Interview by Alexander Ostrovsky, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Belarus to Finland, to the edition “Ensto Today” (September 2015)

- Belarus has been a pioneer in getting DC charging systems. There’s a focus on green technology, as well, your investment in electric vehicle charging being proof. Is “green” or “sustainable” part of your country’s future strategy? And what are we likely to see in the future?

- Belarus intends to take an active part in building a safe and sustainable future for generations to come. It considers «green economy» to be an integral element of sustainable development, intends to undertake win-win measures to implement ecological principles in national economy.

Being a country that suffered severely from the Chernobyl accident, Belarus understands that «green economy» building provides a unique chance to ensure long-term favourable development both for the national benefits as well as in the interests of international community.

To ensure favorable conditions for an effective environmental economy model transition, Belarus supports an approach which:

• reinforces the central role of the environment and the global commitment to sustainable development on the international agenda;
• takes into account the principle of shared but differentiated responsibilities and different paces of introduction of «green» principles;
• is consistent with obligations under international treaties;
• contributes to increasing availability of «green» technologies;
• does not allow the concept of «green economy» to be used as an instrument of trade discrimination and protectionism.

Due to the modernization of the key industrial plants, more stringent environmental regulations and limitations imposed for the sake of atmospheric protection, the levels of emissions in major industrial Belarusian centers have decreased, although occasionally elevated concentrations in the air are registered. Reductions in emissions from stationary sources have been achieved through conducting a targeted environmental policy, including increased rates of environmental tax on emissions of pollutants. 

Positive results were facilitated by the introduction of progressive technologies and energy saving measures. In order to prevent the entry of CO2 into the atmosphere Belarusian entities pay specific attention to the development of forestry, preservation of wetland ecosystems, recovery of exhausted peatlands.

Currently the state is considering issues regarding the adoption of national commitments to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

One of the most problematic areas of environmental protection in Belarus is waste management, primarily of industrial and solid municipal waste. In recent years the proportion of packaging waste in municipal waste has increased significantly. In order to involve municipal waste into circulation as a secondary raw material, the country has five waste treatment plants in Gomel, Mogilev, Novopolotsk, Brest and Baranovichi.

To raise your spirits: since 2005 the volume of processed hazardous waste in Belarus is exceeding the volume generated.

Issues associated with the education shift to a «green» economy are essentially formulated in the National Action Plan of Belarus. The system designed for the education shift to a «green» economy covers all school grades: pre- and secondary schools, specialized secondary education, universities. The most common forms of «green» education are environmental education lessons, eco-clubs and extracurricular courses. Some experience in educating students for the «green economy» has already been gained by pre-school institutions, carrying out full-fledged, age-appropriate education.

In January 2010 an educational complex entitled «Wild Nature of Belarus» was presented in secondary schools in the form of extracurricular activities for the 7th and 8th grades. With the support of the UN office in Belarus a new project called «Green School» has been successfully launched.

To put it in a nutshell:

1. It is entirely possible that Belarus will join in the near future the list of countries successfully developing green economy. The systematic greening began not so long ago. However the process is underway and its dynamic is positive.

2. The main challenge is to convince the economic entities’ executive administrations that the greening of the economy is an essential and vital need of the society and provides long-term benefits, although not inscribed into the account balance books. After all an economy which is not environmentally friendly proves to be more costly.

3. Belarus continues the development of «green economy» management replacing the industrial-biased administrative and economic system.

- Belarus has an experienced industrial culture and offers a highly competitive cost level. There is a transport network, and Belarus is not too far from Finland. But Finland’s investment is only around 86 million euros, making it only the 16th largest foreign investor. What’s holding back the Finland-Belarus relationship?

- Allow me to avoid the specification of the term “investment” and note that the level of capital invested is subject to variations. In fact the cumulative investment from Finland to Belarus exceeds 100 mln euro. To my opinion this figure is not too small if we consider that our countries 9.6 mln and 5.5 mln people strong do not have common border. It is also necessary to take into account the overall tendency of decrease in the Finnish investments abroad.

As of January 1, 2015 there are 22 companies with Finnish capital operating in Belarus, 8 joint ventures and, as well as 3 offices of Finnish companies.

Among the vivid examples of fruitful cooperation are the activity of the Finnish company “Olvi, OMA stores functioning in Belarus operated by the Finnish company “KESKO”, modernization of Gomel icecream factory by “Ingman Group”, founding of an innovative center at Minsk bakery college by “Leipurin “.

