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01 May 2023, 15:00

Surprise trip to Grodno, field experiments, action program for country in regional President's Week

Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko on a working trip to Vetka District, Gomel Oblast
Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko on a working trip to Vetka District, Gomel Oblast

The work schedule of the Belarus president is always full of events. Aleksandr Lukashenko holds conferences and working meetings on the most topical matters concerning 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 happens to find 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.

What does Lukashenko think about the final game of Belarus' ice hockey championship and how did he reassure the Grodno team that had lost the game? What did he see from the helicopter and what shortcomings are in the region the entire country should look up to? Why does the president need experimental fields? How did another unofficial inspection end?

A traditional Chernobyl-related trip, which followed a new format this time. War and peace, stronger personnel discipline and execution discipline, a systemic approach to everything, the inadmissibility of wasting money, tasks on the scale of the entire country and many other things in the regular episode of BelTA's special project President's Week.

EVERYTHING WILL BE HOCKEY-DOKEY! How Lukashenko acted as a sport fan and a sport motivator

On 24 April Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko came to Grodno to attend the final of the 22/23 Belarusian Extraleague between HC Neman Grodno and HC Metallurg Zhlobin.

In the final game ice hockey players of both teams scored three times each. They climb up the ranks of the tournament table very decently and even sensationally at times. The final game of the season took place in the ice sports palace in Grodno. It was kind of a gift for the oblast capital per se because the game was initially supposed to take place in Minsk. And Grodno residents did great: they came to root for their team from the stands and in specifically organized fan zones. Multiple artistic collectives helped inspire a festive mood in fans and accidental spectators before the game and during breaks.

The teams from Grodno and Zhlobin had previously played against each other in the finals in 2012-2013. The first duel ended with HC Metallurg Zhlobin victorious. A year later the red-and-black HC Neman Grodno turned the tables. This time the team from Zhlobin was stronger. It reached the finals as a winner of last year's Presidential Cup. The game ended at 1-0.

Aleksandr Lukashenko watched the ice battle from the stands. His arrival had not been announced in advance. The announcement of his presence at the beginning of the game surprised everyone. But at the same time it offered an additional stimulus for the teams considering Aleksandr Lukashenko's personal involvement in the development of this kind of sport.

It is difficult to say for which team the president rooted more. Most likely he just wanted to see beautiful ice hockey. And the teams were evenly matched on the whole. It is worth noting that Aleksandr Lukashenko brought his dog to the game. The cute and fluffy spitz dog is certainly nothing like the wolf on HC Metallurg Zhlobin's emblem yet it is a relative of the wild animal. It might have been the reason why the team from Zhlobin was luckier during the game. Who knows? The pluck was in the “wolf” team's goal as well but a video replay determined that it happened only after the siren had ended the period.

Impressions from the game

After the end of the final game Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked that players of HC Metallurg Zhlobin and HC Neman Grodno had gifted minutes, hours, and days of beautiful hockey to the fans. “A lot will be written and said about this series, about today's match. It was unexpected for me, unbelievable,” the president said.

The head of state noted that two teams had been fighting in the ice arena: a young, spirited, and future-oriented team Neman Grodno and the solid, mature team Metallurg Zhlobin. “There were two equal and beautiful teams in this arena today. You don't eat bread for nothing. Today you worked hard from the first second till the last one and I don't think anyone will criticize you,” the Belarusian leader stressed.

President's ice hockey team

In addition to the finalists the Belarus president's team was also present on the ice during the award ceremony. Aleksandr Lukashenko explained that an amateur ice hockey tournament had ended not so long before and his team had decided to come to Grodno and support the finalists of the Extraleague. “Just like you these guys fought and won many games with the skin of their teeth. They toiled and suffered. They are true ice hockey players. They say their high-performance hockey is over, so they've transitioned to an even bigger hockey - amateur hockey. And they won this year's Belarus championship and decided to come, watch the game, and congratulate you on this great performance,” the head of state explained. “Grodno residents! Thank you very much!"

High rooting standards

The president remarked upon the rooting standards demonstrated by Grodno residents. “You, Grodno residents, have surprised me today. I thought you are aggressive, very wicked, and with hard to understand attitudes. But I saw polite representatives of the western region, who allowed Gomel residents, Zhlobin residents to have their shouts in addition to shouting a bit themselves. Well done!” the head of state said.

The president offered separate thanks to heads of regional administrations. The oblast governors always help ice hockey players and make their own contribution to the development of this kind of sport. “I am very glad to see the return of Grodno players to high-performance hockey. And I am also glad that HC Metallurg Zhlobin has confirmed its mettle. Thank you very much!” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

A cup for champions

“Thanks, guys. And now back to our ceremony. For many of you the entire life is ahead of you but you will remember these minutes for your entire life. And not only you: your friends, families, and, most importantly, your children will want to learn how to live from you. And not only how to play ice hockey,” Aleksandr Lukashenko added.

The president personally congratulated HC Metallurg Zhlobin players on the victory and presented the hard-won cup to the team.

