Meeting with members of public, Belarusian and foreign journalists Big Conversation With the President

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The meeting of Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko with representatives of the general public, Belarusian and foreign mass media lasted for 7 hours and 20 minutes. The meeting was dubbed as Big Conversation With the President. About 50 reporters representing the largest state and private Belarusian mass media, popular websites, and respected foreign mass media were invited to take part in the meeting. Many experts, including prominent political analysts, economists, representatives of political parties, religious confessions, and public associations, productively contributed to the discussion

On format

“This meeting is held in a rather unusual format for many people. This is not a press conference, not an interview. The form of our today’s conversation is dictated by life itself: we cannot do without dialogue today and especially tomorrow,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed. “There are journalists and the members of the public in this hall. Of course, ordinary people will be the main participants of the event. I suggest discussing all the issues of concern for you, your relatives and friends.”

The President emphasized that at the today’s meeting he would like to discuss the problems concerning the Belarusian people. “There are no closed topics. You can ask any questions and express your opinions in an open and forthright way,” the head of state said.

“In order to move forward we need to talk about the most topical issues in a frank way. It is not a secret that there are powers (both here and abroad) who dream of dragging Belarus into conflicts and chaos. Not everyone likes our peaceful life. Today the society needs, more than ever, a spiritual strength and consolidation, and also the understanding of the responsibility for the future of their country. Let us think about the future of our children, our loved ones,” the head of state said.

People of different beliefs and opinions have gathered here today. “However, we are all united: we are all devoted to our Fatherland, our independent Belarus,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted.

On salaries and pensions

“Salaries and pensions can be increased only in case we produce more products, better products, and sell them at higher prices,” the head of state said. “There is another way: something can be borrowed or taken from someone. But this is not our way. Our state and corporate debts are rather big today. Do not hope that we will borrow money to raise salaries and pensions.”

Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed that, first of all, it is essential to focus on the manufacturing sector. He stressed that the growth rate of salaries should not exceed the growth in labor productivity.

The average salary in Belarus must be raised to $500 in 2017. “The average salary of $500 is what the state must secure for its people. Earning more is not prohibited and is even welcomed. We live in a market economy,” Aleksandr Lukashenko added.

“We must reach the target of raising the average salary to $500 whatever it takes. It is not some baseless figure. Moreover, we have been through this already. The average salary was $412 in December 2016. We are almost there. We need to do a little more,” said the head of state.

On state support and preferences

“We will give preferences only to those initiatives that will give us results tomorrow,” the head of state stressed. “I emphasize once again that we live in a market economy. Moreover, everyone wants to join the WTO, and you know what the WTO thinks about preferences,” Aleksandr Lukashenko added. The Belarusian leader pointed out that when considering granting preferences, it is necessary to take into account whether the allocated funds are used efficiently. “Put yourself in the government’s shoes: you have a small amount of money, and who would you give it to? Would you just ‘bury it in the sand’, or first think about what profits you will get from lending it to someone? The same principle applies to the state,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed.

“All these preferences and other things – you realize that all this is taken from the pocket of our people. Some give money to the budget, and we give preferences from this budget to someone else,” the head of state said. Given this, preferences are primarily granted to those whom the state is obliged to support. These include families with many children, the military men.

On entrepreneurship and inspections

Suggestions have been made in Belarus to review the system of small business inspections and reduce the number of supervisory activities. “Most likely we will make a decision similar to the one regarding the preferences: we will abolish the inspections by the emergency ministry, police, hygienic service and others and leave only those that are necessary, without which we cannot do,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

For example, a new company will be inspected by the hygienic service and the Emergencies Ministry who issue work permits. If an accident happens at this company in the future, the responsibility will be borne by the head of the company. “We will toughen the laws with respect to responsibility of managers. Then neither the Emergencies Ministry nor hygienic service will be running around. It will be the head of the company who will be making every effort to make sure that everything goes well. This is the way it should be,” the head of state said.

“The government is working on this already. I think that we will submit these innovations for public debate,” Aleksandr Lukashenko added.

On multi-vector policy

“We have no other option but to further pursue a multi-vector policy. It was my decision. I felt it intuitively,” the head of state said. However, the President remarked that “not everything worked out right with this multi-vector policy”.

