The Belarus president's work schedule has always been full of events. Aleksandr Lukashenko holds conferences and working meetings on the most topical matters for the country's development, regularly visits the regions, goes on foreign trips and welcomes foreign guests, talks to reporters, signs decrees and laws… And even if there are no public events, it does not mean that the head of state does not work. It must be said that even when he relaxes, for instance, by playing ice hockey or chopping firewood, Aleksandr Lukashenko sometimes finds the time to give yet another instruction. Decisions must be prompted by life, he likes to say.
The President's Week project is intended for those, who want to keep up with the head of state, be up-to-date on the latest statements and decisions of the Belarusian leader. Who and what peace in Belarus will depend on; why the president needs no chitchat about the civil engineering industry; whether admission to university will become a lottery or not; whether money can truly solve everything; what Russian military personnel are doing in Belarus and why Aleksandr Lukashenko came to them. We will also talk about the pledge the head of state made in a temple on Christmas by promising to do everything for Belarus to live in peace and accord.
All of it and much more than that can be found in the first episode of BelTA's special project President's Week.
SIGN OF THE TIMES. What recipe for peace did Lukashenko suggest to Belarusians on New Year's Eve?
Belarus' residents learned about the key decision of the forthcoming year in the president's address on New Year's Eve. 2023 has been declared the Year of Peace and Creation in Belarus. Aleksandr Lukashenko gave a clear answer to the question of what and who will determine whether Belarus will remain an island of security.
“The answer is simple: everything in our life will depend on every one of us. And on all of us together. If we want to live in peace and security, then we have to first and foremost respect and appreciate work of the military, security, and law enforcement personnel, raise kids as patriots of their country, and observe the law. If we want to live in peace and prosperity, then we have to work a lot, honestly, and with due diligence. If we want to live in a free and independent state, then we have to safeguard and protect historical memory, spiritual values, and original traditions,” the Belarusian leader explained.
“We declare the next year the Year of Peace and Creation. It corresponds to the spirit of the time and desires of our hearts. I wish peace and goodness to dear Belarus as strongly as you do. I wish good health and kid's laughter to every family. Care of friends and warm-heartedness to every lonely person. Family harmony and prosperity in every home,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
The decision to declare 2023 the Year of Peace and Creation was formalized by decree No.1 of 1 January. The key areas of focus in 2023 will be the improvement of the system of military and patriotic education, the promotion of peaceful initiatives of citizens and the public, the fostering of interfaith dialogue that ensures peace and harmony in the Belarusian society, the demonstration of the advantages of the Belarusian economic model in the context of global turbulence, the promotion of creative labor as the main condition for the development of the Belarusian state.
Such themes will strengthen the perception of Belarus as an island of peace, the indisputable value of which is a weighty argument in favor of reaching accord on other important issues of public life. The Belarusian response to militarization in the European region will be peaceful creative work of compatriots.
OFFICIALS FALL IN. Why doesn't the president need “chitchat” and what matters are important for the civil engineering industry?
The presentation of a report on the state of affairs in the construction industry was the first public event in 2023 for the head of state. Right after New Year festivities, on 3 January the relevant officials presented their report in Aleksandr Lukashenko's office.
Starting the conversation about problems concerning the civil engineering industry, Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed: “Nobody needs some chit chat about it. I am interested in the first matter: the simplification of the construction process. You and I had an agreement on it. The way we arranged things with regard to single-family housing construction.”
The president reminded that requirements for single-family housing construction had been greatly simplified and Belarusians had appreciated the decision. “If you have a land plot, feel free to build. You build your own house, you bear the responsibility for it and we see that people went to the Emergencies Ministry and to some oversight agencies seeking advice how they can do things better. Just as it should be. People should be able to decide how they should go about building their homes. Those, who build their homes, are 100% people that think. They will decide how they should build things. If necessary, they will ask for our advice and help.”
“As for the remaining houses, construction projects, we have agreed that within one year (you told me by this year) you will settle everything and nobody will be offended by excessive and unnecessary requirements, including heads of enterprises that build new manufacturing facilities, private individuals, civil servants, or those, who intend to build or buy an apartment in an apartment building. We agreed that we will fine-tune these norms, rules, and requirements. Today I'd like to hear whether you have done it or not.”
Performance of the Belarusian civil engineering industry in 2022 was another topic discussed at the conference hosted by the head of state. “Results of the civil engineering industry give no reason for joy, to be honest,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
“You are once again starting to generate overdue construction projects in the country,” the head of state told the officials. “New unfinished construction projects are starting to appear. Even residential houses. I think as many as 22 residential houses, 19 of them in Minsk. It's a disgrace. We promised people that we would commission a facility or a residential house on time but we did not. There are also other unfinished projects. The responsibility for it will be tough."