Consolation for Grodno residents

Aleksandr Lukashenko wanted to cheer up fans and players of HC Neman Grodno. “Some of you look crestfallen. You shouldn't. It is a good team and if you preserve this team, these guys will have a great future, they will bring a lot of happiness. I'd like to thank you very much. You stayed true to the game's pattern from the first minute to the last one. As far as I can understand, you've fulfilled the task of your coaches. You've played precisely and properly. But you lacked one second or maybe split second for this beautiful performance to continue. But it is unavoidable in sports.”

The same topic was touched upon when Aleksandr Lukashenko talked to young Grodno residents late in the evening. It turned out the head of state had come to the oblast capital not only for the sake of ice hockey. A government conference on the development of Grodno Oblast, which took place at premises of the oblast administration in the evening, was also part of the itinerary. The Grodno Oblast Executive Committee is located next to a pedestrian street that is hugely popular with locals.

As he was leaving the building, the president said hello to a group of young people outside. |So, girls, would you like to go to a disco?” he asked in a joking manner. “Care to come?”

The young people joyously greeted the head of state in response. At the same time they were saddened by the defeat of their team.

“Are you upset because the team has been defeated?” Aleksandr Lukashenko asked the young people.

“Very much!” the response followed.

At the same time one of the girls opined that the Grodno team had demonstrated quite good performance. “Nobody had expected HC Neman Grodno to get to the finals. It is a very good result,” the fan believes.

“There you go. A team cannot be made within one year. They picked up this team virtually one year ago. It is the future. There are only young people there after all. The Zhlobin team is full of old-timers,” the head of state noted while referring to the difference in ages and experience of the teams that had played in the finals.

Aleksandr Lukashenko is convinced that HC Neman Grodno has a great potential. “They are good guys. You will win next year if, of course, you work as hard as this year at least,” he said.

On the whole, the president stressed that both teams had played decently: “The guys played very well. I cannot even remember such finals. There was no particular rudeness. They played decently. Well done!”

“This is why don't be upset, everything will be fine. On the whole, everything is fine for you,” he reassured.

At the request of local residents Aleksandr Lukashenko took a few photos with them. “Good luck! Thank you, guys! All the best, live in peace. Goodbye!” the head of state said.

EYES ON GRODNO. For what did Aleksandr Lukashenko praise the oblast and what weak spots did he identify?

“The holidays are over. Apart from holidays we have weekdays as we always do,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said as he came for the meeting after watching the ice hockey game. Before the meeting he made a trip in his helicopter over Grodno Oblast and Brest Oblast to see how the regions were doing.

“Frankly speaking, the region is developing well. In some areas it is doing better than others. In many areas it sets the pace of development in our country. The success of farmers pleases most of all. You have been among the country's leaders over the past few years. However, as [the State Control Committee] reports to me, you still have some shortcomings,” the president said.

On agriculture

Speaking about shortcomings, Aleksandr Lukashenko drew attention to the region's livestock industry. The head of state's instructions to provide dairy complexes with everything necessary to operate at full capacity has not been fulfilled yet. “I have a question: men, why did we build them? If Grodno Oblast cannot do it, then what oblast will we rely on?” the president asked.

Half of the built and reconstructed complexes do not provide even the oblast's average level of livestock productivity. Ostrovets District was mentioned as an example.

There are issues with herd reproduction. This is a typical picture for Lida, Mosty, and Ivye districts. “They also showed a decrease in gross milk production in 2022,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

Inspections revealed violations of technological regulations of keeping and feeding livestock in 80% of the inspected farms. “Surprisingly for the governor with a degree in medicine, there are violations of veterinary and sanitary regulations,” the head of state said. “As a result, cattle mortality remains high. This is unacceptable. In 2022 alone cattle mortality totaled 15,000 head. Cattle mortality was registered in almost every district of the region (16 of 17).”

There are also issues with pork and poultry production. “Today the demand for agricultural products is huge, and the market is open,” the Belarusian leader stressed.

The president stressed the need to address the situation at the Skidel poultry factory and Smorgon Bakery.

On stabilization funds

Aleksandr Lukashenko reminded Grodno Oblast Governor Vladimir Karanik about the instruction regarding the stabilization funds (agricultural products in government storage between seasons) and provision of the population with domestic fruits and vegetables.

“The governor and I have repeatedly discussed the situation with the stabilization funds. By the way, it all started with your oblast, when I demanded to set up these stabilization funds and provide retail outlets with these products. You assured me that everything was fine. And in fact, inspectors have found problems here as well. I would like to know what they are. Especially with regard to potatoes, cabbage, and beets. At the same time, your retail chains are full of Egyptian potatoes and Russian apples, the price of which is several times higher,” the head of state said.

On the situation in the region's industry

Another topic was the performance of the region's industrial sector. “You significantly underperformed in the woodworking, textile industry, petrochemicals and a number of other industries last year. In general, it is unacceptable for Grodno Oblast. You performed in Q1 2023 at last year's level, which means you have not yet compensated for the losses. You need to recover faster. The main thing now is to accelerate,” the Belarusian leader said.

