Social Policy of the Belarusian Government and Main Areas of Concern
Societal change led to the emergence of a new social environment and required the adoption of an efficient social policy currently pursued within the "Social and Economic Development Program of the Republic of Belarus for the years 2001 – 2005”. It is prerequisite to the revival of the economy, with appropriate social programs furthering consensus in society and functioning as a cornerstone of successful reforms.
On the one hand, resources should be accumulated to help the disadvantaged groups (large families and single parent households, disabled and retired people) and, on the other hand, support action in indispensable areas, such as are required to promote development of any nation: education, science, culture, health service (above all, widely available free-of-charge medical care). Therefore, government control in the Republic of Belarus is oriented towards a stable preference-based policy with respect to the social sectors, ensuring broader revenue streams coming from off-budget sources (including foreign investment).
The primary goal of the social policy currently pursued in the Republic is to enable every able-bodied person to improve their family well-being, and reach out to the needy and disabled with social welfare packages. The Republic has developed and is implementing an ”Integrated Targeted Social Security Program".
The critical ingredient of the social security system is provision of pensions. Over a quarter of the people nation-wide receive pensions: as of 2002 there were 2.6 million people entitled to retirement benefits. The current tendency in Belarus is that the retirement benefits increase faster than the salaries. Whereas in 1999 the mean pension to mean salary ratio across the economy was 35.8%, the same figure in 2001 was 42.1%. Also, the real value of the retirement benefits has been increasing steadily. From 1999 to 2001, with respect to the pensioner’s subsistence level the mean pension increased by 50 percentage points to reach a level of 126.0%.
The main focuses of governmental action aimed to sustain a socially acceptable level and quality of life for senior citizens, and the involved machinery are reflected within the “Republican Integrated Program for Elderly People’s Problems for the years 2001 – 2005”. The program envisages scholarly research in the field of social and legal security, sets out to develop an infrastructure that provides social services for elderly people, and specifies measures needed to create conditions favoring provision of their intellectual and cultural needs, targeted social support, etc.
The other priorities within the governmental social policy include social security of the family, improving its societal status, and providing maternity and childhood safeguards. The Belarusian authorities have developed a legal framework that fosters the governmental children-specific policy, and created a network of institutions that render social services to families and children. The Presidential Program “Children of Belarus” that is being successfully implemented in Belarus provides for measures aimed at increasing the living standards and well-being of the children and families, and improving the conditions under which they are brought up.
The social policy pursued by the government attaches primary importance to the nation's health. The health service in the republic has remained flexible and manageable, providing affordable medical care to all sectors of society. Due to the social and political stability in the country, and the preservation of the best medical care traditions, the Republic of Belarus compares favorably with all of the other former Soviet Union republics in terms of the population’s health indices, such as infant and maternal mortality, life expectancy trends, and the incidence of infectious diseases.
The related national development policy has been codified in the Concept of Health Care Development of the Republic of Belarus that bases the entire health care system on such imperatives as justice, ethics, human rights, high performance and reliable social security safeguards. The concept aims at improving the economic relations in this sector, restructuring medical care according to its types and levels with budget funding retained.
The republic has also adopted a Concept of Sanatorium and Resort Assistance, the major goals of which are to restore and reinforce the health and quality of life of the Belarusian people.
The key element of the solution needed to comprehensively improve the nation’s health, to provide medical assistance and prevent diseases involves providing the sector with medical drugs. The state development program for the national pharmaceutical industry prioritizes the production of highly efficient home-made medical drugs, the retrofitting and upgrading of the capacities available, and the creation of new pharmaceutical production companies.
The strategy for improving the health service material support is defined in the State Program for Improving the Material Support of the Health Service Institutions in the Republic for the years 2000 – 2002 and through 2005, according to which the industry will acquire over sixty new or retrofitted health service sites.
The projects currently underway are the State Program “People’s Heath”, the State Science and Technology Programs "Cardiology", "Oncology", "Tuberculosis", "Maternity Security and Medical Genetics”, the State Program of Integrated Measures to Combat Abuse of and Trafficking in Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, the State AIDS Prevention Program, the State Program for Promoting Healthy Lifestyles in the Republic of Belarus, etc.