“This is consistent with our mentality: we should be friends with all our neighbors. Neither Russia nor Ukraine or Poland or Lithuania, or Latvia are alien lands for us. They are our neighbors. Full stop. As regards further vectors, our economy is open. As for my recent travels to Egypt and Sudan, I went there to promote our products. I go to the countries that open their doors to us. Thanks God, many countries have recently opened their doors. And we go there. Not a single trip was in vain,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

On Ordinance No. 3

“This ordinance has been in force for 2-3 years. If we arrive at an unyielding conclusion that it is an anachronism and it is not necessary, we will abolish it. Do not hurry. Perhaps, it still can add many useful things to our lives,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted.

The President stressed that the ordinance is, first of all, focused on those who have no jobs and do not take part in the financing of the public expenditure. These people do not live within their means and use all amenities such as free education and healthcare services. “We encourage them to work. We do not compel them to work, but they must pay for services,” the head of state said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko reminded that the document has been recently amended. Local authorities now can exempt a person in difficulty from the tax.

On Belarusian model

“I believe that the socially-oriented economy is the right development model for us and for all the Slavonic peoples in general. I do not see any other model of development for Belarus. I have been watching closely the options of development made in Russia, Ukraine, and some other countries. I pray that God save us from such fate,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted.

The head of state stressed that any state is worth something if it serves its people. “Why do people need the state which does not give anything to them? The socially-oriented economy is the economy for people,” the President said.

According to Aleksandr Lukashenko, the Belarusian economy is currently going through difficult times, but the state continues supporting its people. “I proceed from the concept I formulated during the presidential election. I will help people. I will stay committed to the socially-oriented economy principles. I cannot promise one thing and do the other. This is not my policy. I advocate a sincere and fair policy. One cannot envisage everything in a law. When it is not legislated, do it in the right fair way. I think fairness is more important than any law,” the President stressed.

On relations with Russia

Russians have always been close people for Belarus. “As long as I am president, Russians will see no insults from Belarus,” the head of state said. According to Aleksandr Lukashenko, the current state of affairs in the Belarusian-Russian relations is a crucial issue. “This is a very serious topic. On the one hand, I am afraid of saying too much. On the other hand, the situation has already gotten to the point that I cannot conceal certain things,” the President noted.

“I never ask for trouble. I have already seen a lot and burned my fingers several times. I can retreat and be flexible if necessary, but I will never tolerate the insults to the Belarusian state and people,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed.

On oil and gas issue

Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that the governments of Belarus and Russia are working in this direction. “We have not been able to reach an agreement yet. They are footdragging: one day they agree to work in the old way. The next day they change their mind saying that their bosses have not agreed,” the President stressed.

In his words, Belarus and Russia used the netback pricing method in the oil and gas sector. With world oil prices being high, gas was expensive too. “Belarus paid that price,” the head of state stressed. Then the prices for oil reduced. So did prices for gas. The earlier agreed price was $132.77 per 1000 cubic meters. Now, according to the formula, it should be $83-82 for Belarus. However, Russia does not want to sell gas at such a price, saying that the previous price was the lowest ever. Aleksandr Lukashenko views this position as illogic, since the parties have agreements which they should abide.

The head of state also stated that the oil and gas dispute can lead to escalation of tensions in many areas. “We see this happen already. For example, we now have border controls back,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

On Western sanctions

The lifting of Western sanctions should open up additional opportunities for the Belarusian economy. “We did not deserve the sanctions. It is good that they were lifted. For example, we have started to make arrangements in the textile industry, etc. We want our economy to get at least ‘a breath of fresh air’ at the expense of the West,” the Belarusian leader said. According to the President, huge efforts will be required to promote Belarusian machine-building, petrochemical and other products on Western markets.

In this regard, the President of Belarus mentioned the role of financing. “There is a lot of money in the West, and if we could take loans with a relatively small interest rate there, it would be great for us. Therefore, it might be an opportunity to get cheaper money. We are working in various fields now, and such an opportunity emerges. It is not bad, isn’t it?” Aleksandr Lukashenko wondered.

On military cooperation with Russia

Belarus is ready to host the Belarusian-Russian army exercise Zapad 2017. Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked that he had suggested arranging army exercises interchangeably in Belarus and Russia every two years to President of Russia Vladimir Putin. The Zapad 2017 exercise will be an open one. “Those, who want to make sure we are not going to assault anyone, will be invited to attend the army exercise,” said Aleksandr Lukashenko. “Our becoming an aggressor for some country is unthinkable. Our stance is purely defensive,” stated the Belarus President.