In his words, it is not right to focus only on Grodno Azot and the nuclear power plant. “I have repeatedly mentioned the need to implement at least one big investment project in each area. When the governor was appointed, he was told to take the implementation of one large-scale project of significance for the region under personal control. It should not be done on the basis of a public enterprise. How are things here, in the region? In particular, how is the situation at Grodno Azot? How is Grodno Oblast doing in these sanctions conditions? What has been done in terms of import substitution, in industrial cooperation with our eastern partners? Has the logistics of the delivery of components and goods been arranged everywhere?” the head of state asked.

On maintenance of local roads

Issues related to the maintenance of local roads remain pressing. “Although on the way here the governor reported that a lot had been done. How good are the roads leading to agrotowns from the district capital? How good are these roads? I have recently seen some of the roads from the agrotowns to the district center. Well, they knew that I would be there and put these roads in order. But in general, the situation is not good. It bothers people,” the head of state said.

The president instructed to rectify the situation as soon as possible. The instruction applies not only to Grodno Oblast, but the country in general. “Grodno Oblast is doing relatively well. The situation across the country is complicated though. The relevant deputy prime minister has recently been tasked with repairing all roads within the year, whatever it might cost us. Believe me, tomorrow it will cost more. Oil, petroleum products, bitumen for asphalt is cheaper today,” the head of state said.

There are also complaints about the work of the mass transit system, which surprised the president. “Surprising! Maybe those, who reported it to me, made an error,” he said.

A report from the oblast power vertical

The routine conference in Grodno actually became an opportunity for the oblast governor and the oblast power vertical to present a report on the fulfillment of social and economic parameters.

“As you can see, there are many issues. And all of them should be handled primarily by municipal authorities at the district level and the oblast one. Keep in mind we've analyzed statements and complaints of our people from Grodno Oblast in the Belarus President Administration and those sent to the president. This is why I wanted the governor, his deputies, and the deputy prime ministers, who are present here, to make reports at this operational conference if necessary,” the president said.

He said he primarily wanted to hear reports about problems and about some interesting topics regarding the entire country considering the fact that Grodno Oblast had and has the experience that other regions could adopt.

At some points Aleksandr Lukashenko also criticized Minsk Oblast considering the situation in Grodno Oblast. “The sowing campaign has begun. I've travelled all over and have taken a look at your east, center, and west. I have to tell you, Leonid Konstantinovich [Zayats, the deputy prime minister responsible for agriculture], the work in Minsk Oblast is disgusting. I am afraid this gigantic oblast may be ruined,” the head of state said.

He explained that the substantial difference in economy management on the land is obvious at the border between Minsk Oblast and Grodno Oblast. While agricultural enterprises in Grodno Oblast boast virtually an ideal state of affairs, their neighbors in Minsk Oblast cannot boast the same state of affairs. “You see, [Chairman of the Grodno Oblast Executive Committee Vladimir] Karanik arranged things as if by intent. I was flying in the helicopter and said: well, you made it to look like it,” the president noted. “A lovely sight to behold! When I come from over there [from Minsk Oblast], things look so much worse.”

“I don't understand. Perhaps you have been too complacent and simply don't hear me. I've told you already: it is better to fight in the field than over there [on a genuine battlefield if the country's sustainable social and economic development is not secured],” the Belarusian leader emphasized.

FROM THE WEST TO THE EAST. What did Aleksandr Lukashenko study in his experimental fields?

Late April - early May is when the active phase of the sowing campaign begins. It is the height of spring field work. Aleksandr Lukashenko always personally monitors the state of affairs in agriculture and traditionally spends part of his working hours in the field. He visits regions, hears out reports from officials and heads of agricultural enterprises, and gives the necessary instructions.

But the Belarus president also has a special form of work: he personally conducts experiments in order to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and test technologies and new kinds of crops. Then the best and most successful accomplishments are introduced on a massive scale.

On 27 April in his home area around the agrotown of Alexandria the head of state inspected oats and peas fields in Vitebsk Oblast and also the presidential experimental field in Mogilev Oblast. “An inspection trip without ties and reports,” the Telegram channel Pul Pervogo noted.

Barley was planted in the experimental field last season. It was the president's instruction to change the structure of crops in favor of winter barley. The crop gets harvested earlier than the rest of the cereals. It also boasts a good yield.

Back then the head of state evaluated results of last year's experience rather positively: “This year has shown that winter barley is a miracle. I am here for the third time already. I was here when crops were sown, when crops sprouted, and now during grain formation. I am positive that we need winter barley.”

This year the experiment continues with other crops. The presidential fields have been planted with lupine and peas. However, Aleksandr Lukashenko was not satisfied with everything that he saw.

ACTION PROGRAM FOR THE COUNTRY. What is special in the new format of Aleksandr Lukashenko's Chernobyl-related trip?

On 28 April the president went on a working trip to Vetka District, Gomel Oblast. It was one of the areas greatly affected by the catastrophe at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Chernobyl trips of the head of state timed to the catastrophe's anniversary are already a tradition of many years. But more often than not the president visits Gomel Oblast, which was virtually entirely polluted with radiation in 1986. While in previous years some opponents of Aleksandr Lukashenko used these memorable days to score political dividends in clean streets and squares of Minsk, the president spent days and sometimes weeks in the areas most heavily polluted with radiation. He talked to ordinary people, scientists, agrarians... He tried to understand the best ways to manage these huge territories that had been affected by radiation to a degree.

