According to the Belarus statistics, the republic was the first in the CIS to have the pre-crisis economic indices; it has the highest pensions, and the Minsk industrialists have won a third of the world market of giant quarry excavators. However, all those excavators are accumulated in Russian mines, maybe the last ones still to employ such monsters.
To average out the pension indices is always a hard job, yet in Belarus they really seem the envy of her neighbors. As a matter of fact, the economic statistics does not indicate how many people leave Belarus, first of all, for Russia, where a friend of mine, a mason from Rogachev, earns one and a half thousand dollars. In Belarus, he cannot count on more than fifty. By the way, he is going to vote for Lukashenko. The secret is simple: in Rogachev, one can survive on fifty dollars. Maybe, that will not be enough for paying rent, but it will be forgiven and, maybe, waived later...
At this point our talk stopped. My interlocutor had just got home from a Russian shift, he had been away for six months. Something had changed in Belarus. 50 dollars are no longer enough to survive and power is disconnected if your rent is in arrears. Well, nothing good is expected. But it is peaceful here, in Belarus, no blastings, like in Moscow! And, generally, who else but Lukashenko will unite Russia and Belarus?
Belarus lives through the fourth year of stable growth. The vast markets of household appliances are celebrating a massive inflow of clients for home repair goods: the factory districts of Minsk have revived. Workers buy more and more goods for home repair: ipe decking maintenance, wallapapers, built-in kitchens etc.
By Belarus standards, the factory workers' wages are more than decent: up to three hundred dollars. This has been achieved without any reforms. The secret is simple: 60 dollars a barrel. Some of Russia's mad oil money had got to farmers who, clearly, preferred something from Belarus' tractor museums to a real John Deer. The same is with the BelaAZ dump trucks.
Economists have calculated that in total Russia subsidizes Belarus with five billion dollars. By the same calculations, the Belarus industry will surely die at 90 dollars for a cubic meter of gas. Today, the price is about 50 dollars. Industries get it even cheaper. There is no single price. It is being thoroughly calculated, within the all-national targets, in the Ministry of Economy for almost every enterprise. Men calculating it deserve monuments. You must not believe that Belarus is a reservation of socialism. The Belarus experience is more interesting and instructive. It is an answer to the question what would have happened to our socialism had it lived to our market days. The official statistics asserts that the state farms are the most profitable proof of the system's viability. Of course, state farms can be profitable, provided care of them is placed on those who can provide them with money, like the Centrobank or business, irrespective of the form of ownership.
The strong help the weak - is the slogan of the economy. The strong need not be taxed additionally, they simply can be restructured so that within a couple of years, the number of unprofitable enterprises would be cut down by half. However, special care is taken of the exporters. They are the principals of the great redistribution in Belarus. Mozyr and Novopolotsk buy Russian crude oil and export oil products by unbelievable schemes. Belarus potassium and potash fertilizers constitute about 40 percent of the world market of these products. But the new sensation of a monopolist played a bad joke on Lukashenko: he decided to rise prices to the friendly China. As a result, the contract for 2006 is still unsigned. But these difficulties are temporary, and potassium is still feeding the economy of Belarus. And there is the steel works in Zhlobino whose director, as was mentioned above, has been jailed.
As a result, the Belarus budget has achieved impressive indices: 12 billion dollars. It should be understood that far from all the income goes into the national budget, and Lukashenko makes no secret of it. Asked by the deputies where the means for the numerous sports palaces come from, he answers frankly: it is not your business, you can rest assured they are not from the budget.
Prices for real estate in Minsk reach almost the level of Moscow, and foodstuffs get costlier proportionally. Wages are on the increase, indeed. Though not as rapidly. But the professional statisticians manage to mark an almost negative inflation in the present situation.
"Such a system cannot last forever," the optimists from the opposition say. "Maybe not forever," respond serious economists. "But for rather a long time, it can." Europe is threatening with sanctions, but the flows of oil products toward Germany are building up, and with curious details: sometimes Germans buy even petrol from Belarus but at the price of crude oil. But it may not be petrol, and they may not be Germans.
Surely, there has never yet been a precedent of a regime like Lukashenko's getting displaced with economic sanctions. Generally, the most amazing thing in this rather unruly economy is that there are no objective causes for an abrupt crush. It will last for at least another term of Lukashenko.