The work schedule of the Belarus president is always 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. All the 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.
Why off-the-cuff decisions are not acceptable in personnel management? What changes in the education system drew the president's ire? What did Aleksandr Lukashenko and Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov talk about in Minsk? How can Belarus help with the Ukrainian problem? And why were hundreds of new R&D products of Belarusian scientists put on display? All of it and much more than that can be found in the new episode of BelTA's special project President's Week.
NO BEHEADING. What personnel management guidelines did the president give to officials?
Aleksandr Lukashenko dealt with personnel matters on Tuesday, 17 January. Rectors of universities, representatives of municipal government agencies, rotations of top officials of various ministries. The head of state formulated an approach to personnel management and wanted everyone, not only newly appointed officials, to embrace it.
“People should be treated fairly. It is especially important today. This pertains to both you, as heads, and the government system, and the heads of administrations and district executive committees in the first place. We have to take a very careful approach to this. You cannot fire people simply because you don't like them,” the Belarusian leader said.
“We need to tighten control over performance of the personnel. We have to see if a deputy or someone else, even in a district administration, is dismissed, we have to give an assessment to oblast governors and heads of district administrations. If he or she deserves it, if such a person is not up to the task, if he or she is a slacker, or even worse, an enemy, then there is nothing to talk about here. If a person is underperforming in something, a young specialist, does not understand something very well, has not worked long enough, then you should work with him or her. Such specialists have to produce results. And they will. I am sure. You cannot just throw people away. Personnel should be treated fairly,” the head of state said.
Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed that if a person is a professional, a patriot and ready to work, such a person deserves to be treated well. “You cannot ‘cut off heads' left and right. You have to take a thoughtful approach. If we have good workers, we will get results. Moreover, we are talking about high-level managers here. If we have such people in place and they are solid, there will be results. A good manager is 90% of success in any business. It should be a law and a lesson for everyone,” the president said.
The head of state is sure that people should always be given a second chance: “People can make a mistake or blunder. Give some time for the person to come to his or her senses. Help him or her if necessary. Something may come out of it. Talk to those who have worked with this specialist, who knows this person, and only then make a decision. Because people are watching us. If we are going to ‘rattle a saber left and right, cutting off heads', what kind of work will we get? There will be no work. Why would a person need such a job? He or she will be in a stressful situation all the time. Such people will have no family and no job.”
“This is the main thing for you. You are executives as of today,” the Belarusian leader said.
FORMALISTIC APPROACH. What changes in the education system drew the president's criticism?
As he made personnel decisions in the education system on the same day, the president stated it is time to put an end to perturbations and reorganizations in the education system. “We embarked on a very serious reorganization, first of all, of the education system. I have already talked about it many times. The conclusion was unequivocal. It is time to end all these perturbations and reorganizations,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
Aleksandr Lukashenko recalled that an instruction had been given to work out a final solution. It was necessary to conduct a serious evaluation of the Education Ministry and remove unnecessary structures. The head of state mentioned one of the issues related to the restructuring of individual elements of the Education Ministry and its subordinate organizations.
In particular, the work of the Education Quality Control Department and the recently established National Agency for Education Quality Assurance was mentioned. “There was the department. There were plans to turn the department into a directorate that will assume the department's [functions] since the department was no longer needed. At the same time, a parallel agency was set up,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “Well, what is the difference then? What is the point?”
Before his appointment as Rector of Brest State Technical University, Sergei Kasperovich was the head of the Vocational Education Directorate at the Education Ministry. According to Sergei Kasperovich, the work to establish the agency is at the initial stage: the staff has been recruited. The mission of the new structure is quite ambitious, which is to ensure quality at all levels of education.
Aleksandr Lukashenko asked a reasonable question: “Did the department fail to do it?
“It was coping, as a matter of principle. It has many tasks. Licensing and apostille,” Sergei Kasperovich answered.
“So you've transferred everything to the agency…” the head of state remarked.