Little information was available at first because Belarus' experience of overcoming consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe is quite unique. Worse yet, in the first years after the catastrophe, ignorance was replaced by fear and often by outright speculation in the public consciousness. Therefore, the real revival of the affected territories required not only a competent approach and financial injections, but also careful educational work with people. Were it not for these efforts and Aleksandr Lukashenko's personal attention to the problem, many of today's populated corners of modern Belarus might have looked more like the Ukrainian ghost town of Pripyat.

Investments of many years have been recouped. Now in these April days Aleksandr Lukashenko can afford not dealing locally with issues of individual Chernobyl-affected areas. He pays attention to the work of the entire oblast. And this example is used to set tasks for the entire country.

FROM WHINING TO POSITIVE THINGS. Why is Gomel Oblast a kindred one for Aleksandr Lukashenko?

In the town of Vetka the head of state held a conference with officials of the entire Gomel Oblast. Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “You know this oblast is no stranger's land for me. It is virtually kindred land. I've always underlined at any forums, conferences, referendums, and elections that Gomel Oblast has always supported me more than any other oblast. It is home to hardworking, wise, tempered people, who overwhelmingly love this land,” the Belarusian leader said at the beginning of the meeting. “But due to the lack of control, due to whining about people affected by the Chernobyl catastrophe we relaxed and failed to notice how we started losing this oblast. How fraudsters and thieves started appearing among this huge number of hardworking and wise people. Their number is small but this process has to be stopped. This is why a new oblast governor and the president's new authorized representative for this oblast have been appointed”.

As he visited areas affected by the Chernobyl catastrophe, the president has always underlined that the state will do its utmost for this land to live and develop. People believed that and stayed in the places they grew up. “For a long time I tried to convince you that here we will live a normal life as good as that in other parts of our republic. After more than 30 years we made sure of it because we already have statistics. I experience genuine joy when I see positive changes,” the Belarusian leader noted.

Aleksandr Lukashenko pointed out that the state had done a lot for Gomel Oblast over the years of independence. “I saw joyful faces in Vetka today. And what is interesting? If some minor things are asked, then women promptly move this person away and say: ‘The president doesn't have to answer that. These things don't matter.' Because the main thing is peace, absence of arrivals (as they say in Donbass). People should live on a peaceful land. People have finally made a calm and peaceful life for themselves and their kids their priority. I see this priority in Gomel Oblast and in the entire country today,” the president stressed. “I always say it is better to fight in the field than over there. You know it better than I do. You have become a frontline region.”

In 2022 alone over Br600 million was poured into the affected territories. In total, billions have been spent. Thanks to this money tens of thousands of apartments have been built as well as over 100 schools and kindergartens and thousands of kilometers of roads. Natural gas infrastructure has been built in over 100 population centers. Multiple various healthcare institutions have been opened, including a unique one. The national applied science center for radiation medicine and human ecology is nearly the world's only facility like that. “You and I built it after it was simply abandoned and empty windows like arrowslits stood as a sign of mismanagement,” he added.

“In the first decade after the Chernobyl accident we literally fought for survival. In recent years our focus has been on development: returning agricultural land into economic use, construction of dairy and pig farms, setting up efficient industrial enterprises. You cannot complain about the lack of attention. There is not a single place in your region, big or small, that I have not visited and where I have not ordered the construction of woodworking, processing, pulp or oil refineries,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

A lot has been done in Gomel Oblast. Industrially it is one of the most developed regions, the president noted. “We need to look, or even better to create, new drivers of economic growth in the region,” the president stressed.

Therefore, the head of state said, it was decided to skip the traditional “Chernobyl” visit and to hold a working meeting on the situation in the region on the whole.

PRESSING ISSUES. Where does the president require discipline and a systemic approach?

The president began the working trip with practical matters: the operation of dairy farms, land amelioration, progress of the sowing campaign, problems in animal husbandry industry, and the preservation and restoration of vehicles and machines. Those responsible face tough questions. On the one hand, it is important to not only spend the allocated funds but justify the spending in the years to come. To put it simply, it is important not to bury money in soil during land amelioration or in walls during the construction of new farms. In both cases returns are necessary in the form of milk, meat, and crop farming products.

On the other hand, it is understandable that what Aleksandr Lukashenko saw in the fields is kind of an example not only for Gomel Oblast but the country as a whole. Corn planting or land amelioration work should be done as properly everywhere but... (the president has repeatedly pointed it out) there is a lack of discipline.

Equipment of dairy farms

“If we do not deliver the cattle to the technological facilities - dairy complexes, where cows are not milked by hand, not in the milk pipe, but in the milking parlor - we will not get any milk and there will be no quality,” the Belarusian leader said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed that all the new and modernized dairy complexes should be provided with livestock, because otherwise the invested funds would not pay off. “You can blame yourself if you do not provide new and upgraded complexes with dairy stock,” he warned. The task was set both for Gomel Oblast and the country in general. The task is relevant for various regions.

