Ranking of Belarusian Cities 2022

We show the multi-faceted reality of Belarusian cities in four 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


The ideal city concept

In 2023, we doubt that the idea of “the ideal city in Belarus”, around which we made this rating earlier, actually works. In the conditions of ever stronger repressions, economic decline, Belarus' complicity in the Russian war against Ukraine, the concept of “the ideal city” rather turned into “a city where you can move to for a better life, if you don't want to emigrate”. It is painful for us as researchers and for Belarusians, but when evaluating this rating, readers should remember this nuance.

The best city to “move to” for us — according to our own methodology and analysis — is still the city with the most stable yet dynamic life. This is a city in which it is easier for people to raise children, taking into account many factors. Or you can come here to get higher education.

And at the same time, if necessary, you can easily get social and medical services here. Also, of course, it is important to be sure that you can influence the decisions of the local government. Or at least have complete information about its activities. And earn decent money.

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 four 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 2020–21 has not been published)

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

Unlike previous years, dimensions (not indicators) have different share in the general result. Now, measures of the state of the economy and quality of life each give 30% of the final score, and demographic stability and socio-political practices — 20% each. We took this step to give greater priority to economic conditions and quality of life, as these more often influence our sense of the best city. Demographic stability and the level of civil engagement, although they affect the city's prospects, do not directly affect the lives of citizens. This is definitely a simplification, but it is intentional since we want to ensure the transparency and clarity of our research.

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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Belarusian cities during crisis

The work on this Rating was the most difficult compared to all the previous ones. Some data are no longer published, some have ceased to reflect reality and have become fiction, some services simply do not work in Belarus anymore. Therefore, we reduced the number of dimensions, and for the first time began to assess indicators differently.

Despite all this, cities remain the main drivers of development, places of public life. Their differences will also grow, and the state will have less and less funds for “equalization” and maintaining the same standard of living everywhere.

We also noticed the reflection of the crisis on the cities themselves in an interesting way.

The year of national discord, fear, and despair

Pressure on NGOs (even on the most “herbivorous” ones, which are engaged strictly in public activities, such as “Protecting the Birds of the Homeland”), the closure of many initiatives, pressure on the activity of backyard chats and repression in general create a feeling of fear in society, undermine people's desire for any cooperation.

To a large extent, it breaks the social ties between people, making society atomized. We are moving towards a society of loneliness, a “kitchen culture society”, in which social ties are limited to those people we can call to sit in the kitchen — and even that would be with the water tap turned on so that no one else can overhear.

The data of the “Voice” platform for 2020 and 2022 serve as an indirect indicator of the decline in civic activity. There was a more than 10 times drop in activity. Belarusians have never been so afraid and turned away from the common cause, as they did last year.

The crime rate decrease

We observe a decrease in the number of crimes (per 1,000 people in cities). In each of the studied cities, this decrease is small: 2-3 percentage points on average, but it is observed in almost all cities of the rating. It could be assumed that the decrease in crime in the district centers is due to the economic migration of the population to the regional centers. However, in large cities — regional centers — there has been no increase in the number of crimes, accordingly, the decrease in the number of crimes cannot be explained by migration within the country.

Abnormal rejuvenation of cities

It has long been known that Belarusians are an aging nation, and the share of the retirement-age population is growing year by year. However, in this ranking, we observe a decrease in the share of the retirement age population in each of the studied cities. This decrease is quite small: 4-6 percentage points on average for each of the cities, but such dynamics are nevertheless unusual.

We assume that this decrease is an indirect indicator of the covid epidemic impact on Belarusians. In particular, it is known that mortality from covid is much higher among elderly people. And if we observe such unusual dynamics, then, most likely, it is the consequence of some external event. And covid appears the most appropriate explanation here.

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

The remains of the past growth

Last year, we identified three main drivers of the growth of Belarusian cities: Western border, tourists, and the capital.

Tourism potential suffered the most. The complicity of Belarus in the Russian aggression against Ukraine actually killed the concept of the tourist attraction of our country. The fact that basic tourist services (booking accommodation on Booking.com and Airbnb.com) are no longer available in Belarus speaks volumes for this. The vast majority of Western airlines do not fly to our country either. Few tourists will go to a country where they can't even book an overnight stay according to the usual scheme, where planes have stopped flying and there is no certainty that bank cards will work.

The number of foreign tourists in 2021 decreased sixfold compared to 2019, and the share of tourists from EU countries fell from almost 25% to a measly 3%. For some time, the volume of tourism in Belarus will be maintained at the expense of Russian visitors, for whom Belarus and Russian resorts are now the most affordable vacation destinations. The parameter that was a booster for the development of western Belarusian cities in the last Ranking has de facto disappeared.

The western border will preserve its effect, although to a smaller extent, also thanks to the “tourists” from Poland and Lithuania, who in fact are not tourists. The visa-free regime is likely to increase the flow of those coming from Lithuania and Poland, however, according to many reports, these are not tourists in the traditional sense, but rather foreigners who come to Belarus for cheap food and motor fuel.

The metropolitan agglomeration — Minsk and its satellite cities — will remain the economic center of the country. We see that the positions of such cities as Dziarzhynsk and Smaliavicy are only strengthening. These are young and dynamic cities that attract investments, and, correspondingly, workforce.

About the Authors

Аўтар Рэйтынгу беларускіх гарадоў Рыгор Астапеня

Anton Radniankou

Director of the Center for New Ideas. Anton was born in Homiel, studied Strategic Communications in the King’s College London. Earlier, he managed sustainable development projects in the Belarusian regions and headed the high-tech department at the Minsk Watch Plant, co-owner of a private business. During the 2020 presidential campaign, Anton was responsible for developing strategy and communications at Joint Headquarters of Democratic Forces.

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

Аўтар Рэйтынгу беларускіх гарадоў Андрэй Сушко

Aliaksandr Autushka-Sikorski

a junior researcher at the Center for New Ideas. Aliaksandr studied political sciences in the European Humanities University, received a master’s degree in the Central European University. He worked as an analyst in the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies. At present, Aliaksandr is engaged in business analysis in the sphere of insurance.

You can contact him via email: alex.avtushko@gmail.com

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.