Minimizing and overcoming the Chernobyl Disaster consequences is another important social problem currently being tacked in the Republic of Belarus.
As calculated over a 30-year long post-disaster recover period, the damage inflicted on the Republic of Belarus is estimated at 235 billion US Dollars. Belarus has to spend up to 25% of the budget funds on the post-disaster recovery programs.
Up to two thirds of the contaminants ejected from the damaged Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station reactor fell out on the territory of this country. Over 25% of the arable lands were affected, with 265 thousand hectares barred from being tilled. One out of five residents of the country suffered the consequences of the disaster, including over 500 thousand children. 135 thousand people had to be relocated from the contaminated areas.
The Chernobyl disaster had a negative impact on the people's health. According to the data annually collected by the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Belarus, the incidence across all disease types tends to rise faster for the relocated people, the disaster relief workers and people that reside in the contaminated areas. The effect exerted by the Chernobyl Disaster on the increase in the thyroid carcinoma incidence is undeniable. The annual thyroid carcinoma incidence for children has increased by approximately 50 times.
Now Belarus is entering into a period of the delayed radiation effect of the Chernobyl Disaster. The range of issues the government has to address through the Chernobyl Disaster is vast. All of them are long-term problems that will continue to concentrate the minds of the scholars, international community and governmental authorities. Virtually all of the republic’s research centers and higher education establishments that have appropriate specialists and logistics have joined their efforts in addressing these issues.
Over the past 16 years about 100 Chernobyl-related governmental regulations and directives have been adopted in the Republic of Belarus. Currently implemented is the State Program for Overcoming the Chernobyl Disaster Consequences. The Social and Economic Development Program of the Republic of Belarus for the years 2001 – 2005 treats the Disaster relief issues as a separate item. The Program provides for the following high priority issues to be focused on: improving the system of medical care of the affected population, especially the relief workers and children; providing appropriate social security for the affected people; improving the contaminated settlements in Brest, Gomel and Mogilev Oblasts, and, above all, the territories with a radioactive contamination level of 185 kilobecquerel/sq.m and higher. The development of the national education system is another top priority. Because the Republic of Belarus set out on the course leading to the creation of a welfare state, it was able to provide the stable functioning of the education system and determine the correct development strategy. As a result, the literacy level for the adult population of the country reached 99.6%. According to the UN estimates, the educational system in the Republic of Belarus distinguished by high quality and ease of access is one of the best systems in the world. Over the past few years the expenses on the educational system in Belarus reached 6.7% of the GDP, or 24% of the consolidated budget, which is the best index among not only the countries of CIS but also all European transition economies and 1.5 times higher than the world's average. The programs adopted by the Government provide for 10% of the GDP to go into the education sector by 2006.
The level of education in the country determines the quality of life and prospects of economic development. The educational system plays an important part in enhancing the technology base of the country. According to the indices the UN adds up to calculate the technology development average, Belarus is on a par with the leading nations, leaving far behind Canada, Poland and Italy in terms of the patent number per capita; Poland, the USA, the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway - in terms of university students taking courses in natural sciences and technologies.
The educational policy pursued by the government in the Republic of Belarus since the mid-1990s is based on the following principles:
- equality of access to education;
- social justice as applied to education provision;
- education quality improvement.
An important step towards the equality of access principle involves large scale provision of preschool education. By 2002 this index reached 70.7% (in 1994 – 58.5%) and is the best in the CIS. By 2005 all of 5 year olds will be covered with preschool education.
A network of new type educational establishments that provide in-depth education has widened considerably. Currently mandatory foreign languages are being introduced in all elementary schools. In the 2000/2001 academic year 38% of the elementary school students studied a foreign language. The higher school system of the republic is developing at a phenomenal rate. The number of students increased from 173.8 thousand people in 1994 to 301.8 thousand in 2001 (174% growth) and is now 302 students per 10 thousand population, which is comparable with the similar figures of the developed countries of Europe. Now the school is transferring to 12 year-based complete secondary education, which will create preconditions required to transfer the higher school to a four year term of education on the basis of the 12 year secondary school. This process complies with the principles of the European higher school transfer to a four year term of education by 2008-2010.