According to the head of state, the kind of cattle used at the complexes and the level of maintenance and care were of crucial importance. One of the main indicators is milk yield, which cannot be lower than the average national and regional level. “Why did we build them? We have built these complexes to get twice as much milk yield,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

Land amelioration

The president wants the pace of land amelioration accelerated: “The pace is very slow. We have to speed it up. We could scrounge the little funds [for land amelioration] today but we may not be able to do it tomorrow. Officials should be held responsible for it. They should be held responsible, should keep an eye on canals, dams, and regulate water regime. Every executive must sign for it: these are your fields, you will be held responsible for them.”

He stressed that it was necessary to work very fast, especially in the areas that should be saved in the first place. “I am not talking about restoration, not about land reclamation, but about saving some areas. The hardest impression is when you see neglected fields and the lack of farming culture. This is the worst thing to see,” the president said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed that the money earmarked for land reclamation should be spent effectively and it is necessary to monitor the state of these territories later on. “I want us to invest money now to make sure that our children do not have to start this work again. There must be an iron discipline. It has to be maintained. These are golden lands,” the head of state said. “We've found this money. We could have built so many homes and could have resolved some other issues with this money… So take good care of it. The best agricultural enterprises do it. Why can't the country's east and center do it? Why can't Minsk Oblast do it?” Aleksandr Lukashenko wondered.

Preservation and restoration of machines and vehicles

The head of state was made familiar with the oblast's system for repairing and refurbishing old machines and vehicles. “The system has been built the right way. We should follow this way,” he said.

For reporters and the general public Aleksandr Lukashenko explained he was talking about the machines and vehicles that agricultural enterprises had been using for 5-7 years and had “dumped them near the fence” since. “We've decided to dust them off, refurbish and give these vehicles a new lease on life,” he remarked.

“What a beauty!” the president said as he examined samples of restored machines and vehicles. By the way, refurbishing is several times cheaper than buying new machines and equipment. A list of locations in the oblast where complex, less complex, and simple machines and equipment can be repaired has been determined. This information has been distributed to all heads of agricultural enterprises.

The head of state said this instruction should not have to come from him. First and foremost, it is necessary to carefully and wisely manage machines and equipment at the local level. “We do not take proper care of them. This costs money!” he said.

A Gomselmash harvester should work for at least 15 years, the president stressed. The same applies to tractors. Aleksandr Lukashenko recalled how he once talked with an U.S. farmer who had been operating a Belarusian tractor for more than 30 years and it was in good working condition and fully operational.

IRON DICTATORSHIP. How did Aleksandr Lukashenko give instructions to step up personnel management?

Personnel is the key factor. The president understands this indisputable truth very well, this is why he returned to the matter several times during the working trip both during the inspection of various farmlands and during a conference with Gomel Oblast officials.

The head of state said: “Time for iron dictatorship is now! We've stayed in Minsk for too long. When we hold a conference in Grodno, we see full disconnect of the central government from the oblast administrations.”

Aleksandr Lukashenko underlined the importance of personnel discipline. In addition to making demands from personnel it is necessary to work out the necessary legal framework. Mismanagement and slackness should not be left unpunished.

“We need to work out such a system if we don't want to fight the way people in the south are fighting. We need laws and regulations. We need things set in law. If you violate the law, you are out,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

During the conference with Gomel Oblast officials Aleksandr Lukashenko gave an example: he has a personnel registry and he approves the appointment of a number of executives, including heads of district administrations. And it is impossible to dismiss these executives without his knowledge. The oblast administration, the district administration, and so on along the power vertical all the way to machine operators need personnel registries like that.

The president stressed that a number of shortcomings depend on people's performance. “It is what we call being spoiled too much. Lack of responsibility, crimes, and thievery. All of it in one pile. And nobody seems to bear responsibility for it. But they have to. And once again we have to think about creating a personnel management system,” he remarked.

During the conference with Gomel Oblast officials Aleksandr Lukashenko said that the Belarus President Administration, which is in charge of personnel matters, had been previously instructed to create the legal framework for the appropriate system on the basis of the proposed idea. “I will check whether it is true or not. And you will have to present a report to me soon. And I will make iron demands from the central government and the oblast governors. I am not going to repeat it ten times. We are already at the stage when the president has to come up with an idea, sleep with it, bluntly speaking, explain it to everyone, and implement it while officials will just watch from the sides. Guys, that time is over. I want you to understand at last that if we don't do it now, our children will not do it. They are different,” he pointed out.

Aleksandr Lukashenko called upon young people not to take offense at his words, including the people who were present in the conference hall. However, he mentioned that, for instance, some young Belarusians think that apples and pears grow in the Internet. “They keep poking their phones and expect everything to drop from the sky tomorrow. We've spoiled them extremely. They say our young people are so good, so great! Yes, they are. But they don't want to work and they don't know how. They will not be able to hold on to the country,” he stressed.

