May 20, 1996


POPULATION:  10.5 million (as of January 1, 1995); 3.6 percent of the population
of the former Soviet Union (FSU);  77.9 percent are ethnic Belarusian; 13.2 percent
are Russian; 4.1 percent are Polish; 2.9 percent are Ukrainian; 0.84 percent are of
other ethnic background.  64 percent of the population is urban.

LANGUAGE:  82.7 percent of the population speaks Russian, while 77.7 percent
speaks Belarusian, the national language.

SIZE AND GEOGRAPHY: The area of Belarus is 207,595 square kilometers (80,154
square miles), slightly smaller than Kansas.  The area of Belarus is 0.9 percent of
the FSU.  Belarus' dimensions are 560 kilometers (347 miles) from north to south
and 650 kilometers (403 miles) from east to west.

GENERAL POLITICAL OVERVIEW: The Belarusian government is composed of four
divisional levels: the republican government; six oblasts (provinces) - Minsk, Brest,
Vitebsk, Gomel, Grodno, and Mogilev; rayons (districts) and cities directly under an
oblast; and towns, villages and settlements that make up the rayons. The
Republican government of Belarus is divided into three branches: legislative (the
Supreme Soviet), executive (headed by the Council of Ministers) and judicial
(general courts and business courts). There are no ethnically-based subdivisions in

On July 27, 1991, Belarus formally declared its independence from the Soviet
Union. In December 1991, together with Russia and Ukraine, founded the
Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Since the establishment of the CIS
Belarus has continued to pursue greater economic and other integration with Russia
(see below).

Alexander Lukashenko was elected as Belarus' first president in July of 1994.
President Lukashenko has taken several steps to create closer political and
economic ties with Russia, including measures to establish a customs union and
signing a Treaty with Russian President Boris Yeltsin on April 2, 1996. The Treaty
calls for the creation of a common economic space with integrated policies in the
two countries' political, commercial and social spheres. Specific areas where
harmonization is planned include labor, customs, tax, investment and foreign
policies. According to the Treaty, unification of the two country's monetary and
fiscal systems is to be completed by 1997.

Until May 1995, the Belarus Parliament was one of the few legislative bodies in the
NIS that had not faced elections since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It took
four rounds of elections, including two May 1995 -- when voters also voiced their
support for greater economic integration with Russia, for making Russian the
country's official language along with Belarusian, and for a return to a flag
reminiscent of the Soviet era -- one in November 1995, and a last round in
December 1995 to fill enough seats to form a new parliament. Communists hold
the largest share of seats in the parliament, with members of the Agrarian party
holding the second largest share. 
ECONOMIC INDICATORS AND SIGNIFICANCE:  With only 3.6 of the population of
the former Soviet Union, Belarus accounted for 4.2 percent of total FSU industrial
output and 5.7 percent of the total FSU agricultural output. According to statistics,
GDP fell approximately 13-20% in 1994 from 1993, and another 10% in 1995
compared to 1994. The Belarus government
predicts a 1% growth in GDP for 1996, to 180 trillion Belarus rubles.  
Belarus industrial production fell an estimated 11.5% 1995 over 1994. Some
sectors, such as light industry, experienced precipitous declines (up to 45%) in
production during 1995, while others, such as Belarus' chemical and petrochemical
sectors, experienced small growth. Overall agricultural production fell an estimated
6% in 1995. 

Belarus maintained the highest standard of living in the former Soviet Union, but
inflation and other economic problems have significantly eroded the living standards
in Belarus. Inflation steadily declined in 1995, from 39.8% in January to 3-4% in
October.  Yearly total of inflation was significantly lower in 1995 than 1994
(344% compared with 2,321% in 1994). Many economists argue, however, that
this low level of inflation has been artificially maintained by the government and
will eventually give way to noticeable rises in inflation. 
AGRICULTURAL PROFILE: In 1994, the agricultural sector accounted for an
estimated 26 percent of Belarus' GDP and employed approximately 21 percent of
the country's labor force. Belarus meets all of its own basic food needs with the
exception of feed grains, sugar, and vegetable oil. The country's primary 
agricultural products are livestock, potatoes, barley, rye, flax, and fodder, with
livestock contributing 60 percent to agricultural output. Belarus has been  a net
exporter of eggs, flour, meat, milk, flax, and potatoes. 
The Chernobyl disaster rendered more than 20% of the arable land in Belarus
unusable. Beyond problems related to Chernobyl, the country also faces other
obstacles to agricultural production. A drought in 1994 damaged crops throughout
the country, and problems with harvesting and processing agricultural products
result in lost or wasted harvests each year. Although the country is a major
producer of certain types of agricultural machinery, including harvester combines
and fertilizer spreaders, Belarus has strong potential as a market for new
technologies for food processing and packaging. 

