Ranking of Belarusian Cities 2021

We show the multi-faceted reality of Belarusian cities in the following five dimensions

Our intention is not to shame the worst cities or praise the best. Instead, the Center for New Ideas seeks to increase public interest in regional problems and foster expert discussion.

  • demographic sustainability

  • economic situation

  • quality of life

  • civil and political practices

  • touristic attractiveness

Methodology

The ideal city

For us, an ideal city combines stability and dynamic potential. Such a city boasts reliable demographic growth, and higher education is readily obtainable. Well-paid jobs are within reach, social services are of high-quality. Individuals’ activities and visions for the development of their native land are noticed by the local authorities. The civil and political crisis that has been unfolding since August 2020 continues to have a major impact on many elements of urban development in Belarus. Nevertheless, we are convinced that this ranking allows us to determine which of them offer a higher quality of life.

To put it simplistically, the ideal city is where one wants to spend one’s entire life

The sixteen indicators we have chosen for this ranking reflect our understanding of the best city. Certain indicators have not been included in the ranking, such as the state of infrastructure or the environment, as we could not find relevant quantitative indices. Nevertheless, we strived to create a high-quality, transparent ranking using the data available.

Our ranking includes 40 cities with 19,000 to 2,000,000 residents. Two thirds of the population of Belarus live in these cities, and they are the most significant political-economic actors. This does not mean that we believe towns with a population of 10,000 people or villages to be bad places to live, but their role in Belarus remains marginal and will only become more so as time goes one. We have thus excluded them from our ranking.

Method of Calculation

When preparing this ranking, we were inspired by global analogues, examples from neighbouring countries and the Ranking of Belarusian Cities compiled a decade ago. All of these indices address the same fundamental questions as the Ranking of Belarusian Cities, although the Western examples cover more factors and draw from a larger statistical database.

Although such indices reduce the visible scope of information, in practice the ranking contains a wealth of statistical data that determines the ultimate place of each city in it. Below, we give an explanation of how we selected each indicator to measure our five dimensions.

Each dimension (not indicator) has an equal share in the general result. We recognize that this is a simplification. However, this simplification is intentional, as we believe it ensures transparency and elegance in our research, given that all aspects are important in determining the city closest to our ideal.

The results of most indicators are equalized on a scale of 0 to 100 points according to the formula y=(x−min)/(max−min), where:

  • x is a specific indicator (for example, the average wages in a city);
  • min is the minimum value among all cities;
  • max is the maximum value among all cities;
  • y is the corresponding result on a scale from 0 to 100 points, which is included in the ranking.

Exceptions to this are the results of the expert ranking of Belarusian tourist sites and the indicators in the “Civil and political practices” dimension. There, the results are presented according to a three- (0-50-100) and four-step scale:

  • 100 – when the necessary information is provided in full;
  • 75 – when the necessary information is provided but there are significant shortcomings;
  • 50 – when half of the necessary information is provided;
  • 25 – when a small part of the necessary information is provided;
  • 0 – when the necessary information is not provided.

Please take a look at the following example of how the scale works:

Natural increase in 2019
(data for 2020 has not been published)

  • Per 1,000 residents
  • Result according to the formula

The results of each dimension are presented as an average of all the indicators analyzed for that dimension, while the general ranking is the average of all the dimensions.

In almost all cases, we used data from the most recent available year. The only exception to this was investment in fixed capital. Here, figures often change in accordance with the priorities of the authorities, so we used the average index for five years.

When we were developing this ranking, the administrative status of nearly half of the cities created a small problem, as some of them are district-level cities rather than regional-level ones. This means that some data is collected at the level of the entire district rather than the city itself. We have been thinking for a long time about how to address this issue. However, in practice, manual correction of data could reduce the transparency of our research. Therefore, we simply added a symbol indicating when we used data from the district level for our audience to take into account.

Help us

Combining such indicators in order to create a ranking always involves compromise in terms of methodology. Unfortunately, this year we didn’t manage to make all the compromises we would have liked, and therefore certain interesting indicators did not make it into the ranking. Perhaps what we were really lacking were your bright ideas, so we are kindly asking you to answer several questions (you don’t have to answer them all).

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A New Vision for Belarusian Cities

The future belongs to cities. Over half of the population of the Earth already lives in them, and it’s increasingly true that urban centers, rather than countries, are competing for investors. City administrations are excellently positioned to solve many social issues – from poverty to education – as they can take a closer look and understand those issues better.

All this is not strictly true of Belarus. However, it would also be naive to believe that our cities do not compete with each other, for example, for more state investment. Moreover, changes not controlled by the state are happening beneath the surface. The data shows that regardless of the authorities’ efforts to restrain the liberty of cities and the competition between them, every city has its own path of development. And this is especially noticeable in the regions.

The state policy of overall equalization leads to a situation when our conception of Belarusian cities may lag behind the reality. Often, we assess how strong the city is based on the number of residents, perceiving regional centers as equal and believing that once dynamic cities like Orsa still remain important for the economy.