“Thousands of issues. And we need to work out a system everywhere. Particularly for personnel management. I've said it ten times,” the head of state added. “Personnel is the key factor. An executive needs iron power. And executives should not look over their shoulder. No law enforcement agencies should impede the executive in running his territory, his enterprise and in taking measures. The measures must be military ones, the toughest ones. Don't wait for separate instructions. And discipline must be at the heart of everything. Everything will be futile without iron discipline. We will waste money and will grind ourselves: I will grind you while the oblast governor will grind his subordinates. This is why certain discipline must be established,” Aleksandr Lukashenko demanded.

“There must be no loss of cattle or thievery. Law enforcement agencies will have to explain themselves, particularly police,” the president warned.

INTERMEDIATE (NOT) PASS. What problems did the president point out before the Gomel power vertical?

“As I've made sure once again, we know how to do everything the way we should. I wonder why we don't do the way we should. Or to be exact: why don't we always do the way we should?" the Belarusian leader said during the conference. "Secondly, I don't want to meet with you some time later only to see you make helpless gestures. I don't want to hear something has not been done and we have to investigate why as usual. We've met today in order to avoid having this meeting at the year-end (you have no other time to spare and neither have I). We've met today in order to have an intermediate talk about why we don't do the way we should and the way you know how to do things”.

According to the president, the region's Q1 2023 results are far from what was expected. In terms of economic development, the region ranks fourth among all regions. Although the manufacturing sector did well, the head of state noted. It posted the growth of 4.5%, well above about 2% nationwide. But this is largely the contribution of national organizations (their share is about 80%). “What about your area of responsibility? In agriculture, you are lagging behind, ranking last among the country's regions,” Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked.

In November 2022 Gomel hosted a rather substantive and even harsh meeting to discuss the strategy for the development of the agro-industrial complex of the region. Priorities were identified, approaches were coordinated, and assurances were given by executives. The head of state asked about the progress in the work and whether there were any issues preventing the implementation of the agreements.

In his speech Aleksandr Lukashenko drew attention to matters concerning the enlargement of agricultural enterprises and the real effectiveness of this work, to mismanagement facts, and to loss of cattle. The president also reminded about the need to develop the Polesie state radiation and ecology reserve and the Pripyat National Park.

The task of reducing the dependence of performance indicators of the regions on the work of industrial giants such as Mozyr Oil Refinery, the Zhlobin-based steel mill BMZ, Svetlogorsk Pulp and Cardboard Mill, and the Dobrush paper factory is constantly set during government conferences on economy. The head of state wondered: “How is my instruction to implement one new project per district being implemented? Municipal authorities are supposed to show their initiative in it. Are you trying to hoodwink me?” Primarily innovative high-tech manufacturing facilities are needed.

"Nobody will make me change my mind and stop believing that the development of a district, an agricultural enterprise or an enterprise depends primarily on efforts of the person in charge of it and on the decisions being made on the spot. Capable executives are easy to spot because there are no problems there and everything runs like clockwork,” the Belarusian leader stated. “It is particularly important in current conditions because you are near the frontline, as I've said. I want to emphasize that we are peaceful people and we do not need someone else's lands.”

The president recalled that it was from Gomel Oblast, from the town of Komarin, that the liberation of Belarus from the German invaders began on 23 September 1943. “It is here, in Komarin, that in September that we must give a good start to the anniversary events dedicated to the 80th anniversary of the liberation of Belarus, which we will celebrate in 2024 on a big scale,” the head of state said.

During the conference Aleksandr Lukashenko also drew attention to such problems as the state of roads, bridges, the work of the mass transit system, and consequences of strong flooding.

Gomel Oblast Governor Ivan Krupko presented a report on the development of the region. Head of the Belarus President Property Management Directorate, Commissioner for Gomel Oblast Yuri Nazarov, Chairwoman of the National Statistics Committee Inna Medvedeva, Aide to the President – Inspector for Gomel Oblast Sergei Bartosh, and Chairman of the State Control Committee Vasily Gerasimov presented their evaluations of the state of affairs in the region.

ECONOMY MEANS PEACE. Why can economic development be more important than military might?

Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed that ensuring peace and security is the job of the president, defense, security and law enforcement agencies. “Your job is to enable decent conditions for people's life. Your task is economy. Give me economy,” the president told participants of the conference. “You are underperforming in this regard.”

He stressed that most of the issues have to be addressed on the spot and without public outcry: “You are people in charge. In a critical situation people expect fast, wise, and sensible actions from you and most importantly true information.”

“The main thing is not to look for reasons. Just don't! There are no objective reasons. Everyone is struggling today. But if we muddle through this crisis, we will be completely different and take our ‘place of honor' in the world,” the Belarusian leader stressed.

Aleksandr Lukashenko reminded how problems in Ukraine had started: “You must remember that there was no Ukraine before the war. It was spoiled too much. It was an extremely rich country. They had everything. In manufacturing sector and particularly in agriculture. Black soils and so on. If we had that, we could develop faster than the Emirates. And things started with the loss of control, with the belief that the market will regulate everything, with brainless executives… And things went downhill from there. Corruption, bribes at all levels, carve-up of assets. Everything was split up and given out. The country was gone. This is how it all started. It is the main reason.”

