HUMAN AND ECONOMIC GEOGRAPHY
According to Simplyyellowpages.com, Belarus is a Northeastern European state. At the 1999 census the residents numbered 10,045,237, but the population was declining at a slow and constant rate (- 0.6 % in the period 2000-2005) due to the achievement of a mature demographic model, with a low birth rate (10.8 ‰ in 2005) and a high mortality rate (14.1 ‰), so that according to an estimate in 2005 the residents were less than 10 million (9,755,000ab.). The urban population continued to account for about three-quarters of the total, and a significant portion of it lived in the capital Minsk or its agglomeration. Gomel´, the second largest city in the country, and the other major centers kept their population and hierarchical position in the urban network almost unchanged. Unlike the other Eastern European republics born from the dissolution of the USSR, Belarus maintained close relations with Russia, and the use of Russian, to which the dignity of official language had been restored in 1995 alongside Belarusian, remained widespread.. On the economic level, Belarus was heavily affected by the detachment from the system of collaboration that had been established between the European socialist countries, and only in the early years of 21° sec. the first positive results had begun, including a moderate increase in GDP (+ 4.7 % in 2001 and 2002, + 6.8 % in 2003, + 6.4 % in 2004), supported by the good performance of foreign trade. Inflation, however, continued to remain high (17.4 % in 2004 ; but in 2002 it had reached 42.5%): a figure that attested to the structural evils of this state economy. The government adopted new measures that made any type of privatization more difficult and further strengthened the presence of the State in companies, maintaining the strategy of aid to sectors in deficit and of interest above all towards the social sector. Among the productive sectors, the industrial sector recorded the best results (+ 9.1 % in 2003), supported by strong demand from Russia, the main trading partner of Belarus (70 % of imports and 47% of exports). In particular, the chemical (fertilizers), petrochemical (sale of refined products to the European Union) and mechanical (trucks, tractors, etc.) sectors were growing. There were microelectronic and computer industries in Minsk.
At the beginning of the 21st century. the centralizing and authoritarian regime established by President A. Lukashenko (in office since 1994) did not suffer any cracks despite the growing diplomatic isolation of the country, condemned by international and humanitarian organizations for the open violation of human rights. The harsh repression against political opponents and the total control of the media remained in fact a constant of government policy, which made electoral appointments meaningless, in which the population was still called to participate. Thus the result of the legislative elections of October 2000, won by the government candidates, and of the presidential elections of September 2001, was discounted., which confirmed Lukashenko in power. A new wave of arrests preceded the legislative elections of October 2004, in which the opposition forces, united in the coalition called Five Plus, were once again defeated. On the other hand, the institutional referendum, held at the same time, aimed at allowing Lukashenko to stand for a third term, managed to obtain the majority of the consensus. During 2005, the situation remained tense and reached a climax in March 2006, when the new presidential elections once again sanctioned Lukashenko’s victory by a large majority. The protests organized by the oppositions that denounced irregularities in the conduct of the vote, also contested by international public opinion, were dissolved with the use of violence by the police. In foreign policy, the country maintained its traditional relations with Russia, on which it depended for energy supply, although there was a certain cooling in relations between the two states and the prospects of political and monetary reunification, which had also been aired during the first years of the 2000s. Among the causes of the tension that arose between the governments of Minsk and Moscow was the rapprochement of the latter with the September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington, in the face of the growing friction that instead marked the diplomatic relations of Belarus with Western powers. The main differences concerned relations with Washington, which accused the country of supplying arms to the states that supported international terrorism, first of all Irāq, with which Belarus had established economic and commercial relations.
During 2002 the tension intensified, and grew further in the face of Lukashenko’s criticism of the US attack on Irāq (March 2003). Relations with the European Union, after a sharp deterioration during 2002, experienced a slow recovery, and in April 2003 the provisions (issued in Nov. 2002) that prevented Lukashenko, and senior government officials, were revoked. entry into the countries of the Union. Over the next few years, however, Lukashenko’s maintenance of a harsh repressive policy created new elements of friction.