INDUSTRIAL PROFILE:  Compared to other Newly Independent States, Belarus has
a relatively well-developed and diversified industrial profile. The industrial sector
accounted for nearly 60 percent of the NMP and almost 40 percent of employment
in 1993, and approximately 40% of GNP in 1995.  Main industrial activities in
Belarus include:  machine building, electronics, chemicals, light industry,
defense-related products, and prefabricated construction materials. The country
produces more than 25 percent of synthetic fibers and 23 percent of
livestock-raising and fodder production equipment in the NIS. Among NIS countries,
Belarus has ranked: 
 first         in the production of potassium fertilizers, fodder combine harvesters,     

                             organic fertilizer spreaders, and industrial stitch machines;      

second  in the production of trucks, tractors, chemical fibers and threads,              

motorcycles, and industrial wood; and 
 third    in the production of metal-cutting machines, electrical motors, tires,          

    lumber, paper, window glass, household refrigerators and freezers, tvs,             

radio receivers, bicycles, and knitwear.
Belarus' energy-intensive industry continues to experience major shocks in supply,
demand, and price because of the country's dependence on Russia and other NIS
countries to supply up to 70 percent of its raw materials - for prices at or near
market levels - and to absorb 40 percent of its output. Although some steps at
privatization have been taken (see below), the overwhelming majority of enterprises
in the industrial sector remain state-owned.   
Among other industries, defense conversion also holds potential for foreign
investors. Belarus produced fiber optics, satellite links, and instrumentation for the
Soviet defense industry. With the dismantling of defense operations in Belarus,
firms are exploring opportunities for a variety of civil-use technologies, including
information systems and public telecommunications products. 
ENERGY PROFILE: Belarus has a sizeable refining capacity for oil and gas and is an
important transportation route for energy exports from the NIS to elsewhere in
Europe, but the country produces only a small portion of its overall energy
requirements. Domestic energy sources consist of crude oil and some peat;
production of natural gas is negligible.  Recent geological exploration indicates that
Belarus may have significant deposits of brown coal, but significant investment are
needed in order to extract and utilize the reserves. 

Thermal plants generate some of Belarus' domestic electricity, but Belarus imports
more than 90 percent of its primary energy, most of which comes from Russia. By
the end of 1995, the country's energy debt to Russia had grown to more than 500
million dollars. Belarus' mounting energy debt to Russia in the face of continued
dependency on Russia to provide the raw materials to support the Belarus'
energy-intensive economy is understood to be one of many key factors driving
Belarus' efforts to establish closer ties with Russia.  
ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES:  Belarus faces a number of serious environmental
problems related to the Chernobyl accident and its heavy industrial base.  Nearly
25 percent of the territory and 22 percent of the population were affected by
Chernobyl fallout.  Approximately 1.5 million citizens are said to live in areas still
contaminated as a result of the Chernobyl accident. The government has assumed
the financial commitment, previously handled by the FSU, to mitigate the
consequences of the fallout, and estimates that as much as 15-20% of the national
budget supports Chernobyl-related activities. In response to the economic drain
resulting from environmental problems, the  government of Belarus has identified
the development of environment-friendly technologies as a top priority.

TRANSPORTATION PROFILE: Belarus does not have direct ocean/sea access, but
its strategic location makes it a natural transport route between Russia and
elsewhere in Europe. The country has a relatively well-developed but deteriorated
road network of more than 55,000 km and a railway network of approximately
5500 km. An extensive project is underway to upgrade the Brest-Minsk-Russian
border highway. Belarus also plans to expand its overall road network by nearly
40% by the early 21st century. Approximately 30 percent of bulk cargo and 10
percent of passengers in Belarus are conveyed by train.  