The Belarusian leader went on saying: “And in order to find the guilty ones, they started pressuring the Russian language and hazing Russian-speaking population. Just like it happened in Belarus in the times of Shushkevich and Poznyak. Nationalism started rising here. But theirs went overboard. It is understandable that neighbors look at you and rub their hands in glee then. And so on and so forth. This is how it all started.”

This is why it is extremely important to ensure a strong economy. There is no need to worry about military security then, the president is convinced. “This is why I always say: give me economy, give me social and economic status, and I will not make demands concerning defense from you. It is particularly important for you. You can see what is happening after all. A lot of people, a lot of relatives have come to you,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted.

“This is why economy, power, people's unity will not allow starting a war. This is why I make such harsh demands from you. Because I'd better make demands from you now than giving you a rifle and sending you to the frontline tomorrow,” he added.

FORGET ABOUT SANCTIONS. How did the pressure of the West become a time of opportunities?

The president welcomed the fact that neither the Gomel Oblast governor, nor the president's aide for the region had spoken about the sanctions at the meeting. “At the meeting in Grodno, they started talking about sanctions. You should be glad that these sanctions were imposed. Especially the farmers. Our country gets a lot from the agricultural sector. Take our agricultural products, sell them,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “Yes, Russia produces a lot of milk. We need to compete. It is not all that simple. Well, we should do something ourselves. You have contact with Smolensk Oblast, Pskov Oblast, and Bryansk Oblast. And also Belgorod, Kursk. These are our people. Work through them, try to sell to them. No one is interfering now. It is necessary to negotiate.”

“We need to work and forget about sanctions! Yes, with sanctions it is not easy, it is difficult. Well, it is not easy for Belaruskali, for oil refineries. Is this your area of activity? No. There are specialists in the government to deal with these issues,” the Belarusian leader said.

There are also positive changes for these goods which are under sanctions. “We are resuming the sales of potash fertilizers. Yes, the logistics part is a little bit more expensive. But we are selling. Oil products are in great demand today. And we used to be afraid of having nowhere to sell them. What can't we sell? Tractors? The Russian market is free. Yes, the Chinese are a tough competition there. But we are still competitive. We have found contacts with [Russian agricultural equipment company] Rostselmash. We need to develop these contacts and work through Rostselmash,” the president said.

On the whole, Belarus and Russia are now actively developing manufacturing cooperation. The Belarusian microelectronics industry and many other branches that have been preserved and have received additional development since the Soviet times are now in demand.

DOLLAR FRAUD. Who benefits from the ideology of market supporters?

During the conference Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that refusing to rely on pure market approaches in the development of the country contrary to world trends had been the right thing to do. Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “No need for any control, [free] pricing practices. Things went downhill. We are fed up with it. I've always deterred you. Contrary to world trends I was trying to deter you: calm down, keep the best practices from the Soviet times. Although I am not enamored with the Soviet system.”

The president remarked that he has been busy modernizing various systems throughout his life and while occupying various positions. He used some things and discarded other things. He even broke some things but created something new instead.

Speaking about approaches based on pure market, Aleksandr Lukashenko is convinced that the idea had been prompted from the outside. He said: “Look at Japan – 500 programs and plans are created all over the country. It is the minimum number that we know of. In other words, they rely on total planning. While we are told that Soviet planning is rubbish and the market can regulate everything. Americans will regulate. They have something to close holes with. If they underperform, they just print more dollars. Their domestic state debt is close to $27 trillion. They keep printing while inflation affects the entire world. They live at this expense. Yes, market is beneficial for them. If they lack some money, they print it and give it away.”

“Back then, the moment I met with Soros, I came to realize that we mustn't do it. And if we have to do it, we should do it calmly over years and decades. We must not do it in one go. But we were pushed so hard… If I failed to do it, the economy was branded as a non-market one. And a non-market economy results in expensive foreign loans and something else. And other nations don't want to talk to you. But I clenched my teeth and survived it, too,” Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked.

FINAL BLITZ. What instructions did Aleksandr Lukashenko give at the end of the conference?

“A number of things we need to address. If the oblast governor and the government don't talk about it, I will have to. Although it is the level of the oblast administration and the district administration,” Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked.

Once again Aleksandr Lukashenko drew attention to farming standards and the removal of existing problems. Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed it is necessary to use every opportunity to plant a new harvest as long as good weather lasts. The sowing campaign is a short one but the entire year depends on it. The current tasks also include “repair” of fields with winter crops, preparations for forage harvesting, application of organic fertilizers in the fields.

The president once again mentioned land amelioration. He remarked that funding had been allocated for larger projects but agricultural enterprises should take care of smaller work on their own: “They have to get involved in order to save lands. Because land amelioration is a good thing but working with an axe, with a spade is a separate kind of work.”

Aleksandr Lukashenko reminded about the need to start ploughing the land plots at the site of old farms. He gave instructions to closely monitor the provision of cattle to the farms.