Handicapped individuals and individuals with special psycho-physiological needs that want to exercise their right to universal and vocational education are given priority treatment. Since 1998 centers of developmental education and rehabilitation have been developing all over the republic. A total of 95 centers currently operate in the country now. A primer for blind children has been printed for the first time in Belarus, children with severe mental retardation have received their first textbooks.
Enhancing the education quality is a task of primary importance. Solving this problem is directly connected to the quality of textbooks and methodologies used for educational purposes. However, their quality is not up to the modern standards. This is especially true with respect to the implementation of information technologies. Only 39% of the base schools are equipped with computer classes, 75% of the PCs used were produced from 1985 through 1992. Supplying computers and enabling schools and other educational establishments to access global information resources is a task of primary importance.
That the governmental policy in the field of the education system reform aimed at enhancing the educational efficiency is correct has been acknowledged by the latest human development report by the UN, where the Republic of Belarus has moved up from the 57th place to the 53rd place in the global human potential development index and continues to lead the CIS countries.
By 2010 the education development measures will complete the formation of the national integrated continuous education system, allowing the issues of forming a citizen and a highly professional specialist to be addressed according to the 21st century requirements.
Foreign Policy of Belarus – Traditions and Present-Day of Pragmatic Neighborhood
After the declaration of independence, the Republic of Belarus came out to the international arena in two capacities: as a new independent state that emerged following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and as a European country with deep historic traditions of statehood.
The principalities of Polotsk, Turov and other principalities of Ancient Belarus (9 – 13th centuries), the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (the middle of the 13th century – 18th century), the Belarusian People’s Republic (1918 – 1925), the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic (1919 – 1990) have pursued active foreign policies.
Studying the foreign political experience and traditions of the Belarusian statehood territories shows succession and continuity of the foreign policies they have pursued. The following foreign political imperatives may be singled out:
vital need for the preservation of sovereignty and independence of Belarus;
providing territorial integrity of the country, the inviolability of its borders and the unity of the Belarusian ethnic territory;
unacceptability of foreign interference in the home affairs of the Belarusian state;
achieving national consensus in the fundamental state and society development issues, providing for the unity of the home and foreign policies.
In all times the Belarusian people has depended on the state of the international relations in Europe. Whether or not Belarus was part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Rzecz Pospolita or Russian Empire, any conflict led to human loss and devastation on the Belarusian land. Because of that the Republic of Belarus now views the process of the European states getting closer to one another as a basis for stronger partnership ties with the countries of the East and West, as a condition prerequisite to the progressive reinforcement of trust, mutual understanding and peace in the region.
The Declaration of State Sovereignty of Belarus adopted by the Supreme Soviet of the BSSR on 27 July 1990 and granted constitutional status on 27 August 1991, and the economic and political independence of Belarus declared opened up a new period of international activity for the country.
After exercising its natural right to independence, the Republic of Belarus (renamed from the BSSR to the Republic of Belarus by the decision passed by the Supreme Soviet of the BSSR on 19 September 1991) set off to construct a sovereign state, conduct independent foreign policies aimed at reinforcing independence, incorporation into the common European processes, and stepping up cooperation with the neighboring countries and world's powers.
The real making of the Belarusian foreign policy, the formulation of its fundamental system parameters was no easy task by definition. Optimal forms of participating in the creation of a new interaction mechanism for the former Soviet Union had to be identified. Restoring severed links, pragmatically using the remaining ones. Building a political foundation of contacts with the countries of the West. Joining in the creation of global and regional security systems. Ensuring promotion of the nation's foreign economic interests, defending its niche in the world economic system.
Belarus in turn had to form an independent foreign course in utterly complicated and ambiguous conditions. The internal system changes occurring in the country coincided with the global revision of the world order of the late 20th century. New centers of influence emerged and grew stronger, the number of sovereign actors on the international arena multiplied. At the turn of the 21st century the system of factors that determined the power enjoyed by a specific state started to transform ever faster: the importance of financial might, fast communications and scientific potential increased. At the same time, the “classical” military and political tools of foreign policy retained its significance.
