COUNTRY DESCRIPTION ^
Belarus occupies an area about the size of Kansas and has a population of just under 10 million. It became an independent republic on August 25, 1991, after the breakup of the Soviet Union. In November 1996, a constitutional referendum, not recognized by the international community, centralized power in the executive branch (president), headed by Alexander Lukashenko. Economic and political reform in Belarus has stalled or is being reversed under his authoritarian government. The Government�s human rights record remains very poor and has worsened in some instances; although there have been some improvements in a few areas, the Government continues to commit numerous abuses. Both Belarusian and Russian are official languages, and Russian is widely spoken throughout the country, particularly in the cities. Tourist facilities are not highly developed, but food and lodging in thecapital and some regional centers are adequate.
SECURITY AND SAFETY ^
Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities. These sites are not always clearly marked and application of these restrictions is subject to interpretation.
Both organized and spontaneous demonstrations can and do occur. Localized street disturbances relating to political events occur most frequently in Minsk or larger cities. Authorities may use force in those instances, and bystanders, including foreign nationals, may face the possibility of arrest, beating, or detention. We also wish to remind American citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can sometimes become confrontational and escalate into violence. Therefore, we urge American citizens to avoid demonstrations and protest gatherings and to exercise caution when near such gatherings.
Belarus has a moderate rate of crime; common street crime occurs especially at night and in or near hotels frequented by foreigners. Foreigners, and particularly foreign cars, tend to be targets of crime. Travelers should keep a copy of their passport in a separate location from their original.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES ^
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Belarus� laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belarus are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for U.S. citizens or permanent resident aliens, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad.
Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.
MEDICAL FACILITIES ^
Medical care in Belarus is limited. There is a severe shortage of basic medical supplies, including anesthetics, vaccines and antibiotics. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS ^
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Belarus is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Safety of Public Transportation: Good
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor
U.S. citizens may drive in Belarus with their home country driver�s license for up to six months from arrival. Foreign drivers should, therefore, always carry their passports to prove date of entry into the country in the event the police stop them. After residing in Belarus for six months, one may apply for a local driver�s license. A medical exam at the driver's clinic, which will include a chest x-ray, is the only exam required to receive a local driver�s license.
Radar traps, often unlit at night, are widespread. Except for a stretch of the main east-west superhighway, where the speed limit is 100 km/h (60 mph), the maximum speed limit on divided highways or main roads outside village, town or city limits is 90 km/h (55 mph). Speed limits inside city limits vary widely from 40 km/h to 70 km/h, with frequent radar traps. Visible and hidden dangers exist, including potholes, unlit or poorly lit streets, inattentive and dark-clothed pedestrians walking on unlit roads, drivers and pedestrians under the influence of alcohol, and disregard for traffic rules. Driving in winter is especially dangerous because of ice and snow. Driving with caution is urged at all times.
Radio dispatched taxi services are generally reliable and arrive promptly once called and usually offer the lowest fare. Most radio-dispatched taxis are metered, although fares can vary greatly and are considerably higher in the late evening and overnight hours. Unmetered taxis and private autos are also available; however, using such taxis is not recommended, as they are often more expensive for foreigners and less safe. In the event a traveler must use such a taxi, he or she should not travel alone and should agree to the price of the trip before getting into the vehicle.
Minsk has a clean, safe, and efficient subway system that easily reaches most of the city's core. Service is stopped briefly during the early morning hours, but otherwise runs regularly throughout the day. Ticket prices are extremely low by western standards. Though their routes are extensive, buses and trolleys lack heating or cooling capabilities and are usually crowded.
Travelers on all public transportation should be wary of pickpockets and other petty crime. For travelers interested in car rental, only one major western rental agency currently operates in Minsk. In general, rental car networks in Belarus are not well developed.
Travelers may experience significant delays (of several hours) in crossing the border by road into neighboring countries.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT ^
As there is no direct commercial air service between the U.S. and Belarus at present, nor economic authority to operate such service, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Belarus� Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1 -800-322-787 3, or visit FAA�s Internet website at
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229 -4801.
Please also refer to the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.
June 29, 2004