BEROC, the Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center, has last week held its second Annual International Economics Conference in Minsk.
BEROC is an admirable initiative by a group of Belarusian economists who were educated in the West and now continue their research and teaching at the world's top universities. Probably the best-known of them is Aleh Tsyvinski, Professor of Economics at Yale. The organisation aims "to spread the modern economic science methods in Belarus and to generate new academic and policy relevant knowledge about the Belarusian economy", according to its website[*].
The Russian economist Konstantin Sonin, a guest speaker at the conference, writes in his blog[*] that "Economic science of Belarus should be happy to have such a well-organised diaspora. One could have imagined that there are many economic scholars of Belarusian descent in the world, but it must have been uneasy to gather these people in one place".
He also describes his impression of people viewing news of Belarus' president appointing a new government and of the police raiding the editorial offices of opposition newspapers.
Indeed, Belarus' authoritarian regime has led to a massive loss of human capital of Belarus. People united in BEROC are only a top of the iceberg of brain drain from Belarus in the past years. The exodus of professionals from Belarus involves not only scientists but also entrepreneurs who have been unable to do business in Belarus due to the heavy regulatory pressure on private companies. The state apparatus has during these years also been constantly cleansed from professionals not loyal to Lukashenka.
It is essential for the Belarusian government to attract people like the BEROC economists as advisers to make reforms in the country. However the government should also understand that many of them would probably find it difficult to assist the state if it continues human rights violations in the country. It is one thing to be adviser to a growing eastern European country waiting to be explored by investors, and a different thing to advise a regime that persecutes independent media and puts presidential candidates in prison.