on a Friday. This time we got five and 40 new appointments all together. But you couldn’t quite call the officials new.

For example, the state secretary of the Security Council and the defence minister exchanged their posts. The first deputy minister of taxes and duties and the deputy minister of labour and social security were appointed as ministers, of their respective ministries. The former ideologue from the Administration of the President,Aleh Pralyaskowski, who is best known for his plans to control media even on the Internet, will replace the minister of information.

Government staff rotation should be regular, said Alyaksandr Lukashenka, as quoted by Belapan, while meeting with the newly appointed officials. He recalled that the country is on the eve of local elections (April 2010) and presidential elections (January or February 2011). “Everyone should know beforehand who will work in what position, including after the political campaigns are over,” he said. Sure, even afterwards.

The President added that the struggle against corruption is still a priority. “No one will be treated with indulgence,” he said.

In contrast to his statement he appointed Alyaksandr Barowski as the director general of Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ). Barowski is the former head of the state petrochemical conglomerate, Belnaftakhim. In March 2008 he was sentenced to five years in prison on the charge of abusing his powers. He was pardoned by Lukashenka and released in December 2008, one year ago.

Later on it was explained that his new appointment is “no accident” as Barowski is a political figure who has amassed much experience in “crisis management.” OK, now I see.

For sure, the personnel policy has its logic. Reshuffling staff like cards helps keep them on their toes and prevents them from gaining political and/or professional weight. But it doesn’t bring any changes to the system. It is a bureaucratic game. One of the main results is that today there are almost no prominent figures among the officialdom in Belarus. Apart from the one and only.

The rest are very faithful.

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Mamma mia! Berlusconi in Minsk!

A short trip for Italian PM Berlusconi — another political breakthrough for Belarus.

Last time Belarus saw such a high ranking visit of a Western leader almost 16 years ago. In January 1994 the then-US President Clinton came to support a young independent country on its way to nuclear disarmament. In February 2009 the EU’s high representative Solana came to encourage democratic reforms. The aims of signore Berlusconi were not that evident. One doesn’t expect it to become clear anyhow.

The Italian PM, facing criminal charges at home, paid a visit to Belarus on 30 November and spent three hours in Minsk. His public remarks focused on bilateral trade and investment. He hailed the opportunities of the customs union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia and the creation of a joint industrial zone in the town of Brest on the Polish border.

Berlusconi assured Lukashenka that Belarusians love him, as it has been proven by Belarus election results (elections which the EU actually views as rigged).

A number of documents were signed, for instance on co-operation in the fields of transportation, energy, space, security and security systems with Italy’s industry group Finmeccanica. Belarus is an important transit country for gas and oil.

Belarusian president was satisfied: Minsk got more than expected. He said he viewed Berlusconi’s visit as a gesture of support on the international arena and thanked Rome for its efforts to promote Belarus-EU relations.

“The whole Europe is having a closer look at Belarus and everybody wants to co-operate with us,” Lukashenka said, while visiting an enterprise for blind people, on 1 December.

The Italian opposition has already wondered about the aims of the trip to Minsk and demanded that Berlusconi explains his remarks for the parliament. The Belarusian opposition never expected any explanations, but questions remain: Why is Minsk so satisfied with the signed documents? Why should they be signed by Berlusconi in Minsk?

Anyway the visit of the leader of the country which is EU and NATO member was too short, more of a symbolic than substantial character.

One of the questions could be about the interest of Italian business in the the gambling business in Belarus, which Berlusconi is rumoured to have lobbied in Minsk. Kiev and Moscow have banned casinos, so Minsk could be a cosy little capital to host them.

In the end it will be business to do the talking. Berlusconi and Lukashenka are moguls who combine their private interests with those of the state. Never mind the explanations.

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