Sergei Kasperovich confirmed: “Now, in fact, yes. Some of the functions have been transferred to the agency.” “The proposals under discussion include the proposal to integrate the department into the ministry in the form of a central office. In other words, it will be a full-fledged structure within the ministry, not a separate legal entity,” he explained. “The department, which may become a central office, will have to deal with licensing, apostille. The agency is supposed to focus on all aspects of quality assurance: accreditation, quality control, inspections of private educational institutions at all levels.”
Aleksandr Lukashenko drew attention to the fact that nothing in fact changes then. “Things will remain the same. Do you need to fund the agency? You do. People need to be paid. You have hired 35 people or so. What a fine thing you did!” the president said. Moreover, important matters are delegated to nearly a non-governmental organization that does not even have a single civil servant in its staff.
The president also wondered whether a relevant specialized department in the Education Ministry can perform the functions of the agency.
“A directorate with a staff of, let's say, 8-10 officials...” Sergei Kasperovich started answering with doubt in his voice.
“No, I am not talking about personnel numbers now. It can be 200 people if necessary,” Aleksandr Lukashenko responded.
“It can be done, provided there is a sufficient resource,” the specialist responded.
“I don't understand the essence of this whole reshuffle. Well, here you have 8 people in your directorate [as part of the Education Ministry] and 35 at the agency. And the agency will handle it. Why don't you take these 35 people? Not even 35, but 30 people. Plus these 8 people. And get the job done. If there is order and discipline, one person will be able to handle it. And if there is chaos, then 200 people will be useless,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “Listen, the president gave this instruction and so on [to streamline the Education Ministry]. The directorate instead of the department. But the department remains in place. Not instead. It was just named an agency, separated from the ministry and there is not a single civil servant in its staff. Two tasks have been completed. It seems that the structure and personnel issues of the directorate have been sorted out [staff optimization]. But in fact, if you take a deeper look, things seem worse than before.”
The president raised a reasonable question with Sergei Kasperovich: “If you were, let's say, the head of the department and you were told to run the agency, would you agree?”
“Hard to say. A difficult decision,” the specialist noted.
“I would not agree,” the president said.
“Indeed, the department has power, reputation, years of work under its belt. Educational institutions stand in awe of it,” Sergei Kasperovich agreed.
“Absolutely right, it is an independent structure,” Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized. “And what have we done? What benefit have we achieved?”
Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Sergei Kasperovich noted that any proposals for improving, reorganizing the education system are always very seriously weighed up and discussed at the level of the head of state. According to him, final decisions have not yet been made regarding the department and the agency. “I believe there will be a separate report by the department head and by government members to the head of state who will make decisions on these matters,” the official said. “The question now is how to improve our operations: what will happen to the Education Quality Control Department, will it be incorporated into the Education Ministry as a separate department or will it continue as it is, how will the interaction with the national agency proceed? Today, the agency is in fact coordinated by the department. There is a shared understanding of the need to improve its work, increase its efficiency,” Sergei Kasperovich said.
EXEMPLARY RELATIONS. Who sets examples in Belarus-Russia cooperation?
Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov was in Minsk on 18-19 January to participate in an already traditional event – a joint session of the collegiums of the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Russian one. In addition to events concerning the ministries of foreign affairs the Belarus president meets with visiting dignitaries in such cases. It was no exception this time.
“We've finished the year. Meanwhile, I am very well familiar with results of the year in Russia. We have roughly the same results of the year. It is very good that in trade and economic relations with the Russian Federation we've reached balance in trade. Even slightly more than that. Belarus' trade surplus indicates that attempts to choke us, both Russia and Belarus, have in fact failed. We will definitely endure,” the Belarusian leader stressed as he met with Sergey Lavrov.
Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked that in the difficult year of 2022 the sides determined the directions they have to move along in order to preserve sovereignty of the two countries in all respects: “We are very actively advancing in economy in import substitution. President Putin and I begin virtually any meeting with that. Economy is the foundation. If everything is normal in our economy, we will deal with all the other issues.”