Overview:  Although the Lukashenko government has voiced its commitment to
economic reform and liberalization, Belarus has maintained a policy of gradual
economic reform, stressing continuity and stability over massive restructuring in
order to minimize social disruptions which might be caused by change. Overall,
Belarus has made mixed and erratic progress towards economic reform. Recent
developments in the Belarusian economy include the signing of a treaty on greater
integration with Russia, the introduction of new currency regulations, and measures
to reorganize the Minsk Interbank Currency Exchange under greater state control.   
Price Liberalization and Controls: Belarus price reform has been characterized by a
series of small steps. In January 1992, the government freed the prices of 80
percent of wholesale goods and services but maintained subsidies on a number of
essential goods, including some food products and energy. Industrial and consumer
energy prices were liberalized by August 10, 1994, when some subsidies for
consumer goods, including bread and milk, were eliminated. Lukashenko resisted
additional price liberalizations until December 1994, when he approved a partial
removal of government subsidies for basic food products, including dairy products,
baked goods, and meat. The major remaining front for price liberalization is general
communal services (sewage, electricity, etc.). Lukashenko has promised Belarus
citizens that he would not liberalize prices if they are not yet able to pay for them,
but he has also vowed to move forward with price reform. 
Privatization and Ownership:  Belarus was among the last European countries to
legalize privatization, and progress has been slow. The January 1993, law "On
Destatization and Privatization of Government Property" and subsequent laws
created the conditions for the development of a "socially-oriented" market
economy with varied forms of ownership. In July 1993, Parliament passed a
voucher program whereby each citizen would receive a non- transferable voucher,
with the value depending on an individual's years in the work force. 
The initial privatization program planned to begin with the retail sector (small
businesses, restaurants, stores) and outlined three basic procedures for privatizing
state property: converting to employee ownership, converting to a joint-stock
company, and selling (auctioning) an enterprise. The Council of Ministers
Committee on the Administration of Government Property is responsible for
managing the privatization process. According to the committee, two-thirds of
state property will be subject to privatization. Of the property which can be
privatized, law stipulates that 50% be privatized using non-transferable vouchers.
A number of enterprises, including defense operations, alcohol and fuel distillation
firms, and many companies involved in transportation, are not subject to
Belarus has fallen behind its privatization goals. The Belarus government has
prepared several lists of enterprises to be privatized within specific time periods,
but has consistently failed to fulfill its plans. The government of Belarus estimated
that 20% of state property would be privatized by the end of 1994, but many
estimates report that less than 10% of all enterprises have been privatized.
Privatization was put on hold at the end of March 1995, when President
Lukashenko suspended the operations of investment funds responsible for
collecting and carrying out voucher bids. It was not until mid-August that some,
but not all, of the suspended investment funds were permitted to renew their
activities. There are currently 39 specialized investment funds operating in Belarus.
As of January 1996, approximately 65% of Belarus citizens had received their
non-transferable privatization vouchers. Belarus citizens have until July 1996 to
obtain vouchers.  
In early January 1996 President Lukashenko issued an edict on privatization which
outlines procedures for denationalizing and privatizing enterprises and the
necessary conditions for Belarus citizens to obtain shares of state property. The
Ministry of State Property prepared a new list of 16 enterprises to be privatized in
1996, but includes a number of restrictions.  
Land can not yet be privately owned by Belarus citizens, with a very few
exceptions; small tracts of land can be owned for gardening (up to .37 acres),
housing (up to .62 acres), and farming (up to 2.5 acres). According to the June
1993 law "On Land Ownership," foreign citizens may not own land, but both
foreign and Belarus citizens may lease or be granted the right to use land for up to
99 years.  Foreign investors can buy state or communal property as long as they
have the permission of the Ministry of State Property or the local council for
communal property, respectively. Property owned by foreign entities can not be
resold. In Belarus' transitional economy, identifying and confirming property
ownership and rights remains a problem. 

