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Belarus: Economic, Social Conditions Blamed For High Divorce Rate

  • Valentinas Mite

An image of "Unequal Marriage," a painting by Vasily Pukirev that hangs in Belarus's national art museum (AFP) The world marked the United Nations' 10th International Day of Families on May 15, but in Belarus the event was not cause for celebration. With one of the worst divorce rates in the world at about 4.5 divorces per 1,000 inhabitants, the country faces an uphill climb as it attempts to persuade families to have more children. But average Belarusians say the state itself is partly to blame, as they cite dismal economic and social conditions as among the main reasons families break up.

PRAGUE, May 16, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Belarus is experiencing a family crisis.

According to official data, the country registered 73,000 marriages last year. But those numbers were offset by a troubling 30,000 divorces.

When interviewed by RFE/RL, people on the streets of the Belarusian capital cited the poor financial situation in the country among the reasons for the country's high divorce rate.

Money Issues

One young man, who declined to give his name, said financial strains can lead many couples to avoid having children, which he believes can result in more divorces.

"I think it [divorce] is an economic problem," he said. "It also explains the low birth rate. Many families have no children, which does not help to keep them together."
"People live together with parents and it also affects their lives. Every family has its own reasons."

An older woman, who also declined to give her name, agreed. "Primarily, I think that it [the divorce rate] reflects material difficulties. Husbands are earning very little and wives are not happy. Women also have no opportunities to get a good job. There are also housing problems. People live together with parents and it also affects their lives. Every family has its own reasons."

Another young, unidentified woman placed part of the blame on the state, saying that the authorities do not care about the problem. "You see, currently, we have such a situation in the country that families are left on their own [to deal with their problems]," she said. "Family, as an institute, is supported in the West. We have no such support. I think very often because of this reason families are falling apart."

Soviet Legacy

Valery Karbalevich, an analyst with the independent Minsk-based Strategy Center for Political Analysis, said the rate of divorce can be linked to several factors.

"There are serious political-economic problems [the country] faces after the collapse of the Soviet Union," Karbalevich said. "These socioeconomic problems are causing a big psychological discomfort in the society. Without any doubt it has a huge impact on a family."

Karbalevich pointed out that after World War II, Belarus became a highly industrialized country, leading many citizens to move from rural to urban areas. This, along with a move away from religion, helped fuel the breakdown of the patriarchal family ties that were characteristic of the beginning of the 20th century.

"Family, as an institute, is supported in the West. We have no such support. I think very often because of this reason families are falling apart."

Today, Karbalevich says, society has evolved to a point where divorce is accepted as a normal fact of life in Belarus:

"Belarus is an atheistic country. Traditions that strengthen families do not exist here," he said.

Karbalevich said the issue is well-known and is often addressed by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who lectures television audiences on the advantages of having bigger, stable families.


But while Karbalevich says the authorities attempt to deal with the problem by offering financial incentives as a means of inducing Belarusians to have children, the country's lack of financial resources inhibits their efforts.

(RFE/RL's Belarus Service contributed to this article.)

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