As for relations of the ministries of foreign affairs, the president stressed that he has always described them as exemplary. “If all the government agencies cooperated like the ministries of foreign affairs do, we would have no problems or issues at all. This is why I've always said that. Not only today,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
The matters that had to be discussed during the meeting with Sergey Lavrov were beyond the scope of the joint session of the collegiums of the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Russian one. Aleksandr Lukashenko went on saying: “There are matters that you and I have to discuss. You know my attitude to you. I never hide anything from you. It is very important. And we need a consultation about some matters. This is why I suggest we should discuss the main matters and then we will talk about some matters of current interest one-on-one, as they say. Not because we hide something from Sergei [Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Aleinik]. Absolutely not! But there are some matters that go beyond the framework of our today's official events,” the head of state said.
Sergey Lavrov was grateful for the opportunity to have a meeting and conveyed greetings from President of Russia Vladimir Putin. “Although you meet with him... We calculated you met with him 10 times last year. In person. In addition to phone calls. So we, the heads of the ministries of foreign affairs cannot catch up with you! But it is just how it should be!” Sergey Lavrov said.
“We will meet even more often this year!” Aleksandr Lukashenko responded.
The Russian minister of foreign affairs underlined: “The session of the two collegiums has never been more timely. The matters we are going to discuss concern the situation that has evolved as a result of the policy of our Western colleagues in favor of total domination led by Americans, who made everyone else to toe the line. It is manifested in NATO's stance, of course, the stance of the European Union. The Council of Europe has already embraced this policy. A lot of issues are accumulating in the OSCE.”
IN SPITE OF WEST'S INTENTIONS. How can Belarus help resolve the Ukrainian problem?
During the meeting with the Russian minister of foreign affairs Aleksandr Lukashenko also suggested discussing the problems relating to Russia's special military operation in Ukraine: “Everything I've promised, everything Russia needs in this complicated period... Not even Russia needs. We do. Russia and Belarus need it. We are doing everything. I listened to your press conference and heard all your statements the day before. I absolutely support them. In any contacts that we happen to have with the West and other sides we say that Russia has never been against peace. Please, let's negotiate. We are ready to participate in it. You should have no doubt about it. If you need something from us and we can do it (you know very well what we can do), say it straight, we will work together, side-by-side. We will not weasel out of it.”
Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked that the West is trying to use Ukraine against Belarus. “Today security is even more important for us. Not only for Russia. You know intentions of our western neighbors. Not only those of Ukraine. They are also trying to use Ukraine against Belarus. But what amazes and pleasantly surprises me is that Ukraine has managed to resist so far. It refuses to embrace provocations against Belarus. Although it is actively encouraged by our western neighbors. You also know who these neighbors are,” the president stated.
“This is why we have to endure this period of time. But we will endure. The year 2022 demonstrated it. You and I maintain the same view on the matter. In other words, we have something to talk about. We will discuss matters,” the head of state concluded.
SCIENCE FOR THE MASSES. What accomplishments can Belarusian scientists be proud of?
Aleksandr Lukashenko visited the R&D accomplishments expo Intellectual Belarus in Minsk on 20 January. The head of state gave instructions to organize such an expo as he met with Chairman of the Presidium of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus Vladimir Gusakov in October 2022. “Not only for the sake of reporting on achievements but also to show what we can do and what our science can do to as many people as possible. Unfortunately, we are still doing little to promote both the Academy of Sciences and the achievements of our science. We need to think about where we can show people what we can do together with the Belarus President Administration, the government. There is a lot we can show to people,” the Belarusian leader said.
Hundreds of R&D products by Belarusian scientists were showcased in the national expo center BelExpo in Pobeditelei Avenue. The expo was opened to all comers for a few days. But the head of state was the first one to see it.
The expo was organized as several clusters that relied on affinity and logical links between major areas of science that are being explored in Belarus and are of the strongest current interest now. Those included artificial intelligence, information technology, robotics; innovative instrument making; electric transport and its basic components, aerial vehicles; defense industry and military science; ecology, nature management; biotechnology; pharmaceutics, healthcare, medicine; agribusiness, food; youth initiatives.