- While it is at a standstill in some other economies, we’ve read that construction is one of the most rapidly growing sectors of the Belarusian economy. Initiatives have been taken to modernize infrastructure, build affordable homes, and meet demand for the commercial space. What are the key steps for a company like Ensto to get involved and benefit from this trend?

- The energy efficiency and energy saving aspects belong nowadays to the key matter of modern world. In this context I confirm my belief in the existence of common ground and cooperation perspective between “Ensto” and Belarus. We have almost taken the first step — Timo Luukkainen, President & CEO of Ensto Oy, visited Belarus in April 2015 on a delegation of Finnish businesses and conducted negotiations on the possible ways of cooperation development.

The next move will be to determine the technical aspects, namely, to specify the areas of common interest and the ways of achieving the intended objectives.

When it comes to the Belarus’ approaches to foreign cooperation, I cannot but mention that we are not keen on the primitive “buy and sell” formula, however eager to develop modern world economic relations.

- What are the basic keys to being a good partner for Belarus and Belarusian enterprise? Does the Belarusian way of working combine well with the Finnish way of working?

- The component parts for being a good partner for Belarus are obvious and clear. In order to successfully cooperate with the Belarusian party it is necessary to be a reliable and creative partner. Apart from fulfilling one’s obligations he or she must be flexible when negotiating tricky business issues, open for new enterprise consideration and new approach appraisal, think long-term. And this is true for any sphere including business.

Based on the experience of the embassy’s cooperation with the Finnish business community I can confirm that the Belarusians and the Finns are quite ready to reach common ground due to the positive pragmatism in business issue resolution.

- Certainly both Finns and Belarusians love hockey. But what else might they have in common that they may not know about?

- Our countries and peoples have much in common. For example, similar destinies – we used to be incorporated into more powerful states for long periods of time and it was not until relatively recently that we gained sovereignty. Belarus and Finland have relatively small population and this is the reason why our peoples adapted to own-account nationwide development.

Personally, I observe common features in the mentality of our nations: we are unhasting, cold-minded, sit tight on our emotions and do not like to talk much, however welcoming and hospitable.

Belarus and Finland are forest- and lake-countries. There are good hunting resources and facilities in Belarus which the Finnish visitors enjoy regularly.

Belarus is not a Nordic country, however winter sports are popular in our country in much the same way. Even Darya Domracheva and Kaisa Mäkäräinen compete all the time.

You know, it was my pleasure to learn that the Belarusians and the Finns have related food preferences, in particular, — meat and potato preference.

- Outside regular diplomatic and trade work, do you have other missions in Finland? Any other interesting projects you’d wish to remark on?

- One of the Embassy’s priority task is to facilitate the bilateral humanitarian cooperation, and there are certain achievements in this area. In particular, in 2013 we organized for the first time ever the Days of Belarusian culture in Finland. The program of the event offered a performance by the Minsk Cinema Actor Theatre, opening of the exhibition of State literary museum of Janka Kupala, presentations of novelty books by the publishing house “Belarusian encyclopedia” and tourism opportunities by the castle-museum “Niasvizh”.

Interacademic relations between University of Turku and Belarusian universities are developing. A special section on interacademic cooperation and interuniversity exchange and plenary session “Belarus-Finland innovative cooperation” were held as part of the IV Belarusian-Finnish Economic Forum organized in April 2014. The development of the “Eurofaculty” on the premises of the Belarusian State University under the auspices of the Finnish partners is underway.

The exponential activity of the Belarusian higher education institutions has been intensified. For example, in December 2014 the representatives of the Minsk State Linguistic University participated in the annual educational services fair in Helsinki «STUDIA-2014».

Last year the Embassy facilitated the participation of junior artists from Belarus in the 15th International competition of children’s drawing held in Finland to involve more than 5500 participants from 77 countries of the world. One art was awarded with a medal, 21 – with diplomas.

A number of art exhibitions are being organized. Certain agreements have been achieved in the sphere of intensification of regional ties between the cities of Savonlinna and Niasvizh.

We succeeded in bilateral cooperation in environment protection: environment-geared projects within the framework of “Northern Dimension” and with the support of international monetary funds and Finnish NGOs are being implemented. In particular, “PRESTO” project (2 mln euro) has been successfully accomplished, the implementation of a series of projects entitled “Belarus: ecological infrastructure project – phase one” partially financed through Nordic Investment Bank (18,25 mln EUR of loan assets and 21 mln EUR of grant funding) is underway.