The head of state urged not to forget about household plots in rural areas, including in so-called unpromising villages around agrotowns where countryside life will be mostly concentrated in the future. Aleksandr Lukashenko urged Belarusians to grab the opportunity: “You are in the center of Europe, at the crossroad of all roads. Take this plot but work it. Having half a hectare of land in the center of Europe is a treasure.”

The construction of greenhouses for the sake of providing people with Belarusian cucumbers and tomatoes in between seasons is another matter. This problem has to be solved this year or the next one. It is necessary to build them in the agricultural enterprises that know how to operate them or where the relevant opportunities are available.

“And then there are orchards. We have to root up the old ones fast and create new ones. We shouldn't have to import apples. Can't we make apples on our own like Poland does? We can. We just don't do it. And it is import substitution,” the president remarked.

Once again Aleksandr Lukashenko drew attention to personnel management and underlined the importance of iron discipline.

SCOPE OF WORK. What does everyone have to do to preserve the country?

Although the conference in the Vetka District Executive Committee was dedicated to the development of Gomel Oblast, in fact it turned out to be topical for the entire country. At the beginning of the week, the president also visited Grodno and, after examining the situation in these two regions, the head of state announced a program of action for the entire vertical of power. Summing up results of the conference, the head of state addressed everyone.

“I urge everyone to get their act together. Especially those in Gomel Oblast. This is practically a frontline region,” the president emphasized. “We need to save the country. This is not only and not so much what I need. You need it. We can save it only if we step up and solve the problems. Listen, I am not calling to overstretch ourselves. It is just that everyone must do their job and the results will follow. It is necessary to accelerate this pace: if you were walking, you have to run, if you were running, you have to run faster.”

“There's a war going on over there. NATO is expanding, and so on and so forth. Things are not easy for us. I'm focused on nuclear weapons for a reason. We need to protect the country so that they are afraid to look in our direction. Otherwise, we will again be living under someone's boot. I want you to heed this message. This is not an escalation of the situation. I am not trying to hype it up. You know what is going on better than I do,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted.

The head of state noted that citizens of neighboring countries gladly visit Belarus. “Now they have closed the border: concreted, mined it. You can neither drive nor walk it. But that's their problem. They don't let people in here anymore. Poles and Lithuanians are closing checkpoints, creating problems, first of all, for their people, so that they do not come to visit us. Because, upon returning they say: ‘Are you crazy? Why don't you live peacefully with Belarusians?' I mean the problem rises to politics then,” he stated.

“So let's brace up. Let's do whatever we can, wherever we can. I hope that by the end of the year we will have a good conversation and discuss positive results. I would very much to see Gomel Oblast strong. Please, get your act together,” the Belarusian leader concluded.

GETS APPLAUSE. What did Aleksandr Lukashenko talk about with Vetka residents?

In the district capital the head of state also visited the Church of Transfiguration of Jesus and lit a candle. Near the temple the president laid flowers at the memorial sign for the settlements that have ceased to exist as a result of the Chernobyl tragedy. The head of state was presented with the Mother of God of the Victims of Chernobyl Icon. The same icon was kept in the church Aleksandr Lukashenko had visited.

Outside the temple and after the conference at premises of the district administration the president had a warm conversation with the locals. One of the women told Aleksandr Lukashenko: “Thank you very much on behalf of large families. I am a citizen of Ukraine and you've granted me Belarusian citizenship. I am terribly proud of it. And I live. I have four kids. Thank you very much!”

“Well done for having four kids!” the head of state said.

The people talked a lot about the importance of peace and calm life for children and grandchildren.

“I don't want to fight,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. The locals applauded these words.

“We don't want to fight either! We need peace!” some of them shouted.

Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “I am always surprised when people start talking about the war. People in Gomel are stressed out. Yes, Gomel Oblast and Brest Oblast are now close to the frontline. But it doesn't mean that someone wants to bring the war to us. There are plenty of crazy people over there. It is unavoidable… A war is going on over there. This is why you shouldn't think that I want to start some war here.”

The president stressed that he wants people to do one thing: everyone should do what they are supposed to do, everyone should do their jobs properly including during the sowing campaign or in other fields. “Markets have never been more open. Today we can become even richer and can live an even better life. We just have to get it together,” he said. Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “We have to do better this year in order to improve the overall life of people in Gomel Oblast. There is space for growth.”

"Well, I thank you for your patience. You are simply great people. I feel how Belarusians are already starting to appreciate life. Particularly here in the south, in Gomel Oblast and Brest Oblast. Give us only peace! You'll have your peace, don't worry. The most important thing is that you should calmly work and raise your kids. Don't you worry,” the head of state said.

The president went on saying: “All kinds of things may happen. But I understand more than you do in order to prevent us from getting involved in this massive massacre. We will use its experience. We are studying it. We are looking for ways to make our army stronger. This is why don't you worry. I don't want to fight even more than you do. I have kids, too. And all of you are my kids. I don't want to have to send you to fight at the frontline. This is why calm down and work calmly. Nobody is going to attack us. Including Ukrainians. And the Westerners I meet with tell me that neither Ukrainians nor Poles intend to go to Belarus. Well, they may have no intensions like that. But we have to be ready for everything. This is why raise kids. Preferably as many as you can.”

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