“The head of the academy and I once agreed that we have to show what we can do,” Aleksandr Lukashenko reminded at the beginning of the event.
The president was told about half of the R&D products on display are already manufactured and sell well.
“People should see this exhibition. We have enough of everything not only for defense and security, but for a peaceful life, too,” the Belarusian leader said.
The head of state was particularly interested in R&D products in the field of artificial intelligence. He had discussed this topic earlier during his meetings with foreign partners, including partners from the United Arab Emirates, who are quite serious about the relevant research. In this regard Aleksandr Lukashenko recalled the Northern Waterfront project to build an experimental multifunctional complex in Minsk. “Why did I fall for this? Not only because of the $5 billion in investments, but also because they promised me to create this smart city as well as a powerful educational platform for artificial intelligence. There will be a university there and we are going to train people. If you need support or contacts with these people (they are far advanced in this field), feel free to ask,” the head of state said.
The president was told that Belarusian artificial intelligence solutions are also in demand in the world, specialists from different countries learn from each other.
“You can count on me. I will support and help you if necessary,” Aleksandr Lukashenko assured.
He examined a booth where Belarusian computers made by Horizont were showcased. The company's equipment has already replaced a device from a well-known Western brand on the president's desk.
“Well done. You have showed that we can do everything. And no matter how difficult it was, we did it,” the Belarusian leader emphasized.
According to him, the West is already coming to realize that it is necessary to stop fooling around and to resume cooperation with Belarus.
Speaking about the level of localization of these computers, Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “Great job so far. But I want 70% by the end of the year.” The level of manufacturing localization is close to 30% for now.
The president was also informed about new solutions in microelectronics. This is an area where Belarus is actively cooperating with Russia within the framework of the Union State of Belarus and Russia.
The president emphasized the importance of developing artificial intelligence and a special role of microelectronics. “If we want to be an advanced and civilized nation, this is what we should focus on in the future. There can be no artificial intelligence without you,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
The president was also informed in detail about a number of other R&D products: laser technologies, innovative batteries, R&D products in the area of electric transport and space industry, healthcare, defense and security. In this lineup unmanned aerial vehicles deserve a separate mention, as they are intended not only for military needs, but also, for example, for agriculture. They are used in field preparation before applying crop protection products.
The expo featured a number of R&D products concerning healthcare. They included prosthetics materials, cancer drugs. Pre-clinical trials of an artificial heart valve of Belarusian design are now underway. It is a completely import-substituting product that is on par with similar foreign products.
The head of state traditionally pays a lot of attention to the agricultural sector. Given that food security has taken on new significance in the world, the R&D products of Belarusian agricultural scientists are especially relevant. They were also widely represented at the expo.
A separate section of the expo was dedicated to R&D products of young scientists. At present young scientists account for about 20% of all the researchers in Belarus.
At the end of the tour of the expo Aleksandr Lukashenko was gifted a book on the history of the Belarusian statehood. This book was introduced into Belarusian university curriculum on 1 September.
Chairman of the Presidium of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus Vladimir Gusakov told reporters, the return on investments in Belarusian R&D products can be as high as $100 per Belarusian ruble. “Science has never been unprofitable. Science is always profitable and highly profitable at that. There are already orders for literally all our R&D products. I've demonstrated a small microelectronic sensor. A contract worth $1 million was signed yesterday. Lasers of various sizes worth $1 million were sold before the New Year. We have programs with returns on investment in excess of $100 per ruble. And there no R&D products with returns on investments below $5-10 per ruble,” the official said.
“At this expo we've tried to demonstrate the latest products, the latest inventions. There are more than a thousand of them here,” the chairman of the Presidium of the National Academy of Sciences said. “There are no old products here. Everything is cutting edge. We've presented a number of world-level R&D products to the head of state. There are areas where we are in the lead – artificial intelligence, microelectronics. We've now mastered the production of chips and microchips. Those are 100% Belarusian R&D products without any imported components.”