The Republic of Belarus is a landlocked nation located in Eastern Europe and a former satellite state of the Soviet Union (USSR). Despite independence and development that came after the USSR’s collapse, Belarus is one of the most repressive countries in Europe. Furthermore, democratic institutions often taken for granted in the West are mostly absent. In the article below, top 10 facts about living conditions in Belarus are presented.
Top 10 Facts about Living Conditions in Belarus
- Belarus’ economy remains largely state-controlled. According to the Heritage Foundation, 70 percent of the state’s economy is managed by the government. A lack of private ownership inhibits innovation and contributes to government inefficiency.
- An aspect of Belarus’ economy that has made its citizens relatively well off is the country’s oil reserves and capacity for refinement. It exports refined petroleum, mainly to Russia, in return for inexpensive natural gas. Trade in fossil fuels contributes to Belarussians having a GDP per capita of $18,100, ranking it 66th out of 214 nations.
- Despite Belarus having an above average standard of living, its people are far from free. The country is run by authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko, the man that is in power since 1994. Widely regarded as the “last dictator in Europe,” his crackdown on dissidents, along with widespread human rights violations, are condemned by the West. A particularly appalling fact about Belarus is the lack of press freedom. Reporters Without Borders ranks Belarus 155th out of 180 in this category, and this is partially due to the imprisonment of 100 journalists in 2017.
- Belarus performs reasonably well in major public health indicators. For example, over 99 percent of the country has access to improved drinking water, 94 percent to improved sanitation and its infant mortality rate is a mere 3.6 deaths per 1,000 births. In comparison, the United States has an infant mortality rate of 5.7 per 1,000 births.
- A major public health crisis represents disparity between male and female life expectancy. Male life expectancy sits at 66.5, compared to the female rate of 78. Public health experts cite alcohol abuse as a major factor of low life expectancy for Belarussian men. The average man drinks 27.5 liters per year, compared with the worldwide average of 6.2.
- Unlike some of its post-Soviet counterparts, such as the Baltic States, Belarus is not closely aligned with the European Union (EU). This isolation has a noticeable impact on Belarus’ economy. EU members have access to one of the largest common markets in the world. Furthermore, citizens of EU member states are generally free to live and work throughout the bloc. Millions of people are taking this advantage and bettering themselves, an option Belarussians do not have.
- Overall, the population of Belarus appears to be adequately educated. Adult literacy rates are nearly 100 percent and students spend an average of 15 years in the educational system.
- Belarus’ economy is recovering after years of decline. It experienced 2.9 percent annual GDP growth in 2017, with this trend expected to continue through the decade. However, for sustained growth to occur, experts argue that structural reforms must be implemented. These include reducing the debt to GDP ratio and efficiently allocating Belarus’ rich reserves of capital, both physical and human.
- Belarus’ leader quells dissent by intimidating and censoring the media. Recently, he has been receiving help from Russia, in the form of state-sponsored propaganda dominating Belarus’ airwaves. The goal of Russia’s campaign, according to World Policy magazine, is to mobilize Belarus’ sizeable Russian population against anti-Russian, pro-Belarussian nationalism. As the Baltic States and unoccupied Ukraine are unequivocally pro-democracy, Russia wants to maintain a friendly neighbor in a region increasingly allied with the West.
- The Human Development Index (HDI) ranks nations based on an aggregation of quality of life statistics, including life expectancy, per capita income and education. Based on the quality of these indicators, a country is awarded a score from 0-1. Belarus’ HDI score stands at 0.80, which places the country in 53rd place worldwide. Despite their lack of political freedom, Belarussians have a standard of living well above the world average.
The top 10 facts about living conditions in Belarus presented above show a clear dependence of the country on both European Union and Russia, both economically and politically. Despite having autocratic government and being one of the most repressive countries in Europe, the country has seen an increase in economic development that benefited all citizens of the country.
– Joseph Banish