At the moment the situation with overdue construction in the country leaves much to be desired. "We have not sorted out overdue construction projects," the president emphasized. "If that's not the case, you'll tell me."
Aleksandr Lukashenko warned against repeating the situation that had evolved some time before when tough decisions had to be made to address the situation with overdue construction projects.
As another important topic the president outlined prospects for the development of the construction industry, especially taking into account the plans to provide housing for military personnel, large families, and other categories in a matter of priority.
Architecture and Construction Minister Ruslan Parkhamovich said that in 2022 the ministry worked to ensure the stable operation of the country's civil engineering industry, unconditional fulfillment of housing construction tasks, to diversify markets for selling construction products. The ministry also continued working on improving the legal base relating to civil engineering. As much as 4.2 million square meters of housing is expected to be commissioned as a result of 2022, which is on par with the target set by the government program for the year 2022. Virtually half of the new housing is single-family housing. To be specific, 45%. As much as 1.3 million m2 of housing was commissioned with state support in 2022, 100,000m2 above the target. The rental housing construction target was exceeded by 60% while the all-electric housing construction target was exceeded by 35%.
FINAL DECISION. Will admission to Belarusian universities become a lottery?
Aleksandr Lukashenko signed another most important document – a decree to introduce new rules for admission to higher education institutions. It was decree No.2 in the new year.
The government took a look at the university admission rules many times in 2022, including at the presidential level. The key requirement of the president was to work out rules able to properly evaluate qualities of every prospective student. Rules to ensure fair treatment and rules to enable equal opportunities for higher education for all the prospective students.
Let us remind you what Aleksandr Lukashenko said at the government conference held on 2 December 2022 to discuss the rules. “Today's discussion should bring constant reforms and improvements to a close! Textbooks will be the only thing that you will keep improving and reforming. You will write new ones and update old ones. Our people are already annoyed [by frequent changes in education]. You can't change rules of the game all the time. Let's finally put an end to these never-ending discussions and embark on painstaking work,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
“University admission should not be a lottery or a fortuitous combination of circumstances for individual applicants,” the Belarusian leader stressed.
It was the final government conference before the new rules were approved. And now discussions are over. The document has been polished after thoroughly studying the public opinion and expert evaluations and after testing individual provisions during the 2022 university admission campaign.
The rules are designed to increase the objectivity of evaluation of the knowledge of applicants and ensure compliance with the principle of equal opportunity for university admission. They also provide for improving the selection of the most prepared and motivated applicants for obtaining the professions the country's economy needs.
The categories of applicants who have the right to enter universities without entrance examinations have been determined. Those are winners of international and national academic excellence competitions, winners of university academic excellence competitions if they apply to the same universities, graduates of the National Children's Technopark acting upon recommendations of the supervisory board, and a number of other categories.
Children of military personnel, of employees of law enforcement bodies who have been disabled in the line of duty, students of military-patriotic clubs can non-competitively enter universities of the Defense Ministry, the Internal Affairs Ministry, the State Border Committee and military faculties in civilian universities.
Special conditions have been introduced for admission to professions for the army, transport troops, and border service agencies.
Special attention is paid to admission to universities on the basis of employer-sponsored education. This form has already proved itself. The practice is supposed to only grow larger in the future. For example, for training medical personnel. Aleksandr Lukashenko mentioned it during a discussion about the state of affairs in Belarusian healthcare on 5 December: “We are moving towards training the doctors for specific jobs after graduation. We will know where they will work. Without any headhunting. They will start education while already knowing where they will work because they have a contract. We need to train doctors, who will work for their native country.”
All the matters were also put to rest with regard to the combination of school exams with university entrance exams. 11th form graduates will have to take two unified centralized exams. They will be able to choose between Belarusian language or Russian language as an exam discipline. They will also have to choose one subject from the list of centralized test subjects in order to later on apply to a university.
Thus, a prospective university student will have only one exam left to take in the form of centralized testing in addition to two school exam certificates. Three certificates in total. This approach allows a prospective university student to make an informed choice about their future profession instead of collecting a bunch of certificates, which score is sufficient for university admission. This is a serious factor that improves the quality of university student selection. At the same time it leaves prospective university students free to decide on the profession and the university they want depending on the already available certificates after centralized exams and centralized tests.
IS MONEY EVERYTHING? What is the state of affairs in Belarusian export?
Belarus managed to overcome negative trends and secure positive export results in monetary terms in 2022. But it is no reason for relaxing since it is necessary to increase export shipments. Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko made the statement at a government conference held on 5 January to discuss the export of Belarusian goods.
Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “We are gathered to discuss the export of Belarusian products. We managed to overcome negative trends last year and secure positive export results in monetary terms. Certainly, money is everything but I'd like us to increase export in physical terms, too. In physical terms we sold fewer tractors, automobiles, less potash fertilizers, and oil products than in 2021. Since there was a spike in prices for the goods we offer, we have more or less positive export results. But the fact that we didn't secure the expected results in terms of pieces and tonnes is an indication that we must not calm down. We have to think about ways to increase export. Export brings hard currency without which the country and the economy cannot live. Moreover, Belarus has an export-oriented economy. We have to sell half of what we make in order to live a decent life.”
The president remarked that the existing logistics has been disrupted by attempts to choke Belarus with sanctions last year. New logistic routes had to be found. “We will have to discuss these matters, too. At least I believe that the fact that you asked me to approach the president of the Russian Federation in order to open ports for us indicates that all the issues have been resolved. A small thing needs to be addressed now: we have to start loading cargoes in these ports. Although we have already started loading in some places. We have to build these ports faster, upgrade them to a certain standard, and trade via our own ports then.”
According to Belarusian Transport and Communications Minister Aleksei Avramenko, 19 Russian ports are used for shipping Belarusian cargoes. In 2022 Belarus and Russia signed two basic agreements on transshipping oil products and foreign trade cargoes. Those are primarily potash fertilizers, nitrogen fertilizers, metallurgy products, and woodworking goods. Volumes for the year 2023 have been specified. The ports to be used have been determined. The Belarusian side also intends to build a sea port of its own in Russia using its own resources and loans.
First Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Nikolai Snopkov explained that once the transshipment of Belarusian cargoes via Baltic sea ports became impossible due to unfriendly actions of a number of countries, Russian port infrastructure came to the forefront for Belarus. “Today we have port infrastructure for Belarus' entire essential export (oil products and potash fertilizers constitute 80% of it). We have sufficient port infrastructure in order to transport the entire volume of our exports,” Nikolai Snopkov stressed.
The Belarusian side is satisfied both with tariffs and the cost of transshipment. At the same time the possibility of cooperation with previous partners has not been rejected. If Baltic states submit proposals to resume freight shipment via their ports, in particular, Klaipeda and Ventspils, Belarus will think about it and will look at the offered terms.
Besides, Belarus is busy increasing freight transportation by rail to China. Last year saw 988 container trains leave Belarus for China. For instance, over 1 million tonnes of potash fertilizers was transported. Sawn timber, milk powder, and a number of other cargoes were also transported. Steady growth is in place, practically an increase by several times.
COMMON CAUSE. What are Russian military personnel doing in Belarus and why did Lukashenko go to them?
In view of the complicated military and political situation and the growing military activity of the NATO bloc in the countries Belarus borders on, the president has been personally monitoring matters concerning the combat readiness of the Armed Forces as well as progress and quality of combat training events. He gets regular reports about these matters and on 6 January Aleksandr Lukashenko decided to personally check the quality of combat training of a Belarusian army unit. As part of the inspection he could not but drop by at a Russian army unit. In a military training area near Baranovichi he talked to military personnel from Russia, who belong to the regional military force and are going through combat shakedown together with Belarusian army units.
A representative of the Russian armed forces reported to the head of state: “Comrade Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus! Units of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation together with units of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus have conducted exercises, command post rehearsals in military exercise areas of the Republic of Belarus as part of the training of the allied forces.”
According to the officer, in particular, motorized infantry units, tank units, special forces, including air defense units, have conducted joint exercises. “At present units of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation are ready to carry out their missions. I'd like to thank you personally for the assistance we've received during deployment, for assistance with organizing some of the events concerning personnel training,” the officer added.
Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed: “We serve a common cause.”
While in the exercise area the head of state was also made familiar with the disposition of Russian army units, talked to soldiers and officers.
“If there is something you want to ask me, just say it,” the president noted.
He stressed that the experience of Russian military is of great significance for Belarus: “It is very important for me and not only for me. This heavy experience is very important for Belarus.”
The head of state said: “I am going to listen very attentively and use it in the course of preparing our armed forces of Belarus and Russia for the protection of the common Fatherland. The most important thing, the most significant thing is that we and your commanding officers have agreed that you will talk about shortcomings because we will have to continue working in this mode, training both Belarusians and Russians.”
“We helped not only you. We helped ourselves, too. We are getting a lot of information, this experience from you. Our officers, who help train those, who have not smelled the gunpowder, figuratively speaking, and those, who need to refresh their military skills… It is a school for them, too, it is a lesson,” the Belarusian leader added.