Regional development has long been a sore spot for both the authorities and Belarusians living in regional cities. This ranking is special, as it was prepared during the most severe civil and political crisis in the history of the country. Political problems superimpose themselves on the economy, demography, and other spheres of public life, exacerbating the issues that Belarusians faced before. The crisis, as well as the large-scale repression of dissenters, has led to serious changes in cities themselves Due to the pandemic and the less-than-reasonable actions of the authorities, the number of tourists has decreased catastrophically, professionals are fleeing the country, and local higher educational establishments face a shortage of students in many specialties, since young people are choosing to go abroad for education.

In fact, the share of the population living in Minsk or Mahiliou does not put these cities in second or third place. Many big cities like Babrujsk or Baranavicy clearly lag behind in terms of development. Meanwhile, regional cities are not equal: Hrodna and Brest are obviously more dynamic and sustainable than Homiel, Mahiliou, and Viciebsk. This doesn’t mean that regional centers are as different as heaven and hell, but there is a certain gap, and it will most likely expand.

We need to leave behind the stereotypes that we habitually apply to our cities. After all, the Ranking of the Belarusian Cities does not show how to reform the regions, but rather deepens our understanding of their dynamics.

Eight Types of Belarusian Cities

Tap on the group to find out more about it

A comparison of 40 Belarusian cities on sixteen indicators in five dimensions (demographic sustainability, economic situation, quality of life, civil and political practices, tourist attractiveness) allows us to divide them into eight groups.

Read more about the methodology

Boosting the development of Belarusian cities: Western border, tourists, and the capital

When it comes to development, Belarusian cities often don’t have the same level of independence in decision-making as cities in Western Europe or America. Dependency on subsidies from the center, geographical determinacy, and “classic” drivers of development like the presence of a developed industrial sector are much more significant factors here. In the Belarusian context, much still depends on Minsk. This is the biggest logistics center – the place where the majority of the country’s higher educational establishments, as well as scientific, research, commercial and entertainment institutions and structures, are concentrated.

Geographical proximity to the capital, or even an official status as a satellite city (Dziarzynsk, Smaliavicy), allow the city to develop more rapidly, receive more subsidies from the budget, and save on the introduction of numerous types of services that people can receive when visiting Minsk.

The “East-West pattern” also manifests itself here: the cities that are close to the border with the European Union demonstrate significantly higher development. The presence of active neighbors makes even local authorities, which are bogged down in bureaucratic decision-making, move: they engage in numerous initiatives to improve their towns, do not fear change, and are not too arrogant to learn from others. Hrodna and Brest made it into the top three of our ranking, while Lida, Pinsk, Kobryn, Slonim, Smarhon and Ivacevicy settled in the top 20. The farther you move to the east of the country, the more obviously cities slide down the rankings.

Tourists as a driver of changes

Tourists have become an unexpected factor in the development of cities. After the outbreak of the coronavirus, sanctions, the moratorium on flights with the west, as well as existing social and political circumstances, it became much harder to evaluate the prospects of tourism. Still, recent trends show that the development of tourism and visits by foreigners to Belarusian cities stimulate municipal governments to change. Moreover, local businesses are more willing to invest in opening new entertainment institutions, restaurants and cafes. Local authorities in Hrodna, Brest, Polack and Mahiliou have more actively cooperated with society than their counterparts in Babrujsk, Orsa or Krycau.

The year that changed everything

The presidential election of August of 2020, and the powerful protest movement that followed changed Belarus and its cities dramatically. Supporters of change registered on the Voice online platform en masse in order to create an alternative, more transparent system of vote tallying. Residents of cities became volunteers and activists in local chats and neighborhood communities, filling the ranks of non-government organizations of various types.

The state responded to the politzation of Belarusian men and women with brutal repression. Thousands of people were detained, interrogated, searched, and subjected to administrative and criminal prosecution. According to human rights defenders, of all the political prisoners in the country, nearly 900 people have been recognized.

All this is also manifested in the statistics. Although the capital and regional centers were clearly more active in expressing their position, statistics show that the number of political prisoners in Mahiliou or Viciebsk together is nearly three times lower than in Brest. Naturally, the large quantity of political prisoners can be explained by the desire of specific security structures to pander to their superiors, but this is still a noticeable trend.

About the Authors

Аўтар Рэйтынгу беларускіх гарадоў Рыгор Астапеня

Anton Radniankou

Director of the Center for New Ideas, co-owner of a private business. Anton was born in Homiel and studied International Relations at Minsk State Linguistic University and Financial Market Analysis at Belarusian National Technical University. Earlier, he managed sustainable development projects in the Belarusian regions and headed the high-tech department at the Minsk Watch Plant.

You can contact him via email at: radniankou@newBelarus.vision

Аўтар Рэйтынгу беларускіх гарадоў Андрэй Сушко

Yauhen Merkis

Regions Expert at the Center for New Ideas, host of the Deep-Laid People podcast, freelance journalist, civil activist.

You can contact him via email at: merkis@newBelarus.vision

Acknowledgement and appraisal block

Аўтар Рэйтынгу беларускіх гарадоў Рыгор Астапеня

Ryhor Astapenia

Research Director of the Center for New Ideas. Ryhor leads the program on Belarus at Chatham House and defended his PhD at the University of Warsaw. He is the author of the first Ranking of Belarusian Cities by the Center for New Ideas, and he provided consultations for this year’s ranking.

You can contact him via email at: astapenia@newBelarus.vision

Everyone else who helped us to produce this Ranking.