With a few hours left to the start of 2017, it’s time to draw conclusions about the year that’s running to an end.
In Belarus 2016 was eventful on the one hand and a year of no change on the other. Exhausting quarrels with the powerful ally Russia, undefined relations with the IMF, timid exchange of glances with the West. Dissapointing losses and great victories. Small steps to more openness and hesitancy to do more.
BelarusFeed has gathered the brightest moments from the life of the country this year.
Obscurity of the year – “All Complicated” with Russia and the IMF
“There wasn’t any new good, there were more and more bad things”, that’s how President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko described numerous problems in relations with Russia with one sentence. The usual friendly attitude seems to be fading out even at the level of rhetoric. Complicated story with the gas debt and oil prices has been dragging out for many months.
No more clarity is observed in relations with the IMF. The fund seems to be ready to give the green light to the Belarusian credit program, but not for the first time doubts are heard from Belarus instead of a decisive “Yes” (or “No”).
Surprise of the Year – Opposition in the Parliament
Belarusian parliamentary elections, held in September, this year surprised everyone. Including some of the winners.
Almost 500 candidates competed for 110 seats. The turnout reached 74.8%.
Opposition made a rare gain with two opposition candidates winning seats in parliament for the first time in 12 years. Anna Konopatskaya and Elena Anisim, two non-governmental candidates, won seats in the new parliament house.
In October, following the results of the elections, the USA extended the suspension of sanctions against Belarusian companies for six months.
OSCE described the 11 September elections as “efficiently organized”, but said that despite some first steps by the authorities, a number of long-standing systemic shortcomings remain.
Fear that Proved Wrong – Denomination of the Belarusian Ruble
In July, the Belarusian ‘lost’ four zeroes. New values of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 rubles, and eight denominations of coins – 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 copecks, and 1 and 2 rubles – were put into circulation.
In anticipation of the denomination traditionally strong Belarusian ‘monetary’ phobias worsened to the limit. Many were awaiting the collapse with the payments, endless confusion with the ‘old’ and ‘new’ money.
The forecasts of the sceptics proved wrong – everything went rather smoothly, new banknotes won the hearts of the people and became noticed internationally.
Half-reform of the Year – New Retirement Age
In April, Belarus president signed the decree approving a gradual increase of the retirement age in the country. Starting January 1, 2017 pension age will be raised by six months every year until it reaches 63 years for men, and 58 for women.
At present women in Belarus retire at 55, and men at 60. Every fourth person in Belarus’s population of 9.5 million is a pensioner, and this figure is expected to rise to one third by 2050 if the system is not changed. Because of the low retirement age, Belarus is among the leaders in the number of pensioners, even though it does not belong to “old” European countries.
The authorities has also considered 60/65 and 60/63, but have opted for the least drastic, or “politically acceptable” as experts called it, option. However, such indecisiveness may force Minsk to bring the issue up again as soon as 2022, experts say.
Sale of the Year – MSQRD and Facebook
In March, Facebook announced the acquisition of the Belarus-based startup Masquerade, the developer of a world-class imaging technology for video and the world-famous mobile app MSQRD.
The app lets users superimpose celebrity faces over their own in selfie videos. It was created during a 48-hour hackathon in Minsk in November 2015.
MSQRD has been on a steady rise in popularity since launching and was named among best apps of 2016 by App Store and Google Play.
B-Day of the Year – 10 Years of HTP Belarus
In June, Belarus High-Tech Park, which brings together 164 local tech companies and 25,000 tech professionals marked its 10th anniversary.
Established back in 2005, the Park safeguards its residents with a special preferential tax regime that significantly lowers operational expenditures.
In 2016, the revenues of the Park’s resident companies are expected to exceed $1 billion.
Surgery of the Year – Heart-Lung Transplant
On 2 November, Belarusian specialists conducted a complex “heart-lung” transplant surgery for the first time. This surgery is considered the most complicated one in transplantology.
The surgery lasted 9 hours. It was led by academician Yuri Ostrovsky who inspired this colossal work in the National Research Center of Cardiology.
All in all, the surgery involved about 20 people, including intensivists, coordinators, and doctors who were preparing the recipient for the transplant. As for the recipient, now he is 33 years old. He was put on the waiting list in March 2016.
To conduct a transplant, it was necessary to choose a donor who would match the recipient in many parameters, including height and weight. It took 6 to 7 months to find the donor.
A month after the surgery, the patient was discharged from the hospital. His health is assessed as good. There are 15 people on the waiting list for a heart-lung transplant.
Success of the Year – 6 Paralympic Golds
Swimmer Ihar Boki topped the list of medalists of the 25th Summer Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro by scooping the most of the Games’ gold medals.
The 22-year-old champion graced the podium seven times, winning six gold medals and one bronze.
Ihar Boki won the 100m backstroke, 100m butterfly, 200m medley, 50m, 100m and 400m freestyle events. The Belarusian swimmer set two world and six Paralympic records.
The Belarusian is now 11-time Paralympic champion.
Babies of the Year – First Kids Of Darya Domracheva and Victoria Azarenka
Two renowned Belarusian athletes welcomed their first babies in 2016.
Olympic champion and World Cup winner Darya Domracheva gave birth to her daughter on 1 October. The newborn was named Xenia.
““She is very sweet, she eats and sleeps most of the time. It is pure pleasure to be the father of this girl”, the happy father and many-time biathlon champion Ole Einar Bjorndalen said in an interview.
Belarusian tennis star Victoria Azarenka gave birth to a baby boy on 20 December. She announced the happy event in her Instagram account and immediately got numerous congrats from her colleagues and fans.
Starting Friendship of the Year – Belarus and EU
On 15 February the EU decided to lift almost all sanctions against Minsk. Most of them were in place for almost 10 years, the list has officials non-grata was growing and made shorter, until Brussels decided that it is time to start talking with Belarus in a new way.
The decision came as a praise for Belarus’ attempts to reconcile the parties to the conflict in Ukraine, the release of political prisoners and peaceful presidential elections.
At present the most obvious result of such warming is a sharp intensification of contacts at the highest level. We are waiting for visa exemptions and investment flows.