Visiting Belarus visa-free

The Interview of Mr.Aliaksandr Khainouski, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Belarus to Hungary, for the journal Diplomata Magazin, May 28, 2013

“We see our future together with our neighbours, both from the East and the West”

An Interview with H.E. Khainouski Aliaksandr, the Ambassador of the Republic of Belarus

Juszt Laszlo

– Excellency, you know Hungary well, since you have, in various diplomatic positions, worked in Budapest twice already. What is more, it seems that this time was enough for you to learn Hungarian.

– That’s right. I have learnt Hungarian here since the language is not yet taught back at home. But is it not only me but my colleagues at the Embassy who, in our free time at the Embassy, take part in language courses by local teachers.”

– What are your fresh impressions of Hungary as an Ambassador?

– I arrived in December, and my first impression was that winter was very long. The joke aside, it was a great pleasure for me to return here where I had already spent seven and a half years. I have a great many friends and acquaintances. What was very conspicuous after my recent arrival were the world economic crisis and its consequences here. Despite this, I felt that the dynamism of the economy within the borders has remained. This is an economy that my country would, by all means, like to cooperate with.

– What makes Hungary interesting for Belarus?

– Both our countries are open economically. For both of us it is necessary to increase exports in order to generate development. During the socialist times we enjoyed very wide and rich economic relations but after the change in the political system we also managed to identify the points in which we could cooperate with Hungary. For instance, for us selling tractors continues to remain very important. Half the tractors working in Hungary today have been sold by Belarus. Now the Hungarian farmers buy 1,000 each year. When the volume of the building industry was higher in Hungary, quite a lot of building material was purchased from us: iron, metal structures, woodenware and processed oil products.

– The Embassy of Belarus has been operating in Hungary for more than ten years. What results have you been able to reach in the bilateral relations, and which areas are you planning to put a special emphasis on?

– We have achieved a lot of results: we have established a serious legal foundation; the inter-governmental Economic Mixed Committee is functioning, which greatly helps the increase in trade, and the further development of economic cooperation. The data for 2012 show that the turnover between our two countries amounted to 210 million USD. Our cooperation in the cultural and human sphere is also active. We would like to pay serious attention to investments too. Unfortunately, in this field we have not managed to achieve serious results. One reason for that is that, because of the slowness of Brussels, we still have not managed to sign the agreement between Hungary and Belarus on the protection of investments. But this could be only one of the reasons, since we haven’t got such an agreement with Slovenia either, and we have still been able to reach very nice results in this field as well. By the way, I have mentioned Slovenia because our Embassy is also accredited there. Perhaps, if a successful Hungarian investment were finally launched in Belarus, the ice could be broken. I note here that there is a promising effort to manufacture spare parts for cars. We also hope that the new foreign policy of the Hungarian Government will bring further results. We trust that the policy of “Look East” will be aimed not only at China and Russia, but for instance at us as well, and will, in such a way, facilitate making investments in Belarus.

– In what way does the customs union signed with Russia and Kazakhstan help Belarus?

– What is the most important factor, not only in my country but also in the whole of Europe, are the immeasurable energy resources of Russia, some of which Belarus too takes advantage of. I will tell you a few figures. We had a turnover of 54 billion USD with the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Out of this sum, it was 44 billion USD within the customs union. Unfortunately, it is not balanced since by purchasing energy resources, we spend much more in Russia than they do in Belarus.

– I think that as far as Russia is concerned, this is the case for all countries.

– Well, yes. But besides economic relations, the citizens of the two countries enjoy identical rights in the field of education, health and various other areas of life. This is, of course, only a prelude to what we are preparing for 2015 when we establish
the Eurasian Economic Union.

– In Belarus the president is elected directly by the people. If you can collect 100,000 signatures, you will become a presidential candidate. This is a democratic method by any standard. Why are then many people saying that President Lukashenko has built an autocratic system?

– You will have to ask those in the first place who claim that. In the second place, President Lukashenko has always said that he wanted to build a sturdy system because this could help preserve the unity of the country at a time when the Soviet Union had disintegrated. As far as the right to vote is concerned, it is being modernized continuously. We take into consideration the recommendations of the international organizations. We deem that our laws correspond with the statute and common law international regulations. We held the parliamentary elections last autumn in the presence of more than 700 international observers many of whom remarked the positive changes. We have, naturally, received critical remarks as well which will, perhaps, be implemented before the next elections.

– Belarus is a “unitary, democratic, social state, based on the principle of the rule of law”, as the Constitution says. Please, explain to me what these words side by side one another mean?

– Let’s begin with the first one. We wanted to emphasize that Belarus was not a federal state as the Soviet Union once was, but a country functioning under a constitution in a unitary way. The word “democratic” means what it stands for everywhere in the world: the power belongs to the people who exercise it through their democratically elected representatives. The word “social” speaks for itself : our country provides our citizens with the right to a healthy and free life, including the right to housing and work. I avail myself of this opportunity to remark that unemployment in Belarus is under one percent. The expression “the rule of law” implies the separation of the organs of the state, and the supremacy of the law.

– Where is Belarus heading today?

– An independent public opinion research institute from Lithuania has recently conducted a survey. This has found that 73 percent of the people in Belarus think that our allies should be our best economic partners. And today it is the European Union that occupies the first place in our exports. Last year 38 percent of our exports went to the EU, while 35 percent to Russia. One third of the investments come from the EU. So we see our future together with our neighbours, both from the East and the West.