“Privatisation and Private Enterprise in Belarus. Potential International Support” was a two—day long seminar organized within the frames of the European Dialogue on Modernisation with Belarusian Society. Through a series of expert debates, the European Commission aims at creating forms of assistance for reforms in Belarus. The organizers of the Warsaw event held on 16-17 April are the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Solidarity Fund PL.
Economists and experts from EU states and Belarus met to discuss issues essential for the privatization process in the country currently ruled by Alexander Lukashenko. Financial aid from the outside was also a subject raised during the two-day long debate.
Held in Warsaw’s Palace on the Water, the first seminar concerning transformation of the political system in Belarus was opened by Foreign Minister of Poland Radosław Sikorski, European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Stefan Fule, Belarusian oppositionist Anatoly Lebedko and Professor Leszek Balcerowicz.
Minister Sikorski said that “Poland is also the homeland of Solidarity … We can and should share our experiences in democratising and modernising our country”. He added: “A modern state cannot function along the same lines as a kolkhoz”. Next, Commisioner Fule explained the philosophy behind the European Dialogue on Modernisation, an instrument designed for creating a conception of Belarus both reformed and well functioning.
The audience had a chance to hear more details from oppositionist Anatoly Lebedko: “We have to follow the policy of three steps. First – release and rehabilitation of political prisoners, second – elections in accordance with OSCE rules, and third – modernization plan”. The Belarusian politician drew attention to the importance of EU’s solidarity and unanimity among its member states. Lebedko addressed Minister Sikorski and Commissioner Fule with a question “How do we reach to Belarusian society with a message about the need of transformation?”
Former Minister of Finance and chief reformer of Polish economy in the 1990s Professor Leszek Balcerowicz talked about mutual dependence of economic development and state of democracy. He focused on countries lacking the former, for their democracy is only on paper.
On the second day, economists and politicians met in the building of the Warsaw Stock Exchange. The main topic were issues regarding changes of legislation, forms of financial aid and privatisation of the nationalised economy in Belarus. All speakers agreed that privatization process brings positive effects as well as some dangers.
Antonio Somma, the head of the OECD Eurasia Competitiveness Programme, talked about dependence of democracy and free market in the context of changes in Belarus: “Perhaps Belarusian society would welcome political changes in the country, but most probably the citizens would not be eager to invite more competitiveness in regard to the job market, an unavoidable effect of a privatization process”. He also noted how difficult those changes would be, for the private sector in Belarus generates only 30 percent of GDP – the lowest result in all six countries of the Eastern Partnership.
Ulrike Hauer from the European External Action Service reminded that Belarus, despite functioning thanks to gas bought by the lowest price comparing to the rest of Europe, did nothing to restructurize economy which would result in its better efficiency. “Many times Belarusian authorities have announced launching reforms to modernize economy, boost competitiveness, strengthen export and start privatization, but any steps towards these goals are yet to be seen”. The EC representative assured that the Union, as a world economy leader is able to help Belarusians.
Professor Piotr Kozarzewski from the Center for Social and Economic Research emphasised that privatization cannot be a process independent from the whole package of reforms forming the comprehensive economic policy of the country. Belarusian participants who attended the seminar asked the experts about potential financing small and medium business through micro credits. They were also interested in methods that would allow avoiding formation of oligarchy class connected with state officials or outside capital.
The seminars organized by Polish MFA and Solidarity Fund PL were a great opportunity for interchanging ideas among Western economic and analytical institution, Belarusian business associations, scholars and others, simply interested in positive development of Belarus.
From our own corespondents Łukasz Grajewski and Paweł Lickiewicz
Translated by KD