Speaking about the criticism of the forthcoming army exercise by several mass media, the head of state made it clear that Russia has no intention of occupying Belarus. “The Russian army units, which are going to come to Belarus, will leave just the way they will arrive. Russia is never going to occupy Belarus,” Aleksandr Lukashenko is convinced.

The President remarked that national defense is what matters. “Economy is useless if people cannot feel secure, if they are unprotected,” concluded the head of state.

On nuclear power station

he Belarusian nuclear power plant construction project should not be politicized. “I ask Lithuanians why they are fighting against us? We do not make a fuss about the Ignalina nuclear power plant being extremely dangerous. God forbid if anything happens. This is the worst nuclear power plant in the world. We understand you and do not fuss around ,” the head of state said.

The President stressed that Belarus is ready to employ Lithuanian specialists who lost their jobs due to the closure of the Ignalina plant. Many people are ready to come and are actually coming to work at the future plant. But the main thing is that Belarus is ready to sell electricity to Lithuania at normal prices. “They agree at first but then start to politicize this issue in the public domain. But in this case politics should be cast aside and forgotten. The economy will do its thing: when we have cheap electricity, then we will come to an agreement,” said the President.

The head of state noted that the Belarusian nuclear power plant will be the cheapest but at the same time reliable. “We already managed to optimize the costs worth hundreds of millions of dollars on individual nodes and aggregates,” he said. “Deputy Prime Minister Semashko is responsible for every bolt and screw,” the president assured.

Aleksandr Lukashenko underlined that the nuclear power plant in Belarus is being built by Russia. It is in her interests to build the plant in such a way as to showcase a new generation of the most secure nuclear power plants. Belarus is interested in the security of the nuclear power plant like no one else: security is a sensitive issue for the post-Chernobyl country. “When there was an incident during the installation of the reactor, we immediately decided to replace it,” reminded the head of state.

On national idea

The head of state said that Belarus has been attempting to formulate the national idea for quite some time. The effort involved different experts and public figures. “We have not managed to formulate it using our administrative resources. I have come to believe that, probably, in our development we have not yet reached the point where this idea would strike our minds and hearts. I have put myself at rest: if the society cannot come up with anything, then I cannot suggest anything either because this is a very responsible task. So we live as we do, without this idea. Though we would want to have one,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted.

The Belarusian leader believes that a national idea cannot be invented. “Our life, the development of our country should take us to this idea. It might be that we have existed for too short a time as a sovereign, independent country. Even Russia cannot formulate it [the national idea] today. We should be very careful and accurate. This idea should be shared by all and unite us,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

“Maybe I do not see it. In this case, this is your fault. You have not come up with anything either. Anyway, we need to formulate it, because this is a small step forward, a message to all generations: this is our future. Time will show and put everything in the right places,” the Belarusian leader believes.

On death penalty

The head of state noted that he does not have the right to abolish the death penalty or impose a moratorium on its use because the majority of the Belarusians voted against abolishing it in the referendum. Aleksandr Lukashenko suggested launching a big campaign in the society (including in the parliament, parties, public associations) to discuss the matter and study all pros and cons. “If people vote to abolish capital punishment, I will sign the corresponding decree the same day as the results of the referendum are announced,” the President stressed.

“Every time that a death sentence is awarded, I sign a decree. You have no idea what it takes. I understand that a man will be gone,” the head of state said. “But before I sign a decree, I study the case file on the man: photographs, operational materials, etc. When I see them, my blood turns to ice,” the president said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko cited an example of the recent criminal case of Mogilev ‘black realtors’ who had been killing people for several years burying them alive to get their apartments. “They have killed many old men and women... And what for?” the President stressed.

The issue of death penalty is often politicized, the head of state noted. “I often tell Europeans: Let's start with America. Will you force them to abolish the death penalty? Or others from whom you take money, shake hands with? Let's start with them. These are double standards,” Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized.

The president recalled that Russia imposed the moratorium a long time ago but eventually came to regret it. Now they are not abolishing it for a number of reasons. “Maybe it is bad that we have this moratorium. Or maybe we are right? Those who have imposed the moratorium are ready to cancel it today. It is just that they do not know how,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted.

On Belarusian dream

"I would like Belarusians to have enough money for satisfying their needs. I would like this country to be peaceful, calm and comfortable for life," the head of state said.