With the end of the Cold War, the struggle for spheres of influence conducted by the most powerful international actors became highly localized. As a result of separatist movements and other manifestations of national and religious extremism, a number of new regional conflicts erupted. The deepened inequality of the economic development of nations created a nutrient medium stimulating the buildup of crisis potential in many countries of the world. This resulted in multiple extremist political movements emerging and sweeping across the world. Thus, new challenges came in place of the world nuclear disaster threat – international terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, global financial and economic, environmental crises and mass epidemics.
All of these peculiarities of the contemporary world’s shape acquired fundamental importance for the Republic of Belarus, leaving a visible mark on its foreign policy whose efficiency largely depends on precisely matching the world’s political and economic trends against the national goals and possibilities on the international arena.
Nonetheless, even under such, far from favorable circumstances, transparency and democracy continue to be the political foundations of the international strategy pursued by the Republic of Belarus.
The Goals and Objectives of the Republic of Belarus on the International Arena
Due to complicated turns of Belarusian history, the contemporary foreign policy of the country formed along the way of synthesizing historical traditions, Soviet-time accomplishments and fundamentally new approaches dictated by dramatic changes both in the Republic of Belarus and on the world arena.
The mentality of the Belarusian people that has always been oriented towards new friends and partners, the specifics of the contemporary development phase of the international relations, pragmatic economic calculations determined the main course of the Republic of Belarus aiming to pursue multiple directions of its foreign policy, organically combining constructive work in all areas.
At the same time, the objectively limited foreign policy resources have to be concentrated on the most important directions - this is a universally accepted practice. Therefore, on the basis of matching the national interests against the assessment of the international situation and partners' actions, and within the framework of multi-directional policies the Republic of Belarus formulates and implements the priority areas of its foreign policy.
The basic principles of the contemporary Belarusian foreign policy include:
commensurability of the foreign policy goals and the national resources, adequacy of these goals to the actual contribution to the reinforcement of the international positions held by the Republic of Belarus;
enhancing the efficiency of the political, legal, foreign trade and other instruments used to protect the state sovereignty of the Republic of Belarus, its national economy in the context of globalization;
prioritizing the universally accepted international law standards and principles; using them as a foundation to develop all-round cooperation with foreign nations, international organizations, mutual respect for the interests of all the international community members;
the voluntary principle of entering and participating in international organizations;
supporting the policy of progressively demilitarizing the international relations;
no territorial claims to neighboring states, non-recognition of territorial claims to the Republic of Belarus.
The strategic goals of the Republic of Belarus on the international arena are to protect the state sovereignty; protect the interests of the citizens, society and state; preserve the nuclear-free status; acquire a neutral status.
The main objectives of the Republic of Belarus in the field of foreign policy are:
create favorable foreign policy and foreign trade conditions to increase the living standards of the people, to develop the political, economic, intellectual and spiritual potential of the state;
equitable integration of the Republic of Belarus into the world's political, economic, scientific, educational, cultural and information environment;
promote a stable, fair, democratic world order based on the international law principles;
establish good-neighborly relations with the contiguous countries;
protect the rights and interests of the citizens of the Republic of Belarus abroad;
assist the implementation of the national, cultural and other rights and legal interests of the ethnic Belarusians and natives of the Republic of Belarus that live abroad;
promote reinforced international security, nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction and arms control;
expand international cooperation in the field of environmental protection, in the information and humanitarian spheres;
attract external intellectual resources to develop the Republic of Belarus educationally, scientifically and culturally;
participate in the international cooperation in the field of human rights encouragement and protection.
Priorities and Directions of Foreign Policy Activities
The foreign policy of the Republic of Belarus serves to provide favorable external conditions for the internal development of the nation as a basis for the progressive growth of the Belarusian people’s welfare.
Currently, the Republic of Belarus maintains diplomatic relations with 153 countries of the world, with 52 diplomatic missions operating in 45 countries. These include 43 embassies, 2 permanent offices in the international organizations and 7 consulates. 12 branch offices of the embassies of the Republic of Belarus function abroad.
