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.
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. In turbulent economic times, the Belarus economy has also been less affected than those which rely on global markets, and market analysts predict a robust growth for the economy of Belarus. 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.
The Belarusian language (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 that a professional interpreter is employed when one is doing business in Belarus.
The Belarusians are often referred to as ‘the most patient Slavs’. Rather than getting involved in conflict, they would prefer to sort out any kind of problem through peaceful negotiation. 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 has been established.
One of the typical weekend activities for Belarusians is working at their ‘dachas’ (country houses) growing fruit and vegetables. If you are travelling around by car, try to avoid driving on Friday nights especially during the summer, as roads are jammed with lots of people on their way to ‘dachas’ outside the cities. Belarusians are very proud of their plots of land, so do not be surprised by the excitement of a successful local businessman 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. Avoid doing business in the first week of May as it has several public holidays. All foreigners staying in Belarus, whether on a short visit or on a work permit, are required to register with the local department of the Office of Visas and Registration (OVIR) within three days of arrival in Belarus. If you are staying in a hotel they will arrange this for you.
As bureaucracy is still very cumbersome in the country, 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. As the level of taxation is quite high and legal regulations are quite complicated, it may also be worth looking into hiring a local lawyer or independent legal consultant.
Patience during business negotiations will always pay off. It is important to be open to concessions and be prepared to concede at least some minor things.
The Belarusian ruble (BR) is the only currency that can be used for any transactions that take place in Belarus. To account for potential currency fluctuations, business-to-business negotiations are often carried out in US dollars or euros, particularly if a foreign party is involved. But once agreed, payment is made in BR at the current exchange rate. Payments in other currencies are only permissible if made from outside Belarus.
This post has, hopefully, taught you something about the intricacies of Belarusian business culture. There is, however, a lot more to learn: a professional lifetime’s worth. At TJC Global, our interpreters are experts in Belarusian practice as much as they are experts in the language. To find out how our services can assist you on your next business trip to Belarus, visit TJC Oxford, or contact us.