Doing business in Belarus
Belarus is a former Soviet Union republic which became an independent country in 1991. It is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, bordering Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. The population of Belarus is 10 million people, with 2 million living in the capital Minsk. In the past Belarus has experienced centuries of invasion and conquest. Between 1941 and 1944 the country was occupied by the Nazis, and it has lost 2.2 million people, including most of its large Jewish population. Due to the fact that every 4th person died during the war, Belarusians have a strong sense of loss of their loved ones even today.
Nowadays Belarus is an important transit route for Russian gas supplies to parts of Western Europe. Belarus is also a major exporter of machinery, chemical and petroleum products. Today Belarus is still largely unexploited by the world’s businessman, but its convenient geographical location between Europe and Russia and plenty of intellectual potential provide an excellent environment for successful business. Setting up and doing business in this country will be challenging, but do not be afraid of the hard work, as your efforts will pay off in the end.
Belarusian language (which is also known as White Russian) has been the official language since 1990, before which it was Russian. The majority of the population speaks both Russian and Belarusian, and in addition many people also speak Ukrainian and Polish. A number of businessmen are fluent in English, but because the legal system of the country is quite complicated it is strongly recommended to rely on an interpreter when doing business in Belarus.
The Belarusians are often referred to as ‘the most patient Slavs’. Being born during or after the war, Belarusians have a strong sense of tolerance. Rather than getting involved in a conflict, they would prefer to sort out any kind of problem through peaceful negotiations. In public Belarussians are quite restrained. However, if you are greeted very enthusiastically and with a hug and/or a kiss, then you know that a good relationship was established.
One of the typical week-end activities for Belarusians is working at their ‘dachas’ (country houses) growing vegetables and fruits. If you are traveling around by car, try to avoid driving on Friday nights especially during the summers as roads are jammed with lots of people on their way to ‘dachas’ outside the cities. Belarusians are very proud of their little plots of land, so do not be surprised when a very successful local businessman is as excited as a little child when showing you his tomato plants!
Business meetings in Belarus are quite formal. It is essential to make an appointment with your partner before your visit to Belarus. As bureaucracy is still very cumbersome in Belarus, to speed things up you can try to find a third party (preferably someone local with a good reputation and a good network of associates) who can act as your guarantor.
Patience during business negotiations will pay off.
It is almost impossible to resolve most matters without having the appropriate connections and/or even bribes.
The level of taxation is quite high and legal regulations are quite complicated; therefore, try to hire a local lawyer or independent legal consultant.
Be open to concessions, as this is the real aim in Belarusian business negotiations. Be prepared to concede at least on some minor things merely to ensure that your business partners feel that they have achieved something.
Hierarchy is very important for Belarusians. They respect age, rank and positions. Bear in mind that business decisions will be made on multiple levels, and gaining an agreement on one level does not ensure the positive decisions on the rest of the levels. Usually, the most senior person will be making a final decision. Paradoxically, it is more difficult to get an agreement with people of the lower ranks in the company.
Belarusian food mainly consists of meat (normally pork or beef) prepared in various ways with potatoes. You can really appreciate the culinary skills of Belarusians if you are invited for a dinner at home. Belarusians are great hosts and you will not regret an evening spent in their company.
The climate of Belarus is moderately continental with a mild and humid winter, relatively hot summer and rainy autumn. So when coming to Belarus, do not forget to bring your waterproof clothes!
Belarus is predominantly low, hilly flat land. Around 36% of the country is occupied by forests. There are more than 20 thousand rivers and creeks and about 11 thousand lakes in Belarus. The biggest lake is Naroch (about 80 square kilometers). About 30 kinds of mineral raw materials have been prospected in Belarus, the most significant among which are potassium salts, the Belarusian reserves of which occupy one of the leading places in Europe. The reserves of rock salt are virtually inexhaustible.
Beliefs & Superstitions
Whistling inside a building is considered bad luck.
Don’t put your feet on seats and tables, as it is considered rude.
Avoid doing business in the first week of May as it has several public holidays.
Belarusians jokingly refer to the president of their country Alexander Lukashenko as ‘bat’ka’- Belarusian for ‘dad’.
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