The foreign states are represented in Belarus by 33 embassies, 2 branch offices of embassies, 1 trade mission, 17 consular institutions (including honorary consuls); and international organizations are represented by 12 offices. 82 foreign diplomatic missions holding dual accreditation are accredited in the Republic of Belarus.
Currently, the Republic of Belarus is an active party to 2750 international treaties. Of which, 1420 are bilateral treaties, and 1330 are multilateral treaties.
The main priority of the foreign policy of the Republic of Belarus is the neighboring countries. Above all, Russia – which is not only the principal market, a source of primary materials and energy carriers, but also a source of wide support for Belarus on the international arena. For the Republic of Belarus, cooperation with the Russian Federation is of strategic importance. What is also important is that as they construct their relationships on an allied basis, Belarus and Russia retain their sovereignty, remaining to be full entities of international law.
The next priority along this line of the foreign policy pursued by the Republic of Belarus is the CIS partners. Belarus has always been a stalwart supporter committed to the restoration of the links severed following the collapse of the Soviet Union so that our countries and peoples can develop successfully and stably. At the same time, the functioning of the far from perfect mechanism ensuring interaction of the CIS countries was hindered as a result of a wave of “colored revolutions” sweeping across the former Soviet Union. The states that have gone through such upheaval now tend to retreat from the integration CIS-format plans, which can only act to complicate the reconstruction of the full-fledged economic cooperation and negatively impact on the other vital spheres of the peoples that live throughout the Commonwealth. This urges the Republic of Belarus to look for new modes of interaction within the CIS, exhibit greater flexibility and tolerance in combination with consistency and insistence. Given the complexity and ambiguity of the issues, sometimes opposing stances taken by the leadership of the CIS countries, Belarus views integration within the Commonwealth, the Eurasian Economic Community, the United Trade Territory, and the Collective Security Treaty Organization as a high foreign policy priority.
Bilateral good-neighborly relations, their successful economic component equip the Republic of Belarus with additional arguments in the ongoing troubled dialog with the European Union.
A considerable portion of the political dialog between the Republic of Belarus and the countries of the West is concentrated within the OSCE framework that Belarus views as a key structure to maintain security and stability in Europe. In the field of OSCE cooperation the Belarusian side attempts to reinforce all of the collaboration components in line with this organization’s recommendations, assist its progressive change aimed at, above all, taking more fully into account the interests of the participating states.
On the whole, multilateral diplomacy is one of the priority areas of the foreign policy pursued by the Republic of Belarus. By actively affirming through the UN and OSCE, the Non-Aligned Movement peaceful and just approaches to resolving any, even bitterest conflicts, Belarus confirms its image of a peaceful nation on the international arena. The coherent policy in the field of nuclear disarmament and participation in the majority of the nonproliferation regimes allow Belarus to enjoy high international recognition.
The Republic of Belarus supports the UN policy in the field of maintaining international peace and security, in the sphere of reinforcing and developing the existing international regimes of nonproliferation of the weapons of mass destruction, reducing and eliminating the available arsenals. The principled position of Belarus is that the UN must be a consolidating and coordinating center to develop a vision and tactics for the international community combating international terrorism.
The Republic of Belarus dismisses any interference in its home affairs, nor does it allow itself to act in a similar way to the other countries. On the one hand, such a position helps the Republic of Belarus maintain good relations with most of the world’s countries, on the other hand, it becomes an obstacle to a different world order that some countries would like to impose. At the same time, the sovereign right to choose one's own path of development, to make independent decisions is a mandatory element of the democratic and just world.
The Republic of Belarus assumes that the world order of the 21st century must be based on the collective issue resolution mechanisms, on the priority of the UN Charter and commonly accepted standards of the international law. A stable system of international relations may be attained only on the basis of the real equality of all entities, mutual respect and mutually beneficial cooperation to provide reliable security of each member of the international community in the political, economic, humanitarian and other spheres.
The areas of the Belarusian foreign policy that are most promising include the Asian-African and Latin American directions. Their potential is based on the harmony of the positions with respect to the issues of vital international importance, their effective agreements, and genuine feelings of sympathy for Belarus.