The president talked to military personnel of the Russian Federation, congratulated them on Christmas holidays. They received individual medical kits, which had been developed exclusively by Belarusian enterprises and filled with Belarusian components.
Belarus had thoroughly examined various variants of individual medical kits: kits from NATO, Poland, Ukraine, and Russia. It turned out that western medical kits are more practical. This is why medics and the army were instructed to make a quality Belarusian medical kit. Aleksandr Lukashenko gave the relevant instructions in the same military training area but in October 2022 when he was examining products of the Belarusian defense industry. Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “And so after a couple of months they made a medical kit, which is better than NATO's. It can save a human life in combat. The guys have to have the necessary things at hand. Improvements will follow.”
While talking to reporters State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Aleksandr Volfovich reminded that the decision to deploy the regional military force in Belarus' territory was made by the presidents of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation back in 2022. The force has been successfully deployed. Joint combat training sessions with Russian military personnel and Belarusian military personnel have been organized. The regional military force is an element of strategic deterrence. An element, which is probably supposed to cool off hotheads of the West with its aggressive policy towards the Union State of Belarus and Russia.
ONCE AGAIN ABOUT PEACE. What pledge did Lukashenko give to people in a temple on Christmas?
The head of state traditionally went to church on Christmas. Aleksandr Lukashenko lit a candle in a temple of the Saint Elisabeth Convent in Minsk.
Aleksandr Lukashenko congratulated parishioners, clergymen, and all the Belarusians on the Orthodox Christmas. He said: “I'd like to assure you that as the commander-in-chief and the head of state I will personally do everything for our Belarus to live in peace and accord. I will do everything so that you could spend your days with family in warmth and tranquility and would remember about a great and precious thing called peace.”
“May god allow us to endure this peaceful and calm way that we had at least last year. They say that 2023 should definitely be better. Honestly speaking, I already want it to be at least as good as 2022 was. We lived that year in peace, accord, and warmth. It is very important as I look around. This year should be as good from this point of view. We will have conditions for living a normal life, working normally (those who want to), and for living in warmth and peace. We will have everything for that,” he assured.
“I don't want to specify anything here. But everything has been done to make things better. And if this year will be like last year, we will be fine with it. But I am convinced it will be slightly better. A little bit better. And things will be calmer for us if we don't create tensions in our society on our own. God forbid if things happen the way they did in our brotherly country of Ukraine, in other countries. Tensions were initially created over there with maidan revolutions and the rest. A civil war followed and then a genuine hot war began. Who could have thought that we, Slavs, would war with each other? It is a terrible thing. And everything begins with small things. This is why steps need to be made in order to destroy points of confrontation in our society,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
The head of state said that time has come for the authorities and the general public to make a step towards the people, who made an error and left Belarus. He said: “At last very many people have started to understand that no country wants them but their own. Even those, who fled Belarus, are now contacting us in their thousands for permission to come back. We didn't make anyone leave Belarus. It is their land just like it is ours. But they sought a better life and fled Belarus due to various reasons. Time has come when we, representatives of the government, I as the head of state, and you, the clergy should make a step towards these people, who made an error either due to going mad or due to losing their guidelines for some time. And it will be possibly in our way, the Orthodox Christian way to make this step towards them.”
“I don't want to say we are caving in to demands of the West… I speak little about it but every day it demands to return and so on and so forth. Even lawbreakers. No. Everyone has to answer for their deeds. But I am convinced that among those, who fled, and among those, who live in our country today, there are people feeling profound remorse, people, who now realize they've made an error. They should not be kicked to the curb,” the president said.
Aleksandr Lukashenko is convinced it is necessary to look for the right solution to emerging issues without leaving the issues to children to deal with. “This is why we will make the relevant steps in the direction that will make Belarus peaceful and calm, that will stop us looking askance at each other. But those, who break the law, will be made answerable. Alas, such is life,” he said.
The head of state remarked that the Saint Elisabeth Convent had recently collected donations for Russian military personnel fighting on the frontlines and had been criticized by “bought-and-paid-for opposition” because of it.
The president noted it is necessary to lend a helping hand to everyone who needs it. He said: “You are doing the right thing. Don't pay attention to a handful of bought-and-paid-for people. We not only help our Russian brothers. Russians. I have never tried to hide it. My yesterday's visit to the military, to Russian military without hiding means that we supported and still support our brothers. But we don't forget about Ukrainians either. About 10,000 Ukrainians, who fled the war, found a permanent place of residence and shelter in our country last year alone.”