Overview:  Belarus has a skilled and educated labor force of 5.1 million workers,
almost half its population.  Large state enterprises remain the country's largest
employers. Recent statistics list the country's unemployment level at 3%, but
actual unemployment may be much higher. A 1992 labor code liberalized labor
management relations in Belarus. 
Workers' Rights:  As a result of a trade union law passed by the Supreme Soviet of
Belarus in April 1994, an independent trade union movement is slowly developing
in Belarus.  The Federation of Trade Unions in Belarus, which is still guided by
government directives, is the largest trade union in Belarus.  The Federation
consists of 5 million members. 
Under current legislation, workers have the right to organize and bargain
collectively and may organize unions without discrimination.  This legislation does
not always apply in practice; independent union members have reported cases of
dismissals and threats of loss of employment.

The minimum age of employment is 16 years old.  Exceptions are made in certain
cases where the primary wage earner in a family is incapacitated. The labor code
limits the work week to 41 hours, with a required 24-hour rest period.  However,
many workers find themselves underemployed and are forced to take unpaid leave
due to the decline in factory production.  The law also establishes minimum
standards for workplace safety and employee health.  Apparently, enforcement of
these provisions is lax.

Minimum Wage:  In February 1995, President Lukashenko issued a decree raising
minimum pensions, student stipends, and some salaries by a factor of more than
two. The minimum monthly pension, for example, was raised to 158,000 BRB
(more than $13), and the minimum monthly wage was increased to 60,000 BRB
(just over $5) per month. The minimum wage was raised again as of January 1,
1996, to 100,000 BRB ($8.70 using the exchange rate maintained throughout
1995) per month.


1996 Belarusian Holidays:
     January 1:                    New Years Day
          January 7:                    Orthodox Christmas           March 8:                
Women's Day
          Second Monday in April:       Catholic Easter
          Third Monday in April:             Orthodox Easter           Nine days after
Orthodox Easter:   Radunitsa
          May 1:                        Labor Day
     Second Sunday in May     Flag Day 
          May 9:                        Victory Day
          July 27:                      Independence Day
          November 2:              Memorial Day/All Soul's Day           December 25:    


Time Difference: Belarus is 7 hours ahead of East Coast time, or GMT plus 2.  
Visa Requirements:  The Belarus Embassy in Washington issues visas.  If you are
planning to stay overnight in Belarus, you are required to obtain a Belarus visa. 
Visas from another Newly Independent State are only being accepted for transit
through Belarus.  An agreement on mutual recognition of visas in the CIS has been
initialed, but it is not expected to go into force for some time.

A tourist visa is only valid for a maximum of 30 days.  If you are planning to stay
in Belarus on business for over 30 days, you are required to obtain a business visa. 
In order to obtain a business visa, an invitation from a Belarusian company or the
Belarusian government is required. Multiple-entry visas for Belarus can be
expensive and can take a long time to obtain. 
As of 1 April 1995, plane-side visas (visas issued upon arrival in Belarus) are no
longer issued by the government of Belarus.  All travelers must obtain a valid visa
prior to arrival in Belarus.

Currency Exchange and Credit Cards: Although many hotels in Minsk accept Visa
and American Express cards, travelers to Belarus should expect to rely primarily on
cash for their payment needs. Currencies can be exchanged at most of the major
tourist points (the international airport in Minsk, some hotels) and, in Minsk, at
many stores.  

Medical Information: For information on health advisories for travel to Belarus,
contact the International Travelers' Hotline provided by the Centers for Disease
Control. Tel: 404/332-4559. 

For additional travel information, including travel advisories, contact the State
Department's 24-hour Travel Hotline at 202/647-5225.

Calling Belarus: In 1995 Belarus introduced a new country code, 375. At the same
time, many Belarus city codes, including Minsk, also changed. With the
introduction of the new country code, Minsk and other cities assigned a four-digit
code which started with the number zero dropped the zero. It is also reported that
local telephone numbers in Minsk which began with 293 and 296 have been
changed to begin with 223 and 226, respectively. 



LAST UPDATED:October 14,1997